All working mothers already know this intuitively, but now we have some British academics who confirm what we’ve always suspected: flexible work schedules have a positive effect on our health. In fact, researchers at Durham University report that just being able to self-schedule working hours was found to have positive impacts on a number of health outcomes including blood pressure, sleep and mental health.
All three outcomes can be important risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease, so this research has important ramifications for women interested in improving heart health by reducing day to day stress.
Stress is often defined as a fight-or-flight response: a moment when your body produces stress hormones in preparation for fighting your stress or running away from it. This stress response was quite useful for people thousands of years ago when facing those sabre-toothed tigers or other deadly threats.
Today, your body responds to stress and perceived danger in much the same way. But instead of confronting wild animals, women may face ongoing stressful events such as trying to get the whole family up and out the door on time every morning, being stuck in rush hour traffic, or juggling household management To Do lists.
Mayo Clinic experts suggest that increases in blood pressure related to stress can be dramatic. But once the stressor disappears, blood pressure usually returns to normal. However, even temporary spikes in blood pressure when juggling work and family stress can damage your blood vessels, heart and kidneys in a way similar to longterm high blood pressure.
Durham University researchers found, for example, that police officers who were able to change their starting times at work showed significant improvements in psychological wellbeing compared to police officers who had to start work at a fixed hour.
In Scandinavian countries, flexible working arrangements for employees with families are already commonplace. And last year, the UK government extended an earlier piece of legislation giving all parents with children under 16 the right to request flexible working arrangements. Although it is assumed that such policies are beneficial, this Durham study attempted to quantify health impacts in more detail.
Read the Durham University news release to find out more about this Cochrane Systematic Review including ten studies involving a total of 16,603 people.
And take this Risk Assessment quiz from the Heart and Stroke Foundation to get started on your own Blood Pressure Action Plan.
- A Heart Patient’s Guide to the Three Stages of Chronic Stress
- Is Family Stress Hurting Your Heart?
- A Woman’s Guide to Handling Chronic Stress
- Poor Marriage = Poor Heart Health for Women
Do you have flexible working hours? Tell us about them!