Between Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, February is a time of year when connecting with others and taking care of ourselves is pushed to the forefront. So what better way to connect with others while keeping your heart healthy than to find your heart-healthy buddy in the workplace? Having a colleague or co-worker who is in the same boat as you or just wants to develop a healthier lifestyle can have a positive impact on your heart, other areas of health, and even on how you do your job.
According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP) (American Heart Association, 2014). Even though HBP doesn’t typically have any symptoms associated with it, there can be deadly consequences for not treating this disease. On a positive note, HBP is a disease that can be prevented and treated. The AHA offers a list of eight suggestions for controlling HBP.
- Eat a better diet, which may include reducing salt
- Enjoy regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Comply with medication prescriptions
- If you drink, limit alcohol
- Understand hot tub safety
So how do we integrate these preventative measures into our work life routines where stress can be constant and various factors limit how well we take care of ourselves during the workday? JAN’s suggestion: Find a “heart-healthy buddy!” It can be hard to start a new routine and stay on track. Finding a co-worker who is interested in making or maintaining healthy lifestyle choices can be a great support system.
Here are 5 tips for maintaining a healthy heart in the workplace with your heart-healthy buddy that address a number of the tips for controlling HBP provided by the AHA.
We know it can be hard to step away from the desk and take advantage of the breaks provided, especially when the temperature starts to drop! But physical activity not only helps to control HBP, it helps manage weight, strengthen the heart, and manage stress levels (AHA, 2014). Even short periods of exercise can make a difference! The AHA (2014) recommends that those who need to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3 to 4 times per week, with physical activity being performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes. Flexibility and stretching exercises are also suggested (AHA, 2014). Of course, those with chronic conditions should talk with their healthcare provider before increasing their activity level. Once you have the go-ahead, put that smart phone down, give the computer a break, and get moving!
- Hold each other accountable for meals at work including lunch, parties and celebrations, and off-site employer sponsored events.
You get busy during the morning and forget to pack a lunch. Next thing you know, it’s 11:45 am and you are starving. What to do? Are you tempted to call up the local pizzeria and have that meatball hoagie you love so much delivered right to your office? And what about those holiday parties, monthly birthday celebrations, and work retreats? It can be hard to resist the pot-luck casseroles and cakes without having someone holding you accountable. Knowing that your heart-healthy buddy will be there for support, and vice-versa, can make the decision-making process easier at events where it is especially hard to pass on the homemade cupcakes you both love so much!
The AHA has indicated that eating a heart-healthy diet is important for managing your blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke and other diseases (AHA, 2014). But after a long day of work it can be daunting to think about preparing a meal that is heart-healthy and easy to make. One way to take the stress out of meal planning can be to swap your favorite heart-healthy meals with your buddy. If you have the time, planning out your menu for the entire week over the weekend or even prepping parts of the meal can be helpful.
- Take turns bringing in heart-healthy snacks that can be shared.
Mid-afternoon hunger pains can get the best of us and making a stop at the snack machine can be hard habits to break. The AHA (2014) recommends consuming less than 1500 mg of sodium a day, which is less than ¾ teaspoon of salt per day. Raw vegetables and fruits can be a great alternative to chips and salted nuts and are great for sharing. The AHA offers free recipes online that include snacks and appetizers including a Greek yogurt dip and hummus to go with fruits and vegetables shared during an afternoon break with your heart-healthy buddy (AHA, 2014).
- Offer support to one another to help manage stress.
Although stress is not a confirmed risk factor for either high blood pressure or heart disease (AHA, 2014), managing stress in the workplace can help to reduce emotional discomfort or anxiety that results from feeling stressed. One way to combat stress during the workday is to be mindful of when you are feeling stressed and employ techniques to reduce stress. This can include talking with your heart-healthy buddy about what triggers your stress, how to mitigate the effects of stress, plans for managing stressful events that can’t be changed and, brainstorming how to solve problems that contribute to stress.
Following these tips and getting support from a heart-healthy buddy may help you to feel better while at work and have a positive impact on the work that you do. Of course, if there are accommodations that can be made in the workplace that are needed because of a heart condition your employer may need to provide them, absent undue hardship. Visit the JAN Website for more information on heart conditions and accommodating employees with heart conditions.
American Heart Association. (2014). High Blood Pressure. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/High-Blood-Pressure-or-Hypertension_UCM_002020_SubHomePage.jsp.