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Long working hours create greater risk for stroke and coronary heart disease

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Posted August 21, 2015

We all know that working extensive amount of hours is not good for our health. We get exhausted, usually do not move enough in our office jobs and forget to take good care of ourselves. But now scientists at University College London have uncovered how dangerous long working hours can actually be. Their research linked working long hours to higher risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.

Study revealed that working 55 hours a week creates about 33% greater risk of stroke and 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease compared with standard working week. Image credit: Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Leonard Wiggins via Wikimedia, CC-BY-2.0

Study revealed that working 55 hours a week creates about 33% greater risk of stroke and 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease compared with standard working week. Image credit: Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Leonard Wiggins via Wikimedia, CC-BY-2.0

In fact, everything can be explained with numbers. Normal working hours are 35-40 hours a week. Working 55 hours or more poses approximately 33% greater risk of stroke and 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease compared with standard working week. During this research, scientists performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual-level data examining the effects of longer working hours on cardiovascular disease up to August 20, 2014.

Entire set of studies and other documents regarding risk for heart diseases included 603,838 men and women from Europe, the USA, and Australia. These participants on average were followed for 8.5 years. Findings were rather surprising. Even taking into account risk factors including age, sex, and socioeconomic status, those who worked 55 hours or more every week, have a 13% increased risk of incident coronary heart disease (a new diagnosis, hospitalisation, or even death). However, long working hours impose much greater risk for stroke.

To calculate risk for stroke, scientists used a different set of 17 studies, which involved 528,908 men and women. They were followed for an average of 7.2 years. Scientists found that those who work 55 hours or more a week face about 1.3 times higher risk of stroke than those who work usual 35-40 hour working week.  Furthermore, this association remained even after taking into account health behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity, and standard cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The researchers found that correlation is pretty significant – the longer people participating in the study worked, the higher their chances of a stroke were. People do not have to work as long as 55 hours a week – those, who worked between 41 and 48 hours a week had a 10% higher risk of stroke, and those working 49 to 54 hours had a 27% increased risk of stroke. However, causal relationships are entirely clear and further research is needed.

Scientists say that such increased risk for stroke and coronary heart disease may be increased by such factors as physical inactivity and high alcohol consumption, as well as repetitive triggering of the stress response. Some of these factors, especially physical inactivity and stressful situations are often related to work, especially long working hours.

Professor Mika Kivimäki, one of the authors of the study, said that this research is very significant. He explained –“the pooling of all available studies on this topic allowed us to investigate the association between working hours and cardiovascular disease risk with greater precision than has previously been possible. Health professionals should be aware that working long hours is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, and perhaps also coronary heart disease.”

So what does it mean for us? First of all, as usual, physical activity should be considered a part of your daily routine. People cannot sit by their desks all day long and expect to have good health. Furthermore, now we know that long working hours should be avoid when possible – we can earn many things at work, but health is not one of them.

Source: UCL

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