Working long hours raises the risk of heart disease by up to 80 per cent, according to a major new study.
It found employees who frequently put in overtime significantly increased their risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers believe a combination of stress, raised blood pressure and unhealthy diets may be condemning thousands of employees to premature heart problems.
Time for a holiday: Research shows that employees who frequently put in overtime significantly increase their risk of heart attacks and strokes
The findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, emerged after researchers pooled the results of studies going back as far as 1958 in what’s known as a meta-analysis.
When they combined all the data from different studies over the last 50 years, they found spending too long in the workplace resulted in a 40 to 80 per cent greater chance of heart disease than sticking to a normal eight hour day.
The results, by a team of scientists at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, echo that of a British survey last year which suggested doing more than eleven hours a day raised heart disease risks by 67 per cent.
Britain has some of the longest working hours in Europe, averaging out at 42.7 hours a week. Only Austria and Greece have longer.
In contrast, says the Office for National Statistics, workers in Germany average only 42 hours a week and Denmark only 39.1
It estimated that more than five million people a year in Britain work unpaid extra hours to hang on to their jobs.
But the long-term toll on workers’ health could be devastating, the new research suggests.
Calm down: Prolonged exposure to psychological stress, which can occur at work, may be one reason for the link between longer hours and heart disease
Dr Marianna Virtanen and her team gathered data from 12 different studies going back to 1958, when research first indicated there could be a link between long working hours and poor heart health.
In total, the studies involved a total of more than 22,000 people, from Britain, the USA, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
When the researchers matched up the results from all the studies, they found those working the longest hours were between 40 per cent and 80 per cent more likely to develop heart disease than colleagues who worked shorter periods.
Researchers stressed that the risks differed according to how studies were done.
In those where volunteers were asked to recall their working hours, the increase in risk was highest.
But in those where researchers closely monitored working hours as the study progressed - regarded as a more accurate method - it was around 40 per cent.
In a report on the findings Dr Virtanen said: ‘There are several potential mechanisms that may underlie the association between long working hours and heart disease.
‘One is prolonged exposure to psychological stress.’
Other triggers could be raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol, poor eating habits and lack of physical activity due to restricted leisure time.
In 2009, the same team of researchers discovered that long working hours also increased the risk of dementia later in life.
Middle-aged workers putting in 55 hours or more a week had poorer brain function than those clocking up no more than 40 hours, with lower scores on tests to measure intelligence, short-term memory and word recall.
The effect was so pronounced, they found, that it was similar in magnitude to that of smoking, a major risk factor for dementia.
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