Having good work-life balance could be the key to preventing heart disease.
Heart disease is rampant and devastating. In the United States, it is the leading cause of death, and someone suffers from a heart attack every 40 seconds. How can one take steps toward reducing stress and caring for their heart health? Since the average person spends about one-third of their life working (and roughly 90,000 hours working throughout their lifetime) it is sensible to look at work’s impact on one’s health.
A recently published study shows that one way to improve heart health can be by reducing work-life stress. On Wednesday, November 8, 2023, a study, that looked at whether workplace flexibility and supervisor support could reduce cardiometabolic risk, was posted to the American Journal of Public Health. The University of Edinburgh’s College of Medicine defines “Cardiometabolic” diseases as “a group of common but often preventable conditions including heart attack, stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”
To increase work-life balance for the study’s participants, the researchers trained supervisors on how to better support their employees’ personal/family lives, and how to allow their employees to gain greater control over their schedules and work-related tasks. Ultimately, they found a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in older employees and those with a higher CRS (Cardiometabolic Risk Score) baseline when stressful work conditions were mitigated. Older workers in the study reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by the equivalent of five to ten years of age-related cardiometabolic changes.
The study was one of the first to examine whether changes to a work environment could affect heart health. Interestingly, one of the co-lead authors, Lisa Berkman also shared that mitigation of stressful workplace conditions did not negatively influence employees’ productivity.
According to the study’s co-lead author, Orfeau Buxton, “The intervention was designed to change the culture of the workplace over time with the intention of reducing conflict between employees’ work and personal lives and ultimately improving their health.”
In this modern fast-paced digital age, people often feel pressure to remain available 24/7. Additionally, many feel obligated to put in extra hours at work and meet or exceed productivity expectations to impress management and make ends meet during financial hardships. According to a February 2023 study by the American Institute of Stress, “83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, with 25% saying their job is the number one stressor in their lives.” It is important for individuals to pay attention to work’s impact on their personal lives and check in with their doctors about any physical and/or mental health concerns.
Potential warning signs of work-related stress, include:
- Fatigue and irritability, especially to the extent it harms relationships.
- Difficulty sleeping concentrating.
- Physical signs such as heart racing, sweaty palms, or a spike in blood pressure.
- Weak immune system (frequently sick and ill for long periods).
- “Self-medicating” such as excessive eating or substance use.
Ways to reduce work-related stress might include:
- Establishing health boundaries.
- Getting enough
- Seeking support.
- Communicating with management when necessary.
Sometimes, a person is stuck in a stressful workplace without cooperation from management and without viable alternative employment options. Even so, there are always pathways within one’s control to promote a healthier heart, including taking breaks and engaging in regular movement throughout the day, eating a well-balanced lunch and making use of company offered PTO time.
Employee physical and mental health should be a top priority, and this can be accomplished by employers providing flexibility and support. It is in everyone’s best interest to mitigate work-life stress.