7 Ways to Work Yourself to Death

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It turns out your job might be a double-edged sword when it comes to your health.

Just as work can enrich our lives, in many ways it can shorten them -- a fact that cuts across socioeconomic levels, ages and nationalities.

A growing body of research stands testament to this fact: lack of sleep has been shown to tax the hearts of the stressed executive and the stressed day worker alike; layoffs can take their psychic and physiologic toll in the executive suite and on the production line; the burden on those left behind, who work more overtime to shoulder a heavier workload, can be life-shortening; and living in fear of losing a job, or staying put in a hostile workplace, also boosts the risk of an earlier cardiac death.

The Japanese have a term for this phenomenon called "karoshi," which means death caused by overwork. Thinking more broadly, it's not just overwork that can make work a deadly pursuit. Occupational hazards such as exposure to toxics in construction sites or mines, can lead to an early demise.

On the following pages are just seven of the ways your job could put you at risk of an early visit from the Grim Reaper, and how you can nip some of these problems in the bud for a better chance of a longer, healthier life.

Distracted Driving: Taking the Office on the Road

Cell phones, smart phones and personal digital assistants have improved the ability to conduct work at all hours and in almost any setting, as long as you can get a signal.

But federal figures hint at the toll exacted by bringing the office into the driver's seat. During 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 5,870 people died in crashes in which police cited distracted driving as a contributing factor.

While this number doesn't capture the total number of crashes associated with distracted drivers -- or, for that matter, tease out fatal crashes caused by drivers who continue texting and talking on cell phones behind the wheel -- it contributes to the growing evidence that working while driving may end your life prematurely.

Drilling down further into those statistics, 5,501 drivers were reported to be have been distracted in the 5,331 fatal crashes where at least one driver was distracted. This means that in some multi-car accidents, two or more drivers' attention was elsewhere. This phenomenon is on the rise: the percentage of drivers reported to be distracted at the time of the accident increased from 8 percent in 2004 to 11 percent in 2008, NHTSA reported.

A report published in the Sept. 23 online edition of the American Journal of Public Health calculated that texting while driving, which has risen dramatically, took an estimated 16,000 lives between 2002 and 2007. Lead researcher Fernando Wilson, an associate professor in the school of public health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, said that increases in distracted driving "seem to be largely driven by increased use of cell phones to text."

The Solution:

This one is easy, experts say: When you are on the road, put down your phone or BlackBerry. Considering the consequences, it's likely that work, however important, can wait.

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