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Job stress and sedentary lifestyle increase heart attack risk

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
heart attack, myocardial infarction, MI, stress, job stress, sedentary lifestyle

Many Americans have stressful jobs; however, studies evaluating whether this increases the risk of a heart attack have reported conflicting results.

A large study of nearly 200,000 individuals from seven European countries set out to define this risk. They published their findings online on September 14 in The Lancet.

The researchers reviewed individual records from 13 European studies (1985—2006) of men and women without coronary heart disease who were employed at time of baseline assessment. They defined incident coronary heart disease as the first non-fatal myocardial infarction (MI) or coronary death. They measured job strain with questionnaires regarding their job demands, workload, the level of time-pressure demands, and their freedom to make decisions. The researchers noted that 30,214 (15%) of 197,473 participants reported job strain. In 1.49 million person-years at risk (average follow-up 7.5 years), they recorded 2,358 events of coronary heart disease. After adjustment for sex and age, the hazard ratio for job strain versus no job strain was 1.23. This effect estimate was higher in published (1.43) than unpublished (1.16) studies.

The researchers noted an association between job strain and coronary heart disease for sex, age groups, socioeconomic strata, and region. They also adjusted for socioeconomic status as well as lifestyle and conventional risk factors. They found that the population attributable risk for job strain was 3.4%. Lead investigator Mika Kivimaki from University College London noted that their findings indicated that job strain is associated with a small, but consistent, increased risk of experiencing a first cardiovascular event such as a heart attack.

The authors noted that prevention of workplace stress might decrease disease the risk of a heart attack; however, other cardiac risk factors were of more importance. These factors include smoking and lack of exercise.

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This study follows on the heels of another large study that was published last July in the journal BMJ open. This study noted that many Americans spend most of their workday sitting at their desk. In the evening, many plop down in front of the TV for several hours after dinner. The investigators accessed data from the National Institutes of Health’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2005/2006 and 2009/2010, which included nearly 167,000 adults. They found that the average American spends approximately 55% of the day (seven-and-a-half hours) sitting.

After analyzing the data, the researchers determined that the estimated gains in life expectancy in the US population were 2.00 years for reducing excessive sitting to less than three hours a day; furthermore; a gain of 1.38 years could be attained by reducing TV viewing to less than two hours a day. Those figures represented the average gain. The increased life expectancy for less sitting ranged from 1.39 to 2.69 years. The increased life expectancy from less television viewing ranged from 0.48 to 2.51 years.

Take home message:
The study published in The Lancet reported the detrimental effect of job stress on one’s health; however, it noted that a sedentary life style and other health-impacting factors were of more importance. The second study focused on the impact of a sedentary life style on longevity. Many Americans experience a high level of stress from the workplace and other sources. Some return from a stressful work environment to a stressful home environment. Some are stressed because they are unemployed.

Stress can never be completely eliminated; thus, coping with it is essential. Many companies have exercise facilities available to employees. If so, one must use them on a regular basis. If not, increasing physical activity at work. For example, use the stairs rather than the elevator whenever possible. Walk over to a co-workers workplace rather than calling or e-mailing him or her. Develop a regular exercise program outside the workplace; this is much more beneficial to one’s health than sitting in front of the TV. Individuals should not only be physically active for 30 minutes a day, but also should spend less time sitting.

Reference: The Lancet

See also:
New study reports that eggs are artery cloggers
Women under job stress have cardiovascular risk
Sitting too long can kill you