Office workers who clock up long hours at 'increased risk of high blood pressure'

Marie Claire Dorking
Working long hours has been linked to high blood pressure [Photo: Getty]
Working long hours has been linked to high blood pressure [Photo: Getty]

Office workers who clock up long hours could dramatically increase their risk of high blood pressure by up to two-thirds, a new study has suggested.

We’ve all been there, stuck in the office wading through the never-ending to-do list, when we should be out drinking mince pie martinis.

Missing out on nights out with your pals and losing your weekends to being on email call is one thing, but working overtime can actually have some pretty serious consequences on our health.

Researchers found that people who work in an office beyond the usual ‘9 to 5’, 35 hours a week are more likely to have high blood pressure, including a type that can go undetected during a routine medical examination.

Around one in three adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many don’t even realise it.

Some have a type of the condition called masked hypertension, meaning their high blood pressure readings are normal during health care visits but elevated when measured elsewhere.

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The Canadian study, published in the journal Hypertension enlisted more than 3,500 white-collar employees at three public institutions in Quebec which provide insurance services to the general population.

Compared with colleagues who worked fewer than 35 hours a week, the study found that working 49 or more hours each week was linked to a 70% greater likelihood of having masked hypertension and a 66% higher chance of having sustained hypertension.

In results that present a valid case for cutting your hours, working between 41 and 48 hours each week was linked to a 54% greater likelihood of having masked hypertension and 42% greater likelihood of having sustained hypertension.

The findings accounted for variables including job strain, age, sex, education level, occupation, smoking status, body mass index (BMI) and other health factors.

Commenting on the findings study lead author Dr Xavier Trudel, Assistant Professor in the social and preventive medicine department at Laval University in Quebec, said: “Both masked and sustained high blood pressure are linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk.

“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. 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.”

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The study found those who worked longer than 35 hours per week had an increased risk of suffering from hypertension [Photo: Getty]
The study found those who worked longer than 35 hours per week had an increased risk of suffering from hypertension [Photo: Getty]

The five-year study involved three waves of testing - in years one, three and five. To simulate in-clinic blood pressure readings, a trained assistant provided participants with a wearable monitor to check each participant's resting blood pressure three times in one morning.

For the rest of the workday, the participant wore the blood pressure monitoring device, which took readings every 15 minutes - collecting a minimum of 20 additional measures for one day. Average resting readings at or above 140/90 mmHg, and average working readings at or above 135/85, were considered high.

Almost 19% of the workers had sustained hypertension, while more than 13% of the workers had masked hypertension.

Dr Trudel said the blood pressure findings were roughly the same for both men and women.

“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,” he said.

“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 one out of five people with masked hypertension never showed high blood pressure in a clinical setting, potentially delaying diagnosis and treatment.”

The research team pointed out that the study did not include any blue collar workers so the findings may not apply to manual workers, or people who work shifts.

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The news comes after it was revealed earlier this year that high blood pressure pills may work better when taken at bedtime.

In the largest study of its kind, scientists from the University of Vigo in Spain looked at when more than 19,000 patients took their hypertension medication.

They found that those who took the pills at bedtime had nearly half the risk (45%) of dying from heart disease over the next six years compared to the participants who had the medication upon waking.

The night time regimen also reduced the patients’ risk of a heart attack, stroke and heart failure, when the organ does not pump blood around the body as effectively as it should.

Experts believe a patient’s body clock may change how they respond to the medication.