Balance the demands of work

Mandawat

Stress at work and how it will affect their health is a concern for many patients. Particularly with the holidays approaching, many of us are faced with longer hours or big deadlines.

A recent paper in the British journal Lancet suggests that although job stress might increase the risk of heart disease, the effect is less than other cardiac risk factors.

The heart is the world’s most sophisticated engine. It runs on oxygen and pumps blood to the rest of the body. Like any engine that is not taken care of, the heart can fail, resulting in a heart attack.

Heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. In the largest such study ever performed, Dr. Mika Kivimaki, a professor at University College of London, pooled data from across Europe to examine the relationship of job stress to a patient’s first heart attack.

Workers who had high demands at work – for example, excessive amounts of work hours, not enough time or competing demands – and low control in their jobs – for example, lack of freedom to make decisions or learn new things – were defined as having job stress. The risk of having a heart attack was then compared between the job stress and non-job stress groups.

After controlling for differences such as age and gender, researchers found that approximately 3 percent of initial heart attacks were attributable to job stress.

Meanwhile, earlier international studies have shown that smoking (30 percent), obesity (20 percent) and lack of exercise (12 percent) have a greater contribution to the risk of having a heart attack.

Kivimaki’s study shows that although job stress is a significant risk factor in heart disease and one that we should work to minimize, the greatest bang for our buck rests in controlling other cardiac risk factors. Though many of us have better control over our lifestyle than our work environment, both are understandably linked. For example, it might be difficult to exercise or eat well if one is working long hours.

As the holidays approach, the best recipe to reduce our risk of heart disease is by balancing the demands of work with the need to take care of ourselves.

ANANT MANDAWAT, A GRADUATE OF LAKESIDE HIGH SCHOOL AND YALE UNIVERSITY’S MEDICAL SCHOOL, IS A DOCTOR OF INTERNAL MEDICINE AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL AND HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL.

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