Research has shown that working long hours increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. The heightened stress caused by overwork is believed to increase risks to the cardiovascular system in two ways:
- The increase in stress hormones, and
- Behavioral responses to cope with high levels of stress, including an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and adequate sleep, and greater alcohol and tobacco use.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) examined the risk of overwork, defined as working more than 55 hours per week, for people in 183 countries in the years 2000, 2010, and 2016. They released the Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury.
Globally, in 2016, 8.9% of the population (488 million people) worked more than 55 hours per week. Approximately 745,194 people died from heart disease and stroke, while 23.3 million disability-adjusted life years (loss of years of full health) were attributable to overwork.
- 3.7% of the heart disease deaths,
- 6.9% of the stroke deaths,
- 5.3% of the disability-adjusted life years lost due to heart disease, and
- 9.3% of the disability-adjusted life years lost due to stroke.
The practice of working long hours increased substantially between 2010 and 2016. The disease burden attributable to overwork is the largest occupational risk factor to date. As the degree of overwork continues, the disease burden is also likely to increase.
Takeaway: Overwork increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Increased release of stress hormones and unhealthy coping mechanisms may heighten this risk. Work-life balance is likely to lower stress and increase your capacity to eat healthfully, get sufficient exercise and sleep, and reduce alcohol consumption related to increased stress.
Well-being is a journey, not a quick fix
Frank Pega, et al., Global, Regional, and National Burdens of Ischemic Heart Disease and Stroke Attributable to Exposure to Long Work Hours for 194 Countries, 2000-2016: A Systematic Analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-Related Burden of Disease and Injury, 154 Environmental International 106595, Sept. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412021002208.