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Being worked to the ground

health and fitness Updated: May 30, 2010 00:44 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
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I am sure many workaholics would consider it thoroughly appropriate to die on their feet. The Japanese even have a word for it: karoshi, which means death by overwork. The word appears on death certificates there and is blamed for the deaths of some 10,000 people from heart failure and more from suicide each year.

What is it that drives some people to certain death? Usually, it’s job insecurity or ambition, either or both almost always at the expense of physical and mental health. And India may just be headed there.

Increasing work hours and unhealthy lifestyle today are adding to physical and mental stress; because of which heart attacks, stroke, cancers, stomach disorders, diabetes, chronic fatigue and depression, are becoming the new hazards of the modern workplace.

On Friday, researchers added another risk to work stress: that of developing asthma. This association has been made for the first time. The study, published in the international journal, Allergy, followed 5,100 adults over 10 years in Denmark, found those who regularly feel stressed at work had a higher risk of developing asthma than those with who are relaxed at work.

It’s well established that overwork and the long hours raise heart disease risk. Two weeks ago, the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported that apart from men, work stress also raised heart attack risk in young women, who are otherwise naturally protected from heart disease because of the presence of the female-hormone estrogen. The protection is lost only after menopause, when their risk of heart disease becomes the same as men.

Prolonged or repeated stress such as, constantly meeting deadlines, leads to physical, mental and psychosocial problems. This happens because under stress, the body releases the hormone adrenaline, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and makes breathing rapid and shallow.

If stress is continuous, chronic high blood pressure develops, which damages blood vessel walls and triggers heart attacks and stroke; disturbs kidney function; upsets hormonal balance and causes diabetes; and can lead to ulcers, cramps and constipation.

Research on rats suggests that prolonged exposure to adrenaline and cortisol (the hormones released when a person is stressed) accelerates the aging of brain cells and impairs learning and memory.

Stress lowers libido as much as smoking, drinking and chronic health problems. It also increases behavioral and eating disorders as pressurised workers are more likely to reach for cigarettes, snack foods and alcohol to feel better. Since most of us have to live with some amount of work pressure, the only thing to do is to not allow it to get you down. Learn to recognise when you need a break. And when you do, take it.