Work stress has scary implications for your heart health—especially if you're a man

Stressful work environments do more long-term harm than meets the eye. They may increase men’s risk for heart disease—the leading cause of death in the U.S. 

In a newly released study, two workplace factors influenced men’s incidence of heart disease: job strain and effort-reward imbalance. Men with stressful jobs who don’t feel adequately rewarded, such as through salary, face twice the risk of heart disease compared to those not working under those conditions. Men who have either a stressful job or feel they get little reward for their effort have a 49% increased risk of heart disease. The authors report that the increased risk for heart disease is comparable to the risks obesity poses. 

“Considering the significant amount of time people spend at work, understanding the relationship between work stressors and cardiovascular health is crucial for public health and workforce well-being,” Mathilde Lavigne-Robichaud, author of the study and doctoral candidate at the population health and optimal health practices research unit at CHU de Quebec-University Laval Research Center, said in a press release. “Our study highlights the pressing need to proactively address stressful working conditions, to create healthier work environments that benefit employees and employers.”

The study, published Tuesday in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a peer-reviewed journal from the American Heart Association, followed 6,500 white-collar workers in Canada with an average age of 45, from 2000 to 2018. They measured levels of job strain and levels of perceived effort and reward imbalance compared to the incidence of heart disease over the two decades. 

“Job strain refers to work environments where employees face a combination of high job demands and low control over their work,” Lavigne-Robichaud says in the press release. “Effort-reward imbalance occurs when employees invest high effort into their work, but they perceive the rewards they receive in return — such as salary, recognition or job security — as insufficient or unequal to the effort.” 

As employees keep fearing for their job security in an unsteady economy, coupled with return-to-office mandates and continued layoffs across industries, stress is running rampant in the office. 

Stress at work is rising 

In a survey of over 100,000 employees published this year, nearly half (44%) feel “a lot of stress,” according to the State of the Global Workplace report. Similarly, 49% of employees say they feel dread at work at least once a week, according to a 2023 report on Workforce Attitudes Toward Mental Health from Headspace. 

What’s more, about two-thirds of U.S. employees face toxic work environments, ranging from unethical practices and policies to overt bullying. Experts call for a prioritization of employee well-being, such as mental health benefits. 

“The U.S. workforce is among the most stressed in the world, and these workplace stressors can be as harmful to health as obesity and secondhand smoke,” Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association, said in the press release. “This study adds to the growing body of evidence that the workplace should be prioritized as a vehicle for advancing cardiovascular health for all.” 

Tips to improve heart health

Here are eight ways to improve your heart health, according to the American Heart Association. 

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