Your first job can impact your heart’s health later in life

While your first job as a teen or in your early 20s probably isn’t a good predictor of your future success — Jeff Bezos got his start flipping burgers at McDonald’s, and Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered newspapers — it could be an indicator of your heart health later in life, a new study suggests.

Last Friday, researchers from the University of Cambridge, Bristol, and the University College London’s Social Research Institute published a health and socioeconomic study of more than 12,000 British study participants over the span of several decades. Their findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health: Participants who were more educated and held managerial positions in their first few jobs had healthier hearts 20 years later than those who didn’t.

The study’s authors particularly zeroed in on subjects who, between ages 16 and 24, entered professional occupations — like scientists, doctors or public servants — or managerial jobs like teaching, nursing or law enforcement. Those participants measured favorably at age 46 in a series of cardiovascular health metrics — including blood pressure, cholesterol levels and waist circumference — to those who started out unemployed or “partially skilled” jobs like waiting tables or working on farms.

Eleanor Winpenny, a career development fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research and one of the study’s authors, says the disparity could be due to the healthy or unhealthy habits formed during early adulthood that trickled into adulthood. “These differences mean that the ‘continued education’ group of early adulthood have a lower risk of heart attacks and less likelihood of dying from cardiovascular illness in later life,” she says.

The biggest surprise for the authors, according to Winpenny: Early adulthood seemed to impact cardiovascular health significantly more than any participant’s current job or income level. Those results track with a similar recent study, published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, which found college graduates live longer than those without a college degree.

To Winpenny, the results suggest a need for employers to provide early support for young adults. Plenty of noteworthy companies have beefed up their perks in recent years to attract younger workers. Last week, Target announced a new program to cover the entire cost of associate and undergraduate degrees at select schools, and help pay for graduate school costs. Walmart, Chipotle and Starbucks offer similar debt-free education programs.

Varying forms of support, Winpenny says, could allow for healthier development into middle age, theoretically helping prevent heart disease later in life. In the United States, heart disease is the country’s leading cause of death — killing about 655,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC.

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