It is commonly accepted fact that American workers put in more hours than most of the Western world. Our 40 hour weeks, are just a tad bit heavy, when compared to the 36 hour weeks that employees in many other countries work. But 40 hour weeks are just the beginning for many American workers.
In our capitalist society, where almost ever industry is based upon profit, in one way or another, many companies not only encourage employees to work more hours per week, they often require it or depend up it. This is a grim reality, where the long term effects of these “extra” work hours on the employee, are not taken into consideration.
Work has a huge impact on both mental and physical health. While the impacts of work in general are not negative, and in fact can be quite positive, the impacts of working long hours, or in very stressful situations, can be detrimental over time. Various studies have been done on both the physical and mental impacts of working long hours, and of working in highly stressful environments. We hope to explore many of these over time, but today, we will look at the risks associated with the two factors of working longer hours, and with the stress with those work-hours, in relationship to cardio-vascular health.
How May Hours Are Too Many?
The most comprehensive study to date was conducted by the University College London, led by professor of epidemiology Mika Kivimaki. Their work involved a systematic review of both published and unpublished individual specific data for over 600,000 western people, looking at the relationship of long work hours and heart health.
In the US we consider a 40 work week a regular work week, the base of 35-40 hours a week was used as the norm, or the control group, in the study. Results indicated an associated risk of stroke increased by 10% from working just 41-48 hours per week. Startlingly, that risk increased to 27% when work hours were between 49 and 54 per week. At 55 hours per week, a worker was subject to a whopping 33% increase in the likelihood of stroke, and 13% increase in the chance of developing coronary heart disease.
When calculating these statistics, socio-demographic risk factors, such as gender and age, were considered. It is also important to note that the risk is an associated risk, and a direct cause and effect relationship has not yet been established. Researchers noted that these long hours were commonly related to other contributing factors.
For example, excessive hours in an office job led often resulted in too much sedentary time, a contributing factor. Long hours in any environment were also commonly associated with increased alcohol or cigarette use. There was also an hours related stress factor, whether the environment itself was inherently stressful or not.
Employees might worry more about family members when they were absent for long periods of time, or about missing out on special events. The employee might become anxious about an incomplete or ever increasing workload. This anxiety often leads to increased adrenaline and/or cortisol, contributing factors of high blood pressure.
It is simply unacceptable to risk losing years of your life, in order to pay the bills.
What can be done?
- First, if you do not have to work long hours, don’t do it. Build your lifestyle around the means you have working a standard 40 hours a week, and don’t stretch yourself beyond. This may mean learning to budget better. It may mean cooking at home more often, or putting more miles on your vehicle. In simplest terms though, it means learning to value your life and health a little more, and value having stuff, or what others think, a little less. To put it very bluntly, is that pretty new car worth a few years of your life? I doubt it.
- After that, if for some reason you have no choice but to work those long hours, you need to be aware of the risks, and take steps to help offset them. Exercise, make healthy eating choices. Try to get regular sleep. Practice meditation, yoga, Qigong, or some sort mindfulness activity. Get a massage, and if that doesn’t work on your budget, have the kids walk on your back. Sit by a tree, or play with your dog- both are proven to lower blood pressure!
- Avoid adding stress to your stress. Be aware that everything going on around you usually has nothing to do with you, and practice not letting it push your buttons. Someone cut you off in traffic? Your order took too long at Starbucks? So what. I guarantee that you have cut someone off, or made someone wait, without even being aware of it. None of it is intentional, so why get worked up and let it not only ruin your day, but also keep that adrenaline pumping.
- Take full advantage of your time away from work. Do something you love, something that gets you excited in a good way, for a few minutes every day. If you can’t manage it every day, then certainly for several hours on the weekend. It may be sitting on a porch swing with your grandchild, researching your family history, painting, gardening, fishing, or a hiking adventure. Only you know what you love, so do it. It will help balance your adrenaline and cortisol levels.
- In addition, use your vacation time, and relax! Don’t let your company talk you out of it, after all, it is YOUR health we are talking about. Get away. Lay on a beach. Learn something that makes you ponder what it all means. Walk somewhere that people have been walking for thousands of years. See something so beautiful it makes you emotional. Let it all go, and be in the moment as you do these things.
We will continue to share lots of places and stories about places where you can do these things. If your budget doesn’t take you to a beach on the ocean, we will help you find one closer to home, within your budget!
The free time to do what we want at our whim, that we all look forward to enjoying in our retirement, is not guaranteed. Our ruling principle at Gypsy With a Day Job is to make the most of the time we have now, just in case. Knowing that working long hours increases your risk of stroke and heart disease makes that all the more important.
But, it is also is a circular effect. Enjoying that time now, reduces the stress of the long hours. Taking full advantage of your time off now, makes it more likely that you will also have the time to enjoy in retirement!
It’s a win-win thing!
If you would like more information on the cited study at University College London, see: http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/-1.pdf/
For information on another, similar study at the University of Texas, Science Health Center, see: http://www.medicaldaily.com/more-sleep-heart-health/
If you are interested in our other posts about worklife balance, see the related posts below.
If you need inspiration for a relaxing getaway, that matches your budget, continue following us, because we will find them. In the meantime, check out these starter stories: