Working Long Hours Increases Stroke Risk

There has been much buzz lately about long work hours and stroke. That is because recent research has uncovered what appears to be a causative link between long work hours and stroke, as well as a link between irregular work shift hours and stroke.


Long work hours

The classification of what ‘long work hours’ means seems like it would be a subjective definition. But scientists have been trying to determine the optimal number of work hours for years.

A large meta-analysis using data from over one million men and women living in the US, Australia and Europe found that employees who worked longer than 41 hours per week had an increased risk of stroke. The risk of stroke was even higher for people who logged over 49 hours per week and increased even more for those who worked more than 55 hours per week.

So, it does appear that there is a true meaning to ‘long work hours,’ and that over 40 hours per week is associated with an increased stroke rate, while over 55 hours per week is associated with even higher rates of stroke.


Work Stress

Stress has been found to increase the risk of stroke. That includes stress that comes from any source. The most significant stressors that contribute to stroke include marital stress and work- related stress. A study coming from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health of the University College London evaluated over 600,000 men and women from Europe, the US and Japan.

The authors of the study found that work stress, which was defined as job strain or long working hours, resulted in a 10-40% increase in stroke.

This means that even in light of reasonable work hours, stress and high pressure in the work environment increase your risk of stroke.


Job insecurity

This is really a chicken or egg problem.

Often, employees who put in long work hours do so because of job insecurity. Many workers believe (and sometimes, rightly so) that logging in long work hours minimizes the chances of being laid off or fired. Job insecurity is a different kind of stress than a high-pressure, yet relatively secure work environment. Feeling that you might lose your job at any minute is a huge contributor to the health problems that cause stroke.


How does working long hours cause stroke?

There are many ways that long work hours contribute to your stroke risk. Working irregular hours itself is particularly disruptive to the body’s circadian rhythm, increasing the risk of stroke. But, even workers who work long hours without erratic shift schedules are at higher risk of stroke.

Long hours make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It can be challenging to find the time to eat healthy, to exercise or to relax when you work long hours.

The stress of long work hours, excessive pressure on the job or employment insecurity can all cause stroke because stress contributes to hypertension, high cholesterol and fat levels, weight gain or excess weight loss and altered hormone levels. Stress also diminishes the normal function of the immune system, making you more prone to infections, which also increases the chances of having a stroke.

Working long hours leaves little time for developing healthy relationships, which are an integral part of reducing stress. Many people who work long hours do not have time for hobbies, spirituality or other activities that are seen as ‘optional’ because they do not directly contribute financially to one’s family.


What to do about it?

Most people who work long hours do not realistically have options. Employers bear a responsibility to maintain a reasonable work environment that fosters healthy employees.



Work Stress as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease.Kivimäki M, Kawachi I., Current Cardiology Reports, September 2015


Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603,838 individuals, IPD-Work Consortium, Lancet, October 2015

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