Science Has Discovered What's Long Been Suspected: Your Job Can Kill You

Not taking some time off could mean dying at your desk.

Attention workaholics: your job may kill or permanently harm you. That may very well be the harsh truth behind an article published in The Lancet by researchers who discovered a very disturbing link between long work hours and the chances of stroke and coronary heart disease.

The New York Times reported the findings of this study, which analyzed research and data on over 600,000 individuals throughout Europe, the United States and Australia yesterday. 


The Times reports that people working more than 55 hours a week have a 33 percent greater risk of stroke and 13 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease.

Although the data is troubling, the Times was quick to point out that other variables may be at play, nothing that "the analysis was not designed to draw conclusions about what caused the increased risk and could not account for all relevant confounding factors."

So how many people work more than 40 hours a week? The answer may surprise you.

According to two Gallup surveys conducted in 2013 and 2014, and cited by the Times, nearly 20 percent of adult full-time employees work more than 50 hours a week, while half said they work more than 40.

In Japan, death by overwork has become a major concern. Some say the toll may be as high as 20,000 a year.

According to ABC News Australia, karoshi, or death by overwork, is on the rise, taking the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Japanese workers who are expected to put in late hours and consequently suffer higher rates of stroke, heart attack and even suicide.

The Japanese government has responded by creating laws that enforce a mandatory two-week vacation for all Japanese workers. That would not, however, seem to impact the long hours endured by many in Japan.

Hours alone might not be the blame, however. Job stress may a factor.

Dr. Stephen L. Kopecky, a cardiology professor at the Mayo Clinic, was quick to point out to the Times that the analysis omitted or failed to fully account for medical history and other variables in the sample size and that long hours might only be partially responsible for the increased risk. 

Noting "job strain," or the lack of control and high demands often placed by certain types of work, Dr. Kopecky told the Times that "you have higher blood pressure when you have job strain... And guess what that's associated with? Stroke."

Although more research is needed, the scientists urged caution.

"These findings suggest that more attention should be paid to the management of vascular risk factors in individuals who work long hours," the Lancet article said.


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