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Issue 194: Work & Heart Disease

Brush Health

If you’re like most people, you already know that you need to eat right, get regular exercise, avoid drinking too much alcohol and not smoke to bring down your risk for heart disease. Did you know, however, that you may need to modify your working habits for heart health, too, if you work too much?

It’s true, at least according to a recent meta-analysis study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. If you regularly put in more than eight hours a day working, it can increase your risk for heart disease by up to a staggering 80 percent.

The researchers examined 12 published studies involving 22,000 people from the last 50 years and discovered that spending too long at work upped people’s chances of heart disease by 40 to 80 percent compared to workers who work a typical eight-hour day. The authors of the study weren’t completely sure just why the risk of heart diseases increases so much, but they did have this to say: “There are several potential mechanisms that may underlie the association between long working hours and heart disease. One is prolonged exposure to psychological stress.”

Prolonged stress and the resulting higher blood pressure that can accompany it may be only part of the problem, though. Those working longer hours also tend to eat worse than those who work an average eight-hour day. Poor eating habits certainly can adversely affect health, including heart health, so even if you’re working excessively, you still need to eat sensibly, healthily and regularly.

No matter what the reason for the increased risk of heart disease and working longer hours, however, that’s not positive news for American workers. They spend, on average, 43 hours per week (8.6 hours per day) working, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Interestingly, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says that Americans are actually spending fewer hours at work than they were in 2000. That figure may be misleading, though, since Americans are increasingly allowing their work to infiltrate their “down time”—their after-hours personal time.

In fact, a survey by Good Technology points out that the workday is getting longer due to workers checking work e-mails and answering work-related phone calls after work hours. In their poll, a full 80 percent of 1,000 Americans surveyed said that they, indeed, do spend time after regular work hours checking work e-mails and answering those work-related phone calls—to the tune of an average of seven additional hours of work a week or about 30 extra hours per month. 

No wonder those who work seemingly unending hours up their heart disease risk.

The truth is that most people really do want to—and want to continue to—put their hearts into their work. For those who go overboard with their time at work, however, they may need to consider working only their expected work hours, and then calling it a day. Realistically speaking, there may be times when workers are required to put in extra hours for special projects or other reasons, but it shouldn’t be all the time. Likewise, it might be prudent to just turn off your smartphone at a certain time each evening after work—or at least stop taking e-mails or phone calls after a reasonable time. 

So, go ahead and continue putting your heart into your work, but make sure you don’t put it at unnecessary risk for heart disease by overdoing it on the work front.



This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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