It’s no secret that a diet high in sugar, saturated fats, processed foods and empty carbohydrates can lead to high cholesterol levels, heart disease and obesity. This poor diet, paired with a couch-potato mentality, is the source of many of Western society’s health problems.
Although these health conditions continue to claim hundreds of thousands of American lives each year, it seems that people are gradually becoming more aware of how diet and lifestyle can directly affect their health. What is less known, however, is that how we make our livelihood could also be hurting our hearts — and making us fat.
Research conducted by the American Heart Association recently found that there are certain jobs that could actually be harmful to our heart health. By encouraging or supporting unhealthy habits, some professions were found to contribute to a higher likelihood of heart disease and obesity.
The study examined the health habits of over 5,000 Americans with various careers and no prior history of stroke or heart disease. Scientists studied seven health characteristics in each subject — exercise, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, smoking and diet — to determine which jobs contributed to an unhealthy lifestyle.
The seven professions that were found to be most heart-hurting and obesity-promoting are:
- administrative support
- food service
While these occupations are very diverse in their demands and responsibilities, the common components that contributed to poor heart health and obesity in each job were high stress levels, bad diet habits and insufficient exercise.
Interestingly, some of the healthiest people were found in managerial positions, as well as doctors and lawyers. The common health characteristics of these workers were a higher activity level (75 percent considered themselves at least moderately active) and a lower propensity to smoke (only six percent of people in these professions claimed to be regular smokers).
Of course, simply finding yourself in one of these “health hurting” careers isn’t a death sentence. There are easy things people can do each day to boost their health, regardless of the nature of their jobs. Dr. Leslie MacDonald of the US Public Health Service suggests that having healthy snacks easily accessible at work and walking around the office when stressed are uncomplicated baby steps we can take to promote heart health.
But there might be more to the story than just the physical nature of unhealthy jobs. Studies have also found that when we are unhappy in our careers, we tend to be less healthy. Generally, jobs that restrict autonomy and cause greater amounts of stress are the most likely to lead to poor physical and mental health.
When we’re stressed or unhappy, we usually have a difficult time sleeping. Lack of sleep, coupled with stress, encourages us to reach for chocolate instead of fruit, or turn on a movie after a long day of work rather than hit the gym, for example. It may also persuade us to pick up drinking habits, or even push some to start smoking.
A study conducted by the Asian Oceanian Association for the Study of Obesity found that job stress was directly related to weight gain and obesity. Workers who expressed being unhappy and stressed in their jobs gained significantly more weight than those who were satisfied with their careers. Basically, overeating is a response to anxiety, depression and tension due to psychological job stress.
At the end of the day, it may not be our actual jobs making us fat, but the way in which we deal with the dissatisfaction or stress that comes from work. The silver lining to these studies is that we do have the power to overcome bad habits associated with stress and frustration in the workplace. By making simple yet important steps to take charge of our health, we can ensure a healthy and happy life, regardless of external stressors.
Getting enough sleep, planning healthy meals, going on a daily walk and fitting in some relaxation time are important components to both physical and mental health.
Are you happy in your job? What do you do to destress after a tough day at work?
Stephanie Catudal is a mother, writer, hiker and outdoor enthusiast. She can often be found exploring the Ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona, or splashing in the cool waters of Sedona’s red rock canyons with her husband and two daughters. Steph is a holistic health enthusiast and finds strength in her personal pursuit of fitness and wellness. She has degrees in Media, Peace and Conflict studies and is passionate about building peace both abroad and within her community.