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Long hours are bad for your health

Study shows 60% increase in heart disease risk

People who work more than 10 hours a day are around 60 per cent more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack than people who work seven hours a day.

That's the headline finding form a new study focusing on the working lives of 6000 UK civil servants with no previous history of heart disease who were tracked over 11 years.  During this time, 369 of them died from heart disease or had heart attacks or angina.

When the researchers took into account factors such as age, sex, marital status and occupational level, they found those who worked three to four hours of overtime each day increased their risk for heart disease by 60 percent.

The leader of the study, epidemiologist Dr Marianna Virtanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki  and University College London (UK), said:

"The association between long hours and coronary heart disease was independent of a range of risk factors that we measured at the start of the study, such as smoking, being overweight, or having high cholesterol.

"Our findings suggest a link between working long hours and increased CHD [coronary heart disease] risk, but more research is needed before we can be confident that overtime work would cause CHD. In addition, we need more research on other health outcomes, such as depression and type 2 diabetes."

While it isn't clear why working overtime appears to increase the risk for heart disease, Virtanen's team speculates that the people who choose to work overtime may be those with so-called 'type A personalities'.

This makes them more aggressive, competitive, tense, time-conscious and generally hostile. They may also have signs of depression and anxiety, and may not get enough sleep, or not enough time to relax before going to sleep.

It is also possible that people who have more freedom over work-related decisions may have a lower risk of heart disease even if they work overtime, the researchers added.

Other possible explanations include

  • high blood pressure that is associated with work-related stress but is "hidden" because it doesn't necessarily show up during medical check-ups
  • "sickness presenteeism" whereby employees who work overtime are more likely to work while ill, ignore symptoms of ill health and not seek medical help
  • chronic stress, associated with working long hours, has an adverse effect on health.

The researchers also think it is possible that people in jobs where they have more freedom or latitude over their work-related decisions may have a lower risk of CHD despite working overtime.  This would tie in with another health study we recently reported on Flexibility.

June 2010


Flexibility comment

It probably comes as no surprise to many people that there are probably links between working long hours and heart disease.  Warnings about burning the candle at both ends are far from new.

What would be interesting to know is whether the times and location of work make a difference.  Those in the study were traditional office-based workers.  The new technologies allow us to carry our work with us everywhere - does this increase or decrease the risks?

Other studies have shown that the degree of control a person feels thy have over their working life can be a factor in good health.

Having the right kinds of flexibility may be one way to combat the long hours culture.













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