Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Can Over Working Hurt Your Heart?
In this article, I discuss the risks of overworking to your cardiovascular system and offer tips for a better work life balance.
John D. Rockefeller’s Experience
While still in his 40s, the richest man in the world was dying. John D. Rockefeller had developed an autoimmune disease that caused him to lose every hair on his body as well as other medical conditions. He was so close to a nervous breakdown, that he even slept with a gun next to his bed.
His doctors told him that if he didn’t stop working so hard he was going to die from a heart attack. Heading the advice of his doctors, he gave the reins of his company to another man and stepped back to more of a consultant role.
His health immediately improved. He then lived by three simple rules:
1. Avoid worry.
2. Exercise outside daily.
3. Get up from the dinner table a little hungry.
By achieving a healthy work life balance, he was able to faithfully follow these three rules and went on to live a healthy life until the age of 97.
Working Hours and Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
To answer the question, can overworking hurt your heart, let me share with you a recent study. In this, the largest study ever done on the subject, researchers looked at the risk of a heart attack or stroke in 603,838 workers.
To make sense of the data, researchers divided the people into two groups. The first group worked the standard 35 to 40 hour work week. The second group put in more than 55 hours a week on the job.
Researchers then followed these two groups of people for 7.2 years to see what would happen. After more than seven years, the results were obvious. Those working more than 55 hours a week were 13% more likely to get heart disease and 33% more likely to suffer a stroke.
Karashi: The Ultimate in No Work Life Balance
The Japanese are known for working long hours. They have long recognized that working long hours or multiple jobs can cause an early death from a heart attack or a stroke.
The Japanese even have a word for death by over working–karoshi. The first reported case of karoshi was in 1969 with a fatal stroke in a 29 year-old man suffering from work exhaustion.
Karoshi is a national health problem in Japan. To help decrease karoshi deaths, the Japanese government now regulates work overtime hours.
Karoshi, World Leaders, and No Work Life Balance
Even if you don’t die a karoshi death, unhealthy stress from a job can take years off your life. In a fascinating study, researchers looked at the effect of the most stressful job—leading a country.
In this study of 540 heads of state over the last 300 years, researchers found that the person who won the election lived 4.4 years shorter than the losing candidate. As world political leaders are not known for having a healthy work life balance, could these shorter life spans be a Western manifestation of karoshi?
Main Cause of Work Life Balance Challenges
I have seen many patients at risk for karoshi. In talking with these patients, over working generally comes down to one of three things.
1. Money concerns.
2. Bad boss, too many emails/meetings, or other non-essential work activities.
3. Personal drive.
Of these, money concerns is clearly the number one cause of work life imbalance. Generally, the solution is simple. Want less and spend less. If you can lower your overhead, downsize your life, and eliminate all the stuff you really don’t need, most of my patients find they can reclaim their work life balance and do what they have always dreamed of doing.
Work life imbalances from a bad boss, too many emails/meetings, or other non-essential work activities generally means that you need to set clear boundaries and priorities in your work life. If you can’t solve these challenges with your employer, it may mean that you need to look for a new position or find a better organization.
The last, a strong personal drive, may be the most challenging to overcome. I know this is something I struggle with. I have found that setting up rules in my life, like John D. Rockefeller, has helped.
I have four rules that I try to follow each day to help maintain a healthy work life balance. These four daily rules are to connect with each family member, have family dinner, do something spiritually uplifting, and take care of my health. While I am still guilty of working more than 55 hours each week, if I can accomplish these four things each day then I feel I have achieved a work life balance that works for me.
Are you at risk for karoshi? If so, now is the time to evaluate the causes and come up with a plan to find a work life balance that works for you.
What has helped you to find a healthy work life balance? Please leave your thoughts and questions below. Also, if you like what you have read, please join the community and sign up for my free weekly newsletter!
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.