It's always been assumed the older you get the more prone you are to heart disease. But now a new British study has suggested that how much stress you are under at work can also be a crucial factor, with stressed-out workers aged under 50 two thirds more likely to suffer from heart disease.
Workers with heavy workloads and little control over decisions affecting their working lives were found to be 68 per cent more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease (CHD) than workers who had less stressful jobs, the study by academics at University College London has argued.
The team monitored more than 10,000 civil servants over 12 years and concluded that a stressful job had a direct biological impact on the body.
Intense workplace demands also encouraged smoking, poor diet and a lack of physical activity – all of which are linked to an increased danger of heart disease.
The study looked at how workers felt about their job, monitored heart rate variability, blood pressure and the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood.
They also took notes about diet, exercise, smoking and drinking and recorded how many developed coronary heart disease or suffered a heart attack and how many had died of it.
Heart disease is, of course, not the only health condition that can be suffered by middle-aged workers.
A study, also by UCL, back in 2004 concluded that men who worked hard for poor rewards were three times more likely to develop diabetes as more senior level workers.
In the most recent study, published in the medical journal the European Heart Journal, lead researcher Dr Tarani Chandola said: "During 12 years of follow up, we found that chronic work stress was associated with CHD and this association was stronger both among men and women aged under 50.
"Among people of retirement age – and therefore less likely to be exposed to work stress – the effect on CHD was less strong," he added.
The study found that stressful situations triggered immediate increases in levels of the hormone adrenaline and boosted the heart rate, gradually subsiding when conditions returned to normal. But repeatedly high levels of stress caused wear and tear.
As a result the hearts of those under the most pressure became less able to change the rate at which they beat in response to stress over time.