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Working Long Hours Increases Risk for Heart Attack


Spending extra hours at the office may catch the attention of the boss, but researchers have found that those who work long hours are more likely to suffer serious heart problems, even risking heart attack.

Researchers from the UK used data from an 11-year study of 6,000 British civil servants with no prior history of heart disease. Those who worked 10 to 11 hour days had a 60% higher chance of death due to heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks, and angina than those who worked a typical seven hour day. Just one to two hours of overtime beyond a normal work schedule was not associated with an increased risk.

Those who worked longer hours were more likely to sleep less, report having more demanding jobs, and exhibit “Type A” personality traits, such as aggressiveness, irritability, and a “chronic incessant struggle” to achieve more in less time.

The heart risks of working overtime were independent of other risk factors, such as smoking, blood pressure, being overweight, or having high cholesterol.

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Long hours may be associated with work-related stress, according to the study published in the European Heart Journal. Stress not only interferes with the body’s metabolic processes, but also may lead to other poor lifestyle choices, such as a bad diet, less time for exercise or preventative care visits, or increased alcohol consumption. Depression and anxiety may also play a role.

Read: Chronic Job Stress Can Lead to Obesity

British workers tend to put in more overtime hours than others in the European Union. The United States ranks sixth in the world for workers putting in overtime, according to a 2004 survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Other countries with high rates include South Korea, Greece, Mexico, Australia, and Japan.

"Balance between work and leisure time is important," says the lead author of the study, Dr. Marianna Virtanen, M.D., an epidemiologist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University College London. "If you work long hours, the fact is that you may be exposed to higher stress levels and you do not have enough time to take care of your health."

Read: 10 Symptoms of Workplace Stress

The findings are "sort of a wakeup call," says Dr. Gordon McInnes, M.D., a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Glasgow, in the U.K., who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “"Physicians should be aware of the risks of overtime and take seriously symptoms such as chest pain, monitor and treat recognized cardiovascular risk factors, particularly blood pressure, and advise an appropriate lifestyle modification," he wrote.