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Healthy Hearts

Posted 1/30/2018 by UHBlog

Many times, cardiovascular disease can be prevented through behaviors. Talk to us about ways to encourage heart-healthy habits in your workplace.

Office workers smiling

Cardiovascular disease is America’s leading killer. Preventing it should be at the heart of your company’s employee wellness program, says internal medicine specialist Roy Buchinsky, MD.

“If you can address the top causes of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, you can make a significant impact on the health and productivity of your employees,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “Statistically, one of every two people are going to be inflicted with some form of cardiovascular disease, so it can be a huge physical burden – and a huge financial burden – to your business. If your wellness program is proactive in working to prevent cardiovascular problems, you can realize enormous benefits by saving on health care costs, reducing absenteeism and having happier, more productive employees.”

By 2020, Dr. Buchinsky says, health care expenses are estimated to represent a whopping 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Living healthier lifestyles can bring that number down.

“The average person spends more than 2,000 hours at work during the year, so what better place to set an example of healthy living than the place where people spend most of their time,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “There isn’t much you can do about genetics and some other health factors, but half of what contributes to premature death is related to behaviors that can be changed. The first-line strategy of preventing heart disease should focus on the factors we can influence.”

Those behaviors can be broken down into three categories:

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Smoking

The first step in any workplace wellness program is to learn where an employee stands in terms of health indicators, Dr. Buchinsky says.

“Knowing a person’s blood pressure, blood glucose level and cholesterol levels creates a starting point at which to determine what he or she needs to do to improve their health,” he says.

From there, your group and individual plans should focus on developing healthier habits to control the behaviors cited above. Among the areas to concentrate are:

  • Don’t eat "C.R.A.P." “Proper diet is a big piece of the heart health puzzle,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “If you’re going to announce that you’re all about employee health and wellness, then you have to walk the talk and provide the right kinds of food in the workplace. Don’t serve 'C.R.A.P.' in the cafeteria, and encourage employees not to bring 'C.R.A.P.' to work.”

    C.R.A.P., Dr. Buchinsky says, is an acronym for "calorie-rich and processed" food – the worst kind of food for your heart and brain. What’s smart for the heart is good for the brain, he says.

    “Healthy options don’t only mean offering fruits and vegetables in the café,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “Take further steps, like eliminating fried and oily food. Reduce red meat. Some companies do promotions like ‘Meatless Monday.’ At University Hospitals, we have removed all sugary soda pop from the buildings. Encouraging your staff to eat heart-healthy, then putting a big tray of bagels and pastries in the meeting room can send mixed signals. Employees are going to be influenced by not only by what you say, but also by what you do.”

  • Exercise. Physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for death and non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. Globally, one in four adults is not active enough, according to the World Health Organization.

    “Sitting is the new smoking as cigarette use declines,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “Providing your employees with a Fitbit or a similar health monitoring device is a good way to motivate them to walk and increase their physical activity. Another interesting strategy is to have walking meetings where a group walks together instead of sitting around a table. As a peripheral benefit, some studies have shown that walking and exercising stimulates the brain, causing one to be more thoughtful and innovative.”

  • Stop smoking. Although smoking is on the decline, many people still puff cigarettes.

    “Any good workplace wellness program should include programs that help employees stop smoking,” Dr. Buchinsky says. “There are many types of programs, from self-administered programs which tend to have low success rates, to one-on-one and group counseling. Giving up cigarettes requires less ‘will power’ as it does ‘want power.’ You really need to want to change your behavior. There has to be a motivation. The best motivation for living a heart-healthy lifestyle is the ability to be healthier and live a joyful life. That’s the important thing to emphasize to your employees.”

  • Stress. Along with effects of the three behavioral factors – diet, exercise and smoking – on heart health, stress can also play a significant role in cardiovascular problems. The workplace is often a major source of that stress.

    “The World Health Organization has dubbed stress as a modern epidemic that has been associated with many health conditions,” he says. “Stress in the workplace can be reduced through changing the atmosphere and the culture of the office. Managers have to manage, but you want them to manage in a way that reflects the values of your company, and that includes the value of a happy, healthy and productive work force.”

If you're interested in UH's wellness programs, connect with University Hospitals Employer Solutions for more information.

Roy Buchinsky, MD is an internal medicine specialist and the director of wellness at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Buchinsky or any other doctor online.

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