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Long work hours can mar your health

Written by Solaade Ayo-Aderele - Nigeria

Once you sit down at your desk, how often do you take a break? Do you simply pound away at your computer, probably postponing bathroom breaks, forgetting to drink water, not to talk of eating?
Of course, every job schedule has a time that people should submit their work; especially in a production chain where whoever fails to submit his job on schedule will most likely disrupt work flow and negatively impact production.
Yet, physicians say those who work longer than 55 hours a week have a 33 per cent higher stroke risk and a 13 per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease than people working 35 to 40 hours a week.

Generally, it is eight hours daily, five days a week for the average worker. But so much has changed because of the need for employers to cut staff strength while increasing job schedule in order to beat the odds. So, to keep your job, you may most likely have to put in extra hours that don't necessarily translate into extra pay.

Again, there are some jobs that simply don't specify closing hours! What this means is that you only go home when your schedule is done for the day. For those working such jobs, the probability is that you are spending more hours at work.
However, physicians are saying that the longer the hours you work, the more exposed you are to risks of certain health challenges that include coronary heart disease – a number one killer disease that makes plaque to build up inside the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle.

Beating the odds
According to General Practitioner, Dr. Patrick Olusanya, the average adult needs between eight and nine hours of sleep if he must function optimally during the day. But in our hectic modern time where most people operate in emergency mode, five hours of sleep is sometimes considered a luxury that could probably be enjoyed once in a week when you are off-duty.

Olusanya laments that staying healthy while having a full-time job can be a tough balancing act, especially with the need to raise a family and maintain a social life while juggling your schedules!
Many people arrive in the office early, leave late, and never seem to stop working. Some people, perhaps because of their positions, engage in first-in-last-out schedule, while many work all-night, and others simply do marathon work sessions. "All of these could impact health outcomes because of stress occasioned by sleep deprivation," Olusanya warns.
But then, how do you go about your job once you clock in, such that you neither short-change your employers, nor work your way to ill health?
To start with, Olusanya notes, the human brain is a muscle which, like every muscle in the body, could become tired when exposed to repeated stress that comes with long working hours.

Harvard researcher, Christopher Barnes, says as humans, we have a well-defined internal clock that shapes our energy levels throughout the day, suggesting that if you don't step away from your work, your productivity will take a nosedive as you become increasingly fatigued and stressed.

Indeed, experts at Cornell University's Ergonomics Research Laboratory say that the best way to maintain sound health while earning your legitimate pay is to work for 52 minutes, and take a break for 17 minutes.
Scientists are of the view that the risk of coronary heart disease goes up with every hour you work after clocking in 40 hours a week – at eight hours daily, Monday to Friday; while those who work up to 48 hours per week increase the risk for CHD by 10 per cent.
"Working for long hours usually means being seated for long periods of time at a stretch, which can lead to stress, as you're likely to have less time available to be in charge of your health," Olusanya warns.

Those who work up to 54 hours – which is almost eight hours for seven days a week, or six day-week with overtime – risk CHD by 27 per cent.
Worse still, the physician says, high level of stress can predispose anyone to stroke risk, hence the need to have regular blood pressure checks.

Get round it
Experts at the online portal,, say sitting for 10 hours a day is extremely bad for your health. Not only is it bad for your posture, but it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sleep well: They counsel you to get enough good quality sleep. "There is simply no way to stay healthy if you are constantly sleep-deprived," they enthuse.
Eat regularly, and well: Your body and brain can't work well or heal properly if you aren't getting the building blocks to do so. Whether you work weird hours or normal hours, diet is still responsible for 80-90 per cent of your success or failure when it comes to staying healthy.

Change positions: and muscle groups used through the day. Our bodies are not designed to sit in a chair and be on a computer all day. Schedule breaks, and use them. Get up and walk around. Sitting promotes culmination of abdominal fat, which is a big risk factor in heart attacks. Prolonged sitting has also been linked to chronic and deadly diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Breathe! Remind yourself to breathe. You'll probably be surprised how often your breathing is held or shallow once you pay attention to it. Take a break once an hour and give yourself five deep breaths, eyes closed, along with a stretch regimen. This lets your muscles stay loose through the day, burn some extra calories, and prevents muscle aches.

Eat light snacks: If you are working hard, you will need energy to fuel your day. What most people do (incorrectly) is have three big meals during the day. Instead, what you should be doing is having small meals throughout the day. Bring snacks and small meals so you can eat them throughout the day. This way you can get the proper nutrition without feeling lethargic or sleepy.

Hydrate often: You should always be drinking water. The body can last longer without food than it can without water; that is how important water is to the body. So, when working, you should always have a bottle of water next to you. It hydrates your system, keeps you alert and healthy.

Exercise: Fitting a workout into a long workday can seem nearly impossible. However, exercise boosts moods and makes you more productive. Make it a part of your everyday routine.

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