NEW YORK - Postmenopausal women who work tend be in better health than their unemployed counterparts, according to a new study from South Korea.
Researchers found that employed postmenopausal women were about 34 per cent less likely to have so-called metabolic syndrome - a collection of obesity-related conditions that raise heart disease risk - compared to unemployed women of the same age.
But one expert pointed out that it's hard to know whether jobs make women healthy or if healthy women are just more likely to have jobs.
"You wonder if healthy women get hired and less healthy women get fired. You just don't know," Dr. Melissa Wellons, who was not involved with the new research, told Reuters Health.
Previous studies have found that people who work tend to do financially better and are more physically active, and that may influence their risk of metabolic syndrome - which includes high blood pressure and high cholesterol, a large waistline and insulin resistance.
Together, the risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome are linked to a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke.
Menopause may also influence a woman's risk for metabolic syndrome, because hormone changes make women susceptible to excessive weight gain, Yonsei University's Dr. Hee-Taik Kang and colleagues write in the journal Menopause.
For the new study, the researchers used data from 2007 through 2009 on 3,141 premenopausal Korean women and 2,115 postmenopausal women to investigate the potential link between employment status and metabolic syndrome.
Among postmenopausal women, whose average age was between 59 and 65 years old, about 55 per cent of unemployed women met the criteria for having metabolic syndrome. That compared to about 42 per cent of employed women.
There was a similar trend among premenopausal women, whose average age was about 35 years old.
About 15 per cent of unemployed premenopausal women met the criteria for metabolic syndrome, compared to about 13 per cent of employed women. That small difference, however, could have been due to chance.
"Several mechanisms could explain the significant relationships between employment status and (metabolic syndrome)," write the researchers.
One possible explanation, according to Kang and colleagues, is that employed postmenopausal women in their study were more active than the unemployed women.
But Wellons, an assistant professor of endocrinology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said it's hard to know exactly why employed postmenopausal women are healthier and if the results would apply to women in the US
"I've seen studies that show working women in America weigh less, but again, you just don't know. Does work keep you busy, keep you from gaining weight, and do healthy women get hired more?" Wellons said.
"It's an interesting observation and I hope it's true because I'm working," she said.