Long days at work may not only lead to exhaustion and extra stress but also potentially fatal health consequences, a new study finds.
A study appearing in the leading U.K. medical journal, The Lancet, finds people who work 55 or more hours per week have a 33 percent greater risk of stroke and a 13 percent higher chance of developing coronary heart disease.
“Long working hours are not a negligible occurrence,” wrote Dr. Urban Janlert of Sweden’s Umeå University. “For all OECD countries, a mean of 12 percent of employed men and 5 percent of employed women work more than 50 [hours] per week.”
Researchers analyzed studies involving more than 600,000 people to come up with the findings. Other factors like age, smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity were taken into account.
“The pooling of all available studies on this topic allowed us to investigate the association between working hours and cardiovascular disease risk with greater precision than has previously been possible,” said Mika Kivimäki, Professor of Epidemiology at University College London. “Health professionals should be aware that working long hours is associated with a significantly increased risk of stroke, and perhaps also coronary heart disease.”
While the study suggests a link between hours worked and stroke risk, it stops short of explaining exactly why. It suggests that stress caused by the workplace is just one of many so-called “health-risk behaviors,” which raise the risk of stroke.
Push for a 40-hour workweek
Since the early 20th century, organizations have been calling for a 40-hour workweek.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) says “the regulation of working time is one of the oldest concerns of labor legislation.”
“The very first ILO Convention, adopted in 1919, limited hours of work and provided for adequate rest periods for workers,” the ILO wrote.
Since then, it has written a suggested guideline for hours of work, rest periods and annual holidays.