Ask the Doctors: Is high blood pressure linked to working longer hours?
At the end of a five-year study, the data showed that when someone worked 49 or more hours per week, their risk of developing sustained hypertension increased by 66%.
Dear Doctors: My husband’s office went remote during the pandemic. He used to ride his bike to work and walk at lunch. Now, he’s at his desk from when he gets up until bedtime. I read that working long work hours can give you high blood pressure.
Dear Reader: Switching from the structured rhythm of an office to working from home, employees often feel pressure to prove their productivity, so they put in extra hours.
Research has shown that people who put in long work hours can be at higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
In a study three years ago in Hypertension, the journal of the American Heart Association, researchers looked at blood pressure of 3,500 office workers from three insurance companies in Canada. They collected data during three different periods over the course of five years. Each person’s resting blood pressure was measured in the morning in a clinical setting that was designed to resemble a doctor’s office. The employees were then outfitted with portable blood pressure monitors that they wore throughout their workdays. The devices checked their blood pressure every 15 minutes and gave a minimum of 20 readings a day.
The study’s authors set readings at or above 135/85 as the benchmark for high blood pressure. At the end of the five-year study, the data showed that when someone worked 49 or more hours per week, their risk of developing sustained hypertension increased by 66%. Employees who worked 41 to 48 hours a week were 33% more likely to have sustained high blood pressure.
The researchers also were interested in “masked hypertension,” a phenomenon in which someone’s blood pressure reading is in normal range when checked at the doctor’s office but is otherwise high. The AHA study found that extended work hours increased the employees’ risk of developing masked hypertension by 70%.
Though the study wasn’t designed to explain why this would be the case, the researchers have some ideas. One is that when you’re working long hours, you’re not getting enough sleep, which has been shown to increase cardiovascular risk. Extended sitting also has been linked to high blood pressure.
And when you spend so much time sitting each day, you’re often not getting enough — or sometimes any — exercise.
Encourage your husband to balance his long hours with daily exercise, hourly breaks and better sleep hygiene.
Dr. Eve Glazier and Dr. Elizabeth Ko are internists at UCLA Health.