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You’ve probably heard that stress is a killer.
It’s unfortunately a phrase that I don’t only believe is true — it’s one I’ve seen in action.
When my uncle, who put in over 20 years for the same firm, and after spending many late nights at the office and giving up the occasional weekend, was passed over for a promotion he thought was a sure thing — his blood pressure skyrocketed.
It was long after that we lost him… and a massive heart attack was to blame.
I know our family isn’t alone in this experience. Even though stress has long been considered a catalyst for heart trouble, men seemed to succumb to this particular risk factor in higher numbers than women.
And now we know just how much of a burden work stress is on their hearts — and what needs to change…
How the workplace can double men’s risk for heart disease
After analyzing data gathered from 6,500 white-collar workers, scientists discovered a two-ingredient recipe for disaster…
Those two ingredients? Job strain and feeling like the high level of effort put into a job is rewarded very little, if at all.
“Job strain refers to work environments where employees face a combination of high job demands and low control over their work. High demands can include a heavy workload, tight deadlines and numerous responsibilities, while low control means the employee has little say in decision-making and how they perform their tasks,” according to lead study author Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud, R.D., M.S., doctoral candidate, Population Health and Optimal Health Practices Research Unit, CHU de Quebec-University Laval Research Center in Quebec, Canada..
“Effort-reward imbalance occurs when employees invest high effort into their work, but they perceive the rewards they receive in return — such as salary, recognition or job security — as insufficient or unequal to the effort. For instance, if you’re always going above and beyond, but you feel like you’re not getting the credit or rewards you deserve, that’s called effort-reward imbalance.”
The study found:
- Men who said they experienced either job strain or effort-reward imbalance had a 49% increase in risk of heart disease compared to men who didn’t report those stressors.
- Men reporting both job strain and effort-reward imbalance were at twice the risk of heart disease compared with men who did not say they were experiencing the combined stressors.
- The impact of psychosocial stress at work on women’s heart health was inconclusive.
- In men, the impact of job strain and effort-reward imbalance combined was similar to the magnitude of the impact of obesity on the risk of coronary heart disease.
Previous research has reported on the effect of stressors like these on the heart.
Researchers at University College London found that people who have strong stress response levels may also experience more inflammation (and have more LDL — bad cholesterol) that, in turn, harms heart health.
In another study, mental stress was found to reduce blood flow to the muscles of the heart, a condition called myocardial ischemia, which can trigger a heart attack.
Balancing stress to protect your heart
“Our study highlights the pressing need to proactively address stressful working conditions, to create healthier work environments that benefit employees and employers,” says Dr. Lavigne-Robichaud.
But what can we do right now to help ourselves?
Make a career change or seek a job where you can experience less job strain and stress and your hard work is seen and appreciated.
If that’s not something immediately possible, then rein in your fight-or-flight response.
This reaction is activated by the sympathetic nervous system, so without some practice, it’s not easy to control your body’s automatic reaction to stress.
The fight-or-flight response activates the release of hormones that, over time, can increase blood pressure and body fat and cause insulin resistance — all precursors to heart disease. A couple of ways to counter its effects include meditation and stress-relieving supplements or anthocyanin-rich foods.
Another way to tame the fight or flight response is to raise your heart rate variability. Low heart rate variability is associated with a 32-45 percent higher risk of a first heart attack. Find tips on raising your heart rate variability here.
Of course, if you have a family history of heart disease, be sure your doctor is aware.
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!