Burning the midnight oil – bad, vacation – good!

Clocking long hours at work? Well, that might earn you brownie points with your boss – but might affect your health in more ways than you thought. A new study from France found people who regularly worked long hours had a higher risk of stroke, especially if they worked those hours for 10 years or more. The association seemed stronger for people younger than 50.

The study, published recently in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, reviewed data from CONSTANCES, a French study group with 143,592 participants that started in 2012. Long work hours were defined as working more than 10 hours for at least 50 days a year. Overall, 29% reported working long hours and 10% reported working long hours for a decade or more.

In the study, 1,224 participants had strokes. Those who worked long hours had a 29% greater risk of stroke. Those who worked long hours for 10 years or more had a 45% greater risk.

Prior studies have noted that the type of work seems to correlate with the risk of stroke. Business owners, CEOs, managers and the like appear to have a lower risk, perhaps suggesting that those who have more control in their jobs — dubbed “decision latitude” — aren’t as affected. In contrast, many healthcare providers work for much longer periods than the definition of “long work hours” — which, combined with the irregular schedules of shift work, might explain their long-term health risks.

Increased risk of stroke isn’t the only negative side effect of overworking. In 2004, the CDC compiled data from 52 then-recent studies on overworking and published a report on their findings. “In 16 of 22 studies addressing general health effects, overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, or increased mortality. One meta-analysis of long work hours suggested a possible weak relationship with preterm birth. Overtime was associated with unhealthy weight gain in two studies, increased alcohol use in two of three studies, increased smoking in one of two studies, and poorer neuropsychological test performance in one study.”

Those are steep costs for a handful of extra work hours each week that probably aren’t allowing you to get more work done anyway. Many studies have shown that, after a certain point, working longer hours does nothing to boost productivity and can even be detrimental to workers’ output.

So what to do instead? – Go on an adventure! Take a vacation!

Researchers from Syracuse University published findings of their study demonstrating how taking vacations correlated with better heart health! The authors interviewed more than 60 subjects about their vacation habits in the prior year. They also evaluated whether the subjects had metabolic syndrome, that is, whether they displayed multiple symptoms associated with cardiovascular problems, including high measurements of waist circumference, blood pressure, triglyceride level, HDL cholesterol level and glucose level.

They found that people who vacation more frequently in the past 12 months have a lowered risk for metabolic syndrome and metabolic symptoms. The study, published recently in the Journal of Psychology & Health, further discovered the odds of having metabolic syndrome decreased by 24% with each additional vacation taken. The number of vacations taken by participants in the last year ranged from 0 to 15.

Participants were also asked to assess their vacations on many levels, including “length, location, financial burden,” as well as “the degree to which the participant disengaged from work,” alcohol use and sleep habits and any negative events that occurred during their time off. “Stress incurred from traveling, spending money and providing childcare while vacationing was rated low,” the study concluded. “Importantly, one of the most commonly reported activities occurring during vacations were social activities such as spending time with family or sharing a meal with friends.”

The takeaway – Work ‘smarter’, not ‘harder’ and make time to see the world! Your heart will thank you.

If you have any questions about your heart health, click here.

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