In his classic/catchy tune, “Movin’ Out” (AKA, “Anthony’s Song”), Billy Joel once lamented to Howard Stern that the song reflected friends taking jobs to fulfill others rather than themselves. Beyond the colorful characters, Mama Leone, Sergeant O’Leary and Mr. Cacciatore, it’s poor Anthony (among others) for whom it’s suggested that “working too hard can give you a heart attack…”
We’ve known for some time that working too many hours is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, a study of more than 600,000 men and women published in the Lancet found that those who worked at least 55 hours each week experienced a 13% higher risk of a heart attack over a 5-year period, and 33% greater likelihood of a stroke, compared with those who worked 35-40 hours.
Let’s suppose that Anthony experienced his first heart attack after working more than 55 hours a week in the grocery store. A new study now shows that if Anthony continues to work more than 55 hours a week he is 67% more likely to have another heart attack (or more than a 2.5 fold increased risk if there is associated job strain), compared to other heart attack survivors who dropped their workload down to 40 hours or less per week.
Bottom Line: Working 55 hours or more per week may be hazardous to your health, unless of course, you thoroughly enjoy what you do. After all, as my late father-in-law, Paul Miller (who taught math for 80 years) used to say “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life!”
Below are additional tips related to workplace stress and the heart
- Jobs that are of high-demand, low-control are associated with increased risk of heart disease. They include factory workers, firefighters and postal workers.
- Jobs that are of low-demand, high-control are associated with reduced risk of heart disease. They include architects, dentists and sales representatives.
- A study conducted in Germany found that job stress was associated with increased inflammation and 2-fold increased risk of a heart attack over an 11-year follow-up period.
- Stressful working conditions are associated with reduced life expectancy of 2 and 1.5 years in men and women, respectively.
Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.