Feeling guilty about taking some time off during the holidays? Simply put, don’t—working too much is legitimately bad for your health.
In fact, new research finds that office employees who work long hours are more likely to have high blood pressure, AKA hypertension—including a type that your doc may miss during checkups. And high blood pressure is a contributing cause of death for more than 410,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The five-year study, published in the journal Hypertension from the American Heart Association, looked at more than 3,500 white-collar workers in Quebec, Canada and found that working 49+ hours per week was associated with a 70% higher chance of having “masked” or hidden hypertension, meaning your BP reading is normal in the doc’s office but not in your daily life, compared with those who worked 35 or fewer hours per week. That same group was also 66% more likely to have sustained hypertension—basically, a BP that stays high both in and out of your doc’s office.
Not at the office that much? You’re still not out of the woods—working 41-48 hours per week was linked to a 54% higher chance of having masked hypertension and 42% greater chance of having sustained hypertension. The researchers made sure to account for other factors like job strain—basically, having a job with high work demands and little authority to make decisions—age, sex, occupation, smoking status, body mass index, and more.
"Both masked and sustained high blood pressure are linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk," said study author Xavier Trudel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the social and preventive medicine department at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, in a news release. That means an increased chance of things like heart attack and stroke—not good.
One important thing to note: This study didn’t include blue-collar workers—those paid hourly and who perform manual labor—so the impact of shift-work or physically demanding work wasn’t reflected, the authors say.
"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," said Dr. Trudel.
How to Lower High Blood Pressure
Understanding your BP numbers can be tricky. In this Hypertension study, researchers categorized average resting readings at or above 140/90 mmHg and average working readings at or above 135/85 mmHg as high. That’s on par with what the CDC says is considered high, too. Normal BP readings are typically at or below 120/80 mmHg, the CDC states.
While your doc may recommend medication for high blood pressure in some cases, here are some drug-free ways to start working toward a healthy blood pressure today, according to Harvard Health:
- Exercise. Working out always seems to find itself on the top of these types of lists—and for excellent reason! Exercise gets that blood a-flowing, your blood vessels’ ability to relax and open, which is great for BP. Shoot for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking or riding your bike) every week, per CDC recommendations.
- Diet is key. Healthy eating is another path to lowering your BP. Good foods to incorporate are fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, fiber, and lean meats. As for foods to avoid, try to go easy on the sugary foods, saturated fats, and refined grains.
- Watch your weight. The more overweight you are, the harder your heart must work to get blood flowing around the body, so losing weight can help. Exercise and diet will help you get to a healthy weight for you.
- Quit smoking. If you’re a smoker, take steps to quit—ASAP. Smoking is bad for your body in many ways, including your cardiovascular health. In fact, it causes damage to your arteries and makes it hard for your blood vessels to do their job, which can up blood pressure.
- And go easy on the drinking. Too much alcohol can also raise your BP. Remember, everything in moderation! That means no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.
- De-stress. Yes, stress can up your blood pressure too. Take up activities that make you feel relaxed, like meditation, yoga, or making art. (And maybe part of that is improving your work-life balance!)
- Make sure the rest of your health is in check. Don’t skip those doctor’s appointments to make sure other conditions are under control, too—if your health is out of whack in other ways, it can make high blood pressure worse.