February is heart month, a perfect chance for organizations to take steps to introduce more supports to encourage heart health in the workplace.
The reality: Heart disease affects 1.3 million Canadians, and as our population ages, we’re seeing more employees facing heart conditions.
The good news: There are things we can do as employers to help staff members adopt heart healthy behaviours while they’re at work.
Here are some ideas:
Stand up, move around: The typical worker spends 7-8 hours sitting each day. Offices can be sedentary places, so it’s important to give employees a chance to stand up and move around regularly. Many offices, including GoodLife Fitness’ new home office, are introducing stand-up desks and offering lunchtime fitness, walking clubs, yoga and more, to get people moving during the work day. Encourage teams to hold walking meetings, or go to the gym instead of meeting over lunch.
Even small improvements make a difference. Instead of phoning or emailing co-workers, encourage staff to get up and visit them in person. Suggest taking the stairs in the morning instead of the elevator. Challenge employees to park further away from the office, or take a brisk walk at lunch.
Inspire heathier eating: How employees eat is contributing to sedentary habits, stress and poor productivity. Only 28 per cent of Canadian employees break for lunch and 40 per cent eat at their workstation. Encourage staff to take a lunch break and eat in a common area, or get outside for a walk. They’ll come back refreshed and ready to be productive for the afternoon.
Look for ways to introduce healthier food options in the workplace. Instead of pizza, try ordering wraps and salads for lunchtime catering. Instead of donuts and muffins, opt for a fruit salad, smoothies or nuts. Look at healthy recipes for your potluck office gatherings. Bring in a dietitian to provide a lunch and learn session on healthy food options and cooking tips.
Foster better balance: For many employees, the stress of their work day, combined with responsibilities in the rest of their life, can contribute to high blood pressure. Encourage work-life balance by allowing flexible work hours, providing vacation days and offering an employee assistance program at work. Consider offering workshops on workload management, or yoga and meditation classes, to help employees establish better balance.
Embrace technology: Many organizations are equipping employees with fitness tracking devices to enable them to monitor their heart rate, fitness levels, water intake and sleep. Fitness trackers motivate healthier behaviours, more movement and better habits. Consider introducing fitness trackers as part of your corporate wellness program, and enlist employee help to develop challenges and programs to drive adoption and encourage accountability.
Prepare for emergencies: An organization with 2,000 people and an average age of 40 years can expect at least one cardiac arrest incident in the workplace each year (Heart and Stroke Foundation). On-site treatment is part of ensuring good heart health, so it’s a good idea to offer CPR training and make defibrillators accessible to employees, equipping them to react in an emergency.
Many corporate wellness programs include CPR and first aid training, and organizations like Loblaw, GoodLife Fitness and London Drugs are already offering defibrillators and training at their facilities across Canada.
Employees are literally the heart of your organization, so it’s important to encourage them to take care of their cardiac health. By investing in employee heart health, you’ll experience greater productivity, healthier, happier employees and less absenteeism. A workplace wellness expert can assess your organization and recommend the right programs to address employee interests and needs. The results are worth it!