Long work hours linked to increased heart risks

While writing this blog, I was listening to Simon and Garfunkel singing, “Slow down, you move too fast. You need to make the morning last.” At the same time, I found a Bloomberg News report claiming that “working overtime may be a killer, according to research that finds long hours on the job is a heart risk along with smoking, bad cholesterol and high blood pressure.”

The New York Times reports in its “Vital Signs” blog that “in the early 1990s, British researchers examined 7,095 adults aged 39 to 62, including 2,109 women, and used the information to score each subject’s risk for coronary heart disease.” During an average follow-up of over 12 years, “29 participants died of heart disease and 163 suffered nonfatal heart attacks.”

The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported that the researchers found, “after adjusting for risk factors such as gender, age, cholesterol and blood pressure,” that “those whose workdays lasted 11 hours or more (10.4% of participants) had a 67% higher relative risk for heart disease than those who routinely worked a seven or eight-hour day (54% of participants).”

In my book, 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People: Becoming and staying highly healthy, I write more about the health risks of working too much.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 25 million Americans work more than 49 hours each week. Of that number, 11 million spend 60 hours or more at work each week. Based on the sheer number of hours put in by Americans, one national newspaper gives the United States the dubious distinction of being “the most overworked nation in the industrialized world.”

Researchers who study work environments blame long work hours for weakening ties with family and friends (the relational wheel of health) and also increasing the likelihood of work-related accidents (the physical wheel of health), as well as helping to bring about chronic stress, burnout, and anger or resentment (the emotional wheel of health).

Even the American Medical Association now acknowledges that excessive work hours are not safe for young doctors or their patients. Some researchers warn that people who work long hours and then fail to get enough sleep once they get home could be putting their lives at risk.

One study carried out in Australia and reported by the BBC suggested that the effects of sleep loss could be similar or even worse than the effects of drinking too much alcohol.

Another study discovered that Japanese men who worked 61 hours a week or more on average during the previous year were twice as likely to have a heart attack as the men who worked 40 hours a week or less. They also found that the men who slept five hours or less on average each working day during the previous year had two to three times as great a risk of having a heart attack than men who got more than five hours of sleep.

Even death from working too many hours is being reported. In fact, karoshi is a Japanese word that means “death from overwork.” The phenomenon was first identified in Japan, and the word is being adopted internationally.

The evidence that overwork causes sudden death is still incomplete; the evidence that overwork can damage your health is virtually uncontested.

I’ve always found it interesting that in Jesus’ very short and very pubic ministry, he ALWAYS took time away from work to spend and invest time with his friends. And, he always took time away from his disciples to spend time with his Father. Pretty good example, I would think!