Importance of Employee Wellness: Heart Health Month

February is recognized as American Heart Month, and encourages awareness of heart disease and stroke to help people around the world understand that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat and empowers them to take action to lower their risk. We felt this was a prudent time to address employee wellness, specifically as it relates to heart health.

Did you know that 1 in 3 women are dying from cardiovascular (heart) disease? That’s about one woman every 80 seconds. Chances are we all know someone affected by heart disease and stroke. It’s the leading cause of death in women, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Too many women, particularly young and diverse women, remain unaware of the causes and how to protect themselves.

Know Your Numbers

Heart Disease affects and burdens employers. As employers who care about our bottom line, here are some stats to help put this problem into context. By 2035, it is estimated that 45% of people will have at least 1 heart disease, and that the cost from heart disease will exceed $1Trillion per year. That’s nearly $3 Billion a day! In the last decade, healthcare insurance premiums have drastically risen for both large & small businesses.

More specifically, high blood pressure raises an employee’s healthcare costs by nearly one third, and hypertension-related absenteeism costs employers $10.3 billion per year. Stroke costs all payers $6,492 per person per year, and leads to an annual average of 20 lost workdays. Obesity raises an employee’s healthcare costs by 27 percent, and obesity-related absenteeism costs employers $11.2 billion per year. The cost of physical inactivity costs U.S. employers $9.1 billion per year.

Employees with a heart disease lost 56 hours more per year in productivity, costing $1,119 more per year in insurance. We can help improve the health of employees through the programs we implement. A good place to start is also by raising awareness and educating them. Share this with your teams and encourage them to wear red on Friday, February 5th, to raise awareness about Heart Disease, especially in women, and how everyone at any age, can take steps toward improving their health.

Five personal health numbers can help all individuals determine their risk for heart disease. The tests to determine these numbers are simple, and the results provide patients with the information they need to take steps toward improving their health, especially their heart health. The numbers, which can be determined by visiting your primary care provider for testing, include:
1. Total cholesterol
2. HDL (good) cholesterol
3. Blood pressure
4. Blood sugar
5. Body mass index

The American Heart Association recommends following “Life’s Simple 7″ to reduce heart disease:

1. Get active: Routine physical activity offers so many health benefits, including reducing your risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that adults engage in moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week or vigorous exercise for at least 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes) per week (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). An easy way to remember this is to be physically active for thirty minutes a day, five times a week. 

Aerobic activity (referred to commonly as “cardio”) gets your heart rate up and benefits your heart by improving your cardiorespiratory fitness. When done at  that ‘moderate intensity’, your heart will beat faster and you’ll breathe harder than normal, but you’ll still be able to talk. Think of it as a medium or moderate amount of effort. ‘Vigorous intensity’ activities will push your body a little further. This will require a higher amount of effort. You’ll probably get warm and begin to sweat, and you won’t be able to talk much without getting out of breath. The simplest way to get moving and improve your health is to start walking. It’s free, easy and can be done just about anywhere, even in place! Any amount of movement is better than none, and you can break it up into short bouts of activity throughout the day by taking a brisk walk for five or ten minutes a few times a day. 

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities:brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour), water aerobics, dancing (ballroom or social), gardening, tennis (doubles), biking slower than 10 miles per hour.

Examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities: hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack, running, swimming laps, aerobic dancing, heavy yardwork, like continuous digging, tennis (singles), cycling 10 miles per hour or faster and jumping rope. 

2. Reach For Fresher Foods

Opt for foods closest to their natural state. This means that they are less processed, with less added chemicals and other additives that can harm your health. A healthy or balanced diet incorporates a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all of the food groups. Focus on eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats (like pork, chicken, beef, lamb, venison, fish) and nuts and legumes. It should limit foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and sugar. 

3. Control Cholesterol 

Too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can lead to the development of plaque in our veins and arteries. When plaque develops, it create blockages that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Lowering your LDL cholesterol levels can be accomplished by working with a doctor or healthcare provider, and making lifestyle changes, like eating well, staying physically active, and not smoking. 

4. Weight Control

Excess weight is known to cause high blood pressure which burdens the heart. It also contributes to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. You can talk to your doctor about what a healthy weight for you is so that you can protect your heart. 

5. Manage Your Blood Pressure

Uncontrolled or high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other serious health threats. The good news is that high blood pressure levels can be managed by eating a well-balanced, low-sodium diet, getting regular physical activity, managing stress, limiting alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking. High blood pressure is now defined as readings of 130/80 or more. 

6. Reduce blood sugar 

When blood sugar levels are too high, this often indicates diabetes or pre-diabetes. While diabetes can be managed, it does increase risk for heart disease. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, such as losing and controlling weight (if necessary), eating a healthy and balanced diet as noted above, and increasing physical activity, can all help prevent or delay the onset of diabetes, or help keep it under control if you already have it. Again, consult with your healthcare provider to ensure you are taking the correct steps. 

7. Quit smoking

Smoking significantly increases risk for coronary heart disease, damaged arteries, blood clots, and aneurysms. These problems, in turn, significantly increase risk for coronary heart disease and stroke. For smokers, quitting can be one of the best ways to reduce risk for heart disease. Tobacco used remains a leading cause of preventable death, increasing both the risk of heart disease, and lung disease.

What do all of these things have in common? We can control them. We have the power to make the necessary changes so that we can live longer, healthier lives. And these changes don’t all have to occur at the same time. Small, sustainable changes can lead to big results. Cut back on soda and sweetened beverages, and replace them with flavored seltzer and water. Replace that daily bag of chips with your lunch with an apple or banana. If physical activity is new for you and you’re not comfortable going to a gym, walking is one of the best exercises you could do. Cutting down and quitting smoking is possible with support which usually is provided free of charge through your local health department, and likely through your insurance carrier. Working with a healthcare provider is a great place to start your health journey.

Ways to (Virtually) Engage Your Teams

  • Invite a group to hear a guest speaker (such as a cardiologist, nurse or heart disease survivor) during a digital lunch or happy hour
  • Host a heart-healthy cooking demo
  • Lead a digital workout or steps competition
  • Hold a contest for the most creative red outfit on National Wear Red Day
  • Decorate your digital “office” in red 
  • Download Resources at WearRedDay.org. Pick out your favorite resources to help spread the word – there are posters, social banners, digital backgrounds and more you can easily download and use.
  • Start a company fundraiser! Go to to WearRedDay.org and select “Start Your Own Fundraiser”. You can create a company group and share it with your teams as you raise awareness.
  • Check out WearRedDay.Org’s Activation Guide for more tips for engaging your teams.

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