Work – and not just stress



From the factory to the phone bank, from the boardroom to the emergency room, it’s a complicated question to ponder as we pursue our paychecks and navigate careers.

“Health is not just what we eat and how physically active we are,” said Yvonne Michael, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “It’s also what happens at work that can make us healthier or prevent us from being healthy.”

Sometimes the answer is not a surprise.

A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared seven parameters of heart health – smoking, physical activity, blood pressure, blood sugar, body weight, cholesterol, and healthy eating – among people in 22 different professions.

Truck drivers, who tend to sit for long hours and eat on the go, were high on the list of unhealthy people, while farm, forestry and fishing workers had the best health metric scores.

A study published in January in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine assessed the 20 most common jobs among more than 65,000 senior women. It found that bookkeeping and accounting clerks, supervisors of salespeople and administrative support workers, as well as nursing and home aides were among those at higher-than-average risk of poor cardiovascular health, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Teachers, counselors and real estate brokers were among the least likely to have poor cardiovascular health.

The research did not examine why some jobs were more detrimental to health than others, but Michael, who was the lead author of the study, said the findings suggest that sedentary jobs, stress, and burden of supervision of others might be involved.

“If we can find out the factors associated with cardiovascular health, we can prevent cardiovascular disease,” she said. “It might be possible for doctors to research professions to identify women who might be at higher risk. “

But the answers aren’t always clear, and workers can’t change jobs after each new survey either. For example, an analysis published this month in the European Heart Journal of more than 280,000 people in England found that people working nights had a higher risk of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder, than people working at night. on working days. He offered no clue as to the cause.

“It can be frustrating,” Michael said. “A lot of people don’t have a choice about what jobs they do. “

While exercise is widely considered to be good for the heart, a study of nearly 17,000 workers in the United States indicated that people who had high levels of physical activity on the job, especially lifting and carrying, were more likely to have cardiovascular disease.

“The physical activity you do at work is potentially different for cardiovascular health compared to the exercise you do outside of work,” said Tyler Quinn, who led the study, published in March in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. “One hypothesis for this is that when you exercise in your spare time, you stress the body at very specific times and let the body recover. Activity during labor often does not allow this recovery time.

“So people who engage in continuous physical activity during the workday may end up with a higher cardiovascular load, higher blood pressure and heart rate, throughout the 24-hour day, and we know that this is associated with poorer cardiovascular health over time. “

At the same time, said Quinn, a research physiologist at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the American workforce has turned to office jobs, promoting a lifestyle sedentary which is also not good for cardiovascular health.

“We need to moderate some of the effects of these extremes,” he said. “We want people who move all day at work to move a little less and take breaks, and people who sit at work take breaks when moving. The body loves variety.

No matter what their job, Quinn said, workers can help themselves by following basic heart health guidelines: staying physically fit, eating well, and not smoking.

But employers can also help, he said, by offering more breaks and different tasks for people with heavy jobs, and more opportunities for office workers to get up and move around, while seeking ways to alleviate stress at work and allow more control over the work environment.

Michel accepted. “We spend a lot of time at work, and workplaces have a great capacity to shape the health opportunities of their workers. “

The COVID-19 pandemic that has forced many more people to work from home has added a new element to the work-health equation. Not having to commute could free up more time to exercise or cook healthy meals. But a home office could also mean fewer limits for snacking or even smoking a cigarette.

“The virtual workplace creates a lot of flexibility, and we’ve seen the benefits of that,” said Michael. “But that removes some healthy aspects, like having social relationships at work. We can think of it as a kind of experience. I know employers are eager to see what worked and what didn’t, and if we can use these lessons to make the workplace healthier.


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