The Habits of Health is not about losing weight or getting a six-pack—though it can include those things. The Habits of Health is about organizing your life around what matters most to you.
For most of us, that means pursuing our passions and creating memories with the people that we love. To have the energy and longevity to do more of those things, thriving at a healthy weight is critical, but there is more to a healthy lifestyle than nutrition and exercise.
Just last week we talked about how music can help you relieve stress, and before that we talked about emotional eating.
A new study, released yesterday, helps to add even more weight to our discussions of stress. Researchers found a correlation between long working hours and increased risks of cardiovascular disease. In simple terms, people who work 55 hours or more per week are 33% more likely to have a stroke and 13% more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease.
Why long hours are bad for you
Let’s be clear: this study found a correlation in demographics. People who reported working longer hours were also most likely to report incidents of stroke and heart disease. We can’t see for certain that long work hours directly cause these health problems, but from what we already know about health, we can safely say that long work hours are likely bad for you because…
- An overactive stress response can strain a number of essential health processes, from our immune systems to our sleep cycles. If you work long hours, I would guess that you are likely experiencing stress from a number of directions. Perhaps your job is exceptionally demanding or perhaps you feel like you need to work more to care for your family. Either of these scenarios can generate a great deal of stress.
- Long work hours in an office environment will typically mean long periods of sitting. A trove of research has linked sitting with a number of health problems, and I’ve written about these problems before as well. Even if you aren’t stressed by your long work hours, the long periods of inactivity alone could threaten your longevity.
- Snacking and eating out are common in workplaces. Unless you plan ahead carefully, you are likely to run out for fast food or to hit the snack machine when you feel a craving. The longer you spend on the job, the more likely you are to face these temptations, so the lifestyle influence of long work hours could make you choose less healthy sources of fuel, which in turn contributes to weight-gain and all of the health problems that result from that path.
- Working late can affect your sleep habits. You might reach for an extra cup of coffee or find yourself going to bed later so that you can fit in your errands and a few tired hours with your loved ones. Sleeplessness can put your health into a tailspin with your body failing to replenish vital nutrients and resetting important restorative processes. When your sleep suffers, you will also find it more difficult to control your cravings and to interact with peers, so your eating habits could worsen while your stress levels increase.
So while the long work hours themselves may not be to blame for the increases in cardiovascular disease that this study identified, it’s not hard to imagine how the lifestyle surrounding a life of long work week after long work week can contribute to Habits of Disease.
For those of you in the Optimal Health community that changed career paths for the sake of your health, tell us your stories and share your insights! You could help someone like you!