Job Equality: Stressful Work Raises Women’s Risk of Heart Disease Too

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Women who work in high-strain jobs have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and bypass surgery than women whose work environments create less stress, according to a new study presented in Chicago at a conference of the American Heart Association.

Job strain was defined as having a demanding job, with little or no decision-making authority or opportunities to be creative.

Women in the study who reported being fearful of losing their jobs also showed an increase in heart-disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, higher cholesterol and being overweight. (More on The Pill at 50: Sex, Freedom and Paradox).

For the new study, researchers followed more than 17,000 female health professionals for at least 10 years. The women were asked to fill out questionnaires to evaluate job stress (including questions like “My job requires working very fast” or “I am free from competing demands that others make”); 10 years later researchers checked in on the participants’ heart health.

Turns out, women who reported having highly demanding jobs were nearly twice as likely (88%) to have a heart attack than women who didn’t have such stressful jobs. The high-strain women were also 43% more likely to have a bypass procedure. Overall, the increase in heart-disease risk in high-strain workers versus their low-strain counterparts was 40%. (More on The Rise of the Sheconomy)

The researchers further found, however, that the correlation between heart-disease risk and job strain had more to do with the position’s demands rather than the women’s lack of control. That is, women with demanding jobs, regardless of their level of decision-making control, were worse off than women with less demanding positions. HealthDay reported:

When it came to health, how demanding a job was seemed to trump how free women were to make decisions or to use their creativity.

“In our particular cohort of female health professionals, the ‘demand’ component of this model appeared to be driving the vascular risk and less so the control factor,” [study senior author Dr. Michelle A.] Albert stated.

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said: “This is the first time that we are seeing the realities of the fact that women are in the workforce just as much as men but oftentimes are not in a position of management. And it’s not just necessarily working but the nature of what the job is like.”

Women currently make up about half of the U.S. workforce, and 70% of all American women report having some type of job. What can they do to ease their strain? The AP reports these tips from the study’s lead author:

—Exercise. It clears the mind, lifts the mood and curbs other heart risks, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.

—Limit bringing work home.

—Get a life. Do things with friends, whether they’re folks you work with or not.

—Build “me time” into every day. “It can be as little as 10 or 15 minutes to meditate, pray or take a walk,” Albert said.

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