Study: Work-Related Stress Could Impact Your Health in Retirement

These occupations are associated with high rates of hypertension during the retirement years

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You might think that after you retire, the stresses of the working world would fade into memories. But the damaging health effects of work-related tension could follow you long into your retirement years, suggests new research. "People's occupations during their working years can clearly be a risk for hypertension after they retire," says Paul Leigh, a professor at the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at University of California at Davis and coauthor of the study. "The body seems to have built up a stress reaction that takes years to ramp down and may last well beyond age 75."

Americans who manage others generally seem to have lower blood pressure in retirement than those who are managed, the study found. Workers who held higher-status jobs and especially management positions, such as chief executives, financial managers, and management analysts, were found to have the lowest rates of hypertension in retirement, according to the paper published in the June issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Employees in lower status jobs with little control over decision making, such as sales, administrative support, construction, and food preparation workers, tended to have the highest rates of high blood pressure at age 65 or older.

The researchers analyzed data for 7,289 Americans over the age of 65 collected between March 2004 and February 2005. About 10 percent of the 65-year-olds and 2 percent of those age 75 and older were still working while the study was conducted. The researchers controlled for education, race, income, smoking, alcohol consumption, body mass index, and other health conditions when analyzing the data to see how job type is associated with hypertension in retirement. The occupations more likely than managers to report hypertension among men in retirement were salespersons, personal service workers, mechanics, construction trades, precisions production workers, and operators. Among women, salespeople, private household cleaning service workers, personal service workers, and professionals were the most likely to have hypertension in retirement. Leigh says the reason that female professionals suffered from high rates of hypertension in retirement, while male professionals did not, may be due to females in this age range having lower-status professional positions, such as teachers and nurses, compared to more doctor and lawyer occupations among men.

Previous research has indicated that workers who are under pressure to complete specified tasks, but have little control over decision-making, tend to have higher stress levels, which can lead to high blood pressure. “If you have a janitor, they are for the most part told which rooms to clean and they don’t have a lot of latitude to make decisions and have others respond to those decisions,” says Leigh. “This is going to affect their blood pressure and health.” But this analysis further concludes that preretirement occupations continue to be risk factors for hypertension among seniors long into the retirement years. Says Leigh, “People that are currently working in lower status jobs tend to have higher blood pressure than people who are currently working in higher status jobs and this lingers into retirement.”

[See Why Your Job Could Be Making You Old.]