More strain at work might mean more illness in old age, according
to a new study from Finland. The study found both physical and mental job
strain was tied to hospital stays later in life.
Mental job strain can come from tight deadlines, high
demands and having little control over one's work while physical strain includes
sweating, breathlessness and muscle strain.
"Job strain is something that is individually
perceived, so persons working in similar jobs can report different amounts of
job strain," lead researcher Mikaela von Bonsdorff said.
"When talking about job strain it is important to
remember that occasional feelings of job strain are not necessarily a bad
thing, but persistent high job strain has been identified as a health
Read: Ways to cope with work strain
Higher strain equals
to increase in hospital stays
Recent studies have linked long-term job strain to lower
functioning that lasts into old age, added von Bonsdorff. She is a gerontology
researcher at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.
The new findings come from a study of more than 5 000
middle-aged Finnish public sector employees who were initially surveyed about stress
at work in 1981.The researchers combined that information with data from
national hospital records spanning the next 28 years. With higher strain in
midlife, days in the hospital tended to increase, especially for physical
strain. For instance, for every 1 000 men with low physical job strain, about
eight days were spent in inpatient hospital care every year, on average.
That compared to almost 13 days for every 1 000 men with
high physical job strain, according to findings published in Age and Ageing.
"What was interesting was that these associations were
clear also when we looked at hospital care that took place after the
individuals had turned 65, indicating that these associations were also robust
in older age and not that the association was due to hospital care that took
place immediately after the baseline assessment of job strain," von
For both men and women, hospital days increased as physical
The type of
But for mental strain, the link was only clear among
men."Job strain of some sort can occur in basically any type of
employment," Loretta Platts, doctoral candidate at Imperial College
London, told Reuters Health.
"Although physical job strain is confined to certain
sorts of occupations, such as manual occupations or low-level service
occupations like being an electrician, caretaker, driver, builder, cleaner,
waiter, waitress, cook or shop assistant," she said.
"The mechanism might be the development of
musculoskeletal disorders from high physical strain jobs, which are often
irreversible and painful, and can lead to osteoarthritis, a leading cause of
hospital admissions in older people," Platts said.
"In addition, immobility can be related to weight gain,
which in turn leads to heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Read: Effects of prolonged bed rest
Watch:: Get moving
"Mental strain has been linked to heart disease,
another cause of hospital stays. Still, the study can't prove that job strain
causes poor health and more hospital stays”, Platts points out.
High-strain jobs might be undesirable for many people, so
it's possible people working those kinds of jobs were unable to get less
stressful jobs for an unknown, but relevant, reason. That reason could also be
connected to their healthcare use.
It's also possible that 28 years later, the people spending
the most time in hospitals happened to think more negatively about their work
in 1981, she said."This study was only of public sector employees and came
from a country with a very developed welfare state.
The consequences for people working in the private sector
and in countries with less generous welfare states are likely to be
worse," Platts said. "The public sector in Finland is probably a