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7 Reasons Working Too Much Is Bad For Your Health

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 01/28/2012 10:56 am Updated: 03/30/2012 11:17 am

If you're the last one to leave the office, or constantly picking up an extra shift, you may see the benefits in that paycheck, but all those extra hours are also affecting your health.

A recent study found that workers clocking at least 11 hours a day have a higher risk of depression than people working a standard seven- or eight-hour day. And that finding joins a host of others suggesting a link between clocking long hours and serious health problems.

Luckily, the weekend offers us a two-day respite from the stresses of all those long days. Below, we've compiled some of the ways working too much hurts your health, as well as a few of our favorite ways to make the most of your time off.

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  • Depression

    Here's some sad news about clocking out late -- a new study shows that working overtime is linked with a more than doubled risk of depression. The research, just published in the journal <em>PLoS ONE</em>, shows that people who work 11 or more hours a day have an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/overtime-work-depression_n_1234025.html" target="_hplink">increased risk of depression</a> compared with people who work just seven or eight hours a day. WebMD speculated that the long work hours might lead to <a href="http://www.webmd.com/depression/news/20120124/too-much-overtime-may-raise-depression-risk" target="_hplink">investing less time and care into your family</a> and self, as well as less time to get exercise or eat healthy foods. So be glad it's the weekend, and take advantage of your time to yourself! And when the work week rolls around, this study shows it might be in your best mental health interest to go home at a normal hour when you can.

  • Sitting

    If your idea of relaxation involves being a couch potato, you may want to think again. The weekend is a great time to get in some exercise (but make sure you're exercising all throughout the week too, as <a href="http://www.med.unc.edu/www/newsarchive/2010/october/is-being-a-weekend-warrior-bad-for-your-health" target="_hplink">being a weekend warrior</a> may put you at greater risk of injury!). Those of us who have jobs that require sitting down all day at a desk should know our sedentary habits aren't exactly good for our health. There have been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/13/sitting_n_1202800.html#s608680&title=It_Ups_Diabetes" target="_hplink">multiple studies linking sitting</a> to a whole host of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart attack and even death. For instance, researchers from the University of Missouri found that if people spent most of their days sitting -- even when they made time for exercise -- they were still at a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/05/sitting-too-long-diabetes-risk_n_917220.html" target="_hplink">higher risk for chronic diseases</a> like diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease than people who are more active throughout the day. And what's more, a study out this month from British researchers shows that in a typical week, office workers spend five hours and 41 minutes <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120113210203.htm" target="_hplink">sitting down</a>. The researchers also found that people who sit a long time at work also tend to sit the most while not at work, and that there is a link between higher body mass indexes (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) and time spent sitting at work.

  • Sleep

    The average American adult should shoot for about seven to nine hour of sleep per night, <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/press-release/longer-work-days-leave-americans-nodding-the-job" target="_hplink">according to the National Sleep Foundation</a>. What they're getting is a different story -- the foundation's Sleep In America <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/press-release/longer-work-days-leave-americans-nodding-the-job" target="_hplink">survey</a> found that the average respondent gets only six hours and 40 minutes of sleep on a typical night. And the numbers may be even more staggering for people working overtime -- 20 percent of those who clocked in more than 50 hours a week reported <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/press-release/longer-work-days-leave-americans-nodding-the-job" target="_hplink">getting fewer than six hours of sleep per night on workdays</a>, and 36 percent said they only got a good night's sleep a few nights a week or less. Another study, published last year in the <em>Journal of Sleep Research</em>, found a link between <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2010.00852.x/abstract;jsessionid=C523F4665A7659C24D965E88D23BF42D.d03t02" target="_hplink">long work hours and reduced quality of sleep</a>. <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health" target="_hplink">The health effects of too little sleep</a> are well documented and include decreased memory, increased weight gain, irritability and other mood problems, serious cardiovascular health problems, and possibly cancer, to name a few. Use the weekend as a time to re-set your sleep. Throwing off your schedule by staying up late and binging on sleep in the mornings can actually set your body clock into a type of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/06/daylight-savings-time-health_n_1078661.html" target="_hplink">stationary jet lag, experts say</a>. Instead, try not to alter your bedtime or wake-time by more than an hour, and shoot for a full eight to nine hours. Then keep up the commitment during the week -- you may feel skimping on sleep makes you a better employee by working harder, but the truth is that a good night's rest can improve <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/importance_of_sleep_and_health" target="_hplink">memory and the ability to learn</a>. Close to 30 percent of people have either fallen asleep or become very sleepy on the job, <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/2008 POLL SOF.PDF" target="_hplink">while one in 10</a> were late to work in the past month because of lack of sleep, according to The National Sleep Foundation. And make the hours before bedtime a no-work zone. <a href="http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/press-release/longer-work-days-leave-americans-nodding-the-job" target="_hplink">While close to a quarter</a> of employees report doing job-related work within an hour of going to bed, doing so can stimulate the brain and make it harder to sleep. And be sure to shut off the laptop, too. "If a person is looking at a computer screen, they're stimulating their brain with bright light," Michael Decker, Ph.D., an associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesman for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/insomnia-treatment_n_1094566.html" target="_hplink">told the Huffington Post in November</a>. Keeping the work out of the bedroom helps you to associate it as a place of relaxation instead of stimulation, making it easier to get the much needed shuteye.

