No surprise longer work hours raises heart risks

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Long work hours

Working more than 7 to 8 hours a day boosts heart disease risk

In a study that included civil engineers, researchers found working longer hours should be considered a risk factor for developing coronary heart disease. A new analysis shows a 67 percent increase in the chance of heart problems related to work stress that are no surprise considering mounting evidence that stress, work and heart health are interlinked.

The risk of heart disease increased 67 percent over ten years in a new analysis that factored in the stress of working long hours and the impact on heart health. The newest findings are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

In ten year risk analyses, the risk of heart disease is measured using lifestyle factors that include smoking, cholesterol levels and blood pressure that are part of the Framingham risk model.

When researchers added stress at work into the analysis for boosting the chances of heart disease, they were able to more accurately predict who might have a heart attack or at risk for dying from a coronary event.

The study included 7,095 civil service workers, male and female, between the ages of 39 and 62. All were free of heart disease at the start of the study that began 1991 to 1993. Screening was conducted every 5 years until 2004.

The chance of developing heart disease was taken from registry information and medical screening exams that the researchers used to correlate rates of heart attack and heart related deaths for each patient.


The findings from the study show psychosocial factors do contribute to heart disease. The researchers found a 67 percent higher chance of coronary heart disease (CHD) from working longer hours, compared to working 7 or 8 hours a day.

Past studies show work stress harms the heart

The study is not the first to show psychosocial stress is bad for cardiovascular health. A January 2011 study in the "European Heart Journal" showed just living near noise can increase the chances of stroke.

Researchers from the School of Environmental Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver found noisy workplaces boosts the risk of heart disease two to three fold in findings published October, 2010 in the British Medical Journal.

Stress leads to obesity and other unhealthy behaviors like comfort eating also found in studies that all add up to high rates of heart disease that claimed 831,272 lives in 2006, according to the American Heart Association.

The finding that work stress raises the chances of heart disease and should be considered during a visit to the physician adds to evidence that change is needed to help people live happier, lower stress and disease free lives. Unfortunately, long work hours have become a way of life - at least for the employed.

But unemployment also takes a toll on health. A recent global study showed the chances of dying prematurely, linked to job loss, is 63 percent higher compared to employed individuals, especially for men and for those under age 50.

The original finding that long work hours boosts the chances of heart disease was published in the European Heart Journal, May 2010 and is expanded. The study was led by Marianna Virtanen. The recent analysis suggests long work hours should be incorporated into the Framingham risk model used by physicians in addition to traditional risk factors for coronary heart disease.


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