As February and Heart Month come to a close, and I think about the heart one last time, my thoughts turn to chronic stress and its impact on heart health. In the 10 years that I have been in practice, I have become convinced that chronic stress is always an aggravating factor in making people sicker from any disease, heart disease included.
Let me be clear. Stress is a normal part of life. It is a response that we use to protect ourselves from danger. In this state of stress, our body tenses and become very alert.
This response is designed to be temporary and then our body returns to a more restful state. When stress is a constant or daily it is considered chronic stress. Chronic stress causes damage to our cells and releases stress hormones as part of a fight or flight response.
One of the most consistent stresses in daily life related to the places we work. The stress could come from our relationships with our bosses or co-workers. It could come from the number of tasks we have each day.
It could come from financial concerns surrounding work. It could be a combination of all three.
The American Journal of Public Health found that women who worked outside of the home tended to have more stress than women that worked inside of the home or men.
There was another study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in April 2011 which showed that people who work more than eight hours a day had a higher risk of heart disease. In the cohort study the results showed that people who worked 11 hours a day typically had a 67 percent increase in developing coronary artery disease (CAD).
Coronary artery disease is a form of heart disease, specifically in the blood vessels of the heart. CAD occurs as plaque from cholesterol forms in the arteries of the heart. The plaque causes obstructions and narrowing of your arteries so blood cannot get to your heart muscle.
When the blood flow gets occluded enough it causes a heart attack. The study also showed that people that worked an average of eight hours a day had a much lower risk of developing coronary artery disease.
How many hours a day do you work?