/ 10 September 2010

Working around the clock can harm your ticker

Unfit, middle-aged men who work more than 45 hours a week are more than twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who devote less time to their jobs, new research warns.

It identifies the combination of poor physical fitness and working unusually long hours as a potentially lethal combination for men aged between 40 and 59. But men who manage to remain physically active into middle age are not at risk, emphasising the health benefits of regular exercise.

The study’s findings were published in the medical journal Heart. Working excessive hours is thought to damage cardiovascular health by causing a person’s heart rate and blood pressure to go up and stay raised for long periods. This happens whether or not the work itself is physically demanding.

The heart, health and physical fitness levels of some 5 000 Danish men aged 40 to 59 working for 14 companies were examined for 30 years by the National Research Centre for Denmark’s Working Environment. Participants did cycling tests to indicate how fit they are and disclosed how many hours they worked a week.

More than two-thirds worked between 41 and 45 hours, but almost one in five clocked up more than 45 hours. Among unfit men, those in the latter category were more than twice as likely to die of heart trouble than those who worked for under 40 hours.

Heart health campaigners said the study underlined the need for middle-aged men to take part in regular physical exercise, despite the pressures on their time.

Dr Jane Landon, deputy director of Britain’s National Heart Forum, said: “Men in this age group don’t need to be doing extreme sports but they do need to be keeping physically fit by, for example, walking or cycling or even doing gardening or DIY, which all contribute to a good level of fitness.”

Cathy Ross of the British Heart Foundation said men should try to be physically active for at least 30 minutes at a time, five times a week. “Being physically active helps to control your blood pressure and — being physically fit can help you cope with the demands of long hours, physically demanding jobs and shift work,” she said. —