For many years, experts have considered the impact of long work hours on cardiovascular health. In most countries, the standard work week ranges from 35–40 hours, yet many individuals work overtime or have longer hours. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes 34 countries including the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom, reports that 12% of men and 5% of women work more than 50 hours a week. The problem is that working long hours may be associated with high levels of stress, a lack of sleep and certain unhealthy behaviors, all of which can take a toll on heart health over time.
In an international study recently published in The Lancet, researchers analyzed data from 25 studies, which included more than 600,000 men and women from the United States, Europe and Australia. All participants were free of heart disease and stroke upon enrolling in the study and were followed for up to eight and a half years.
After taking into account factors like age, sex and income, researchers found that adults working 55 hours or more a week had 33% greater risk of stroke than those working 35–40 hours a week. Those working 55 hours or more also had 13% greater risk of heart disease. Researchers found that the longer hours a person worked, the greater their stroke risk was.
As authors explain, the concern is that working long hours is fairly common in many countries. In fact, Turkey has one of the highest proportions of adults that work long hours, with nearly half of adults working more than 50 hours a week. If long work hours is associated with increased cardiovascular risk, millions of individuals are at increased risk for heart disease across the globe.
So what can be done? Authors highlight the fact that some countries have laws against working long hours. For example, the European Union gives people the right to limit their average working time to 48 hours a week. However, it’s not always implemented, and 48 hours is still more than the standard 35–40 hour work week.
The key will be limiting work hours and taking extra steps to help reduce cardiovascular risk, like eating healthy and staying active. For individuals at increased risk for heart disease, healthy lifestyle changes and addressing any risk factors are critical in preventing heart disease and heart events.