Physical and Mental Job Strain May Wear Out Your Health Faster

Physical labor during midlife may be associated with increased hospital care later

(RxWiki News) The physical and mental demands imposed by our job may deteriorate our health not only during the time we are working, but also after retirement.

According to the authors of this recent study, physical and mental job strain may have long-term effects on people's health, contributing to coronary heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

In this study, the authors further explored the consequences of physical and mental job strain for individuals with different job professions over 28 years. The study found that physical job strain is clearly associated with more hospital stays, however, the link between mental job strain and hospital stays was not as evident. 

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This recent study, which examined whether physical or mental job strain was associated with more hospital care at old age, was led by Mikaela Birgitta Von Bonsdorff, PhD, from the Gerontology Research Center and Department of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, in Finland and colleagues.

Data was obtained from 5,625 participants between 44 and 58 years old who worked in the public sector in Finland during 1981. The researchers obtained the number of days that participants spent in the hospital between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 2008 using the Finnish Hospital Discharge Register.

The researchers categorized the level of physical and mental job strain into low, intermediate, and high based on surveys from each of the participants. Questions to determine mental job strain were related to stress in work, work pace, schedule, and work environment. Questions to determine physical strain were related to the frequency of sweating, breathlessness, and heart palpitation as caused by physical exertion.

The study found that 99.5 percent of the participants used hospital care during the 28 years of follow up.  Participants had an average of six hospital stays during the follow up, and hospital stays had an average duration of 39 days for men and 32 days for women.

During the follow up, 1,073 men and 665 women died and thus these participants were only followed up for about 20 years instead of 28 years.

The study found that women, people with no manual labor jobs, and people with low physical and mental job strain were the majority among those participants who lived for the entire 28 years of the follow up.

The researchers calculated the number of days in the hospital that 1,000 patients would spend every year depending on the level of physical and mental job strain (low, intermediate, high) and gender (men and women). The authors estimated 7.78 hospital days for men with a low physical job strain, 9.68 hospital days for men with an intermediate physical job strain, and 12.56 hospital days for men with a high physical job strain.

In the case of women, the authors estimated 6.63 days for low physical job strain, 7.91 days for intermediate physical job strain, and 10.31 for high physical job strain. The link between number of days in the hospital and level of mental strain was less evident for men, and an association wasn’t found at all for women.

The study also obtained the increased risk of using hospital care for employees with high-level physical job strain. Specifically, they found that men with high physical job strain had 42 percent higher risk of spending a day in the hospital compared to men with low physical job strain.

Similarly, women with high physical job strain had a 71 percent greater risk of spending a day in the hospital than women with low physical job strain.

The authors concluded that “high physical job strain in midlife may set employees on a higher healthcare use trajectory which persists into old age.”

The authors suggested that improving working conditions and promoting healthy habits may reduce the long-term negative effects of job strain.

"Physical and mental job strain that increases stress on both the body and the mind can certainly be detrimental to our long-term health. It's important to remember, however, that living a sedentary lifestyle can be damaging, as well," said Julie Gladnick, MA, LMFT, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Denver, Colorado. 

"It's important to make sure that we are taking care of our bodies and our minds within our own personal limitations. Eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep are important to our long-term health no matter what type of occupation we may have," Gladnick told dailyRx News.

This study was published on December 8 in the Journal of Age and Ageing and the authors had no disclosures to make.

Review Date: 
December 29, 2013