Pantaleo Giannuzzi, President of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation (EACPR)4 , said, “Since work represents the major activity of all our lives it offers a really valuable opportunity to promote cardiovascular health on a daily basis for large numbers of the population.”
It is already well established that 80% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented through strategies including healthy nutrition, smoking cessation, physical activity and stress management. “But it has been hard to make the transition from research to prevention in every day practice,” said Martin Halle, chair elect of the Exercise, Basic and Translational Research Section of EACPR. “Moving our efforts into the workplace should help us translate guidelines into real world situations and reach the general public.”
When work place programmes are successful, he added, their influence extends beyond individual workers to family members who are exposed to healthy life styles.
Many advantages are to be had by companies who invest in workplace wellness programmes including lower rates of absenteeism, and reduced prevalence of chronic disease. “Promoting heart health helps companies stand out as good quality employers and helps them retain workers,” said Giannuzzi, from the S. Maugeri Foundation, Scientific Institute for Clinical Care and Research (Veruno, Italy), adding that it also improves people’s work capacity and productivity.
There are also important economic implications. “Heart health enables people to work in good health until retirement age, which is of significance when it comes to the current economic initiatives to raise the pensionable age,” added said Halle, from the Centre for Prevention and Sports Medicine (Munich, Germany).
Initiatives planned for EuroPRevent 2011, which is being held in Geneva (Switzerland), 14- 16 April, 2011, to improve cardiovascular health in the corporate world include the launch of EACPR consensus document “How to implement preventive cardiology in clinical practice”, and a separate prevention initiative, Fit for Future (3F) that has been designed to be rolled out to large companies in Europe.
“The recommendations document, which is intended for the medical profession, government and the corporate world is intended to provide recommendations on components, standards and outcome measures for the delivery of preventive cardiology and specifically address ways of improving cardiovascular health in the workplace,” explained Giannuzzi.
The intention of the 3F initiative is to transfer knowledge of cardiovascular prevention by EACPR members to occupational health departments in companies. First EACPR experts will make site visits to the company to audit cardiovascular health, identify what is missing, and establish a “health map” that will guide recommendations for implementation.
“We have currently devised ten different packages. The idea is that in the first year companies will choose one or two of these options that are most relevant to individual circumstances, then in the second year if this has proved successful implement a third or fourth option, ” explained Halle.
He added that the current system of cardiovascular prevention is “somewhat ad hoc” in Europe with some companies offering initiatives and other not. “The difficulty is that no one is properly evaluating the programmes, and that they’re organised by occupational health doctors from a variety of backgrounds, few of whom have any expertise in cardiovascular prevention,” said Halle.
“We intend to convince companies that not only can their employee’s health statuses be improved through lifestyle modifications, but that investment in improving health will ultimately reduce overall business costs,” said Halle.
Work place initiatives that could be introduced to improve cardiovascular health include:
- Screening employees for cardiovascular risk, and offering educational programmes to encourage smoking cessation, sensible eating and regular physical activity.
- Changes to the structural organisation of the working environment, including relocating facilities to make workers walk further, and getting people to walk to deliver messages versus emailing. Other innovations could include standing workstations, and treadmill walking at slow speeds while staff use computers or talk on the phone.
- Introducing facilities to promote physical activities in break times, such as walking or jogging course in the grounds. Encouraging people to take stairs instead of the lift.
- Teaching people skills for managing work related stress, and conflict. Encouraging people of all levels to take ownership in their work since studies have suggest that people who take pride in their work are less likely to suffer cardiovascular disease.
- Training all employees in cardiopulmonary resuscitation with the provision of automated external defibrillators. The idea here is to improve the survival odds for people suffering cardiovascular events.
- Provision of cafeterias and vending machines that provide heart healthy food with an emphasis on the reduction of salt and banning of trans fats. Changing the culture of offering coffee and biscuits at meetings to water and fruit.