A new study by the WHO was published this week that demonstrates a relationship between working long hours and premature death.
"WHO and ILO estimate that, in 2016, 398 000 people died from stroke and 347 000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%."
The majority of these deaths (72%) were in men aged 60-79 who had worked 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74.
Compared to working 35-40 hour weeks, those who work 55 or more hours per week have a 35% higher risk of a stroke and 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease.
This isn't the first study that has shown a correlation between long working hours and premature death, but it's certainly the biggest and most convincing. Other studies over the past few years have demonstrated the many and varied ways that working too much is bad for you.
A 2015 study in the British Medical Journal found that people who work more than 40 hours per week are more likely to drink "risky" amounts of alcohol.
It states that "one view is that alcohol use alleviates stress that is caused by work pressure and working conditions. Working overtime and characteristics such as high demands and lack of control might contribute to stress at work."
It continues "Depression and sleep problems might contribute to the link between long working hours and alcohol use. Other factors, such as personality traits, could confound the association because they might make people work long hours and also be related to a tendency to risky alcohol use."
Sleep, stress and chronic diseases
Talking of sleep problems, people who work long hours are more likely to have difficulty sleeping, or sleep fewer hours. Poor sleep has been shown to not only decrease productivity but also increase your chance of getting type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Working long hours also increases your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can increase your chances of a stroke and possibly even cancer.
People who work long hours are also more likely to have depression, according to a 2012 study. Workers putting in 11 hours a day compared to those working 7-8 hours were over twice as likely to suffer a "major depressive episode".
It also quotes an older WHO study which stated that "According to projections by the World Health Organisation, depressive disorders will be the leading cause of disease burden in high-income countries by 2030".
If you spent 40 hours a week standing up instead of sitting down, you'd use 2,000 extra calories a week (50 per hour). This is equivalent to burning a kilo of fat a month! Not to mention that all that cortisol makes you want to eat sugary foods. A 2017 study in the BMJ found that people with higher levels of cortisol were more likely to gain weight. Put that chocolate croissant back in the box.
Take a break
If all this is making you depressed, stressed and wanting to eat lots of cake, maybe you need to be working less and taking more breaks! An article in The Muse cites research by productivity app DeskTime that we're most effective at work if we work for 52 minutes and then have a 17-minute break.
Obviously, the exact numbers are going to be different for everyone, but everyone's health can be improved by working shorter hours and taking regular breaks.
Talking of which, I'm going to take a break now and sit outside to unwind and top up my vitamin D levels :)