Health & working long hours

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

4 May, 2018

2 thoughts on “Health & working long hours

  1. This is fascinating and incredibly important if we are to try and live healthier lives.

    I am very fortunate to work for myself from home. I worked for a larger company in the City for many years and they demanded that I work longer than my contracted hours, for no additional benefit. Now I work as long as I like, to get the work done when it needs doing. There is no need for me to sit at my desk looking busy!

    Friends and family who live and work in London work extremely long working days, up to 14/15 hours including commuting. That is no way to spend 40 years and I doubt their employers have any idea, these long hours impact their health.

    1. Yes, agreed. We must. I’ve not been in the working world for some time now, but as long as you were doing your job, there was no issue, but you’re right we were still expected to work beyond our contractual hours.

      I remember being told the same thing too, but it wasn’t all the time and that was okay when we were paid for the extra time we put in, but not when we were expected to work extra for nothing and work more hours.

      You have raised a good point though. I also doubt employers even think about the long hours and the impact to their employees’ health.

      Perhaps this is something they now need to think about and act on. It’s all to do with ‘mental health’ and we know that is now being addressed more in the work place now, but it also comes in from working long hours.

      Working long hours creates stress and stress creates mental health issues. Perhaps that needs to be addressed too.

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