Heart at work

Workplace wellness is the theme for World Heart Day for year 2009. Keep your heart healthy even as you work to your heart's content.

heart healthy work staffScientific evidence has shown that there is a huge potential to improve well-being of people by promoting heart health at work as most of us spend over half our waking hours working. A workplace that encourages healthy habits can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, which is why World Heart Day 2009 is calling on everyone to “Work with Heart”. The central message being that working with a healthy heart brings health, social, economic and psychological benefits for individuals and businesses—irrespective of their work environment or country.

Why workplace?

Our work has a significant impact on our physical, mental and social health. And our workplace is a prime location for the development of unhealthy lifestyles characterised by stress, depression, chronic back problems, unhealthy eating habits due to lack of time and decreased opportunity for physical activity, among others.

For organisations, an increasingly unhealthy workforce is a fundamental business challenge—employees do not have the will or capability to do their job well when they are ill. That is why implementing employee wellness programmes is so important for organisations.

Proven benefits

Researchers, from the Public Health Foundation of India, the Centre for Chronic Disease Control in New Delhi, and other institutions carried out a study in five workplaces representing various industry sectors and one agricultural workplace. Each workplace provided educational material on healthy lifestyles, altered lunch menus and snacks in canteens, prohibited the use of tobacco, and provided counselling on health.

Favourable changes in body weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, and glucose and lipid concentrations were shown among the more than 5,000 people. The percentage of people using tobacco products fell from 39 per cent to 29 per cent, that of people adding salt to their meals fell from 28 per cent to 13 per cent and the level of physical activity nearly doubled.

Why work with heart

  • Save lives. Almost half of those who die from chronic diseases, including heart disease and stroke, are in the productive period of their lives—between 15 and 69 years. Yet many of the causes of these diseases—tobacco, unhealthy diet, or not being physically active—are factors we can control.
  • Increase personal well-being. Employees who are physically active enjoy their work more, have increased concentration and mental alertness, and better rapport with colleagues. Activity stimulates endorphins, nature’s natural mood boosters, giving you plenty of enthusiasm for your leisure when you’ve finished work. Staying active while you cope with life’s ups and downs relaxes the mind and body, and helps to reduce the build-up of tension.
  • Enjoy social benefits. Activities in groups are great for meeting people outside your usual team and expanding your network of friends. Feeling healthy and developing new skills builds confidence and can help you feel more in control of your life.
  • Make/save money. For employers, a healthy workforce can contribute to the health of a business in many ways—even in times of economic slow-down. Benefits to an employer include:
    • increased productivity
    • reduced absenteeism rates–up to 20 per cent fewer days lost
    • lower medical costs
    • fewer workplace injuries
    • a positive corporate image
    • improved morale and loyalty
    • enhanced staff retention.

For a healthier workplace

You can enjoy good physical and mental health with proper diet,
exercise and tobacco-free living. But when you do not maintain healthy habits, heart disease and stroke and other chronic diseases can result.

The good news is that you can avoid this by controlling the main modifiable risk factors, which include high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels; tobacco use; poor diet, overweight and obesity.

        Here’s what you to need to do:
  • Participate in a sport or fitness group and encourage others to join.
  • Include physical activity in your work day and help others to do so.
  • Insist on a smoke-free environment.


Devising your own workplace programme

Have healthy food: Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Make smart choices, like choosing the ‘healthy menu’ in your canteen or bringing your own food.

Get active and take heart: Even 30 minutes of activity can help prevent heart attacks and strokes and your work will benefit too. Take the stairs, go for a walk during your break, or get off the bus a couple of stops earlier and walk the rest of the way.

Use less salt and avoid saturated fats: High blood pressure is closely related to excessive consumption of salt. Try to limit your salt intake to about a teaspoon per day. Be wary of processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt and substitute saturated fats with healthier unsaturated fats.

Say no to tobacco: Your risk of coronary heart disease will be halved within a year and will return to a normal level over time.

Maintain a healthy weight: Weight loss, especially together with lowered salt intake helps lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major factor for approximately half of all heart disease and stroke.

Know your numbers: Visit a health-care professional who can measure your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, together with waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index [BMI].

Once you know your overall risk, you can develop a specific plan of action to improve your heart health.

Pekka Puska
Dr Pekka Puska, MD, PhD, PolScm is the president of the World Heart Federation and Director General, National Institute for Health and Welfare [THL], Finland. He is known throughout the world as a pioneer in the public health programmes.


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