Heart, published by the BMJ (British Medical Journal) has found that men that are clinically out of shape, and work longer than the conventional workday hours, more likely die of heart disease by 50% compared to males who work the same hours in a week but are in shape.

We all know that working long hours is bad for your health, both physical and mental, but there has never been clear definition if there is a direct correlation between work and disease levels, even death rates.

In Denmark 5000 men 40 to 59 years old, working at a combined 14 different companies and occupations, that had their fitness levels and heart prowess tracked for more than 30 years were observed.

A bicycle stress test was administered and the Danes provided the average number of hours they worked each week. 69% put in between 41 and 45 hours a week, and almost 19% worked more hours in the week.

During this 30 year observational period, 587 of them died. Ischaemic heart disease , narrowed and hardened arteries, was cause of death. The most out of shape gentlemen were at the greatest risk of dying from heart disease, particularly if they worked long hours combined with other social factors and familial history of heart disease.

Those working 41 to 45 hours a week were 59% more likely to die of heart disease, but not more likely to die of other causes than men working fewer hours. Fit men working more than 45 hours each week were less likely to die from heart disease by 45%, and 38% less likely to pass away overall.

What is the biological rationale behind these findings? Work no matter what type, physically strenuous or not, boosts activity in the sympathetic nervous system which in fact increases heart rate and blood pressure.

Bottom line, it is important to exercise, diet right and attempt to stay in shape. It was found from the 5000 male sample that even those somewhat fit and working long hours substantially lower their risk of death from heart disease.

The study finally concludes:

The finding that working more than 45 hours a week is associated with more than a doubled risk of [death from heart disease] among men with low physical fitness, and not among men with moderate or high physical fitness, is a new observation. If the relationship is causal, it obviously has major implications for the prevention of heart disease.

Exercise is proven to limit physiological stress points and speeds up the recovery time. Fit workers are less tired and irritable. They sleep better and adapt better overall.

“Long work hours and physical fitness: 30-year risk of ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality among middle-aged Caucasian men”
Andreas Holtermann, Ole Steen Mortensen, Hermann Burr, Karen Søgaard, Finn Gyntelberg, Poul Suadicani
Heart doi:10.1136/hrt.2010.197145

Written by: Sy Kraft, B.A. – Journalism – California State University, Northridge (CSUN)