Working long hours 'raises heart attack risk'

Tired worker Putting in extra hours can take its toll

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Working more than 11 hours a day rather than the usual 9am to 5pm markedly increases heart disease risk, say UK experts.

The magnitude of risk goes up by 67% for people who work long hours, they say in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The University College London team base their findings on over 7,000 civil service employees whose health they have been tracking since 1985.

They suggest GPs should now be asking their patients about working hours.

Lead researcher Professor Mika Kivimäki said: "Considering that including a measurement of working hours in a GP interview is so simple and useful, our research presents a strong case that it should become standard practice.

Start Quote

This study might make us think twice about the old adage 'hard work won't kill you'”

End Quote Professor Stephen Holgate of the Medical Research Council

"This new information should help improve decisions regarding medication for heart disease.

"It could also be a wake-up call for people who overwork themselves, especially if they already have other risk factors."

Hard graft

Over the course of the 11-year study, 192 of the participants suffered a heart attack.

People who worked 11 hours or more a day were more than half as likely again to have a heart attack than those who worked shorter hours.

And adding working hours to well-established heart risk factors, such as high blood pressure, made the researchers' predictions far more accurate.

If GPs were to add this to their usual list of heart questions they might spot 6,000 more of the 125,000 people who suffer heart attacks in the UK each year, the researchers suggest.

Studies are now needed to see if getting people to cut back on their working hours will improve their heart health, they add.

Professor Stephen Holgate of the Medical Research Council, which part-funded the investigation, said: "This study might make us think twice about the old adage 'hard work won't kill you'.

"Tackling lifestyles that are detrimental to health is a key area for the MRC, and this research reminds us that it's not just diet and exercise we need to think about."

Professor Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation said: "These most recent findings raise the possibility that long working hours may increase the risk of a heart attack.

"But further studies are required to confirm this association and clarify how it might be used to change our current approach to assessing someone's risk of developing heart disease and what advice we give on working conditions."

Experts suspect a number of underlying factors may be at play, such as undetected high blood pressure, stress, anxiety or depression, and being a driven, aggressive or irritable personality.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    As a retired nurse many of us have known shift work, has for several years been linked to enduring health problems, affecting our cardiovascular system. Sadly our political system has never wanted to recognise it, regardless of the amount of pressure the health unions applied, why the working time directives took so long to be established.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    I work in NHS path labs providing a 24hr service - regularly work 11-12hr days mixed with 11-13hr lone nights, weekends, bank hols - on my feet mostly. Nights are worked - not spent in bed. Average week about 45hrs, and can work 3 weeks without a 2 day break (just worked 64hr week) Am exhausted most time, but can't understand why vacancies go unfilled in this vital public sector service??

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    As a manager, I have to say that I never put a black mark against anyone suffering from stress - I am actively trying to promote someone at the moment who has suffered in the past. The important thing is to get to the root cause of the stress & address that, not write people off. Sadly however it is only those who have "owned up" to stress who know this & the rest of my team are still suspicious

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Yes I think we all know this but it doesn't help all the people who have to work long hours because that is what the jobs demands. The choice is pretty stark: work the hours, keep the job, support your family or lose the job which would hardly help one's health. All we can do is try to cancel out the harm done by work by exercising and eating healthily. Who needs 8 hours leisure time a day?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I haven't found work yet, but my parents sometimes work all day shifts, daytime shifts, afternoon shifts and sometimes all night. It's not easy for my parents and I feel because I'm autistic with learning difficulty they have to work harder because I haven't found work yet.

    I'm not getting any help from my support workers either so it's hard.


Comments 5 of 17


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