Heart Week is an opportunity to put a much-needed focus on the risks of heart disease. Increased awareness and proper precautions can help reduce the risk of heart disease and the large number of lives we lose to it. For 2019, Heart Week is 28 April – 4 May. The Heart Foundation says, “Heart Week 2019 focuses on encouraging more people to understand their risk factors for heart disease and take the right steps to reduce this risk.” During Heart Week, we should all take the time to better understand our own heart health, and consider how we can reduce our risk, and what we can do to help those around us. Employers should consider the risk heart disease poses to an unprepared workforce as well as the steps they can take to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. What is Heart Disease? Your heart is a muscle. By pumping blood to all parts of your body, it feeds your body with all the oxygen and nourishment it needs to function properly. Human bodies come equipped with only one heart and that heart is essential for life. 💗 Learn more about How Your Heart Works. Heart disease is a group of conditions that have many different causes. Any condition that affects the structure or function of the heart is considered heart disease. Some of the most common forms of heart disease include: Angina Arrhythmia Atrial fibrillation Cardiac arrest Heart attack Heart failure Valvular heart disease Australian Heart Health Numbers Heart Disease is Australia’s biggest killer. According to the Heart Foundation, 51 lives are lost every day to heart disease. This means that an Australian dies from heart disease every 28 minutes. Of Australians aged 45-74 years, one fifth is at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. Those numbers are staggering. What’s more alarming is that many of those deaths could have been prevented with proper heart health care. So, what can you do to take care of your own heart health and to help protect those around you? How to Maintain a Healthy Heart Manage Blood Pressure High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. Blood pressure should be checked regularly by your doctor or during workplace employee health checks. 120/80mmHg is considered an optimal blood pressure reading. Aging can change a person’s blood pressure, which means blood pressure should be checked more often in older workers. Healthy choices including food and exercise can help maintain or lower blood pressure. What Can Employers Do? Offer regular employee health checks. Offer professional on-site blood pressure readings. Support healthy lunches and snacks in the workplace. Manage Cholesterol Cholesterol is a fatty substance carried throughout your body by your blood. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol to and from your cells, the two main types being low-density lipoproteins (LDL-C) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL-C). Your body needs cholesterol to be healthy, but an imbalance of cholesterol in your blood can lead to a heart attack or stroke. HDL-C is referred to as the good cholesterol, where LDL-C is known as the bad cholesterol. When LDL-C builds up, it creates plaque on the walls of your arteries, which can lead to blockage. HDL-C keeps that build up from happening. Foods that can lower the amount of LDL-C (bad cholesterol) in your bloodstream are legumes, avocados, fatty fish, and dark chocolate. What Can Employers Do? Offer regular employee health checks. Support healthy lunches in the workplace. Offer cholesterol lowering snacks (unsalted nuts, dark chocolate, or guacamole). Provide additional support to your aging workforce. Manage a Healthy Weight Nearly two-thirds of Australian adults (63%) and one in four (25%) of Australian children are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese is harmful to a person’s health. In addition to contributing to high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, and fertility problems, being obese increases your risk of developing Diabetes, some cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The most effective method of managing your weight is with a healthy diet and a regular exercise schedule. What Can Employers Do? Offer regular employee health checks. Offer healthy options when providing a workplace lunch. Offer healthy snacks in the workplace (fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.) Support physical activity initiatives (taking the stairs, playing sports, etc.) Maintain a Healthy Diet A healthy diet encourages healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight, which are all heart disease contributors. To maintain a healthy diet and minimise the risk of heart disease: Drink more water. Limit alcohol. Limit sugary drinks. Reduce salt. Replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats. Check the nutritional information of your food before making a purchase. Learn how to read the required Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) on food packaging for healthier heart choices. What Can Employers Do? Support healthy lunches in the workplace. Offer healthy snacks in the workplace (fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc.). Regular Physical Activity A lack of physical activity can lead to heart disease as well as many other health risks including diabetes, obesity, and mental health problems. It’s important to remember that any activity is better than no activity at all. According to The Heart Foundation, everyone should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every week, with muscle-toning exercises twice a week. Try going for a brisk walk before work, or once you get home. It’s okay to start small. Every bit of physical activity is better than none at all. What Can Employers Do? Promote the use of stairs over lifts. Remind office workers to get up and stretch. Provide standing desks. Allow standing or walking meetings. Avoid or Quit Smoking Smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely than non-smokers to develop coronary heart disease. And not only that, cigarette smoke harms almost every organ in your body, and leads to the development of several different types of diseases and cancers. Quitting smoking not only means you’ll be less likely to suffer from heart disease, it could add years to your life. What Can Employers Do? Offer regular employee health checks. Offer financial supports for employees who are ready to quit. Reward workers who successfully quit smoking. Allow regular breaks that are not centred around smoking. Monitor and Manage Diabetes People with diabetes are more at risk of heart disease. Diabetes Australia says heart attacks and strokes are up to four times more likely in people with diabetes. This is because diabetes can change the chemical makeup of substances found in the blood, which can cause blood vessels to narrow or clog up completely. What Can Employers Do? Offer regular employee health checks. Offer workplace supports for employees who have diabetes. Support diabetic diets when offering snacks or lunches in the workplace. The Importance of Workplace Health Checks Ongoing health checks can identify heart disease and other heart health risks. Employees are a business’ most valuable asset. An employee health check includes a range of check-ups that help identify potential risks to the health and wellbeing of your workforce. Health checks also send a clear sign to your employees that you care about their health inside and outside of the workplace. Routine employee health checks support a healthy workforce by: Improving company morale. Supporting an aging workforce. Identifying and supporting mental illness. Reducing illness or injury absenteeism. 💡 Learn more about the many Benefits of Workplace Employee Health Checks. What Else Can You Do? Calculate Your Risk The National Vascular Disease Prevention Alliance offers an Australian cardiovascular disease risk calculator. Add your personal information—such as gender, age, if you’re a smoker or if you have diabetes and so on—and the calculator will estimate your risks of developing heart disease. While this helpful calculator does not substitute a visit to the doctor’s office, it does clarify how serious your risk is, which could be the push you need to make an appointment. Start a Conversation Ask your loved ones, family and friends, if they know about the risks. When was the last time they had a heart health check? If you are up to it, share your own experiences. How was your heart health check? How long did it take? What steps would they need to take to book a heart health check themselves? Engage Online The Heart Foundation hopes that you will help them spread the word online. Share their custom images, tell your own story, or simply remind your followers of heart health risks. Use their hashtag #showsometicker and follow along @heartfoundationau. Heart Health Resources Workforce Health Assessors supports heart health at work through pre-employment medicals and ongoing employee health checks. WHA organises, performs, and reports on medical assessments to help businesses mitigate health risks. We handle everything from pre-employment medicals, drug and alcohol screenings, to workplace wellness initiatives. Learn more about our employee health checks and other health assessment services.