Spending long hours at work can seem like a necessary evil when you're aiming to build your career, and make enough money to support our needs, wants, and ambitions — especially with high costs of living and student loan debt looming. But a new study says that working super long work days can increase diabetes risk in women.
The study, published on Jul. 2 in the British Medical Journal Open Diabetes Research and Care, took place over a 12 year period and included 7065 Canadian men and women ages 35 to 74 in order to examine the connections between long working hours and diabetes. According to CNN, the study’s authors found that women who regularly work 45 or more hours per week are 63 percent more likely to develop diabetes than women who work 35 to 40 hours each week. When researchers adjusted for factors like exercise frequency, smoking, and alcohol consumption, the effects weren’t reduced by much, meaning that the effects of too-long work days alone can significantly increase the risk of diabetes in women — even if they are active, don’t smoke, and don’t drink too much. Significantly, a similar level of diabetes risk was not found in men who work long days.
Lead study author Dr. Mahee Gilbert-Ouimet told ABC News that “Women tend to do twice as much unpaid work [as men], like household chores and other family duties.” Dr. Gilbert-Ouimet also said that the “difference in paid and unpaid hours for men and women" might explain the discrepancy in diabetes risk between sexes. Long work hours combined with lower salaries, and additional daily, unpaid household chores means that women may be more susceptible to stress hormones, like cortisol, that cause disruptions in blood sugar regulation — significantly upping diabetes risk, ABC further notes.
TIME notes that a stress-induced rise in cortisol can impact insulin levels, which affect how well the body regulates blood sugar. High stress levels also tend to negatively impact sleep and up insomnia, which affects both mental health and insulin levels, all of which can contribute to increased diabetes risk, TIME further notes.
Dr. Gilbert-Ouimet hopes that the current research will spark more in-depth conversations between women and their doctors about the possible health risks associated with working too much, according to TIME, and that women will use this data to ask for help around the house if the division of chores and responsibilities is less than fair or equal on that front.
But for many women, working less than 40 hours a week isn't attainable — especially for women who may rely on hourly wages. A recent survey showed that only in 22 counties in the U.S. can one person working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage afford a one-bedroom apartment — and that's before factoring in the additional labor women perform at home. If you aren't able to reduce your working hours, remember to talk to your doctor about signing on for regular diabetes screenings, knowing that time at work may be a risk factor.
Dr. Gilbert-Ouimet encourages women to use this data to increase awareness and further their self-care, and to remember that it’s healthy to set limits with work when you need to. So, don’t be afraid to shut off your smartphone and take some time for yourself — especially if you have a boss who tends to tread on your off-work hours. “It’s a nice wake-up call to know what long hours can do to your body and to your health, and maybe force yourself to do a bit less and take care of yourself more,” she said, according to TIME. Remember that even if necessity requires you to work past 40 hours each week, by having personal boundaries in place, combined with a steady dose of self-care, you can do a lot to preserve your health and decrease your diabetes risk in the long-term.