Workaholics Take Note: Long Office Hours Linked To ‘Hidden’ Blood Pressure Problem

QUEBEC, Canada — Countless workspaces and offices tend to idealize and promote the notion that you’re not really a good employee unless you put in that extra effort at work. Your workday is supposed to end at five? Well, chances are your manager or CEO would really appreciate it if you stayed until six once or twice per week. While all those extra hours may be helping your employer’s bottom line, a new study finds that spending long hours on the job can be detrimental to one’s blood pressure.

According to the research team, in comparison to those who work a more traditional 35 hours or less per week, office workers who are on the job for 49 hours or more each week are 70% more likely to develop a hidden type of high blood pressure called masked hypertension. This form of high blood pressure is especially hard to diagnose and treat because it usually doesn’t appear on traditional blood pressure tests taken during visits to the doctor.

On top of all that, employees spending excessive hours at the office (49+) were also found to be at a greater risk of developing more regular, sustained high blood pressure (66%). Even those who didn’t quite reach 49 hours per week at the office (41-48 hours), were still putting themselves at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure in comparison to workers who clocked out at 35 hours each week; a 54% greater risk of developing masked hypertension and a 42% higher risk of more sustained high blood pressure.

To come to their conclusions, a team of Canadian researchers gathered over 3,500 office workers from three public institutions in Quebec. Even after accounting for other factors, such as level of job intensity, age, sex, BMI, and education level, the study’s findings still held up.

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“Both masked and sustained high blood pressure are linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk,” comments lead study author Xavier Trudel, an assistant professor in the social and preventive medicine department at Laval University in Quebec, in an American Heart Association release.

“The observed associations accounted for job strain, a work stressor defined as a combination of high work demands and low decision-making authority. However, other related stressors might have an impact,” Trudel continues. “Future research could examine whether family responsibilities – such as a worker’s number of children, household duties and childcare role – might interact with work circumstances to explain high blood pressure.”

The research aspect of the study lasted for five years, and included three separate portions of testing. During years one, three, and five, each participating office worker was provided with a wearable monitor to record their blood pressure three different times over the course of one morning. Then, for the rest of that same day, the device continued to take blood pressure measurements every 15 minutes. The researchers considered average hypertension readings at or above 140/90 mmHg during resting periods, and readings at or above 135/85 while working, as high.

Overall, the readings revealed that 19% of participating workers were dealing with sustained high blood pressure, and a significant portion of that group were already currently on a form of blood pressure medication. Additionally, more than 13% of the employees had masked hypertension and were not receiving any type of blood pressure treatment. The findings were “about the same” for men and women.

It’s important to note that the study “did not include blue-collar workers (employees who are paid by the hour and perform manual labor work in positions such agriculture, manufacturing, construction, mining, maintenance or hospitality service), therefore, these findings may not reflect the impact on blood pressure of shift-work or positions with higher physical demands.”

Still, thanks to the study’s large participant group, long time period, and extensive accounting of outside factors, the research team are confident in their findings when it comes to office workers.

“People should be aware that long work hours might affect their heart health, and if they’re working long hours, they should ask their doctors about checking their blood pressure over time with a wearable monitor,” Trudel concludes. “Masked hypertension can affect someone for a long period of time and is associated, in the long term, with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. We have previously shown that over five years, about 1 out of 5 people with masked hypertension never showed high blood pressure in a clinical setting, potentially delaying diagnosis and treatment.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Hypertension.

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