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A survey conducted by Swiss Bank UBS has found that Hong Kong had the longest working hours in the world. But what are the consequences of such long hours on your health?

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People working in the SAR tend to spend extended hours in the office, or since the pandemic, working from home. According to a survey conducted by the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions, over 60% of respondents were found to work an average of 44 hours a week, while 35% worked about 50 hours a week, and nearly 5% about 75 hours a week. Such long working hours have without doubt a significant on both your physical and mental health.

You are not getting enough sleep

Working long hours naturally means that you have less time to rest. If you have an active social life or a family to look after, this can mean even less time for yourself. However, it is vital to take some time to recharge and reset from work.  Many people who work extended hours over a long period of time don’t get the adequate sleep they need. In the long term, this lack of sleep may cause fatigue, exhaustion, or even more serious health issues. It will also reduce your ability to concentrate at work, and more generally impact your productivity.

It may be pretty obvious advice, but the easiest thing you can do is take more time to rest. Adults should sleep a minimum of 7 hours a night to recover. Whenever you can, go to bed earlier, work from home to sleep longer, or take power naps during the day. Everyone has a different schedule and working arrangements, so do what works best for you to get some extra sleep. Resting just for a moment can sometimes help you feel more focused and therefore more efficient in your work.  

Extended working hours can make you feel more stressed

Tight deadlines, considerable amounts of work, or job insecurity, especially during the pandemic, can easily become stress factors. A study conducted by the Mental Health Association of Hong Kong revealed that 87% of Hong Kong employees suffered from work stress.

This stress is often exacerbated by long working hours spent in the office and many people don’t have enough time to unwind after a long day of work. Many fail to maintain a healthy work/life balance and see both their mental and physical health impacted. Long-term stress can cause migraines, muscle tension, or sleep problems. We all respond to stress differently, and some people will also be more prone to anxiety, irritability, or even depression. So how can you fight stress better?

  • Better sleep: as mentioned, sleep is crucial to recover from your long work day, and ultimately from stress. In addition to making more room for rest, try to improve your sleep quality: avoid drinking too much coffee, especially in the afternoon, turn off your phone one hour before bedtime, go to bed at regular times…
  • Meditation: it is a proven, effective way to relieve stress. You don’t need more than 10 minutes a day to see positive results, and many apps are available to you at little to no cost: try Headspace, Calm, Petit BamBou… Consistency is key and if you stick to it, you will likely see positive results.
  • Talk to a therapist: if you feel like your mental health is too deeply impacted, talking to a therapist can give you the tools to better manage your stress. Hong Kong has a plethora of qualified psychologists and counselors, and many now also offer online consultations, making it easier to fit the sessions into your busy schedule.

You don’t have enough time to exercise

A lot of people working in Hong Kong spend most of their day sitting in front of their computer, in the office, or at home, and therefore are not getting exercise. After a long day at work, many lack the energy or motivation to engage in physical activities. A poll done by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Program showed that 49.5% of the people living in Hong Kong failed to meet the standards of the World Health Organisation, which requires a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity sport every week.

In addition to this lack of exercise, many people in Hong Kong prefer to eat out rather than cook their own meals and don’t always make healthier choices when it comes to nutrition. This often results in an unbalanced and unhealthy diet, which can easily cause weight gain and therefore increase the risks of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol…

Hong Kong offers a myriad of sports centres. Whether you are into yoga, muay Thai or HIIT, it is very likely that you will find a studio close to you. Simply find the sport that is right for you to make sure it doesn’t feel like a constraint. And if your time is limited, many studios are offering shorter, intense sessions (usually 30 or 45 minutes) but also flexible schedules so you can attend a class early, during lunchtime, or late after your work day.

> Read also: How to stay healthy on a busy schedule

As for nutrition, if you don’t have time to cook your own meals, try to go towards healthier options when you eat out. Don’t skip meals even if you are busy, and keep some productivity-boosting snacks in the office, such as seeds, nuts or dried fruits.

Long term, you could be exposed to more serious health risks

Lack of sleep and exercise combined with high levels of stress can increase your risk of developing serious health issues. A study conducted by the World Health Organisation revealed that people who worked more than 55 hours a week had a 35% greater risk of stroke. Other studies have also found that long working hours considerably increased the risks of coronary heart disease.

Long working hours are deeply rooted in the work culture in Hong Kong, however, the impact of overworking rarely receives the attention it needs. Some industries like finance, banking, or hospitality are famous for their long working hours and there is often little we can do about these busy schedules

Prevention is key to counterbalancing this busy lifestyle. Looking after your mental and physical health all year round will help lower the risks of developing serious medical conditions. Take some time to unwind, reset, exercise, and look after your diet. If despite your efforts you are starting to experience symptoms of fatigue, exhaustion, or physical pain, seek medical advice before it causes any serious damage to your health.

Always protect your health

To help you cope with your medical expenses in Hong Kong, all our MyHEALTH plans offer options to cover your outpatient costs, as well as psychologists’ fees. Don't hesitate to talk to one of our experienced advisors to design a plan that is right for you.

This article is informative only and not intended to be substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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