A study recently published in the medical journal ‘The Lancet’ identifies a link between working hours and our health. It is thought that the stress of long hours can trigger biological changes in the body, which leads to disease.
The study found that working just one extra hour a day, increases the chance of suffering a stroke over the next eight and a half years by 10 per cent, while people who work in excess of 55 hours/week raise their risk by a third.
In the study, researchers looked at 25 separate studies involving more than 600,000 people across Europe, the US and Australia who had been followed for an average of 8.5 years.
The results show a link between working long hours and a significantly increased risk of stroke and coronary heart disease. The higher risk remained even when taking into account factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption and a lack of physical activity, which are often associated with stressful jobs and longer hours.
The study also showed that the longer people worked, the higher their chance of having a stroke became. Compared with people who worked standard hours, those working between 41 and 48 hours had a 10% higher risk of stroke and those working 49 to 54 hours had a 27% increased risk. Working 55 hours or more per week was linked to a 33 per cent greater risk of stroke.
Although the researchers could only say that long hours were ‘linked’ to strokes, the study authors have said it’s plausible that the stress of working too hard was to blame, concluding that there could be a causal relationship behind the link, as sudden death following long working hours is often caused by stroke, due to long and repeated periods of stress, although that was not demonstrated in this study.
‘The average Briton works 36.7 hours per week, six hours more than people in the Netherlands. The Greeks put in the longest working week in Europe, averaging around 42 hours.’
Also, previous studies have shown that working long hours can lengthen the time it takes for a woman to get pregnant. The University of California also found that workers who worked more than 51 hours a week were 29% more likely to have high blood pressure, than those who worked 39 hours or fewer.
Whilst we may not be able to reduce the amount of time we work, most of us could reduce the amount of time we spend sitting, increase our physical activity and improve our diet while working and this might be more important because of the time we spend at work.
Finally, we should all consider how the working environment could be altered to promote healthy behaviour that will reduce strokes, irrespective of how long we work.
Source: The Lancet Journal, 31st October 2015