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Have a heart – how employers can create happier, healthier workplaces

The Covid-19 pandemic has made us all much more aware of our health and how best to protect ourselves from serious illness by looking after our mental and physical wellbeing. Heart disease is one of the most widespread health problems. Around 1.4 million people in the UK have survived a heart attack, while heart and circulatory diseases cause a quarter of all deaths in the UK – that’s more than 160,000 deaths each year.

While many factors like stress and high blood pressure increase our risk of heart disease, around 31,000 deaths due to heart and circulatory disease are attributed to excess weight every year in the UK.

Happy, healthy staff are more likely to create a more productive and stress-free workplace. So, what can you as employer do to support your workforce in improving their heart health?

Here, Slimming World’s Nutritionist Alexandra Clark shares seven ways to help your colleagues look after their heart and reduce their risk of developing heart disease:

“Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce the risk of developing heart disease and can also help reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are both associated with increased risk. Eating more healthily and getting more active are known to improve heart health yet we know changing habits that have formed over years – sometimes decades – takes time. The in-depth support and encouragement shared at our weekly Slimming World groups and through our online programme is what helps our members to make long term behaviour changes. Our method is built on a deep understanding of the psychological impact of weight on how people feel in terms of confidence and control. That understanding, coupled with a healthy eating plan based on the science of energy density and satiety, which means that members never feel hungry or deprived, is a powerful combination,” says Clark.

  1. Tackle your weight. Being a healthy weight is one of the key things you can do to support your heart health, and even a small change can make a big difference. Losing just 5% of your body weight can reduce the risk of heart disease and could play a significant role in preventing treatable heart conditions. Slimming World’s workplace schemes are used by a range of organisations including Transport for London, Thames Water and PepsiCo. Members who engage in the programme typically lose around 5% of their starting weight in 12 weeks.
  2. Limit salt intake. Eating too much salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn is a risk factor for heart disease. Ready meals and sauces are often high in added salt, whereas cooking from scratch puts you in control and can help to reduce salt intake. Check salt levels on labels – adults are recommended to limit their daily salt intake to no more than 6g a day.
  3. Cut down on fat. High intakes of saturated fat (for example fatty meats, butter, cakes, pastries) can lead to high cholesterol levels and weight gain. You can limit this type of fat by eating fewer foods high in saturated fat, and choosing lean meat, such as 5% fat mince, trimming the fat off bacon and other fatty cuts of meat, and taking off any skin on poultry. Some foods such as avocado, olive oil and nuts contain healthier fats, however it’s still advisable to eat these in small amounts.
  4. Fill up on fibre. Support a healthy heart by choosing plenty of fruit and veg (skin on for extra fibre!) and higher fibre starchy carbs such as skin-on potatoes, wholewheat pasta and brown rice. As well as keeping our digestive systems working well, fibre can help with satisfying our appetite (helping with weight management), plus some fibre-containing foods are particularly good for our cholesterol levels, such as oats, beans, peas and lentils.
  5. Eat fish twice a week.White fish such as hake, cod or haddock are a really lean source of protein while oily fish like sardines, mackerel and salmon provide protein as well as being a great source of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, through helping to prevent blood clots, improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure and reduce triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood). Aim for a portion each of white and oily fish a week as part of a balanced diet to support heart health. Slimming World members discover the joy of cooking and sharing delicious recipes like this tasty,zesty salmon pasta.
  6. Get active! A lower risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease are just a few of the benefits which come with moving more and sitting less. Getting active in any way you fancy is beneficial, so whether you get outdoors for a walk or cycle, pop to the gym for a swim or exercise class or keep on top of the housework or gardening at home (it all counts!), you’ll be helping to keep your heart healthy. Members who join Slimming World have access to a library of activity video sessions suitable for all abilities.
  7. Stop smoking. Cutting down, quitting or not being a smoker at all can help reduce the risk of heart disease. And with the support of Slimming World you could start to eat healthily, lose weight and quit smoking too.

The links between excess weight and various health conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers are well recognised. Alongside our physical health there is also growing evidence of the links between excess weight and mental health and wellbeing.