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Oh Great, Globalization Could Be Giving Us Heart Disease

It's Monday, and we need a bit of happy news to perk up our nascent work week. How about new research that finds a possible connection between cardiovascular disease and economic globalization? That's right: cardiovascular disease may not necessarily be the natural result of aging and personal habits. No, it's the economy, stupid!

Researchers at the University of California-Irvine and SUNY Downstate Medical Center threw their hearts and minds into more than 30 years of epidemiological research. What they found was a relationship between cardiovascular disease and the rise of the modern, global economy in high-income countries.

Who would have thought that putting in long hours doing repetitive work tasks with less control over our highly-demanding, increasingly-precarious jobs wouldn't exactly be heart-healthy? It's a vicious circle though, because logging too many work hours in a 24/7 economy leaves little time for important things such as preparing a well-balanced, home-cooked meal for ourselves. Cooking at home takes planning, as well as an ability not to forget to buy fresh basil, garlic and olive oil while we're at the grocery store.

At the same time, we might be pulling down a salary that allows us to afford easily the plethora of expensive, pre-packaged meals found in the frozen foods section, or at the swanky grocery store deli counter. So, why not? Just throw it in the cart! We're tired and our mental bandwidth is low thanks to workplace stress, so we'll go with the prepared macaroni and cheese tin that we need only reheat in the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. We're too tired to make a salad on the side.

If you're feeling disheartened by the report's findings, the researchers offer a few recommendations for reduced our overall CPD risk in a globalized economy. First, countries could better monitor various occupations, industries and workplaces for elevated hazard levels. Second, regulations could be implemented to limit psychological stressors on the job. Third, company could cap weekly and yearly work hours. Fourth, vacation time can be employer-mandated. Fifth, living wage ordinances could be passed to reduce the financial stress that leads to working long hours. Sixth, we could pass legislation that covers precarious workers who lack economic security.

It all sounds good, but more regulation probably isn't on the menu anytime soon. So it's up to us to set better personal boundaries and practice better self-care as employees in a fickle, global economy. Here are a few tips:

1. Meditate (or at least pretend to). Make yourself slow down. Close your eyes at your desk every few hours and breathe deeply a handful of times. Think relaxing thoughts. Listen to music that helps you slow down. Listen to your body. Let calls go to voice mail sometimes, because that's what voice mail is for. Give yourself the gift of downtime.

2. Exercise. Take a walk, run -- whatever helps to take your mind off your work stress. Some of us like to solve our work-related problems while exercising, and some of us prefer not to think anything at all when we exercise. Both are fine approaches; do what works best for you. You can even do some yoga at your desk.

3. Learn to cook. No, really! Make yourself learn five, heart-healthy dinner recipes over the next month that you can make in 20 minutes or less. Google "20 minute dinner recipes" for hundreds of simple, healthy ideas. Do not allow yourself to cheat by ordering take out again. You are going to make this home-cooked meal tonight, damn it. Stick with it, and learn some basics. Soon, you'll be scanning the high-end, pre-packaged meals you used to buy and think to yourself: "Pfft, I can make this at home now! Why would I pay $30 when I can make it myself for $10, or less?" Congratulations, your epicurean evolution is complete. And you're eating better, too.

4. Know your blood pressure. Do you know your blood pressure range? To find out, visit the blood pressure kiosk at your local big box pharmacy, or invest $40 in a blood pressure device you can use at home. Ask your doctor for advice. Get to know the signs of high blood pressure, too.

5. Don't start stressful projects at bedtime. Don't start projects right before bedtime that might keep you awake. Can you wait until the next morning to pay the bills, or to return an email that requires a delicate, thoughtful response? Do you really need to format a new spreadsheet at bedtime, or can it wait until morning when you're better rested? Don't set yourself up to toss and turn at 3 a.m.

6. Keep everything in perspective. Make self-care a priority in your life no matter how competitive your workplace feels. No job is worth your health. Refuse to bite off more than you can chew. It's okay to say "no" sometimes! Give yourself permission to rest, re-evaluate and rejuvinate. Find a balance that works for you.

Do any of these tips make up for the economic potluck casserole that is our global economy? No, but they might make up for the fact that you've been eating badly because you've been too tired to cook lately. Well, please know that my heart was in the right place here.


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