Your first job can have a profoundly detrimental effect on heart health

There’s a general expectation that your first job is supposed to suck. This phenomenon may have greater implications than we ever imagined; the degree of suckiness may partially determine your heart health later in life. 

In a recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a team from the University of Cambridge, Bristol, and the University College of London, posit that those who experience significant work stress during their late teens and early 20s raise their risk for cardiovascular disease two decades later. 

And your early work stress has been found to be more influential on health than your current work situation. 

The results were derived from the health records of the roughly 12,000 participants who took part in a study that began in 1970.

After adjusting for factors like education, job type, and length of employment, it was revealed that those who pursued continued education before taking on managerial positions after graduation represented healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels and BMI at the age of 46 compared to those who worked lower-paying jobs while in college and those who never went to college at all.

Money isn’t a primary factor 

The study’s authors defined early work as any job worked between the ages of 16 and 24. 

It’s true that the majority of workers in this age range occupy gigs that don’t come with high salaries, but the authors found that workload, education, stress and depression in response to work demands influenced heart health more than a lack of financial resources. 

“We found that an individual’s education and employment experiences in early adulthood had a far larger impact on measures of cardiovascular health more than twenty years later than their occupation or income at that time did,” says first author Dr. Eleanor Winpenny.

While the study examined records from one area (the UK) and from a specific era (starting in the 1970s), the conclusions may well apply to everyone: Immense stress at work at an early age takes a cardiovascular toll years later.

A job’s potential to strain can be measured via the Occupational Stress Index (OSI):

  1. Consequence of error
  2. How often this profession deals with physically aggressive people
  3. How often this profession deals with unpleasant or angry people
  4. The duration of a typical work week
  5. Common exposure to hazardous conditions
  6. The importance of being exact or accurate
  7. Time pressures placed upon the individual

Initiating work stress awareness

The authors believe that employers can reduce stress-induced cardiovascular issues by regularly checking in with their teams during demanding quarters — regardless of the kind of work performed. 

This may be doubly important in recent years. First,  there’s the effect that the pandemic has had on mental health statistics. Second, there’s already a rise in cardiovascular deaths around the world.

“These results suggest that we need to provide more support for young adults to allow healthy development into middle age and prevent disease in later life. Given the added disadvantage to young adults as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic, there is an urgent need to understand and mitigate the effect these circumstances may be having on their future health,” the authors concluded.