Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Working Overtime: Does Your Heart Pay the Price?
The economy and jobs situation being what it is, a lot of us are being asked to work longer hours and take on more responsibility. In fact, let’s be honest, sometimes we are not so much asked as told to stay late to get the work done. I see the effects of work stress in my patients every day. Despite their efforts, many are still not certain that their hard work and loyalty will ensure that they keep their jobs come the next round of layoffs.
Stress can impact our heart health in many ways. Higher blood pressure and blood sugar levels are often connected to stress. Stress eaters may choose unhealthy foods, leading to weight gain and higher cholesterol levels. Oftentimes people lose motivation to exercise when all they want to do is flop down on the couch at the end of the day. And smokers tend to reach for their cigarettes when the stress gets overwhelming. But does simply working long hours raise our risk for heart disease?
A British group, led by Dr. Mika Kivimäki, attempted to answer this question by studying over 7000 working men and women, ages 39 through 62, from 1991 through 2004. Their findings, published in this month’s Annals of Internal Medicine, shed some much-needed light on the subject. When other baseline risk factors (such as age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes) were factored out, people who habitually worked eleven or more hours per day had a nearly 70 percent higher risk for heart disease compared to those whose work days were typically seven to eight hours.
Does this mean that the occasional late-nighter is going to kill you? Probably not. And many people with high-demand jobs are not in a position to request shorter working hours. If your job requires long work hours as a matter of course, it means it is even more important that you find ways to keep your life in balance. Choose a Mediterranean diet, take a healthy lunch to work, don’t smoke, exercise at least two and one half hours each week, and make a good night’s sleep a priority.
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