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Study: Long hours can be lethal

| May 18, 2021 1:00 AM

In general, work is a good thing. We tend to be in better mental and physical health when we have the security and productive feeling work provides, whether it’s professional or just puttering in the garden.

But too much work works against us. A newly released study by the World Health Organization found that regularly working more than 55 hours per week puts adults, especially men, at greater risk of lethal heart disease or stroke.

In fact, in 2016, long work hours killed more than 745,194 people in the 154 nations surveyed (including the U.S.) — a 29 percent increase since 2000, the study concluded.

In this unprecedented global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, researchers estimated about 398,000 died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked 55 or more hours per week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of overwork-related deaths from heart disease increased by 42 percent, and from stroke by 19 percent.

The meta-analysis factored in other correlative influences such as disability, socioeconomic status and education.

Contributing effects of working long hours include physiological (immune response, high blood pressure, and heart problems) and behavioral (smoking and alcohol use, inactivity, unhealthy diet, impaired sleep) responses to work stress, which increase risk of death.

This “work-related disease burden,” says the WHO, is particularly significant in men, who represented 72 percent of deaths, as well as people living in Western Pacific and Southeast Asia, and in middle-aged or older workers. Most recorded deaths were of those aged 60-79 years, who had worked weekly averages of 55 hours or more when they were aged 45 to 74.

Comparing numbers to people who work around 40 hours per week, the study correlated the 55-plus workweek with an estimated 35 percent higher stroke risk and 17 percent higher heart disease risk, compared to those working 40 or fewer. The estimated global share of the population working 55-plus hours is 9 percent.

While the underlying research happened before the pandemic began, it dovetails with the spotlight it’s shone on managing working hours, blurring home-work boundaries, and achieving better life balance.

For the full report published in the journal Environment International see


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Email

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