A Stroke of Bad Luck

A Stroke of Bad Luck

“My lifestyle determines my death style”



The iron weighted sages of song have proved prescient again. But then again, the Japanese have known this for decades and even have a specific word to describe it. Karōshi can literally be translated as “death from overwork”; or in the case of this latest study published in the Lancet, too much work can lead to cardiovascular complications like stroke.

This study which is one of the largest meta-analyses of its kind, examined over 600,000 people from 25 different studies. Men and women from cohorts in Europe, the United States and Australia were included in the analysis. The groups were broken down by the amount of hours worked per week and corrected for other potentially confounding variables.

Working 55 or more hours per week was associated with a 13% increased risk of heart attack. However, the real danger seemed to perhaps reside in the mental complications arising from ever increasing levels of work and presumably corresponding levels of stress. There was a powerful correlation between the amount of time spent on the job and the risk of stroke. Working 41 to 48 hours per week correlated with 10% increased risk of stroke, working 49 to 54 hours per week increase the risk to 27%. For those working more than 55 hours per week, the risk significantly increased a mind-numbing 33% above those working 40 or less hours per week. The statistics held true regardless of gender or geography.

While the findings were quite robust and reinforce previous data associating more work with increased cardiovascular, the exact cause remains elusive. The authors posit that “working long hours tends to be correlated with risky health behaviors, like drinking more alcohol or sitting for hours at a time.” The combination of such behaviors “with the stress associated with working overtime, could be a perfect recipe for a stroke or cardiovascular strain.” To their conclusions I would add the fact that longer work hours also tend to correlate with increased consumption of the highly processed foods that characterize the modern Western diet. Dietary analyses was not conducted or part of the study, but in societies and groups where the modern Western diet is prevalent there are significantly higher rates of cardiovascular disease which includes stroke. The etiology in the end, may likely be multifactorial.

The sudden death from overwork is often caused by stroke and related to stress. A relaxed repast with real authentic food is nature’s gift for a job well done. Take time to enjoy the food experience, eat deliciously but wisely and live better. Take time for more karaoke and less karōshi.


Kivimäki, M., Jokela, M., Nyberg, S. T., Singh-Manoux, A., Fransson, E. I., Alfredsson, L., . . . Geusken, G. A. (2015). Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individuals. Ther Lancet, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60295-1.

Steptoe A, K. M. (2012). Stress and cardiovascular disease. Nat Rev Cardiol , 9: 360–70.

Steptoe A, K. M. (2013). Stress and cardiovascular disease: an update on current knowledge. Annu Rev Public Health , 34: 337–54.