Shift Workers at Higher Risk

Posted on July 30 2012

A new study, recently released, determined that shift workers are at higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiac problems. This study is not the first of its kind, but it is the first to be so comprehensive, even including previous study materials into the current one.

The study states that people who work shift work – swing shifts, night shifts, fluctuating shifts, or on-call shifts to name a few – are estimated to have a 23% higher risk of heart attack and 5% greater risk of ischemic stroke, over workers who have predictable work schedules with set daytime hours. These workers also have a 24% higher risk of other coronary events (though this risk factor does include heart attack, it does not include stroke). The study states there is no difference in risk between a high-skilled doctor who works a variety of hours and that of a late night fast-food worker, both are affected the same by the stresses from working abnormal shifts.

One potential cause for these higher risk factors is the constant change in schedule. Aside from accommodating the hours that their work requires, many people have other responsibilities including children, medical care, housework, various appointments, and errands. As their schedules fluctuate, so does their ability to schedule all of the other happenings in their lives. In addition, if workers have more than one job and have an additional work schedule to juggle, setting childcare becomes another stress in their lives. Plus, a disrupted sleep schedule can have an adverse affect on the body.

In our country, we work 24/7. Maybe not one person individually, but as a society work is a major priority and often takes precedent over other activities. What can be done to help these workers at risk? Given the current hard economic times, most people will not be cutting back on hours or the amount of jobs they work, especially if they live on a budget and are working multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

Health researchers suggest that shift workers should be mindful of their risk factors, keeping a close eye on blood pressure, diet, exercise, and cut down or quit smoking. Also suggested, is to keep weight in check, monitor cholesterol, and keep a careful eye on diabetes and blood sugars. It is also pointed out that sleeping habits should be kept as regular as possible. Insomnia can be a pre-curser to many coronary health issues, and it certainly does not help to lower the stress level. Eating a healthy diet can also help shift workers stay healthy and even more alert. Diets that are low in carbohydrates and sugars will actually give you more energy and help you from feeling sluggish (which usually leads to that next sugar fix).

This new study affects shift workers of the world and especially those in developed or developing nations, where fluctuating shifts keep countries going. Ridding ourselves of these work hours would demolish all of the structure we have produced. Perhaps with a few adjustments, both by companies who hold these shifts and those who work them, we can have a healthier work force that will be destined to live longer – no matter what shift they work.

  Sources: Time Healthland: BBC US News/Healthday:


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