As Rihanna puts it, modern life is all about that “work, work, work, work, work,” but that kind of lifestyle comes with some serious consequences. A study published in the European Heart Journal shows that being overworked increases your risk of developing a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. The study uses pooled data from eight studies of more than 85,000 working people across Europe and took 10 years to complete. In the end, it was determined that people working 55 hours or more per week end up with a 40% increase in the risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

To make sense of this study and place it in the Indian context, Dr Yadav Srinivasan, a heart specialist based in Chennai says, “People suffer from palpitations when they experience a change in the heart rate or rhythm. And atrial fibrillation results in abnormal rhythm.” Blood is used by the heart to keep beating in a certain pattern. Anything which alters this regular rhythm will affect the nature of the blood. Dr Srinivasan explains this in simpler terms: “Atrial fibrillation is a dangerous arrhythmia to have. Someone diagnosed with this is predisposed to develop clots, which could then be shot out of the heart to various parts of the body.” A little clot might not sound like a big deal, but if the clot reaches the brain it could cause a stroke, or a heart attack if it reaches the coronary arteries instead.

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The Indian Context

While the study may have been done on Europeans, there’s reason to believe that it extends to Indians as well. In an interview with DNA, Dr Santosh Kumar Dora, Senior Cardiac Electro Physiologist, Asian Heart Institute, chimes in on the study and addresses whether Indians face an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation, “There were a few limitations in the study. We should be aware of the findings but there’s no need to panic.”

However, in the same article, he then goes on to say that even though atrial fibrillation is a disease that mostly affects the elderly, he has come across an increasing number of young people suffering from it as well. “It is a well-known fact that the incidence of heart attack and stroke in India is one of the highest in the world. In addition to many other risk factors prevalent in Indian population, long working hours must be contributing to the increased risk of heart disease,” says Dr Dora.

Coping Mechanisms

We don’t expect you to quit your job tomorrow and retire to the solitude of the mountains. For many people, working less just simply isn’t an option. There are, however, certain measures that could help you lessen the stress of working long hours and ensure that your heart isn’t at increased risk. Dr Srinivasan stresses the importance of taking your health into your own hands, “Check your own pulse from time to time and get yourself checked if you notice an irregularity.”

And what about those of us stuck working long hours? “Get as much sleep as you can, stick to regular meal timings and avoid binge eating, keep yourself well-hydrated, and do some simple exercises at the office – just some basic stretching and walking around to lessen some of the physical strain the long working hours are subjecting your body to,” is Dr Srinivasan’s advice. And Dr Dora seems to agree, “A period of rest for half an hour after a period of four to five hours may be good to normalise heart rate and blood pressure. One can take rest in various ways like relaxation, meditation, listening to music, short quick nap etc.”

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