Working long hours, especially more than 10 hours per day, can be exhausting. But those long hours could also have an impact on your heart health over time, according to a new study from the American Heart Association’s Stroke journal.
The study looked at data from more than 140,000 full-time working people living in France, all of whom had been working for at least six months. The subjects filled out a questionnaire about their health and work life, and then researchers looked through that data to see if there were any strong correlations between work hours and people’s long-term health.
Overall, researchers found 1,224 of the participants in the group suffered strokes. What the researchers found in regards to work correlation and stroke was quite startling, though: People who worked for 10 hours per day at least 50 days per year had a 29% greater risk of stroke than those who didn’t. The risk was especially high—45%—for people who worked those long hours for 10 years or more. What’s more, younger people who worked long hours for 10 years or more had a higher risk of experiencing strokes earlier in life.
“The association between 10 years of long work hours and stroke seemed stronger for people under the age of 50,” public health researcher and lead study author Alexis Descatha, M.D., Ph.D., said in a news release. “I would also emphasize that many health care providers work much more than the definition of long working hours and may also be at higher risk of stroke. … As a clinician, I will advise my patients to work more efficiently and plan to follow my own advice.”
Why would long work hours in the office lead to a higher risk of stroke?
Well, a stroke is defined by the National Stroke Association as a “brain attack” that occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off, which means your brain cells don’t get enough oxygen, and they can begin to die. When someone experiences a stroke, you often see memory and muscle loss associated with the condition, both of which are caused by cell death in the brain. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., but thankfully 80% of strokes are preventable because they are often linked to risky behaviors, like an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, or high rates of stress.
While the authors in this new study didn’t write about why long work hours may put us at greater risk for stroke, other studies have shown that stress can cause inflammation in the body, which, in turn, leads to strokes and heart attacks. In other words, it’s likely the stress of the long hours, combined with the unhealthy habits that come along with working long hours for many years, can lead to health risks.
Past research has also shown this: Working irregular shifts, especially night shifts, can lead to decreases in health for many people. Another recent study showed people who work 55 hours per week or more can experience mental health struggles. This new study adds to the data by suggesting that working long hours for many years could shorten our lives and cause long-term cardiovascular health issues.
If you work long hours, consider implementing some grounding techniques in the short term to keep you in a healthy brain space. Executive coach Elizabeth Cronise McLaughline suggests starting your day with five minutes devoted to yourself. She also recommends eating healthy, whole, unprocessed foods; connecting to your body throughout the day; and using your commute home to decompress. Sleep hygiene is also very important.
In the long term, you may want to consider cutting back your hours or looking for a job that offers better work-life balance.
- Jenni Gritters
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