A majority of Canadian men are so stressed out by work that they are sleep deprived, eating poorly, skipping breaks, and dragging themselves to the office even when sick - without realizing the serious damage they are doing to their health.

A study by the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF) released on Monday to mark the start of Canadian Men’s Health Week, found that 81 per cent of Canadian men said their work was stressful, while 60 per cent said their work was impacting the quality of their sleep.

High stress, poor sleep and eating habits increase the risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, and other mental illnesses. It can also cause low testosterone and erectile dysfunction. Health Canada notes that severe stress can also affect the immune system by causing biochemical changes.

Studies show that proper sleep helps the brain work properly, with new pathways for learning and remembering information formed while sleeping. Problem-solving skills, decision-making, creative thinking, and overall health are all improved or hampered depending on the quality of your sleep, according to the National Institute of Health. Depression and suicide are among the serious risks linked to a lack of sleep.

The detrimental impact of a high-stress work environment and a lack of workplace balance have been ongoing subjects of discussion in women’s health. CMHF focuses on raising awareness in men’s health. Statistics show cancer mortality is higher among men than women, and men suffer heart attacks at younger ages than women.

“Many men don’t realize they’re being unhealthy,” said CMHF chair, Dr. Larry Goldenberg, adding that small work lifestyle changes can have big health benefits.

The CMHF study showed that pressure to deliver drive many men to forego important down-time: 60 per cent of men said they work even when they are sick, 61 per cent skip breaks at least once a week, and 29 per cent skip breaks three or more days a week. There is no escape even when on vacation, with 30 per cent of respondents admitting to working while on holiday.

“These additional hours not only add to their stress, but the decrease in recreational or down-time, also prevent men from having the opportunities to relax and de-stress,” CMHF president Wayne Hartrick said in a statement, noting that these habits decrease productivity in the long run.

The bad habits spill over into bad eating habits, with nearly half of those surveyed saying they skip one meal a week at work. Another 17 per cent skip meals three or more days a week.

But it’s not all bad news, and there are small, easy fixes that can help break the cycle of bad habits, said Hartrick. Statistics show that adopting a healthier lifestyle can prevent 70 per cent of men’s health problems, according to the CMHF.

The survey found that more than 71 per cent of men drink water at least three times a day. And at least three days a week, 61 per cent pack lunches and almost half go for a stretch or five minute walks.

Hartrick said those good habits can be bolstered by going for walking meetings, standing during calls and meetings, regularly giving your eyes (and brain) a few minutes break from the computer screen, packing healthier snacks, making the unhealthy snacks less accessible, and not drinking coffee after 3:00 pm.

The online survey was taken by 1,003 Canadian men from May 3 and May 6, 2019, between 25 and 54 years old, who were employed on a full- or part-time basis.