How working late can affect your cardiovascular health

We associate long hours with stress and fatigue – and on the flip side, with achievement and financial success. But what effect does working long hours have on your heart?

According to a new study, published in the European Heart Journal, it can boost the risk of an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. “AFib,” as it’s called, is similar to an irregular quiver, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). This irregular heartbeat can lead to blood clots, strokes, heart failure and other complications, the AHA reports.

The European Heart Journal study, looked at data from nearly 85,500 men and women from the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Working hours were assessed, and the results are a little scary. Particpants who worked 55 hours or more per week increased their risk of developing AFib in the next 10 years by 40 percent.

The leader of the study was professor Mika Kivimaki, from the Department of Epidemiology at University College London. An epidemiolgist interested in the behavioral, psychosocial and biological risk factors for coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and dementia, Kivimaki explained: “These findings show that long working hours are associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia. This could be one of the mechanisms that explain the previously observed increased risk of stroke among those working long hours.” He added, “Atrial fibrillation is known to contribute to the development of stroke, but also other adverse health outcomes, such as heart failure and stroke-related dementia.”

“Those who worked long hours had a 1.4 times higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, even after we had adjusted for factors that could affect the risk, such as age, sex, socioeconomic status, obesity, leisure time physical activity, smoking and risky alcohol use,” Kivimaki wrote.

“Nine out of ten of the atrial fibrillation cases occurred in people who were free of pre-existing or concurrent cardiovascular disease,” he wrote. “This suggests the increased risk is likely to reflect the effect of long working hours rather than the effect of any pre-existing or concurrent cardiovascular disease, but further research is needed to understand the mechanisms involved.”

Now, the study does have some limitations. For instance, it didn’t look at what type of employment the participants had – sedentary versus, say, construction. It didn’t explore irregular hours, such as how someone might work two 14-hour shifts, then have a couple days off, then work again. These factors could certainly have an impact on health. Still, if you’re not working hugely long hours, rejoice! And if you are, well, if there’s any way to cut back, this study could be a good incentive to explore some creative ideas.

“Warning: Long Work Hours Are Bad For The Heart” by Kathryn Drury Wagner was originally published on Spirituality & Health.

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