A new Canadian study found that too much overtime could lead to a higher risk of repeat heart attacks. The study revealed that working over 55 hours per week following a heart attack posed the greatest risk. People working this many hours had twice the likelihood of a repeat heart attack than those working 35-40 hours per week.

Dr. Alain Milot, a professor of medicine at Laval University in Canada, co-authored the study. The professor of medicine at Laval University in Canada commented on the dangers of working long hours following a heart attack. He said the risk compares to the effects of heavy smoking. He added that governments and city officials should enforce mandates to reduce working hours. This would help lower the risks of subsequent heart attacks in coronary patients.

According to the International Labor Office, around 36% of workers globally work more than 48 hours per week. Regions of the world most impacted by excessive work hours include Southern and Eastern Asia and Arab states.

In developed countries, men are twice as likely as women to work long hours. Men also work longer hours than women in developing countries, though to a lesser degree. Overall, however, the proportion of people working long hours is more than double in developing countries vs. developed.

Excessively long working hours do not just increase the risk of repeat heart attacks.

Other dangers of working too many hours include the following:

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  • Higher risk of alcohol abuse. People working over 48 hours a week have a 13% higher likelihood of new onset risky alcohol use. This equates to 14 drinks for women and 21 drinks for men per week.
  • You have a greater chance of developing depression. People who log 11 hours or more of work per day have more instances of depression than those working seven to eight hours.
  • Excessive work means your cortisol levels will remain elevated for long periods of time. Not only does this put a strain on your heart, but it can also cause weight gain, sleep problems, and other major issues.
  • Working long hours increases the likelihood of developing back or neck pain. The pain you feel after working so much is caused by muscle tension. This happens when you stay in one position for a long time or engage in repetitive movements.
  • Working 45 hours or more per week increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in women. Women working excessive hours had a 63% higher chance of developing the condition compared with those working normal hours.
  • It leads to lower life expectancy. Studies have found that working over 48 hours per week could shorten life expectancy by 10 years.

Study showing that long work hours increases the risk of repeat heart attacks

For the study first mentioned, Milot’s team collected data on nearly 1,000 men and women. In the mid-1990s, all of them were under 60 years old, were employed, and had a history of heart attacks.

The researchers interviewed the participants and asked them to fill out questionnaires over the course of six years. They wanted to document cases of heart disease, hospital stays, and lifestyle risk factors.

The questionnaires also asked extensive questions about working conditions at their jobs. They included questions about exposure to smoking, chemicals; pollution; noise; excessive heat, cold or physical exertion; and hours worked weekly. Finally, the research team measured participants’ stress levels, job strain, and social support at both work and home.

Over the course of the study period, 22% of the participants had a repeat heart attack. The investigators discovered that working long hours doubled their risk of having a second one.

The questionnaires revealed that two groups seemed to work the longest hours: men and younger workers. Those who smoked, drank alcohol, and had a sedentary lifestyle also had a higher likelihood of working long hours. Finally, workers with stressful jobs logged excessive hours as well.

Best ways to prevent heart attacks

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, interim chief of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), reviewed the study. He said that in previous studies, men and women who worked long hours had greater risks of stroke, cardiovascular disease, and premature cardiovascular death.

However, for this study, he said that too few patients had repeat heart attacks for him to say there is a correlation. Only 95 individuals in the study worked long hours (over 55 per week). Therefore, he believes larger studies are needed to determine if reducing work hours alone would reduce repeat heart attacks.

He went on to say that the best preventive measures against heart attacks include medical care and lifestyle changes. Medications, cardiac rehabilitation, exercise, and a healthy diet can greatly reduce repeat heart attack risk.

Dr. Jian Li of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health co-authored an editorial released alongside the study. In the editorial, the researchers suggested heart attack patients complete a standard questionnaire about their work hours and job stress. This way, doctors can better understand their needs and formulate a proper treatment plan. Additionally, Li said that cardiac rehab programs which teach patients about healthy living could help them relax and increase resilience.

The findings were published online on March 29, 2021, in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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Final thoughts about the Canadian study showing long work hours increase heart attack risk.

It is no secret that our modern world requires us to work far too many hours. Humans need work to feel productive, but going to the extreme leads to unhappiness. It can also increase the risk of developing mental and physical health issues, such as heart attacks. The study found that working more than 55 hours a week doubled the risk of a repeat heart attack.

The best ways to lower your risk of having a heart attack are the basic pillars of health. Get enough sleep, exercise, eat healthily, do relaxation techniques like meditation, and spend time outdoors. Living in the modern world makes these things more difficult, but not impossible. Staying healthy not only helps you perform better at work but also increases your quality of life overall.