Working Long Hours Linked to Death from Stroke and Heart Disease

Working Long Hours Linked to Death from Stroke and Heart Disease

Working more than 55 hours per week could be damaging your health.

Working long hours? If so, your social life may not be the only thing you're neglecting. A new landmark study shows you could literally be working yourself to death! The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) released the first study which globally analyzed the impact of work hours on health.

Two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the latest evidence were conducted for this study. Data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 768,000 participants and 22 studies on stroke covering more than 839,000 participants were analyzed. The study covered global, regional, and national levels, and was based on data from more than 2300 surveys collected in 154 countries from 1970-2018.

Results indicated that long working hours - defined as 55 hours per week - led to 745,000 deaths from stroke or ischemic heart disease in 2016. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths due to working long hours increased for heart disease by 42 percent and for stroke by 19 percent.

The results also showed that compared to those who work 35-40 hours per week, those who work 55 or more hours per week have a 35% higher risk of dying from stroke and a 17% higher risk dying from ischemic heart disease.

COVID-19 Impact on Work Hours

The study also indicated that due to COVID-19, the number of people working long hours has increased all over the world. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, stated, "The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work. Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers, and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”

3 Reasons to Stop Working Long Hours

Outside of the risk of heart disease or stroke, research demonstrates working over 55 hours per week can cause:

1. Mental Health Issues. A meta-analysis of evidence from 1998 to 2018 revealed a wide range of deleterious health issues associated with working long hours. The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, synthesized 243 records from 46 papers. The results showed those who work long hours have a higher chance of experiencing health problems including hypertension and chronic fatigue, but also have an increase incidence of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, those who work long hours experience poor sleep quality and have a higher incidence of alcohol or tobacco use.

2. Cognitive Decline. A report published in The American Journal of Epidemiology found that middle-aged workers who work more than 55 hours per week have poorer mental skills including a decline in short-term memory and reduced ability to recall words. The study suggested that prolonged time at work could cause long-term brain damage or dementia. In fact, the authors noted that "difference in aspects of cognitive functioning between employees working long hours and those working normal hours is similar in magnitude to that of smoking as a high risk factor for dementia.”

3. Reduced Productivity. Outside of the negative health consequences associating with long working hours, a study from Stanford University found that working long hours is actually counterproductive. Productivity per hour decline sharply when a person works more than 50-55 hours a week. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.

The evidence is clear; if you work long hours it may be time for you to stop! The numerous mental, physical, and social effects simply aren't worth it.

"Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” - Lin Yutang


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This article was written by Jami Cooley

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