You might have heard the expression, “My boss is working me to death.” A new study in The Lancet suggests that people who work long hours have a higher risk of stroke.
A stroke occurs when the brain does not receive enough blood. It can result in significant disability including difficulty talking, eating or walking.
Traditional risk factors for stroke are older age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes.
Because treatments for strokes are limited at most hospitals, preventing strokes from occurring is a major area of research.
Dr. Mika Kivimäki, the chairman of social epidemiology and a professor at University College London, and colleagues from Europe combined data from previous studies to analyze 530,000 patients in the U.S., Europe and Australia.
At the start of the study, patients were asked to estimate how many hours they worked. Patients were then followed for an average of seven years. Researchers found that after adjusting for differences such as age, gender, socioeconomic status and body mass index, those who worked for more than 55 hours a week had a 33 percent higher risk of stroke than those who worked 40 hours per week.
Kivimäki’s study gives us insight into stroke prevention. Many of us spend long hours at work, and this study quantifies the associated risk of stroke. The study also finds that for those who can afford to do so, spending less hours at work might be better for one’s health.
Kivimäki and colleagues hypothesized that this benefit might be from a few factors.
Work is often a high-stress environment. In addition, those who work long hours might be less likely to exercise and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as unhealthy eating or alcohol abuse.
The study also found that control of stroke risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol, might be more important for people who work long hours and cannot afford to work less than the general population.
This study has several caveats. Work hours in the study are self-reported and might not be as accurate as though there was an objective log of hours.
Although long work hours are associated with stroke, it does not mean that if people work long hours that they will definitely have a higher risk stroke.
Rather, it is more likely that long hours are a marker for risk factors not accounted for by the researchers, such as high blood pressure or diet, that contributed to the higher risk of stroke.
If a person has to work long hours but is able to find time to have a healthy lifestyle, he might not be at a higher risk for strokes.
Overall, Kivimäki’s study suggests that working long hours is associated with a higher risk of stroke. It reinforces the importance to our health of balancing our time at and away from work.