Last updated on Jun 23rd, 2021 at 02:09 pm

These figures compare with people who work a standard 35- to 40-hour week, according to the largest study in this field so far – involving over 600 000 individuals – published in The Lancet. 

Mika Kivimäki, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London, UK, and colleagues did a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual-level data examining the effects of longer working hours on cardiovascular disease up to August 20, 2014.

Eight-year study involved thousands of people

Analysis of data from 25 studies – involving 603 838 men and women from Europe, the USA, and Australia who were followed for an average of 8,5 years – found a 13% increased risk of incident coronary heart disease (a new diagnosis, hospitalisation, or death) in people working 55 hours or more per week. This was compared with those putting in a normal 35- to 40-hour week, even after taking into account risk factors including age, sex, and socioeconomic status.

Analysis of data from 17 studies involving 528 908 men and women who were followed up for an average of 7,2 years, found a 1,3 times higher risk of stroke in individuals working 55 hours or more a week compared with those working standard hours. This association remained even after taking into account health behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity, and standard cardiovascular risk factors including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

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Negative health behaviours might increase risk

Although the causal mechanisms of these relationships need to be better understood, the authors suggest that increasing health-risk behaviours, such as physical inactivity and high alcohol consumption, as well as repetitive triggering of the stress response, might increase the risk of stroke.

According to Professor Kivimäki, “Health professionals should be aware that working long hours is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, and perhaps also coronary heart disease.”

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