Those that put in extra hours at work may think they are getting ahead, but they may actually be putting their lives at risk. A new study suggests that putting in overtime can lead to about thirty-three percent greater risk of stroke.
The study comes from researchers at the University College London (UCL) and was published in The Lancet. To study the link between long working hours and health, scientists studied data from 25 different studies across the U.S., Europe, and Australia. This involved more than 600,000 men and women followed for an average of 8.5 years.
Once the researchers corrected the data for age, sex, and socioeconomic status, the results stood out. They found that those who worked 55 hours or more each week faced a 13 percent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease than their counterparts who work a normal 35 to 40 hour work week.
Data from another set of 17 studies showed an even greater problem. For those stroke studies, 500,000 men and women were followed for an average of 7.2 years. After allowing for other risk factors like smoking, drinking alcohol, and amount of exercise, as well as the usual stroke risks like high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the data revealed that those who worked 55 hours or more each week faced a 33% greater risk of stroke.
The researchers also discovered a correlation between the number of overtime hours worked and the risk of stroke. Those that worked between 41 and 48 hours a week had a 10 percent higher risk of having a stroke and those that worked between 49 and 54 hours a week had a 27 percent higher risk of stroke. This data seems to show that every extra few hours of overtime worked can have a cumulative effect on health.
Although this study demonstrates a link between working extra hours and a risk for heart disease and stroke, the researchers say more research is needed. They still do not know the mechanism that could cause longer working hours to lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. However, some speculate that the longer working hours are probably associated with greater stress and possibly more time sitting at a desk and greater alcohol consumption.
Another recent study from researchers at Harvard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published earlier in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, also looked at the health effects of working long hours. In a study of 1,739 female nurses who were trying to become pregnant, researchers compared how long it took them to conceive if they worked more than 40 hours a week versus working between 21 and 40 hours. That study found the overtime workers took about 20 percent longer to conceive than their regular hour counterparts, especially if they engaged in heavy lifting on the job.
These research results may convince some workaholics to take it a bit easier for the sake of their health. However, not everyone has a choice about the number of hours they work as they build a business or work extra hours to support their family. For those that work overtime, it is even more important to try to reduce other cardiovascular disease risk factors. They should try to put extra effort into controlling their blood pressure, lipid levels, and blood glucose, as well as exercising, eating a healthy diet, controlling their weight, and trying to reduce stress.
To reduce the risk of stroke, hard workers and others should try to reduce the fat, cholesterol, and salt in their diet and limit their alcohol consumption. Exercising and losing weight can also reduce stroke risk, as well as quitting smoking.