Captivating insights on e-health and workplace strategies in a world of change.
The healthy workplace: to the heart of the matter
Because they are so common, cardiovascular diseases are an important driver of absenteeism. The crucial risk factors are well known: smoking, high blood pressure, high (bad) cholesterol, overweight or obesity, stress and lack of physical activity. These are the health problems which have the most thorough effect on workplace productivity.
At the same time, these are all lifestyle-related problems. In this respect, cardiovascular diseases are a prototypical example of better to prevent than to cure.
With longer careers, it’s of growing strategic importance to invest in prevention measures now, in order to avoid future health problems. Thanks to recent findings on the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle, the importance of a dynamic workplace is further enhanced.
This investment pays off: a health policy which targets the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases has the best effects on health, and consequently on productivity.
The time is ripe: it seems like an attitude shift is taking place among employees: from ‘my health is a private matter’ to the perception that employers are responsible - and even liable - for the protection of their employees’ health.
Add the fact that those who run a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases are often least conscious of this - let alone know how to turn around their habits - and the need for a ‘heartfelt’ health policy on the workfloor becomes crystal clear.
Obvious measures are smoke cessation counselling, stress control workshops and gym memberships (or a company gym), but raising awareness and promoting physical activity are accessible options as well: encourage employees to use the stairs and discourage elevator use at the same time.
You can even step it up a notch and take the initiative to intervene in the workplace, actively bringing healthy options to the fore. Healthy meals in the cafeteria. Making fruit and water (freely) available. Making access to sugary snacks and soft drinks more difficult, or even impossible. But also stimulating stand-up meetings and - why not - walking at lunch? Besides, pay enough attention to work pressure and staff overtime, as these are well-known risk factors, which are directly linked to cardiovascular diseases.
it’s logical, it’s cardiological!
How does a cardiologist who is also the director of Heartlife - the centre of expertise for heart health - approach the issue of prevention?
Janneke Wittekoek wholeheartedly agrees to the importance of promoting a healthy lifestyle as the crucial first step in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, preferably in a fun and appealing way. But does she see opportunities of taking things a step further at the workfloor? Has her work with patients given her any extra insights?
JW: “One could go for genuine medical infotainment. This means zooming into both the medical and the lifestyle component in an accessible way, in order to bring people explicit insight into their heart health. The impact is larger though if an employer makes use of periodical health checks, and discusses the results one-on-one with his employees.”
BNH: And if this type of health check is not an option?
JW: “Health and vitality workshops are important too, but the chance that these really catch on is greater if some kind of personalised follow-up is added, making use of apps or other types of e-health. In order to keep people involved, it’s crucial that these digital means are also fun and challenging. Distributing activity trackers can also be a great initiative. But one can add to their effectivity by making sure they fit into some kind of follow-up program. So they are more than a pure gadget. And without proper counselling, for certain risk groups, using a tracker can even be detrimental rather than beneficial.”
BNH: If there is one concise message you would like companies to transmit to their employees, in order to highlight heart health, what would it be?
JW: I couldn’t make it more concise than “Know your numbers”. This has become my motto, which I keep reminding my patients to take to heart, and which has started leading a life of its own.
It concerns the 6 sets of numerical values which are related to the risk factors for cardiovascular diseases:
0 for smoking: don’t smoke!
5 your blood sugar value
5-3-1 for your cholesterol:
total cholesterol <5, “bad” (LDL) cholesterol <3, “good” (HDL) cholesterol > 1
25 BMI < 25
30 minutes of physical activity per day as a minimum
120/80 optimal blood pressure
We wouldn’t be BrandNewHealth if we didn’t have an extra accent of our own, a fun numerical value from our vitality app ichange3, not surprisingly: 3