Working shifts is an inevitable part of some people’s jobs. But new research shows that shift work is particularly tough on workers’ hearts.
According to a Chinese study of more than 320,000 people, shift workers have a heightened risk of heart disease, and the longer they work shifts, the greater that risk becomes.
For the research, led by Dr. Weihong Chen, a researcher in occupational and environmental health at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, data from 21 previous studies was analysed to see what effect shift work had on cardiovascular health.
Specifically, the study found that shift workers were 13% more likely to develop coronary artery disease – sometimes called ischaemic heart disease – than daytime workers. Moreover, every year spent working shifts resulted in a 0.9% increase in the chance of a coronary artery disease diagnosis.
While the study wasn’t designed to prove cause and effect, Chen and her colleagues did offer some reasons as to why shift workers might be more susceptible to heart disease.
Reporting their findings in the journal Occupational Medicine, the researchers said that shift workers could be at increased risk of coronary heart disease because their normal sleep-wake cycle is disrupted, they have increased stress and possibly lead unhealthier lifestyles. For example, the team said that shift workers are more likely to smoke, have poorer diets and get less physical exercise.
The research is important because of the impact heart disease has on people’s lives and healthcare systems across the world.
“The number of deaths due to ischemic heart disease has continued to rise with 7.6 million deaths in 2005 and 8.9 million people dying due to the condition in 2015,” Chen said in a journal news release. “Patients can require surgical interventions and medications, meaning ischemic heart disease is one of the biggest burdens on health care systems.”
Chen added that the research should highlight to both medical professionals and patients that occupation (particularly working shifts) should be considered as an additional potential risk factor for heart disease.
For employers – especially those who employ shift workers – the research should provide some food for thought when it comes to recognising potential heart disease risk factors and proactively implementing preventative programmes.
Promote Healthy Lifestyle Choices
By identifying workers who may be at risk due to their jobs and/or a family history of heart disease and promoting healthy lifestyle choices, employers can help their staff prevent and deal with heart disease. Regular health checks could also be used to identify individuals who are at risk, and help detect heart disease earlier so that it can be treated faster.
According to the charity Heart UK, coronary heart disease remains the number one killer in the UK, while cardiovascular disease costs the economy £19 billion annually.
If you’re a shift worker or a company that employs shift workers, this new research should act as a wake-up call. The good news is that simple lifestyle changes and diet choices can play a significant role in lowering your risk of coronary heart disease.
I joined Premier Choice Group as an SME/Corporate Consultant in 2017 and look after the Healthcare & Protection needs of a nationwide portfolio. I began my career in Healthcare and Protection in 1985 with BUPA, before moving on to Royal & Sun Alliance. In 2002, I became an Intermediary and worked with Private Clients, SME’s and Corporate clients on a local, national and international basis.