March 9, 2020

Show Your Heart Some Love: Get Heart Healthy

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February is not just the last month of Winter. It also is the month to focus on the affairs of the heart. Beyond the chocolate and red roses of Valentine's Day, it's also Heart Awareness Month.

Cardiovascular disease is the public health enemy number one. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide. The statistics around heart disease are staggering:Close to 9% of Canadians 20 years and older live with a heart disease diagnosis. 

Researchers from the University of Leicester found that the risk of heart disease is especially significant if you have a desk job. This increase in risk is predominantly due to the sedentary nature of office work. The researcher's conclusions were simple; the fact that we spend 50-60% of our time sitting is not good for our cardiovascular health.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. The good news is that there are many ways you can show your heart some love if you are worried about your risk of heart disease — this February resolve to make some simple, healthy lifestyle changes. According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, you'll reap the rewards as almost 80% of premature heart disease and stroke are preventable through healthy habits alone.

As we spend an average of over 40 hours per week at work, this article hones in on specific steps that office workers can take to improve their cardiovascular health. Keeping our hearts healthy at work is a great place to start.


Regular Activity, Not Just Exercise

Exercise alone is not enough to keep your heart healthy; you also need to be active. You might be thinking, wait a minute, aren't exercise and activity the same thing? Not quite. Exercise describes a concentrated effort to raise your heart rate, strengthen your muscles, and increase your flexibility. Activity, on the other hand, describes how much you move throughout the day. Ideally, you should combine exercise and regular movement for optimum heart health.

At work, consider having walking meetings or setting-up a walking club. For walking meetings, you can do loops around the office and talk as you walk. If the weather allows, you can walk outside. As a bonus, research has found that fresh air can boost creativity. You can even petition for rewards for those who participate. Finally, you could consider layering in challenges, like who can walk the most steps in a day.


Healthy Snacking

A healthy diet is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy, and a variety of nutrient-rich foods are needed. 

When it comes to snacking, go for fruits, almonds, and other hearty, healthy options. If your company often caters food for special employee events, avoid ordering fried foods, red meat, and anything likely to have a high-sodium content. Keep all office potlucks heart-healthy and, last but not least, always keep healthy portions in mind.


Keep Calm and Carry On 

While most roles have a certain level of stress, a consistently high-level can contribute to heart disease and other health problems. Research from the AHA found that stress may affect behaviors that increase the risk of heart diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, physical inactivity, and overeating. One think tank toted up the costs of stress-related absences to employers and found that it was $10-billion a year, with an additional $14-billion impact on the health-care system.

While there are a host of techniques to help you manage stress at work, from breathing to daily journaling, we need time to replenish and return to our pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process requires "switching off" from work by having periods when you are neither engaging in work-related activities nor thinking about work. When you're not able to take time off, get a quick boost by turning off your smartphone and focusing your attention on non-work activities for a while.

The fact of the matter is that most heart disease cases are preventable through healthy behaviors. Start with small steps, ensure that you are active throughout the day, snacking on healthy foods, and taking much-needed time away from work.

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