Men who have heart problems are far more likely than women to die young if they have a stressful job, a study says.
Even if they keep fit and eat healthily, they are 68 % more likely to die prematurely if they are under strain at work, researchers said.
They suggested men who have had strokes or have heart disease or type 2 diabetes may therefore need to work less.
Women with stressful jobs, however, were found to have no increased risk of premature death, regardless of whether or not they had heart problems.
Scientists suggest one explanation is that men are more prone to clogged arteries during their working lives than women, who generally have a much lower chance of heart problems before menopause.
Lead researcher Professor Mika Kivimaki, from University College London, said: ‘Work is a common source of stress in adulthood, triggering natural stress responses that were programmed in our bodies generations ago.
‘These can result in physical reactions to situations like work stress. Our findings give evidence for there being a link between job strain and risk of premature death in men with cardiometabolic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
He added: ‘Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels alone are unlikely to eliminate the excess risk.’
Scientists looked at data from 100,000 people in the UK, France, Finland and Sweden, including 3,441 with these illnesses. Their medical records were tracked over 14 years. Researchers questioned participants about two types of work stress – job strain, which meant having high work demands and low control over them, and ‘effort-reward imbalance’, defined as putting in lots of effort but getting little reward in return.
The researchers found that, among men with heart problems, those experiencing job strain had a 68 % greater risk of early death than those where it wasn’t a factor.
The study, published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal, found there was no increased risk caused by a poor effort-reward balance.
Stress can result in higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which increases glucose production and limits the effects of insulin, potentially worsening diabetes, researchers suggest. It can also elevate blood pressure and affect blood clotting, putting those with hardened arteries at risk of heart problems.