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What’s Working? Promoting Heart Health in the Workplace

On a personal level, we all know “your health is your wealth.” But companies are starting to realise that it pays to look after their employees’ wellbeing.

Promoting strong cardiovascular health is central to this. In recent years, the Irish Heart Foundation has been outlining how a healthy workforce can be good for business. Physically active employees are known to be more productive and take less sick days, which is good for the employee as well as the employer.

Nutritionist and Vhi expert Gaye Godkin has an extensive knowledge of the practical things that can be done to keep us all heart healthy, and why employers need to take it more seriously.

How big a problem is cardiovascular disease in Ireland?

Every year, 5,000 men and women die prematurely due to cardiovascular disease. The problem is that it’s seen as an older person’s illness so people say: “Ah sure look it won’t happen to me.”

But I think the big issue is with women. Because an Irish woman is 7 times more likely to die from a cardiac event than she is from breast cancer.

How does the modern workplace affect our heart health?

The World Health Organisation commissioned a study which looked at all the continents across the world. They found that psychosocial factors like anxiety, depression, social isolation and prolonged exposure to toxic stress are the biggest indicator of someone’s susceptibility of suffering a cardiac event. Obviously, workplaces can be very stressful so of course they influence our heart health.

Why should employers make employee heart health a priority?

Employers have a certain responsibility within the workplace to ensure it’s safe. So that includes heart health. Encouraging better health can lead to lead to less sick days and better productivity from employees, so it’s worth taking it seriously.

What practical steps can be taken to protect heart health during the working day?

Put simply, you need to move… Taking the stairs rather than the lift, getting out at lunchtime for a walk, walking to work, and getting out in the evening if you can – all simple ways to achieve this and can be scheduled around your working day.

Encourage employees to take time away from their desks; to sit down and chat to their fellow colleagues away from the screens. This helps their health overall and builds stronger work relationships too!

Exercise is 20% of looking after your heart health but diet is 80%. We need to increase consumption of plant food. Make sure that you’re getting vegetables, salads, hot soups and fruit into your diet and avoid processed fats such as chips, doughnuts, biscuits, cakes and pastries.

Employers can also support heart health by introducing flextime, offering standing desks, helping employees monitor their blood pressure, providing healthy workplace foods and holding seminars on nutrition.

What’s one suggestion you’d have to improve the Irish workplace?

I think bringing more education and awareness to association and the causality. In Ireland, 8 out of 10 people end up in hospital because of a lifestyle-related problem. By bringing that message through the workplace, you say “you can change your health outcomes, you are the author of your own health outcomes.”

Looking for more information on how Vhi can help you support your employees? Simply speak to your account manager or visit vhi.ie/employers