Memo to boss: 11-hour days are bad for the heart

LONDON Tue May 11, 2010 3:15pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - People working 10 or 11 hours a day are more likely to suffer serious heart problems, including heart attacks, than those clocking off after seven hours, researchers said on Tuesday.

The finding, from an 11-year study of 6,000 British civil servants, does not provide definitive proof that long hours cause coronary heart disease but it does show a clear link, which experts said may be due to stress.

In all, there were 369 cases of death due to heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and angina among the London-based study group -- and the risk of having an adverse event was 60 percent higher for those who worked three to four hours overtime.

Working an extra one to two hours beyond a normal seven-hour day was not associated with increased risk.

"It seems there might a threshold, so it is not so bad if you work another hour or so more than usual," said Dr Marianna Virtanen, an epidemiologist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University College London.

The higher incidence of heart problems among those working overtime was independent of a range of other risk factors including smoking, being overweight or having high cholesterol.

But Virtanen said it was possible the lifestyle of people working long hours deteriorated over time, for example as a result of poor diet or increased alcohol consumption.

More fundamentally, long hours may be associated with work-related stress, which interferes with metabolic processes, as well as "sickness presenteeism," whereby employees continue working when they are ill.

Virtanen and colleagues published their findings in the European Heart Journal.

Commenting on the study, Gordon McInnes, professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Glasgow's Western Infirmary, said the findings could have widespread implications for doctors assessing patients' heart risks.

"If the effect is truly causal, the importance is much greater than commonly recognized. Overtime-induced work stress might contribute to a substantial proportion of cardiovascular disease," he said.

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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Comments (60)
ImNewHere wrote:
And other breaking news: Water is wet, the sky is blue and Bill Gates is rich!

May 11, 2010 9:23am EDT  --  Report as abuse
SLK wrote:
People live to work and I think this attitude can be traced back to, what Max Weber called ‘The Protestant work ethic’. This label is more relevant to the times in which this socioligist deemed it a phenomenon of industrial society (19th Century). But the idea of a ‘work ethic’ or a moral obligation to work oneself into the ground (in effect) with excessive hours of gainful employment dominates the culture of work.

Ceridian – The Future of Work

I believe that 21hours could be the basic working week as opposed to the massive 40hours (or a lot more). It is too much and cannot be sustained for a lifetime. People are not machines.

May 11, 2010 9:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Eric327 wrote:
Hmm! No mention on what happens if working several shifts of 32 or more hours straight! My record is 38 hours, but several times I’ve worked 20+, slept in my truck (lorry for you guys, right?)for 3.5 hours, then right back in to the factory for another 20, then drive home. To me, that’s worth studying before spending public money on something which falls into the category of “common sense”.
Oh, by the way, the results? A complete revamping of my work ethic, I now work a 8.5 hr shift, very aware of the current time during shift, leave within 1 minute of end of shift, no volunteering or extra anything, ever. It’s just a job, and there’s still many available, even here in Michigan, USA!

May 11, 2010 10:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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