It’s hard to find time to exercise, eat right, and relieve stress when you’re also holding down a full-time job. But according to new research on type-2 diabetes, if you’re a woman working long hours it may be crucial.
In a recent study, researchers examined the national health survey data and medical records of 7,065 men and women aged 35 to 74 over a 12-year period. After controlling for external factors like gender, relationship status, weight, and long-term health problems, the researchers discovered that women who worked the longest hours—45 hours or more a week—were 63 percent more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than those who worked 35 to 40 hours a week.
The same disease risk wasn’t found in men, and there was no definitive cause for the women’s increased odds of developing diabetes. Even factors like smoking and physical activity only marginally impacted risk.
There may be several issues at play, says Carla Miller, PhD, RD, professor of health behavior and health promotion at The Ohio State University in Columbus. “The main thing we know is that stress may be a risk factor for the development of type-2 diabetes,” she says. “When you’re working more hours, there is less time available for maintaining a healthy diet and exercising.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, stress may impact diabetes in two ways: First, people who are under a lot of stress may not take care of themselves as well as people who aren’t taxed and strapped for time. Second, increased stress may cause hormone levels to spike, leading to higher glucose levels in the blood.
As to why women have an increased risk for diabetes and men do not, Miller points to the study’s hypothesis that women who work may also come home to additional duties, like housework and child care, that men may not necessarily have to face. That means less time for wellness habits and more overall stress.
So, how exactly do you mitigate the risk of diabetes if you happen to have a time-consuming career? Focus on small habits that can decrease stress and increase healthy behaviors. Miller suggests a few:
Schedule your day or week
It’s important to remember what you value and why, and “be able to recall that” when you’re strapped for time, says Miller. “It’s a matter of planning ahead,” she adds. “If you’re caught up in the moment doing other things, it’s easy to push [the important things] off.” Miller recommends scheduling workouts, shopping trips for healthy food, and times where you can mindfully meal prep for the week into your calendar. “If you need to set an alarm on your phone or watch so you remember to stop what you’re doing and go to the gym or store, do that,” she says. (You can set up to eight silent alarms on most Fitbit devices. Here’s how.)
Avoid sedentary work habits
Still, the battle against diabetes isn’t won by scheduling a weekly workout or two, says Miller. It’s won in the small behaviors that keep you moving throughout the say—like using Reminders to Move. “You can suggest walking meetings instead of emailing a colleague back and forth,” she says. “Knock it out with a short walk around the building. You can also do simple things that will increase your activity, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.” All steps add up—and research shows that general activity level matters as much, if not more, than hitting the recommended amount of weekly exercise.
Keep stress low
While Miller notes that the current study does not measure the effects of stress directly, it is assumed to be a contributor—and there’s already a solid scientific link between high levels of stress and diabetes. While some stress can help motivate you to reach your goals at work, too much stress can leave you with an elevated risk of disease and other chronic health issues. In addition to physical activity and healthy eating, manage your stress with easy meditation routines, simple breathing exercises, and even your Fitbit device, which can help you get better sleep, hydrate more often, track your food intake, and more. Finding simple methods to relax and streamline your routine can improve your peace of mind.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.