Log too much overtime and you might just be working yourself to death: People who work long hours have a higher risk of developing heart disease, new research in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found.
And the chances of developing the condition grew for each hour spent behind the desk: People who worked 55 hours a week were 16 percent more likely to develop the condition compared to those who worked 45 hours a week.
For those who put in 65-hour weeks, their risk increased by 33 percent.
There’s likely a combination of factors associated with working long hours that puts your heart in danger, says lead study author Sadie Conway, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
First, job-related stress places a physical toll on your body, because it raises levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, says Dr John Higgins, a sports cardiologist in Texas.
“High levels of those hormones increases blood pressure and cholesterol,” he explains. “And long-term elevated cortisol levels are associated with increased rates of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.”
Plus, if you’re working long hours, your motivation to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviours—say, preparing healthy meals instead of grabbing takeout, or hitting the gym in favour of unwinding in front of the TV—may be shot by the time you finally clock out.
All those hours on the job also mean less time for rest and recovery, Conway adds. That means you probably sleep fewer hours and have lower quality sleep than people who work less.
That can affect your heart because sleep deprivation is linked to several cardiovascular risk factors including diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain, and unhealthy eating habits, Dr. Higgins says.
Cutting hours at the job may help reduce your risk, but that’s not always financially feasible.
If you can’t afford to cut back at work, it’s extra important you make healthy habits a priority.
Take it slow by adding one healthy habit to your routine for two weeks. That’s the ideal amount of time it takes to learn how to easily implement the practice into your life.
Try fitting in a 20-minute walk into your lunch a couple times a week, or turning off your phone when you get into bed so you can log a full seven hours of sleep each night.
Once your first change becomes routine, add another healthy habit in. These tiny changes will add up—without stressing you out.