Study: Job Burnout Associated With a 79% Increased Risk of Heart Disease

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A health benefit of quitting

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Dean McCoy Photography/Flickr

Do you like your job? If your answer is "No, really, I do not. At all. Oh, wow, yeah I hate it. Is it suddenly hot in here? I hate it!" then it may be worse for your heart than smoking, being inactive, or having high cholesterol.

Dr. Sharon Toker and a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University looked at almost 9,000 working men and women (with about a 2:1 gender ratio) who showed up for employer-sponsored check-ups at a health center in the Israeli city. Participants self-assessed their symptoms of burnout -- physical, emotional, and cognitive -- by indicating the degree to which they agreed with a list of statements about their attitude towards work, everything from "I feel tired" and "I have difficulty concentrating,"to "I feel I am not capable of investing emotionally in coworkers and customers." Burnout, in their measure, is distinct from having depression or just having a really heavy workload -- it's being stressed and distressed because of that workload, or because you don't like your boss/colleagues, or because you're just fed up with it all.

Over an average of only three and a half years of follow-up, those with burnout were 1.4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease. For the 20 percent of patients who most identified with the symptoms of burnout, that risk was increased by 79 percent.

Keep in mind that these were all people who were healthy at baseline, as those who originally were diagnosed with CHD weren't included in the study. The researchers also controlled for the typical risk factors, like age, family history, and smoking. In their estimation, that qualifies job burnout -- at least for this population of mainly white-collar workers -- as an independent risk factor for heart disease.

Burnout is also, according to the researchers, a chronic condition. They argue that the only way to eliminate risk is to try to prevent it from developing in the first place. Employers, they suggest, can be aware of burnout's signs and try to create a more positive work environment. At-risk patients can take measures to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise more, and, you know, quit.


The study, "Burnout and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Study of 8838 Employees" was published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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