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February 19, 2007
Healthy Hearts = Healthy Workers

Unfortunately, a lot of people's hearts aren't as healthy as they should be. That probably goes for more than a few of your employees, too. That's why heart health is an important workplace wellness issue--one that deserves at least an annual training session. So to help you out, here's some useful training information you can incorporate into your lesson.

Tell them about the controllable risk factors. Risk factors are characteristics that increase a person's chance of heart disease. The following risk factors are controllable--by avoiding them your employees can reduce their risk of heart attack:

  • Smoking. Smokers are more than twice as likely to have a heart attack than nonsmokers. Smoking increases blood pressure and heart rate, and narrows blood vessels.
  • High blood pressure. The heart has to work harder when a person has high blood pressure. Over time, the heart enlarges and gets weaker, creating stress on the heart muscle.
  • High cholesterol. A diet high in cholesterol and/or fat often causes atherosclerosis (a condition when plaque builds up along the walls of the arteries). Blood clots are more likely to form in these narrowed arteries and cause a heart attack.
  • Obesity. People who are more than 20 percent over their ideal body weight have an increased risk of a heart attack. Being overweight increases the workload on the heart and arteries.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Lack of exercise can increase cholesterol levels and pack on the pounds.
  • Stress. Anxiety and tension can trigger angina and other heart problems in some people.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes. Diabetes affects the amount of cholesterol in the body. Studies show that heart or blood vessel disease is the cause of death in more than 80 percent of diabetics.

There are some uncontrollable factors employees should know about, too.

Why It Matters...

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States.
  • As many as 40 percent of American adults have two or more risk factors for heart disease.
  • Last year the cost of heart disease was estimated at more than $258 billion, including healthcare services, medications, and lost productivity.

Unfortunately, there are also some risk factors that a person can't control. But your employees still need to know about them anyway so that they can take extra care to change any avoidable risk factors. The fewer risk factors present--controllable or uncontrollable--the lower the risk of heart disease. Uncontrollable risk factors include:

  • Family history of heart trouble (if someone in the family has heart disease, your risk goes up)
  • Race (although African Americans don't have a higher risk of heart attack, those attacks they do have are often more damaging)
  • Age (the older you are, the greater the risk)
  • Gender (men are more likely to have heart attacks than women, but women are gaining)

Encourage employees to make some heart-healthy changes. What can you tell employees about keeping their hearts healthy and reducing the risk of heart attack? Plenty! Here are some things everyone can do:

  • Maintain a healthy diet low in fat and refined sugar and high in fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day).
  • Get some exercise at least 30 minutes four or five times a week).
  • Manage stress effectively (learn stress management and relaxation techniques).

Some people, however, have to do a little more:

  • Smokers need to stop smoking-it's the best way to help prevent a heart attack.
  • People with high blood pressure need to lower it with diet and exercise or medication when necessary.
  • Those who are seriously overweight should begin a weight control program that combines a healthy weight-loss diet and physical activity.
  • Diabetics should see the doctor regularly to monitor the disease, maintain a healthy diet, and get some exercise every day.
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