8 professions that could hurt your heart (and make you fat)

Story highlights

Shift workers typically do poorly when it comes to heart health

Some 90% of firefighters and police officers in the study were overweight or obese

CNN  — 

Some people blame their sweet tooth, some blame their couch potato lifestyle, but now something else may be to blame for what’s hurting your heart (and/or making you fat): your job.

Scientists presenting their work at the American Heart Association conference on Tuesday found that people in some professions tend to have less healthy habits than others.

To figure this out, researchers looked at seven health habits of 5,566 people over age 45 who did not have a history of heart disease or stroke. Known as “Life’s Simple 7” they include blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, fitness levels, diet, smoking and obesity. Here are eight professions that seem to be a challenge for your heart (and your waistline).

(Early) death of a sales(man)

The great majority of salespeople in this study seem to be selling their health short, with 68% having poor eating habits and 69% with cholesterol levels bad enough that they’ll likely get a lecture from their doctor.

Take a memo

Administrative support staff seem to be skipping the gym and they did not have “ideal” levels of physical activity. With only 20.8% of Americans meeting the physical activity guidelines, they certainly are not alone.

Uniform(ly) bad

The people who keep us safe are failing to protect their hearts. Many fire and police departments have fitness standards, but 90% of police and firefighters in the study were obese or overweight, 77% had high cholesterol and 35% had high blood pressure.

Moving on up

Transportation/material movers tread a dangerous road. While the greater majority of Americans have stopped smoking, these professionals haven’t kicked the habit yet. Nearly a quarter smoke, making them the profession that smokes the most of all the jobs studied.

Stop sampling the merchandise

It’s got to be hard working around all that food. It turns out people who work with food may give into temptation too much; 79% in this study had poor diets.

Health mischief managed

The proverbial fat cats need a different name. The healthiest professionals in this study are managers. Professionals like doctors and lawyers do better, too. They hit the gym fairly regularly and 75% are considered at least moderately active. One-third had ideal body mass. And rarely will you find a manager standing outside the office with the smokers, as only 6% smoke. The one set of managers and professionals that doesn’t fare as well are people in finance and business. They eat poorly. Maybe the Great Recession made them stress eaters.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Leslie MacDonald with the U.S. Public Health Service, said it is important to keep in mind that good heart health is “not an all or nothing proposition.” Incorporating baby steps into your routine like having healthy snacks on hand or taking a walk rather than reaching for that chocolate when you are stressed can help.

She is sympathetic to those who struggle. “Faced with inadequate control and resources to meet job demands, or with unpleasant interactions with a boss or co-workers/customers, may drain a worker’s resolve to adopt or sustain health promoting habits,” she said in an email. “When feeling stressed, it’s harder to resist reaching for a cigarette or simple carbohydrates or chocolate.”

Earlier studies have shown that a number of the professions that made the unhealthy list – particularly those that require people to do shift work – sleep less and have higher levels of stress when they do not control their own schedules. Lack of sleep and stress can lead people to eat poorly, drink more and smoke.

“When people have no autonomy and everything in their workday is constrained, that can be hard on your health,” said Dr. Sharonne Hayes, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

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    Hayes would add farming to the list of professions that are hard on your health. She sees a good number of farmers and says many are incredibly strong because of the work they do, but they are unfit because of their poor eating habits. Often they grab what they can as they go out in the fields, and often that choice isn’t a healthy one.

    It’s not all doom and gloom if you do work in one of the heart-challenging professions. Hayes suggests you use this study to be aware of the health challenges your job provides. She suggests simple steps. Fix yourself a healthy lunch the night before and bring it with you, rather than stopping at a drive-thru. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Set aside half your lunch hour for a walk.

    “Anything you can do to help you realize that you do have a choice with your health,” Hayes said. “If you assert your own power over your health, you will make better choices overall and will more consistently feel empowered to make them.”