Work and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2024

In our busy lives, it is easy to overlook the impact our work environment can have on our health. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of death worldwide. And recent studies suggest that our jobs may play a big role in influencing heart health. In fact, about 10 to 20 percent of all CVD deaths are linked to work.1-3

Work-related risk factors for CVD

The workplace’s impact on heart health may not be so surprising when you factor in how much of our adult lives are spent at our jobs. Many of us find ourselves working long hours and facing high levels of stress at our jobs. Research has shown that the following workplace factors greatly impact heart health:1-3

  • Long hours and stress
  • High-demand, low-reward jobs
  • Lack of health insurance
  • Job insecurity
  • Not enough social support in the workplace
  • Low job control
  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Heavy physical demands
  • Exposure to dust, fumes, or chemicals
  • Sedentary schedules

Occupations with poor heart health statistics

Certain jobs are linked to higher rates of heart-related issues. This may be due to the nature of the work or associated stress.1-3

Jobs that demand long hours and those in high-pressure work environments may contribute to heart problems. Also, jobs that require either minimal physical activity or physically demanding labor are often linked to poor heart health.1-3

Here are some examples of occupations that may put people at higher risk of heart issues.

Desk jobs

Jobs in which people sit for long periods, such as office jobs, can increase the risk of CVD. Being sedentary, or having a lack of movement, can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.1-3

Emergency response jobs

Paramedics, firefighters, and police officers often face high-stress situations, irregular hours, and physically demanding work. These factors can lead to an increased risk of heart problems over time.1

Shift work

Jobs that require irregular or nighttime shifts – like healthcare, factory, or long-haul truck driving jobs – disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm). This disruption can increase the risk of heart disease.1

High-pressure jobs

Careers in finance, management, and other high-pressure industries in which there is a heavy workload can lead to chronic stress. Stress has been linked to heart problems. The constant pressure to meet work demands, meet tight deadlines, and achieve targets can take a toll on both mental and cardiovascular health.1-3

Preventing work-related CVD

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your heart health while meeting the demands of your job.

Prioritize frequent movement breaks

Incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine, even if it is just a short walk during breaks or some light stretching at your desk. Every little bit helps.1,4

Prioritize rest if needed

For those who have highly active and physically demanding jobs, the problem is not a lack of physical activity. Rather, it is the amount of rest they can get. If possible, incorporate more frequent breaks to give your body time to recover from hard labor.1,4

Manage stress

Find effective ways to manage stress, such as mindfulness, meditation, or deep-breathing exercises. Taking short breaks throughout the day to relax and recharge can greatly reduce stress levels.1,4

Maintain a healthy diet

Make conscious choices about your diet. Limit the amount of processed foods and saturated fats you eat. Instead, opt for heart-healthy food like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.4

Get regular health checkups

Schedule regular medical checkups with your doctor. They will monitor key heart health indicators such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heartbeat, and more.4

How employers can help reduce CVD risk

Employers play a pivotal role in creating a healthy work environment that supports employees at risk for CVD. There are many things employers can do to contribute to a healthier workplace. Here are some examples:1,3,4

  • Offer flexible work schedules or remote work options to help offset the challenges of long hours or irregular shifts.
  • Offer wellness programs that include physical activity programs, stress-management resources, and educational sessions on heart-healthy living.
  • Prioritize ergonomic workspaces and standing desks to encourage movement and reduce sedentary behavior.
  • Promote short breaks for physical activity or rest during the workday, as needed.
  • Provide free access to health screenings or counseling services.

In addition, employers can encourage open dialogue about health concerns. By creating a workplace that values and prioritizes the health of its employees, employers can contribute to a positive work environment and invest in the long-term well-being of their workforce.3,4

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