How “Making It” Can Effect Heart Health

As the decades have quickly zoomed by, humanity’s overall hunger for success has only intensified. Careers in professions like banking, law, and consulting have become increasingly desirable, seducing individuals with the promise of eventual economic prosperity. But “making it” can come at a hefty cost. According to the United States Department of Labor, “long work hours and extended and irregular shifts may be stressful physically, mentally, and emotionally.” And so, high-stress jobs with demanding hours may — in the long-run — very well result in a slew of heart health issues. As the leading cause of death worldwide, not discriminating against gender, color, creed, etc., it is no surprise that heart disease is a prevalent result of demanding careers. However, being aware of these possible health repercussions to professional success can empower you to lead a more healthy and prosperous life.

Modern technology has enabled working people across the globe to stay connected 24/7. Although this creates opportunities for greater success and business growth, it has the potential to simultaneously foster a near inability to step away from one’s work. The ever-demanding work schedules born out of this omnipresent technological connection “may disrupt the body’s natural cycle, leading to increased fatigue, stress, and lack of concentration.” Not only can fatigue “cause weariness, sleepiness, irritability, reduced alertness, impaired decision making, and lack of motivation, concentration, and memory,” but it can also lead to grave and long-lasting health issues. Dr. Peter L. Schnall, professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, explains that there is, in fact, a direct link between “workload and coronary artery disease.” One 2012 study in particular “found a 67% increased risk for coronary heart disease among [individuals] who worked 11 or more hours a day compared with those only working 7 to 8 hours.” Thus, those in high-demand jobs in volatile industries with little control over their pace nor the tasks at hand may find themselves coming up against critical heart problems in time.

Moreover, in a 2017 study published in the European Health Journal and conducted by University College London researchers has found that “people who put in more than 55 hours a week on the job may have an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation—an irregular heart rhythm linked to stroke and other health problems—compared to those who work 40 hours or less.”  After evaluating 500,000 individuals, the researchers concluded that — regardless of socioeconomic status — those who consistently worked excessive hours were at higher risk of stroke. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, strokes occur “when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients.” As a result of this shortage in blood supply, brain cells promptly die off. And further corroborating the tight-knit relationship between excess work time and heart health, “90% of [the study’s atrial fibrillation] cases occurred in people who did not already have cardiovascular disease.” Thus, greater attention must be paid to pinpointing methods for stress reduction and the management of cardiovascular risk for those regularly working long hours.

High-Stress Careers

Lawyers encounter high-stress environments and situations on a daily basis, as they must constantly worry about which figurative fire they might have to extinguish next. According to the American Bar Association, lawyers may find themselves to be particularly at risk for stress-induced health problems — predominantly heart disease — “because of the unique interplay of the legal profession and lawyer personality.” In other words, the high-stress, hostile nature of the legal profession can be incredibly detrimental long-term. Moreover, lawyers have been found to have “the highest rate of depression among 100 professions.” These factors combined, “even [if they manifest themselves] in the mild to moderate range,” put those in the legal profession at an increased risk of cardiac issues.

Excessive work hours, a lack of sick days, and intense levels of stress are also all too familiar to those in the banking profession. “An unhealthy, busy lifestyle with people working longer hours then they have in the past,” has resulted in cardiac events and conditions in staggering numbers. Bankers — whether at the start of the finish line of their careers — commonly experience “cardiac arrhythmia and myocarditis, both of which can lead to a fatal heart attack and can be made more likely by excessive work, stress, and drug use.” The Mayo Clinic defines myocarditis as “an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium),” which can ultimately precipitate arrhythmia (irregular or rapid heart rhythm), due to the heart’s reduced ability to pump properly. This is the most prevalent cardiac condition faced by banking professionals, but it is generally predominant “in people that have a weakened immune system due to fatigue and unhealthy living.”

Although cutting back working hours may not be in the realm of possibility for some individuals, particularly those in historically demanding industries, those in positions of power should keep in mind that, more often than not, when workers feel supported and experience low levels of workplace stress, their output is likely to be of a higher caliber and overall company success is more easily achieved. “Super fast-paced environment[s] in which employees are tied to their electronic devices 24/7” is not exclusive to lawyers, bankers, or consultants. For lawyers, curtailing any uncivil interactions or behavior and refraining from quick displays of over-aggression may help to subdue unnecessary added stress. But no matter the profession, the key to eradicating the epidemic plaguing overworked individuals requires more than simple “time management, or [fewer] holidays or not taking vacations or even weekends off.” Tired minds and bodies necessitate sufficient downtime, allowing them to bounce back from the day’s stressors healthily. Moreover, making healthy lifestyle changes like consistent physical activity, nutritious eating habits, good weight control, and the forgoing of smoking, are all steps that any individual can take towards strengthening heart health. In avoiding detrimental lifestyle choices and excessive work hours, and maintaining regular and appropriate sleep cycles, individuals may lower their risk of severe cardiac events and illnesses — prolonging success and longevity.

About the Author

Azadeh Beheshtian

Azadeh Beheshtian is board certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She specializes in interventional cardiology and peripheral artery disease, with a focus on women’s heart health.