January 20, 2014

Ask the Doctors

Because of his heavy responsibilities and high position, my husband is under considerable stress at work. I also know his family history and have been after him to change his job, but he says that would be even more stressful. He is 55, and his father died at 58 of a heart attack. Can you help me help him? I value him more than his executive paycheck!

Your husband’s problem is complex. First, there’s the family history. Then there’s the work, plus the stress. Your husband might be correct, though, regarding your suggestion that he find a new job—that could be even more stressful than his current situation. And jobs are not easy to come by, especially for someone 55 years of age.

As an executive, he likely earns a fairly large salary, and you probably have unconsciously adapted to an affluent lifestyle. If he gave up his job, you might find cutting back a more painful and stressful necessity than expected.

The family history might well be very significant, unless throughout the years you have implemented corrective lifestyle strategies to offset some of the inherited risks.

For many years researchers debated whether stress was a factor in the causation of a heart attack, but within the past decade several well-structured studies have shown that there is a causative correlation between work stress and heart attacks. Stress, of course, is not inherent in his work itself, but in his reaction to the work.

We strongly advocate a temperate lifestyle; although, to be honest, we have at times been guilty ourselves of some highly intemperate work habits. We also know several other highly placed church leaders who are culpable of the same thing. We tell you that so as to assure you that we’re not condemnatory, but sympathetic. Nevertheless, careful attention to the workload, judicious delegation, and a careful and disciplined ability to say “no” can remove a great deal of stress.

A study reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal* is of great importance. It showed that even in cases where stress was not removed, its effect could be greatly mitigated by a healthful lifestyle.

The authors pooled data from seven cohort studies and found 102,128 men and women who were disease-free at the commencement of the studies. Job strain was assessed, and four lifestyle factors were measured. The lifestyle factors were smoking, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol consumption, and obesity. It was discovered that the risk of heart attack was half that in those who did not smoke, were active, were of relatively normal weight, rarely drank much alcohol, and had job strain, compared to those with job strain and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Stress is not inherent in his work itself, but in his reaction to the work.

A multifocused approach to your husband’s health prognosis appears to be warranted. He needs to learn to work efficiently, but also to rest or relax well. To do this, he should leave the work at work, and make your home his refuge. Physical activity—preferably coupled with something he can enjoy, such as walking, canoeing, playing tennis, swimming, etc.—would be even more pleasurable if you would do it with him.

Eating on the run, at restaurants, or at fast-food outlets is a no-no! Family meals, besides building a strong home and protecting the children, can bring a definite psychological unwinding into play.

Beyond the parameters examined in the one study cited, there’s an abundance of additional evidence that shows the benefits of the natural remedies so often touted in this column.

Spiritual well-being is also a strongly protective factor; and church attendance, with the peace of a lovely Sabbath day, can work wonders.

People who know that their spouses love them have been shown to have a highly significant reduction in cardiovascular risk. So speak kind words and express your love for each other. There is nothing like the healing power of love.

* Canadian Medical Association Journal 185, no. 9 (June 11, 2013): 763.

Send your questions to Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or e-mail them to [email protected]. While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.