Health and Wellness

Working long hours for a decade can increase stroke risk by 45%—here's what can help

Chinese businessman working at night.
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Some of most successful entrepreneurs — most notably Elon Musk and Bill Gates — tout the long hours they've spent at the office, especially early in their careers. But new research says clocking long hours on the regular can increase your risk of having a stroke.

A study released Monday in the Journal of American Heart Association found that working 10 hours or more a day, just 50 days per year, can increase stroke risk by nearly a third (29%). That's as easy as working 8 a.m. to 6 p.m about once a week.

And working 10 hours or more a day, 50 days per year, for a decade, can increase your risk of having a stroke up to 45%.

For the study, researchers reviewed analyzed data on the working hours of more than 143,500 people in France since 2012. Of those analyzed, 29% reported working more than 10 hours a day for more than 50 days out of the year and 10% reported working that amount for 10 years or more. (Researchers say they excluded subjects who had a stroke within five years of their first reported work exposure and participants needed to have at least six months of work experience to be included.)

Interestingly, when the researchers drilled down on the data, white-collar workers under the age of 50 had an even higher stroke risk, while those in higher level positions (including CEOs, owners, managers and even farmers), had lower stroke risk, researchers say. However, there was no difference between men and women.

Participants who had bad working conditions (such as high stress jobs or working off-peak hours like overnight shifts) also had higher stroke risks, Alexis Descatha, a researcher at Paris Hospital, Versailles and Angers University and at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), who conducted the study, tells CNBC Make It. And recipients' eating, sleeping and exercise habits impacted their risks.

The theory is that long hours increase one's stress levels, according to Descatha, which can lead to a stroke, and that worsens when someone doesn't take care of themselves.

Past research has also found that employees who work long hours are likely to have poorer mental health, increased levels of anxiety and depression as well as lower-quality sleep, which may contribute to higher risks of stroke.

The good news is, there are things you can do to mitigate the danger.

What to do (especially, if long hours are the norm)

The obvious solution would be to work less, but that's not always realistic; nearly four in 10 U.S. adults said they work at least 50 hours a week, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.

Indeed, Dr. Philip Stieg, a neurosurgeon at Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center tells CNBC Make It that people typically hear the statistics and think, "Oh my god, my job is stressful and I work long hours, I need to get a different job."

But he says that is not the solution. "People don't take responsibility for basic preventive practices," Stieg says. "Some things [and jobs] are stressful. We all get that. So, people have to do things that counter balance that stress."

Stieg says start by figuring out what daily tasks at work stress you out the most, and then figure out solutions to alleviate or offset them. Here are three that work.


Steig says one way to mitigate stress is by taking 20 minutes (all at once or 10 minutes twice a day) to mediate in a quiet room, while at work or before or after your shift. He says this practice has been shown to help keep workers' stress levels at bay.

In fact, billionaire Ray Dalio is a devotee of meditation: "It helps slow things down so that I can act calmly, even in the face of chaos, just like a ninja in a street fight," Dalio writes in his book, "Principles." He even credits his mediation practice with helping him come back from financial ruin early in his career.

Eat right and exercise

Both Steig and Descatha say it is critical to maintain a healthy diet and proper exercise if you work long hours.

Steig recommends a Mediterranean-type diet to his patients, which consists of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and olive oil, with moderate portions of dairy and meat. He says also its okay to have up two glasses of red wine a day but no more, as alcohol consumption can stress the body.

Richard Branson says regular exercise keeps him happy, healthy and productive: "I love to look after the body. If I feel great, I can achieve anything," previously told CNBC Make It.

Get a good night's sleep

Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a postdoctoral research fellow at New York University's Langone Health, says workers who are not getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night are typically more anxious and depressed at work, which could trigger health problems.

Stieg also agrees that not getting the proper amount of rest could increase one's chances of having a stroke.

Know your numbers

Stieg recommends that anyone — but especially workaholics — should regularly visit their physician to monitor their blood pressure and cholesterol to make sure all their "markers for stress are kept at a low point."

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