Heart disease awareness a must in the workplace

Studies show that heart disease continues to be a major killer, causing an estimated 2200 deaths a day. Workplace stress has been shown to be one of the many contributors to this fatal disease and other related illnesses. Employers can help employees reduce their risk of heart disease by implementing wellness initiatives that address health screenings, weight control, and stress reduction.

Heart disease (cardiovascular) symptoms

Heart disease or cardiovascular disease refers to a condition where blood vessels become blocked or narrowed preventing the heart, brain and other parts of the body from receiving enough blood. Over time the compromised blood vessels can result in a heart attack or stroke.

Symptoms of cardiovascular disease include chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain, numbness or weakness in legs or arms. Many of these symptoms may also indicate the onset of a heart attack. It’s important that individuals experiencing these symptoms seek the advice of a physician. If heart disease is detected early, it may prevent a future heart attack or stroke.

Risk factors

There are several risk factors that can place an individual at higher risk of developing heart disease. Some of these factors include:
 Age
 Family history of early onset
 Smoking
 Diet high in fat, sodium, and cholesterol
 High blood pressure
 High cholesterol level
 Diabetes
 Obesity
 Physical inactivity
 High stress
 Poor hygiene

Effect of workplace stress on the heart

Research shows that individuals exposed to ongoing work stress have a higher risk of developing heart disease. These individuals have higher elevated cortisol levels throughout the day, causing greater strain and weakening of the heart muscle.

In a 2008 study in the European Heart Journal, researchers followed a sample of employees for 12 years. During the follow up, researchers found that the employees who reported greater work stress also had a 68% higher risk of coronary artery disease than those who experienced little or no stress at work. For 32% of these employees, higher stress levels attributed to poor lifestyle habits, including poor diet, smoking, decrease in physical activity, and overeating.

Implement heart-healthy initiatives

Employers can reduce their employees’ risk of heart disease through wellness programs that focus on improving overall health. Some of these include:
Encouraging heart disease awareness among employees – Provide employees with the facts on symptoms, risk factors, and information on how they can reduce their risk of developing heart disease.
Sponsor health checks – Conduct annual on-site health checks for high blood pressure and cholesterol – precursors to the development of heart disease.
Creating nutrition initiatives – Provide nutrition seminars by licensed nutritionists to educate your employees on healthy eating and heart-healthy foods. Create a “nutrition challenge” that will be fun and motivating. This can be done as an individual or team effort.
Implementing fitness programs to fight obesity and reduce stress – Start a workplace exercise challenge. If possible, provide some on-site fitness classes to entice participation. Introduce your employees to yoga classes. Not only will they help keep employees in shape, but they will also help reduce employees’ stress levels significantly.
Providing time management skills to reduce stress – Good time management can significantly reduce stress. Work with local community colleges or professional organisations to provide your employees with time management and prioritising classes and seminars. The skills they learn will also help them perform their current job duties more efficiently.

The bottom line

Heart disease is a condition that can affect many employees throughout an organisation. HR professionals can implement several heart-friendly initiatives in their wellness programs that tackle the major risk factors of heart disease – diet, fitness, and stress. Arming an employee with heart disease awareness and prevention can one day mean saving his or her life from a fatal heart attack or stroke.

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