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The four elements of heart health at work

Heat-related illness costs employers more money than any other disease or injury in the workplace. It is also the main cause of death in the UK.

As February is British Heart Foundation's Heart Month, let's look at the four main areas we can all tackle to improve the heart health of our staff...

1. Nutrition

We can all look after our hearts better by eating right. But eating 'right' isn't that easy when you work in an office carrying out tasks that require a great deal of mental energy - especially when there are birthday cakes or other sugary treats floating around.

It's too easy to reach for a quick 'pick-me-up' as a break from demanding or tedious work. But did you know those daily 'pick-me-ups' could be damaging the long-term health of your heart?

A recent statement from the Royal College of Surgeons warned that 'sugary office-based snacking is contributing to an epidemic of obesity and poor oral health in this country'. They are urging employers to 'tackle cake culture' and make sure low-sugar snacks are available instead.

Which foods are bad for the heart?

  • Saturated fat - found in foods like biscuits, cakes, fatty meat and dairy products. Too much can raise 'bad' cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar - eating sugary food raises your heart rate. Any energy you don't use is stored as fat. Carrying too much fat can increases your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Salt - too much can raise your blood pressure, putting you at risk of heart disease and stroke.

Which foods are good for the heart?

  • Fruits and vegetables - eat a varied selection of three portions of veg and two portions of fruit a day (i.e. not five bananas).
  • Mono and polyunsaturated fats - these are 'good fats' found in oily fish avocado and nuts. Eat in moderation.
  • Wholegrains - foods that contain bran wheat, oats rye, barley etc. are a rich source of nutrients such as B vitamins and iron which are all good for heart health.

What's it got to do with employers?

The typical office is a hotbed of unhealthy eating activity. On every floor you'll find the cookie dealers, the cake hustlers, the chocolate junkies, the McDonald's runners. Every day hearts are being damaged right under employers' noses. The loss in productivity and the rise in absenteeism as a result of illness can be costly - so it makes good business sense to provide good nutritional advice and healthy snack options in the workplace.

The right food can boost concentration, fuel productivity, and improve heart health.

Here's what some businesses are doing to improve the nutritional health of employees:

Posturite

Free weekly fruit deliveries to every department, free green tea, plus a regularly topped-up snack box in the lunch room including nuts, snack bars and crackers.

Google

Google co-founder Sergey Brin allegedly told his office architects: make sure no one is more than 200 feet away from food. This spurred the creation of numerous cafes and microkitchens peppered about the complex- not only to fuel workers with healthy food, but to encourage interaction between people in the hope it would spontaneously fire up good ideas.

2. Physical activity

The second element of heart health we can all tackle in the workplace is physical activity. To keep your heart healthy, you need to work it once in a while. Being inactive is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK.

But maintaining an active lifestyle is difficult when you work at a computer all day. Offices are traditionally sedentary spaces. Luckily, there are steps employers can take to increase activity levels even in offices:

  • Replace static desks with sit-stand desks (find out more about the health and business benefits by downloading our active working advice brochure).
  • Give out pedometers and set up a step challenge.
  • Encourage walking meetings.
  • Organise active social events, such as activity centres, countryside walks and fun runs.
  • Make informational posters and leaflets easily accessible so employees know how much activity they should be getting.

The benefits of exercising are far-reaching and often life-changing. They can include:

  • Feeling more energised
  • Greater concentration
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Healthier appearance
  • Lower body fat
  • Increased fitness
  • Greater confidence
  • Better sleep
  • Increased self-confidence.

The medical benefits include the decreased risk of:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Some cancers.

3. Wellbeing

Some people in your workplace may already be dealing with a heart issue in their life - whether their own, or someone they know. Whether it's high blood pressure, a heart attack, coronary heart disease, or any other heart-related condition, coming to terms with illness is hard.

This can have a big impact on mental health and employers should make sure there is policy in place to support these people if necessary.

According to the British Heart Foundation, 68% of heart condition sufferers said their mental health has suffered as a result of their illness.

Anxiety was the most common symptom, with 77% saying they suffered from it. Over half (51%) said they had felt low, depressed or tearful, 47% felt scared and 38% felt other people didn’t understand how the condition affected them.

How can employers help?

29% of people with a heart issue said they felt the mental impact of their condition affected their ability to work.

The best thing an employer can do is make sure everyone knows what they should do if they feel their mental health is affecting their work.

Employers can consider developing a bespoke e-learning course with our WorkRite software developers. An e-learning course is a quick, easy, efficient way to let employees know what they should do if they are suffering from any kind of mental health problem in the workplace. Simply knowing that there is support available can ease the stress and help people cope better at work - hopefully avoiding, where possible, an exacerbation of problems and long stretches of absence.

You can either use our existing FeelRite course, or talk to us about designing a bespoke course just for your company.

4. Training and defibrillators

As we reported in our HeartSine blog in January, for every minute a victim of cardiac arrest doesn’t receive defibrillation, their chances of survival drop by 10%.

Having an automatic external defibrillator on-site is a small cost if it ends up saving a life.

We sell a number of excellent models, including the LIFEPAK CR Plus AED (from £845 +vat) and HeartSine range (from £899 +vat).

We’re now offering HeartSine automated external defibrillators at a specially discounted price for Heart Month only. Offer ends midnight on 28 February 2017. Shop now ›

First aid training is also important should CPR ever be necessary. We offer: