You’ve got to have heart — or so the old saying goes — but workers must have healthy hearts, too, because good health is good for business.
“At nearly $330 billion each year in medical expenses and lost productivity from premature death, heart disease, stroke and their risk factors are expensive health conditions — in fact, cardiovascular disease is the most costly disease in the United States,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heart-healthy employees are better for business. They save employers money, have better morale, miss less work and are more productive than less healthy employees.”
Yet a workplace can be a tough location to maintain a healthy lifestyle. After all, the pressure and processes of production don’t naturally segue toward habits for living well.
“If you are a sedentary guy at work or a female that just sits at their desks, we expect that at home you are more active,” said Dr. Awais Kang, a cardiologist for McLaren Greater Lansing. “But with a busy lifestyle that everybody has nowadays, sometimes exercise gets put along the side. The biggest risk factor (for heart trouble) is a sedentary lifestyle: somebody who sits at their desk all day (and) they’re not getting their steps in. When they go home, they feel tired. They are eating unhealthy foods. They don’t exercise. And they end up developing heart disease. So a lot of times patients do complain that they are not active and they’re busy because of work.”
Another level of complexity was added by the coronavirus pandemic, which kept many workers at home and physically inactive, shut down workplace health programs and gyms, fueled stress, and made people worried about going to medical centers for preventative care or treatments of other conditions.
“All of that has really been an issue” since coronavirus-related restrictions began, said Dr. John Wald, a neurologist, stroke program director and neurology program medical director for Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson. “Illnesses didn’t take a vacation, but (emergency rooms) were quite empty because people were afraid to come in and catch COVID. It was a double-edged sword. Some people who didn’t like to drive every day picked up some healthy habits” during new free time once spent commuting. “My dogs make me take a walk every day. … The other side of the coin is, people also weren’t getting out” because of COVID fears and shutdowns.
Plus, while some found working at home more relaxing, Wald noted others discovered working at home has been stressful when factoring in lack of boundaries between home life and work life.
“It’s very concerning,” Kang said. “Actually, I would say most of the patients I see now have gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic because they’re scared to go outside, they’re scared to exercise, they can’t go to gyms anymore.”
Employees can take small steps — literally — in taking charge of their workplace heart and stroke health.
“Don’t take the elevator; take the stairs. If you have a desk job, I’d like people to stand up every hour at least and go for a little walk,” said Kang, adding that McLaren has its own McLaren Mile program encouraging its employees to take mile-long walks during the workday. “Any time you can be active, be active.”
Likewise, employers can encourage good habits through policies and actions.
“A lot of jobs now are working with insurance companies and they’re putting in incentives. … If they stop smoking or they start exercising and their cholesterol gets better and their weight goes down, then they get some kind of benefit,” said Kang. “This is really big and key.”
Workers don’t have to wait to return to their workplaces post-pandemic to get healthier now.
“What people can do — especially if they’re working at home, in-between their Zoom meetings or in-between their work — they should continue to remain active,” said Kang. “Whether that’s walking around the house a few times before doing your next project or walking up and down the stairs a few times in your house or even going for a walk around your neighborhood, you should try to do that every day.”
What You Can Do
Heart disease and stroke experts from various mid-Michigan hospitals have various tips on how to maintain heart-healthy workplaces.