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The Effects of Long Work Hours

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Spending long hours at work might help you meet deadlines, but those long hours can affect both your physical and mental health. When you spend a significant part of your day working, there’s not enough time to rest and recharge before facing the challenges of a new day. That can lead to a number of problems and can even raise your risk of a heart attack.

Physical Problems

Your health is bound to suffer when the only exercise you get is the walk from the parking lot to your office, and dinner consists of a candy bar from the vending machine. It’s not surprisingly that people who work long hours are more likely to develop a variety of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. A group of researchers led by Marianna Virtanen, Ph.D., surveyed studies conducted on heart disease and noticed a 1.8-fold increase in coronary heart disease in people who worked long hours. Their research was published in the October 1, 2012 issue of the “American Journal of Epidemiology.”

Mental Health Effects

Too much time spent on work and not enough spent on relaxation and fun can increase your risk of developing depression and might even increase your chance of developing a major depressive episode. Your stress level also might rise as you struggle to handle a heavy workload with little down time. Although family can be a source of comfort, you might become more stressed if family members don’t understand why you must spend so much time working.

Cognitive Abilities Suffer

You might think you would accomplish more by working long hours, but that’s not always the case. In fact, your mental abilities can actually decline the longer you work, reports Dr. Virtanen in a second study on working hours published in the January 6, 2009 issue of “American Journal of Epidemiology.” Middle-aged study participants who worked more than 55 hours per week scored lower in vocabulary and reasoning tests than people who worked 40 hours per week. Stress, lack of sleep and health problems might be to blame, according to the study, although a definitive cause for the decline wasn’t identified.

What to Do

If you regularly work long hours and are starting to see negative effects, it’s time to change the way you think about work. Although technology allows you to work anywhere, that’s not always the best option for your health. Leave work behind when you go home and resist the urge to constantly check your phone messages and email. Make time to get exercise every day, whether it’s before, after or during work hours. If you expect to work a 10- or 12-hour day, take 20 minutes during the day and go for a walk. Set a few limits to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Don’t volunteer for additional projects at work or agree to coach your child’s soccer team if you already have more work than you can handle.