Working more than 40 hours a week takes a toll on heart health, based on a Canadian study linking long work hours to increased risk of high blood pressure.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, this study looked at the association between weekly work hours and risk of high blood pressure. The study combined both in-office blood pressure measurements with continuous blood pressure readings throughout the day, which offers a more accurate picture of heart health, according to authors.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and currently affects one in three American adults. Many studies have linked stress and long work hours to increased risk for high blood pressure. However, few studies have used wearable devices—considered the gold standard of blood pressure monitoring—to track changes in blood pressure over the course of the workday.
In total, the study included 3,547 white-collar workers whose health was tracked for more than five years. Participants had their blood pressure checked at the beginning, middle and end of the study. Each check included an in-office visit as well as ambulatory monitoring. For ambulatory monitoring, participants wore a blood pressure cuff, which measured their blood pressure every fifteen minutes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Participants worked at a public insurance company in Quebec, Canada and the average age ranged from 44–48 years old.
When comparing the number of hours participants worked each week, researchers found that longer work hours were associated with greater risk of high blood pressure.
Compared to individuals working fewer than 35 hours a week, those working 49 or more hours a week were 66% more likely to have high blood pressure. Even more concerning, long work hours were associated with 70% greater risk of “masked” hypertension, which occurs when blood pressure is normal during office visits but elevated outside of the clinic.
Masked hypertension is dangerous because we can walk around with elevated blood pressure for years before it’s picked up at a doctor’s office. According to authors, this can delay treatment and also increase risk for life-threatening heart events like heart attack and stroke.
Overall, nearly 19% of participants had hypertension and 13.5% had masked hypertension in the study.
What findings confirm, according to authors, is that long hours contribute to high blood pressure—a major risk factor for heart disease. Findings also confirm that high blood pressure is a common issue, affecting one in three study participants.
As a result, experts discourage working exceptionally long hours. Findings suggest that working anything over 40 hours a week was associated with increased risk of hypertension. It’s possible that cutting back on hours—and managing stress—could help minimize that risk.
Additionally, authors encourage the use of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring—especially in adults at increased risk for hypertension. As this study showed, many adults have normal in-office readings but have elevated blood pressure outside the doctor’s office. Authors note that using at-home blood pressure monitoring could help identify patients with hypertension and get them treatment sooner to reduce risk of complications.