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The Power of Work-Life Balance

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The American way is to prioritize work over everything else. If we’re working hard, we feel successful, like we are relevant and like we matter. Long hours, in the American mind, are a signal that we are doing everything we can to take care of our families and to make our lives better.

Wanting to do right by your family is admirable, but we can’t lose sight of what it actually means to be there for your family. Financial health is important, but an obsession with financial health—or any area of health, really—can detract from other, equally important facets of your health. If you’re always at work, your relationships with your family and friends are likely to suffer because you are more likely to miss some of life’s most important moments.

A lack of work-life balance can mean physical consequences as well. We already know that long work hours are typically associated with longer periods of seated inactivity, which in addition to the lack of healthy activity comes with a slew of health risks. If you’re spending more time at work, you are less likely to have healthy meals on hand, so your fuelings tend to be processed fast food that’s convenient. And then there’s the long commute, which wears on mental health as well as physical health.

Work is necessary for our lives and even to our self-fulfillment to some degree—I love my work and what it means for my contribution to the world, for example—but ignoring the need to find balance can lead to serious consequences. According to a new study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, working more than 45 hours a week puts you at a greater and greater risk of heart disease.

We knew that heart disease was a concern because of the behaviors associated with longer work hours that we discussed a few paragraphs ago, but this study went as far as to break down the risk by total work hours, which is pretty compelling. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 55 hours of work means you are 16 percent more likely to have a cardiovascular problem compared to people working 45 hours.
  • At 60 hours that risk increases by 35 percent compared to 45 hours
  • At 65 hours that risk increases by 52 percent compared to 45 hours
  • At 70 hours that risk increases by 74 percent compared to 45 hours

The takeaway here should not be that you need to stop working or that you should give up on your professional goals. That is not at all what this research should mean to you. Instead, the lesson I see in this research is what happens when you organize your life entirely around your work. If work is what matters most, then of course you will let your Habits of Health decline into Habits of Disease.

If you instead say to yourself that your work is important to you but so is your family and your own well-being, you set the stage for hitting the gym on your lunch break, opting out of picking up that extra project so you can spend a little more time at home, or perhaps considering a career change to cut back on the commute.

Work is admirable and important, but don’t sacrifice every other aspect of your life for it. Create health in all areas instead.

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