Bankers warned on heart problems as young deaths reported

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As the year progresses and healthy resolutions start to slip, academics and cardiologists are warning bankers to watch for heart conditions.

Dr. Duncan Dymond, a consultant cardiologist at Bart's Hospital in London said traders tend to be most susceptible to heart problems: "They drink too much alcohol, have too little sleep and too much caffeine and use too much cocaine, leading to atrial fibrillation at a younger age. There are also bankers in their late 40s and early 50s who have hypertension and coronary artery disease as a result of being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle."

Professor Mika Kivimäki of the Epidemiology & Public Health Department at University College London said the key predictors of heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol.  However, workplace factors also have an important role to play, said Kivimäki. "We conducted a study of 200,000 people which showed that high work load and high work expectations, combined with a lack of control over the work environment lead to a 20% increase in the risk of heart disease," he said.

Long hours have also been shown to be a contributory factor in coronary disease, with a separate study of Kivimäki's showing that people who work more than 11 hours a day on average are 67% more likely to develop heart disease than those working eight hour days. "Working long hours in a stressful job also makes it more likely that you will eat badly and take insufficient exercise," said Kivimäki. Coronary disease develops over decades. The danger is that bankers abuse their bodies in their 20s and early 30s and that the abuse manifests itself in serious heart problems in the late 30s and early 40s, he said. Over 85% of heart attacks strike people aged over 65, said Kivimäki.

Bloomberg reported Jan. 28 that Ben Steele, a 35-year-old London-based hedge fund trader with Armajaro Asset Management LLP died of a suspected heart attack on January 25th. That followed a report from the news service that Andrew Littell, European head of loan and bond trading at CVC Credit Partners, died of heart failure. Dec. 17 aged 44 following a stomach virus. This followed the death of Thomas Candillier, J.P. Morgan's head of European sales trading, aged 37, before Christmas. J.P. Morgan declined to comment on the cause of death, prompting speculation that Candillier died of heart failure.

Banking developed a reputation as an unhealthy industry to work for after an academic study last year found that bankers abuse their bodies through voluntary overwork.

In 2008, Gavin Macdonald, Morgan Stanley's head of M&A died of a heart attack at his desk in Canary Wharf aged 47. Bruce Wasserstein died of a heart attack aged 61 in October 2010. Wasserstein was known for being 'vastly overweight', suggesting that the stress of a banking career may not have been the only contributory factor in his demise.

A source at one private clinic in London, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there's been an increase in the number of financial services professionals suffering from arrythmia and atrial fibrillation in recent years. Both conditions are a precursor of heart problems in later life.

One 40-something financial services employee who had a near-fatal heart attack last year, said it's not so much banking that's bad for your heart as cocaine. "A lot of people in banking take cocaine when they're younger - it is incredibly corrosive for the heart. Even if you stop doing drugs as you get older, it just takes a bit of stress in your 40s and - bam."

He adds that many people in the City of London have heart attacks and then go back to work as soon as possible. "It's all part of the problem. I know three really senior guys who had serious heart attacks and were back at their desks within six weeks because they wanted to show how tough they were. You should really have three months off."

In the wake of a financial crisis, David Stuckler, a Cambridge sociologist, said it's more likely to be the population at large than bankers themselves that suffers from heart problems. Stuckler's research in 2007 suggested that an additional 2,000 people would die of heart attacks as a result of the financial crisis, a number he claims has since been substantiated. For bankers who are worried about their health, Kivimäki recommended mitigating the key risk factors: "Make sure that your blood pressure is not too high and that your cholesterol levels are fine, that you exercise."

Nieca Goldberg, M.D., American Heart Association spokesperson, cardiologist and director, NYU Center for Women's Health; Co-Medical Director of the 92nd Street Cardiac Rehabilitation in New York, offered three pieces of advice:

1. Don't sit all day. The more you sit,  the higher your risk for heart disease. Get up every 15-20 minutes and walk around.

2. Avoid dessert, it adds unnecessary calories.

3. Don't bottle up stress. Learn to break down the situation and delegate.