Work long hours on the job? You’re more likely to have heart problems, study says

About 350,000 Canadians are affected by atrial fibrillation, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Attributed Photo / Getty Images

Working overtime might be good for the bank account, but it’s actually hurting your health.

According to a new study by University College London, those who work long hours increase their risk of developing an irregular heartbeat – also known as atrial fibrillation (AF) – by 40 per cent, compared to employees who have a better work-life balance.

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(People with AF have a three- to five-fold increased risk of stroke, the Heart and Stroke Foundation reports.)

The study looked at data on 85,494 people who were mainly middle-aged men and women in the U.K., Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

They were then separated into two groups according to their work habits, with those with working schedules between 35 and 40 hours per week used as the control group. None of the participants had AF before the study.

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Researchers followed participants for 10 years and found that an average of 12.4 per 1,000 people had developed AF. However, among the participants who worked 55 hours or more, that figure rose to 17.6 per 1,000 people.

It was also discovered that those who worked the longest hours were more overweight, had higher blood pressure, smoked more and drank more alcohol. Even after taking all those factors into account, the link between AF and longer working hours still remained.

There were limitations to the study, however. Researchers had only asked participants about the number of hours they worked at the start of the experiment, therefore were unable to determine if their working hours had changed over the 10-year period. They also did not look into if the type of job had an impact on the link.

The study was published in the European Heart Journal.

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Research, over the years, has been able to identify several other negative impacts the workplace has on people’s health.

One study in 2015 by the American Academy of Neurology found a similar link between work stress and an elevated risk of stroke.

“Having a lot of job stress has been linked to heart disease, but studies on job stress and stroke have shown inconsistent results,” said Dr. Dingli Xu of Southern Medical University in China in a statement. “It’s possible that high-stress jobs lead to more unhealthy behaviours, such as poor eating habits, smoking and lack of exercise.”

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Those with high job stress had a 22 per cent higher chance of stroke than those with low-stress jobs, researchers concluded. When researchers broke the data down by types of strokes, those with high-stress jobs were 58 per cent more likely to have an ischemic stroke – the most common kind which occurs when an artery to the brain is blocked.

Stress at work can also impact sleep and prompt people to overeat and make unhealthy eating choices, researchers at Michigan State University say.

“We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of health food,” Chu-Hsiang Chang, co-author of the study, said in a statement. “However, another key finding shows how sleep helped people deal with their stressful eating at work. When workers slept better the night before, they tended to eat better when they experienced stress the next day.”

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Work-related stress has also been linked to a 45 per cent higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by the German Research Centre for Environmental Health, and researchers at Columbia University found a link between anxiety and depression and the professional hierarchy one holds at work.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, AF is the most common type of arrhythmia of the heart and affects about 350,000 Canadians. Increasing age, diabetes, high blood pressure and underlying heart disease are all risk factors of AF.

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