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Flexible Work Hours Can Make Your Heart 10 Years Younger

Study reveals flexible work hours improve employees' heart health
Study reveals flexible work hours improve employees’ heart health. Credit: ILO Asia-Pacific / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A recent study has revealed that flexible work hours might help reduce the risk of heart disease by up to a decade when compared to the traditional 9-to-5 workday.

Researchers discovered that adjusting the time people spend at the office enabled some employees to decrease their chances of heart problems to a level usually associated with individuals who are five to ten years younger.

The study, carried out by a group of researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Penn State University, found that employees aged forty-five and older with a higher risk of heart disease benefited the most from these changes in their work schedules. However, other employees also saw a decrease in their risk of heart disease.

Details of the study

The research study, featured in the American Journal of Public Health, marks one of the earliest investigations into the connection between a person’s job and heart disease.

The study involved 555 male and female technical workers who earned high to moderate wages from an IT company. Additionally, 973 mostly female, low-wage caregivers working in long-term care participated in this experiment.

To conduct the study, random groups of employees with flexible work hours from these two workplaces were chosen as participants, while the others continued on with their usual work routines, serving as the control group.

Supervisors received training to support employees in both their personal and professional lives as well as their job performance. Employees also took part in training sessions with their supervisors, with a focus on allowing for greater control over schedules and tasks.

Parameters assessed during the study

In the study, researchers initially assessed the health of all 1,528 participants and then evaluated them once again a year later. They measured various health indicators, including systolic blood pressure, BMI (Body Mass Index), glycated hemoglobin levels, smoking habits, and cholesterol levels.

Additionally, researchers calculated a cardiometabolic risk score (CRS) for each individual, with a higher score indicating a greater risk of disease.

The results of the study showed that, overall, workplace interventions did not have a “significant” impact on the CRS of participants. However, there was a noticeable decrease in CRS for individuals with a higher initial risk of cardiovascular disease.

Results of the study

Co-lead author Lisa Berkman, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard Chan School, emphasized the importance of working conditions in determining our health, saying, “The study illustrates how working conditions are important social determinants of health.”

She added, “When stressful workplace conditions and work-family conflict were mitigated, we saw a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among more vulnerable employees, without any negative impact on their productivity. These findings could be particularly consequential for low- and middle-wage workers who traditionally have less control over their schedules and job demands and are subject to greater health inequities.”

Reduction in cardiometabolic risk score due to flexible work hours

Those participants who experienced a reduction in their CRS found themselves in a healthier state, equivalent to being 5.5 to 10.3 years younger in terms of their health. Among staff members, those who were over the age of forty-five and had a higher CRS observed the most significant improvements.

Co-lead author Orfeu Buxton, a professor of biobehavioral health and the director of the Sleep, Health & Society Collaboratory at Penn State, concluded that the intervention aimed to transform workplace culture gradually so as to reduce conflicts between the work and personal lives of employees and ultimately enhance health.

He stated, “Now, we have evidence that such changes can enhance the health of employees and should be adopted more widely.”

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