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Bringing Home the Bacon

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Coronary Artery Disease related image Photo: Getty Images

“I can bring home the bacon….Fry it up in a pan…And never let him forget he’s a man, ‘cause I’m a woman....W-O-M-A-N!”

Does anyone out there remember those lyrics? Lifted from an old Peggy Lee song, it was the anthem for Enjoli perfume during the 70s. I never bought any Enjoli perfume but to a very “grownup” 13-year-old mind, the lyrics were empowering, sending the message that not only could I cook and clean and manage my household, but in my future I’d also be able to go out and earn the money to put that “bacon” on the table to feed my family. It was a time when women were transitioning from being a Leave it to Beaver mother to wearing their pearls to Daddy’s boardroom (and sitting at the head of board). Women entering the corporate workforce and competing head-to-head with men in their “world” was still a relatively new concept and the idea was a heady influence on the what-do-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up dreams of many young girls.

The world has changed and today, it’s not uncommon to see women not only competing, but thriving in the corporate world. Women run (often very successfully) businesses of all shapes, forms and sizes and now sit at the head of the board of directors of companies that they built. The world of Leave it to Beaver is long gone. There’s certainly no doubt that women have arrived (and are here to stay) in the corporate world.

Unfortunately, success has come at a cost. Diseases, such as coronary artery or heart disease, which were once considered a man’s disease, now affects men and women alike. For women, high stress jobs as well as job insecurity are increasing our risk of heart disease.

According to a new research study headed by Dr. Michelle Albert, senior author and physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, women with high stress jobs have as much as a 40 percent greater risk of developing heart-related disease than do women working in low-stress jobs. Researchers also found that worry about job security and fear of losing their job (and in today’s tough economic climate, worry about job security is certainly commonplace) had a negative impact on a woman’s heart health as well. Women worried about job security were found to have more risk factors for heart disease (overweight, increased levels of cholesterol, and high blood pressure) than their counterparts.

The participant pool for the study consisted of 17,415 women. Researchers examined job stress as jobs where the job was demanding but the women had “little to no decision-making authority.” A job was also considered demanding when women were not allowed to use individual or creative skills on the job. When compared to counterparts in stress free jobs, women in high stress jobs saw significant increases (40 percent) in heart related diseases including strokes and heart attacks. Women in high stress jobs also exhibited an increase in heart related procedures such as angioplasty or bypass surgery. In addition, women in high stress jobs were found to have higher death rates from heart related diseases.

A similar study also found negative impacts of stress on the heart health of women. In that study, the impact of stress on heart health was tracked in 12,116 nurses (all part of the Danish Nurse Cohort Study) for a 15-year period. Researchers found that nurses in positions where the stress was “a little too high” had a 25 percent increased risk of heart related disease. For nurses in positions where the stress was described as “much too high,” the risk increased to 50 percent (Researchers later adjusted this number to 35 percent after adjusting for lifestyle factors.). In this study, researchers also found that the increased risk applied to younger nurses (under age 51).

Researchers believe that limiting job stress is key and can reverse the trend. They call for employers to monitor stress levels and take steps to limit or enable employees to better manage workplace stress. As with any health related issue, if you’re a woman in a high stress job, take charge of your own heart health. Encourage your employer to implement programs to enable employers to address and manage workplace stress. In the absence of employer sponsored programs, examine the stress in your work environment and assess how the stress levels might be negatively impacting your heart health. Take personal steps to manage such stress to minimize its affects on your heart health. The cost of bringing home the bacon shouldn’t be your health so take steps to protect your heart.

High job stress ‘ups risk of heart disease by 40 pc for women,’ BioScholar News, 15 Nov 2010, http://news.bioscholar.com/2010/11/high-job-stress-ups-risk-of-heart-disease-by-40-pc-for-women.html

Stressful jobs up women’s heart disease risk, BioScholar News, 06 May 2010, http://news.bioscholar.com/2010/05/stressful-jobs-up-womens-heart-disease-risk.html

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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