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Why Working Long Hours Isn’t Good for Your Heart Health

May 21, 2016

Americans work more than anyone, research has shown.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workday in the U.S. is just shy of 9 hours — meaning we likely spend more time working than we do sleeping or doing activities we actually enjoy.

These statistics probably come as no surprise to anyone, but our work-obsessed culture could have serious consequences for our health. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, long work hours may increase your risk for heart disease.

Researchers reviewed data for nearly 2,000 people involved in a study focused on work. They found that consistently working long hours over 10-plus years elevated heart disease risk. Every time a full-time employee worked one additional hour a week, their heart disease risk rose by 1 percent. Those who worked at least 46 hours a week, had an even greater risk.

The highest-risk group were people who worked at least 55 hours a week. Those who worked these hours every week had a 16 percent higher heart disease risk compared to the 45-hour a week group. Those who worked at least 60 hours a week increased their risk of heart disease by 35 percent.

People in the study experienced a variety of cardiovascular-related health issues, including coronary artery disease, angina, heart failure, heart attack and high blood pressure.

The results of this study highlight how our work culture can negatively impact our health. Everyone has to make a living, but over work could prevent you from staying healthy enough to work well into yours 50s, 60s or even 70s. There’s also a great deal of research that shows how you work — in addition to how long you work — can affect your health.

For example, most people spend long hours sitting in front of a computer at a desk. But being more sedentary causes you to burn fewer calories a day and increases your risk of diabetes, obesity, disability, and not surprisingly, heart disease.

Standing is a much better form of exercise, especially if you spend long hours at the office. I know this is difficult to do, particularly if most of your work is computer-related, but that’s why standing desks are a great option. Getting up every hour to stretch or walk around the office is a good idea, too. According to one study in the European Heart Journal, when people sat less and stood more during their workday, they lowered their BMI by 11%, reduced the size of their waistlines and lowered their blood sugar by 11%.

These numbers make a powerful argument for making a conscious effort to be active during your workday, particularly if you consistently work long hours. However, the first study shows that the better option for your overall health is to cut back on long hours and try to get as close as possible to a 40-hour work week.

Researchers say the study will help the medical community focus on work practices as part of its heart disease prevention programs. In the meantime, we all can make an effort to live healthier. Our goal shouldn’t be living to work, so if it’s possible to cut back on work hours and maintain your standard of living, take the steps to make this effort and improve your overall quality of life.