Work Hours, Vacations and Health

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

Vacations and Health

How likely, on average, do you take the full vacation time allotted to you by your organization in a year?






If you answered never, seldom or sometimes you might want to reconsider. Researcher Karen Matthews from the University of Pittsburgh studied 12,338 men for nine years as part of a large coronary heart disease study called MRFIT (Gump, B. & Matthews, K. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62, 608-612). She found that taking annual vacations by middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease was associated with a significant reduction in all-cause mortality and more specifically death due to heart disease. Her study provides some interesting research in support of the argument that vacations might actually be good for your health, particularly if you work long hours, have a heavy workload and tend to “burn the midnight oil.”

Work Hours and Health

How many hours, on average, a week to you work?

  1. Less than 7
  2. 7 to 8
  3. 9 to 11
  4. More than 11

If you regularly work very long hours, you may want to reconsider. A study by Mika Kiivimaki and colleagues at University College London suggests that people who put in 11 hours or more of work on a daily basis may increase their risk for coronary heart disease (Kivimaki, M. et al. (2011). Using Additional Information on Working Hours to Predict Coronary Heart Disease: A Cohort Study. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 154, 457-463).

Traditional calculations of the likelihood of heart disease are based on genetic and lifestyle factors including age, sex, exercise, blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking. However, factors like daily work hours are not usually considered.

University College London researchers assessed data on more than 7,000 civil service workers first studied in 1991-1992 (Whitehall II study) who showed no signs of any heart disease. The same group was studied every 5 years until 2004. Researchers found that adding information about work habits actually improved predictions of heart disease. Those who reported working 11 hours a day or more had a 1.67-fold increased risk compared to those who said they work only 7 or 8 hours per week.

Coffee/Tea Consumption and Health

If you are going to work long hours, then at least drink a lot of coffee and tea. Researchers found that moderate consumption of either drink can reduce your chance of death from a heart attack by at least a fifth (but not stroke or any other diseases) in a recent study of of 37,514 people followed for 13 years (Gans, J. et al. (2010). Tea and Coffee Consumption and Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.109.201939).

They found that tea had the biggest impact on heart disease but that all but heavy consumption of coffee was also beneficial:

  • Those who drank between 3-6 cups of tea were 45 percent less likely to have CHD problems
  • Those had drank more than 6 cups had a 36 percent lower risk

Given that moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages (no more than 2 drinks daily for males and 1 drink a day for females) is also associated with cardiovascular protection there is no word on what happens long term if you work long hours, drink a lot of coffee and spike a few cups of it with your favorite distilled spirit…..Be well…


The Power of Gratitude

 Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

If you want to change the world, have a lasting impact on your community, create a meaningful and psychological healthy workplace, develop a safe community, loving family or meaningful partnership—it all starts with you.

Several recent research studies have focused on the power of gratitude giving as a necessary condition for developing self esteem, enhancing social ties, facilitating psychological health and physical well-being.

The Evidence for the Gratitude Affect

Psychologist Martin Seligman and colleagues have focused on a variety of psychological interventions that increase individual happiness (Seligman, M., P, Steen, T., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410-421). In a 6-group, random-assignment, placebo-controlled Internet study, he tested 5 happiness interventions and one control exercise. They found that 3 of the interventions significantly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms–for as long as 6 months.

Two of the exercises (using signature strengths in a new way and writing about three good things that went well each day) significantly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms for six months. Another exercise, the “gratitude visit” was associated with significant and positive mood changes for 30 days. The other tested exercises and the placebo control created positive but only transient effects on happiness and depressive symptoms.

Another psychologist, Robert Emmons and his colleagues have also extensively studied the impact of gratitude (Emmons, R.A., & McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: Experimental studies of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-38). In one study adults with neuromuscular disorders were asked to keep a gratitude journal every day for two weeks. They were asked to focus on several things each day that they were thankful about and to write about what things in their life they saw as positive and meaningful.

Participants in the “gratitude condition” showed significantly more optimism and life satisfaction than a control group. Interestingly, the researchers reported that spouses of study participants (i.e., people in the gratitude condition) seemed significantly happier than those in the control group. Not only did focusing on gratitude change attitudes, it also apparently changed behavior of those in the study.

Gratitude Exercises

Giving gratitude is something we can develop and make an automatic part of our day. Here are several evidenced-based gratitude exercises that have been proven by Seligman, Emmons and other researchers to enhance psychological well-being, social ties and life satisfaction.

1. Gratitude Journal: For two weeks, write down each day several things you are truly grateful for and explain why in your own person journal.

2. Gratitude Gift: Identify someone in your life you truly value that has contributed to your life success in some way. This person can be a family member, friend, teacher, or another person who has touched you in a positive and signifcant way and whom you have not probably acknowledged in a heart felt manner. Write a letter to this person describing what they have done to influence your life and why–mail it or deliver it in person.

3. Gratitude Reflection: Each night, reflect on one thing that made your day special and then physically smile to elicit the physiology of relaxation (moods follow your body).

4. Gratitude Acknowledgement: Call or email someone you love, work with or know in the community and sincerely share a thank you with them about their behavior, service or recent work.

Perhaps we can all make a step towards making our lives and those around us a bit better by first giving gratitude for what we have….as Victor Frankl once said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves“…..Be well….