Canadian scientists recently reported that women who work 45 hours a week or more are 63% more likely to develop diabetes than women working 35-40 hours per week.
What gives? According to the research team, the long hours may encourage unhealthy eating habits, sleeping problems, and mental health issues that can trigger “chronic stress” reactions in the body. Over time, health problems develop such as insulin resistance, obesity, and hormonal imbalances.
Previous studies have also linked long work hours with an increased risk of diabetes, but the studies focused on only men or only women. This study examined both men and women and tracked 7,065 individuals between the ages of 35 and 74, across a broad range of occupations, over a 12-year period in Ontario, Canada.
Surprisingly, researchers found that men did not develop a higher risk of diabetes after 45+ hour work weeks. It's not clear why, although the research team postulates that women who are juggling a job, housework, and childcare genuinely are working more hours — whether the work is paid or not. The team also noted that “perceiving a ‘too high total workload' from both paid and unpaid work has also been linked to ill-health to a greater extent than performing long hours of paid work alone.”
Why This Matters For You
At InHerSight, we work to help women succeed and lead healthy, productive lives by identifying women-friendly companies. That's why we feel it is valuable to draw attention to the growing evidence of a connection between work hours and risk for diabetes. We also recognize that as individuals, we may not always be able to control the demands of our jobs fully. But we can take full control of our health and wellbeing by understanding and managing health risks.
In the U.S., social cache and bragging rights are part of the reward for working crazy long hours. We love the startup entrepreneur and rags-to-riches stories. That makes this study particularly useful as a yellow caution flag for women warriors crushing the 60-80 hours work weeks. Diabetes is not a curable disease. It can be managed, and can go into remission — but once it develops, the condition is always there. It is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and affects around 9.4% of Americans.
Diabetes develops when the body doesn't make or use insulin well and blood sugar is too high. This is called hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia, if left untreated, damages blood vessels and nerves. That damage then leads to other chronic problems such as heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, loss of vision and blindness, foot problems, sexual dysfunction, and bladder problems. By the way, people with diagnosed diabetes spend 2.3 times more on medical costs than people without the disease.
Your own chances of developing diabetes depend on a combination of risk factors — some that you can control and some that you can't. Your age, family history, and ethnicity are risk factors you can't change. The risk of developing diabetes increases for everyone as we get older. And, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases , individuals who are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders are more at risk of developing diabetes. To determine your personal risk factors, take the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test.
Your Next Steps
Get informed about how to become the healthiest you possible. And make the following changes to your lifestyle that reduce your risk of the of diabetes (and many other diseases):
Rein in the mega work hours and prioritize your downtime.
Be physically active. Aim to exercise moderately for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Maintain a healthy weight or begin a program that helps you lose weight, if you need to. Look up your ethnicity, weight on height to see one measure of diabetes risk.
Manage high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Seek treatment for depression.
Get screened for blood sugar as part of regular annual medical care
Did You Know: Before full-on diabetes develops, people rarely experience symptoms. However, there is a pre-diabetes stage where your doctor can detect higher than normal blood glucose levels through a simple blood test. At this stage, you can make lifestyle changes to prevent diabetes. Ensure this is part of your routine annual medical care, particularly after age 45.
By Deborah Hill
Deborah Hill is an anthropologist and writer who is fascinated by the ways humans and businesses interact.