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Are Those Extra Hours at the Office Bad for Your Heart?

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Once upon a time, in a high-tech world far, far away, a 14-hour workday was the norm for me. In fact, working a mere 8 to 10 hours a day felt like a vacation in comparison. There was always some urgent matter that required my immediate attention, and I had a reputation for making it happen.

Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. The boss comes in at 10 minutes to 12 and needs a report in an hour. You skip lunch and finish the report because it’s an emergency and, after all, it’s your job. Or, perhaps you regularly work late, or take work home. My friends who teach school are often up until well past midnight grading papers several nights a week. It’s easy to turn an 8-hour work day into a 10, 11, or even a 12-hour day without much difficulty. Add an hour commute to the mix, along with supper, homework, bedtime, laundry, soccer practice – the list could go on an on – and it’s easy to see that we’re probably permanently sleep deprived, exercise deficient, living on energy bars and sodas, Emergen-C supplement popping zombies! While we might be a little tired, there’s nothing to worry about. Aside from a few little aging bags under our eyes, our health is in good shape. After all, it’s not like living life in the fast food lane going to kill you or cause a heart attack….right? Right?

Well, maybe not. According to at least one Whitehall II study, long work days – never mind homework, soccer practice and all the other time sucking commitments in our lives - just might be robbing you of much more than just needed sleep or family time. Those long hours at the office may be leading straight to the door of the local heart hospital emergency room.

The Whitehall II study, also known as the Stress and Health study, began in 1985 with a group of more than 10,000 London civil servants. All participants were between the ages of 33-55 years, with two-thirds of the participants being male. A long-term study, Whitehall II has undergone nine distinct data collection phases since 1985. The original goal of Whitehall II was to examine how social inequalities contribute to disease. According to the Whitehall website, the “study has shown the importance of psychosocial factors such as work stress, unfairness, and work-family conflict to socioeconomic inequalities in heart disease and diabetes.”

In a study led by Mika Kivimaki, researchers at the University College London examined clinical data collected from 7,095 Whitehall II participants. All participants selected were employed full time working at least 7 to 8 hours daily. In addition, all participants had no prior history of heart disease as the start of the study. The Kivimaki study included both men and women.
Participants were tracked over an 11-year period with researchers focusing on data relating to risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking habits, age, sex, and diabetes. Researcher also looked at risk factors such as blood cholesterol levels and whether or not the participants suffered from high blood pressure. As a part of the study, participants were also asked about their work habits, i.e. how many hours worked each day, including whether or not they brought additional work home each evening.

Researchers found that those who worked longer than normal hours increased their risk of heart disease significantly. For those working 11 or more hours per day, the risk of heart disease increased by 67 percent. It’s unknown whether or not the increase is the result of the longer working hours or more likely, the result of unhealthy lifestyle habits that accompany long work hours.

Whether the increased risk of heart disease is the result of long work hours or poor lifestyle habits, the study results should be a wake up call for those workaholics or the overextended among us that we need to be more proactive in taking care of our health, particularly our heart health. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, controlling high blood pressure, getting adequate sleep, become even more essential to maintaining heart health when faced with long work days.

Kate Kelland, 11-hour work days can harm your heart, study shows: Long days at the office hiked the risk of heart disease by 67 percent, Reuters, 04 Apr 2011, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42422540/ns/health-heart_health/
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON, UCL RESEARCH DEPARTMENT OF EPIDEMIOLOGY AND PUBLIC HEALTH, Whitehall II Study (Stress & Health Study, 08 Sept 2010, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/whitehallII/

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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