How does your job impact your heart health? A team of researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health examined the health of America’s older working population to find which jobs are linked to poor heart health. Their findings, which were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 meeting, pull back the curtain on the riskiest professions to the heart, and may one day lead to targeted treatments.

The study involved 5,566 employed men and women who were either black or white, aged 45 or older, and without a history of heart disease or stroke. Researchers measured their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels, and body mass index — all of which affect heart health. Next, they calculated each worker’s heart score using the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 assessment. The scores are based on the aforementioned health measures, as well as physical activity, diet, and smoking status. Fewer than 41 percent of workers scored a 10, an “ideal cardiovascular health” score.

"The lower the number of ideal cardiovascular risk factors, the easier it becomes to predict their future health ills, including premature death, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease," said the study’s lead researcher Leslie MacDonald, senior scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, in a press release.

Workers earned ideal scores if they were healthy without taking medication to achieve blood pressure readings lower than 120/80 mm Hg, total cholesterol levels below 200 mg/dL, or blood glucose levels lower than 100 mg/dL while fasting or 140 mg/dL without fasting. In addition, they also had to complete four out of five dietary goals, and clock in 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

Researchers found 22 percent of transportation workers and movers were smokers, putting them at highest risk for heart disease among all occupations. Sixty-nine percent of sales employees did not meet an ideal cholesterol score, and 82 percent of office and administrative support workers did not meet the ideal physical activity score. Over 68 percent of sales, office, and administrative support employees had poor eating habits, too.

Workers in the food preparation and service industry scored the worst on dietary goals, with a total of 79 percent falling into the “poor diet” category. Meanwhile, 90 percent of police, firefighters, and other employees of protective service were likely to be obese, while 77 percent couldn’t reach ideal total cholesterol levels and 35 percent had high blood pressure.

Those with management or professional jobs had better cardiovascular health compared to all other job categories — 75 percent partook in moderate activity levels, 30 percent had ideal body mass indexes, and only 6 percent were smokers. Seventy-two percent of those working in the business and finance world, however, had poor dietary scores.

Across the board, many workers tended to fall short with healthy dieting. To score high in this category, they had to complete four of five dietary goals: Consuming 4 and a half cups or more of fruit and vegetables each day, 3 and a half ounces of fish at least twice a week, less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, 450 calories or fewer of sugary foods a week, and 3 ounces or more of whole grains each day.

Americans who worked in fields that required long hours and inflexible work schedules or overnight shifts had a harder time attaining ideal scores compared to those who worked regular daytime hours. Researchers believe it is because they have less time to shop and prepare healthful meals and exercise, both of which contribute to unhealthy metabolic levels and add additional stress.

Nevertheless, MacDonald provided hope to those struggling to meet the ideal criteria for a heart-healthy American: “Older U.S. workers are not destined by age to have a poor cardiovascular health profile, but some workers have more barriers to achieving ideal levels than others.”

Source: MacDonald L, Bertke S, and Hein MJ, et al. American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 meeting. 2016.