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Work-life imbalance significantly increases risk of heart diseases, study finds

Calcium buildup can culminate in coronary artery disease (CAD) - a lethal affliction responsible for one in every four deaths in the United States
In Singapore, where worker stress levels exceed the global average, many workers end their days feeling mentally and physically exhausted. (CREDIT: Shutterstock)

Achieving a healthy work-life balance has become increasingly challenging. With longer working hours, constant connectivity, and blurred boundaries between work and personal life, employees worldwide are experiencing stress spillover from their workplaces into their homes. This spillover negatively impacts mental health, family relationships, work productivity, and job satisfaction.

In Singapore, where worker stress levels exceed the global average, many workers end their days feeling mentally and physically exhausted. This growing imbalance is raising concerns about its potential effects on physical health.


The Worrisome Effects of Work-Life Imbalance

"To date, most research on work-life imbalance effects relies on self-reported measures of subjective health such as headaches, sleep degradation, loss of appetite, and fatigue," Assistant Professor Andree Hartanto told the Office of Research.

"While subjective health indicators show people suffering from stress and negative work-to-life spillover effects, physiological changes in the body, especially changes to the heart, are sometimes missed as some of the symptoms are silent and asymptomatic.

"This is worrisome as cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 17.9 million people die from cardiovascular diseases each year. This is why we decided to conduct a study specifically to investigate the health implications of negative work-to-family spillover on cardiovascular risk biomarkers," Professor Hartanto explained.


In-Depth Research on Cardiovascular Risk

Professor Hartanto published a paper titled "Negative work-to-family spillover stress and heightened cardiovascular risk biomarkers in midlife and older adults" in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

This study was a collaborative effort with his former undergraduate students from Singapore Management University (SMU): K.T.A. Sandeeshwara Kasturiratna, Meilan Hu, Shu Fen Diong, and Verity Y. Q. Lua. Sandeeshwara is currently pursuing a PhD at SMU, while Verity has started her PhD in Psychology at Stanford University.


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The research utilized data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) II Biomarker Project and MIDUS Refresher: Biomarker Project. The MIDUS II Biomarker Project took place from 2004 to 2009, and the MIDUS Refresher Biomarker Project was conducted from 2012 to 2016.

The sample consisted of 1,179 working or self-employed adults, predominantly Caucasian (89 percent), with an average age of 52.64 years, and an almost equal gender mix. Participants worked an average of 41 hours per week.


To measure negative work-to-family spillover, researchers developed and validated a four-item scale for participants to report their experiences. During data collection, participants stayed overnight at a clinical research center and underwent a physical exam, including a fasting blood sample for cardiovascular risk biomarkers.

The five biomarkers studied were high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), triglycerides, interleukin-6, and C-reactive protein. These markers indicate cholesterol levels (HDL, LDL), hardening of the arteries (triglycerides), and heart inflammation (interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein), all early indicators of cardiovascular diseases.


The results revealed that negative work-to-family spillover significantly predicted two biomarkers: higher triglycerides, which can lead to hardening of the arteries, and lower HDL, which can elevate cholesterol levels. These findings remained robust even after adjusting for various control variables, including demographics, medication, health status, and health-related behaviors.

This suggests that stress spillover from work into home life can cause physiological changes contributing to cardiovascular diseases. The study also found a correlation between negative work-to-family spillover and inflammation biomarkers like interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein.

Professor Hartanto's research is a wake-up call for organizations to prioritize work-life balance. Stress in the workplace not only affects mental health and family relationships but also has significant physical health implications. Employers need to recognize the importance of supporting their employees in achieving a healthy balance between work and personal life to mitigate these risks.


While many have acknowledged the mental toll of work-life imbalance, its hidden dangers to physical health, particularly concerning cardiovascular risks, are equally alarming. By understanding and addressing these issues, both employers and employees can work towards healthier, more balanced lives.

For more science and technology stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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