  • Cardiovascular Problems

    Working overtime increases risk for a wide range of <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-143/health.html" target="_hplink">heart-health-related problems</a>, including heart disease, heart attack and high blood pressure. In fact, a 2010 study found working 10 or more hours a day resulted in a <a href="http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/31/14/1672.long" target="_hplink">60 percent jump in risk of cardiovascular issues</a>. At least a part of that link seems to be due to the type of person who takes on overtime work, according to the study. Type A personalities have a higher incidence of heart disease to begin with, and are also more likely to continue to work even if they're sick, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/21/manage-stress-and-help-your-heart-_n_825161.html#s242537&title=Focus_On_Relaxation" target="_hplink">Stress</a>, a known danger to your ticker, also likely plays a role. Focus on incorporating <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/04/heart-health-10-foods-_n_803802.html#s218531&title=Oatmeal" target="_hplink">heart-healthy foods</a> like fish, lean meats and lots of fresh fruits and veggies into your meals this weekend, and don't forget to squeeze in physical activity whenever possible. But while healthy eating and exercise can help <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/11/with-heart-health-eating-_n_1005110.html" target="_hplink">mitigate the risk</a> it's in your best interest to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/21/manage-stress-and-help-your-heart-_n_825161.html#s242537&title=Focus_On_Relaxation" target="_hplink">stay relaxed</a> and check out earlier next week.

  • Stress

    According to the <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coping-with-stress/SR00030" target="_hplink">Mayo Clinic</a>, a quarter of people identify work as the primary stressor in their lives -- workload, daily commutes, co-workers and those endless daily tasks can add up to a serious stress problem. In the short term, stress prompts the body to pump out hormones that can increase blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar, <a href="http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/stress-your-health.cfm#e" target="_hplink">according to WomensHealth.gov</a>. And over time that can lead to mental health problems, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and skin problems, among others. This weekend, spend a chunk of time to unplug and recharge -- take time to enjoy the things you miss out on during the week, whether it's something as simple as daylight or as poignant as spending time with your children.

  • Eye Strain

    Staring at a computer screen all day is the most commonly cited cause of eye strain at work. In fact, anywhere from <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21480937" target="_hplink">64 to 90 percent of computer users</a> report experiencing some kind of vision symptoms, whether it's eye strain, headaches, dry eyes or blurred vision, according to a 2011 study. But workers whose jobs require them to <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/eyestrain/DS01084" target="_hplink">drive for a long period time</a> may experience similar effects, according to Mayo Clinic. This weekend, take some time to unplug and recharge. Turn off the TV, the laptop and use your phone only to make calls. If you're up for a challenge, bet a friend or family member you can last longer without checking email or surfing the web. Next week, when you're in front of your computer again, follow the <a href="http://iospress.metapress.com/content/r734u1l877233722/fulltext.html" target="_hplink">20/20/20 rule</a>: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away from your screen for at least 20 seconds. There are even apps for certain browsers, like <a href="https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/geghmabifcdlkmpnkapfefbbfaonhcef" target="_hplink">20 Cubed for Google Chrome</a>, that will remind you to give your peepers a quick break.

  • Brain

    You may think you're doing your boss a favor by pulling all those long hours, but the truth is that overtime work may be associated with a risk of mental decline or even dementia. <a href="http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/169/5/596.full" target="_hplink">A 2009 study </a>published in the <em>American Journal of Epidemiology</em> found a possible negative effect on cognitive performance after working long hours in middle age. "This study should give pause for thought to workaholics," Harriet Millward, deputy chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, who was not involved in the study, <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7909464.stm" target="_hplink">told the BBC</a> after the findings were released. "We already know that dementia risk can be reduced by maintaining a balanced diet, regular social interactions and exercising both our bodies and minds. Perhaps work-life balance should be accounted for too."

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