Happy Hearts Are Healthy Hearts

happy hearts

Did you know that a heart beats about 2.5 billion times during an average lifetime? According to an article in Harvard Health Publishing, the heart pumps millions of gallons of blood all around the body, carrying oxygen, fuel, hormones, and a host of essential oils. It also gets rid of waste products. It’s an impressive CV of duties and responsibilities!

Our hearts have a never-ending workload even when we rest, they continue pumping. The heart truly is a working wonder and needs to be looked after to ensure not just its own health but our general health as well. It is well documented through research that heart health is influenced by many factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, infection, genetics, and other reasons. Some of these are within our control, others are not.

The Heart of the Matter

In Ireland, heart disease is the most common cause of death, these are the stats.

  • Over 9,000 people each year die from cardiovascular disease in Ireland – 2,000 of these deaths are stroke-related.
  • 6,000 people have heart attacks in Ireland each year but many can be prevented.
  • Up to 80% of all heart disease is preventable through lifestyle changes and modifying the risk factors associated with heart disease.
  • Irish women are seven times more likely to die from cardiovascular/heart disease than from breast cancer.
  • Ireland is on its way to becoming Europe’s most obese nation by 2030.

Source: Croí and Irish Heart Foundation

We all need to take responsibility for our health across the intersectionality of our lives as employees or employers, individuals and family and community members.

I firmly believe in prevention rather than reaction – do you agree?

There are many agencies providing a common sense approach to living life well – but safely.  They share practical tips and advice for improving heart health, which can have a big impact in your life. Some of the more common ones you may be familiar with include:

  • Taking regular exercise
  • Eating healthily
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing salt intake
  • Losing weight
  • Reducing stress.

For some people, even implementing one of the changes above on their own can be difficult to achieve – let alone  all of them.

Should Organisations More Actively Promote Heart Health?

Let’s have a heart-to-heart on this!  Think about it: we spend approximately one-third of our working week in or at work – maybe more duringthe last two years. Work has significant influence on employee health, and so, workplaces are well placed to support positive and preventative measures. 

Many organisations offer health screening days: guest speakers are invited to talk about a range of healthy lifestyle choices such as smoking cessation and nutrition.  These are all great initiatives, but do we need to be even bolder in our thinking?

Is there a need for a mindset transformation across organisations that moves from

I am well enough to work

to

“Work helps keep me well”.

Workplaces should not be a cause of illness, stress or health risks -rather, they should be places that facilitate the adoption of healthy behaviours into our daily lives.

Can workplaces achieve this – and why should they?

  1. Workplaces and Risks to Health
    It must be acknowledged that living through the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant stressors, which have led to people to experience challenges in areas they may not have in the past.  Multiple role demands (ex. employee, home schooler, carer) have not affected men and women equally, with women reporting higher stress levels.In your work role, have you considered what is the cost of poor health or chronic disease to your organisation through absence or health insurance claims? The Irish workforce is working longer than ever before, and with that increase, the risk is that these costs will increase too. Reports suggests, employees who experience chronic illness also have a higher rate of both presenteeism and absenteeism.The Health and Safety Authority defines work-related stress as “stress caused or made worse by work”. Work-related stressors, if left unchecked, can contribute to unhealthy behaviours that increase the risk of developing heart disease.HSA – Work Related Stress – A Guide for Employers is a detailed document defining work-related stress and tips on prevention.
  2. Enabling Work Environments to be Proactive Instead of Reactive
    The workplace is an important setting to promote better health, reduce the risk factors for heart disease, and adopt healthy heart habits. Here are some steps to consider.

    • Support employees to move more during the day.
    • Encourage regular and short breaks.
    • Conduct shorter meetings to facilitate standing meetings.
    • Provide information and resources throughout the year to promote heart health.
    • Introduce CPR training for employees or a designated employee. Do you know if there is an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) near your work place?
    • Do you have guidelines on what to do in case of a medical emergency at work? Does everybody know them?
    • High stress levels at work have been shown to lead to low physical activity levels, which is a significant risk for developing heart disease. Here is a link with tips on how to get active and be happy  Forunately, the Irish Heart Foundation offers tips on how to get active and be happy
    • Have some fun with a wellness challenge. Tap into your employees’ competitive side and create a challenge designed to help your employees make healthy heart choices.

The Key Takeaway:  

eeping your heart healthy is something everyone – including you – can work on every day.

Why not write your own policy for your heart health?

  1. Be aware of risks 
  2. Manage your risk
  3. If you have a concern, have it checked out

In writing this article, I am mindful that there are potentially some readers who may have experienced a cardiac incident, themselves, through a family member or friend.

If you are embarking on a health journey this year, always consult your GP before undertaking any exercise or changes to your lifestyle.  The information contained in the newsletter does not constitute medical advice, I seek to inform myself and my community on a wide range of topics as well as providing direction to additional resources for people to refer to for further reading.

Resources

Irish Heart Disease Awareness; IHDA

Irish Heart Foundation: https://irishheart.ie

The Irish Times  “5 Heart Experts Give Tips on Heart Health”: irishtimes.com/life-and-style – 

Harvard Health Publishing; “Heart Health”; https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/heart-health

Health and Safety Authority; “Workplace Stress Overview—What is Stress?”; HSA – Workplace Stress Overview