Work Stress & You: A Dire Picture With Rays Of Hope

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You know it in your heart, so to speak. Scientists have confirmed it. Now they’re confirming it again: Job stress of the kind you may experience in police work can play hell with your cardiovascular health.

But there may be a way for you to beat the odds.

British researchers who tracked more than 10,300 civil servants (predominately males, aged 35-55) over a 14-year period found that those with chronic work stress were twice as likely to develop “metabolic syndrome.” This syndrome, associated with heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular problems and also linked to Type 2 diabetes, encompasses such risk factors as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“There is a stepwise increase in the odds of the metabolic syndrome with increasing levels of exposure to work stress,” says Tarani Chandola, a senior lecturer in public health at University College London, who led the research team.

He points out that people who feel stressed at work tend to smoke, drink too much and not exercise enough, as well as to develop bad health habits such as eating a poor diet with too few fruits and vegetables.

The risk of heart disease tends to drop among people who feel they are treated fairly at work and who feel they have control over their job, Chandola says.

Considering that stress is not likely to diminish much in your line of work, you can perhaps find hope in a couple of other studies. Researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago confirmed that metabolic syndrome is associated with an exceptionally high death risk.

But after studying nearly 6,000 subjects over 9 years they found that improving your fitness can make a difference. “Fitness has a protective effect, likely because it reduces other risk factors, lowers heart rate and conditions the heart to respond to stress,” says Dr. Martha Gulati, the lead researcher. “The more fit you are, the less you will feel the impact of metabolic syndrome.”

Indeed, a combination of weight loss and exercise can cut the incidence of metabolic syndrome by 41 per cent over 3 years.

A study recently reported from UCLA showed that after just 3 weeks of walking 45-60 minutes a day on a treadmill and eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet (with no limit to total calories), male subjects, on average, showed a 50 per cent reversal of the individual factors responsible for metabolic syndrome.

“Metabolic syndrome can be reversed solely through lifestyle changes,” explains Dr. Christian Roberts, a physiologist who led the study.

The full report of the British study was printed in the 1/21/06 issue of the British Medical Journal and can be found online at:


The other studies are reported in the March [’06] issue of LifeTimes, published by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. See the article “Metabolic syndrome: More warning signs” on pgs. 6-7.

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