Working too many hours in a week is a massive health hazard that kills an estimated 745,000 people worldwide—and the problem is getting worse, according to a new World Health Organization study. The WHO says that compared to a standard working week of 35 to 40 hours, working 55 hours or more in a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of having a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, the BBC reports. More than 70% of the deaths associated with long working hours were in men middle-aged and older, though researchers say the deaths often occurred later in life than the period of overwork.
"Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard," said Maria Neira, director of the WHO's Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, per Reuters. "What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers." The problem is most severe in Southeast Asia and the western Pacific region, researchers say. The study found that long hours can be deadly both from the body's direct reaction to stress and the unhealthy lifestyles, including tobacco use, unhealthy diets, and a lack of sleep and exercise, that people working too many hours tend to adopt. The study did not include data from the pandemic, though WHO officials say evidence suggests the number of hours worked tends to increase around 10% during lockdowns. (Read more overwork stories.)