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Long Work Hours Increasing Deaths From Heart Disease, Pandemic Work From Home Could Worsen It

According to a new study published by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, 7,45,000 people worldwide died from a stroke and ischemic heart disease due to long working hours in 2016, showing a 29 per cent increase since 2000 [1].

This is the first global analysis where WHO and ILO assessed the loss of life and health associated with working long hours. Published in the Environmental International, the study findings showed that in 2016, 398 000 people died from a stroke and 347 000 from heart disease because of having worked at least 55 hours a week - which is equal to working two and half days fully (24 hours) [2].


Why Does Long Working Hours Increase Risk Of Heart Disease And Stroke?

Several studies, prior to the current findings, have pointed out that people who work long working hours are likely to have poorer mental health and lower-quality sleep [3]. It has also been shown to increase the likelihood of smoking, excessive drinking, and weight gain.

The study findings show that working long hours is responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, making it one of the most severe risk factors with the largest occupational disease burden.

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Working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease than working 35-40 hours a week.

The common trigger factors of heart disease and stroke are high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease and stroke, overweight and obesity, prediabetes, unhealthy diet, and not getting enough physical activity [4].

So how does this relate to long working hours?

Work stressors, such as job strain and long working hours, are associated with a moderately elevated risk of incident coronary heart disease and stroke.

Constant stress has been linked to higher activity in an area of the brain linked to processing emotions and an increased likelihood of developing heart and circulatory disease [5].

Who is at the risk of work-related heart health issues?

  • Work-related heart health issues are particularly significant in men (72 per cent death), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers.
  • Most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years (worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74).

Pandemic Work From Home Culture May Increase The Risk

The COVID-19 pandemic had caused the world to opt for work from home, which is becoming the norm for many organizations [6]. Working from home opens a new range of possibilities for the businesses as well as the employees. Working from home has several benefits: flexibility and ability, improved staff well-being, financial benefits, increased productivity, and more [7]. However, in the same line, it has certain risks associated with it as well.

The number of people working long hours is increasing. Currently, it stands at 9 per cent of the total population globally, which puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death [8].

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"The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. He continued, "Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours."

He further stressed that "No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers [9]."


WHO Guidelines To Protect Workers’ Health And Reduce Premature Deaths

  • Governments can introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.
  • Bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers' associations can arrange a working time to be more flexible while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.
  • Employees could share working hours to ensure that the numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.
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Health Risks Of Working Long Hours

Working long hours with the ‘hope' of getting ahead on your office works can bite you back in the long run. According to several studies, the following are some of the most common health risks associated with working long hours [10]:

  • Increased fatigue
  • Excessive stress
  • Musculoskeletal damage
  • Brain-related issues such as poorer mental skills, including short-term memory and reduced ability to recall words
  • Risk of obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart-health issues
  • Hypertension
  • Smoking and drinking habits

How To Manage Work From Home Hours?

Transitioning to a new way of working that too abruptly can seem difficult. But here, we provide you with some effective tips that would help make your work from home not only a productive one but also a healthy one.

  • Maintain regular work hours
  • Create a morning routine
  • Schedule breaks
  • Set daily/weekly goals
  • Create a comfortable and dedicated workspace
  • Eat a healthy lunch
  • Squeeze in some workout
  • Balance your work and personal life
  • Some of the easy exercises you can do are as follows:

    • Standing exercise: You can stand and stretch your arms and fingers in between your work. Standing for a few minutes will help in loosening your muscles and burns more calories than sitting.
    • Walk and talk: While talking to your teammates through the phone, skin sitting at the table, and walk around the room.
    • Stretch, turn and bend: Aim for 10 minutes by stretching, turning and bending yourself. Getting your body moving more often will help in stretching out your entire body and prevent muscles cramping.
    • Read: Tips For A Healthy Work From Home During Covid-19 Lockdown