In 1888, Rudyard Kipling famously wrote that too much work can “kill a man just as effectively as too much assorted vice or too much drink.” Working conditions have changed a lot since then, but a new analysis of more than 500,000 modern lives upholds the aphorism.
The meta-analysis published in The Lancet shows that those working 55 hours a week had a 33% greater risk of stroke and 13% increased risk of cardiovascular diseases in comparison to those working for 40 hours a week. This kind of analysis overcomes the limitations of past smaller studies, such as narrow demographics and weaker links, offering up a firmer, overarching conclusion.
One cause of stroke and heart diseases is the increased amounts of stress from extended work hours. Turning to alcohol as a stress reliever makes matters worse. So does the fact that overworked people have fewer hours available for exercise.
Sadly, the chances of your employer paying heed to this study aren’t great. According to the OECD, an international think-tank, the share of people working outside of normal hours has been increasing since the 1990s. Across the OECD countries, 12% of men and 5% of women worked more than 50 hours a week. The highest proportion was in Turkey (43%) and lowest in the Netherlands (<1%).
The good news is, even a little moderation can go a long way. Cutting work hours to less than 48 hours a week is associated with only a 10% increased risk of stroke, according to the new study. But if you work for, say, Amazon, you might just be out of luck.