The UAE remains high in several major rankings for lifestyle diseases globally, particularly heart conditions and diabetes. On average, people in the UAE die of heart attacks almost 20 years earlier than the rest of the world. According to the 2019 Cigna 360⁰ Well-Being Survey, heart disease and high blood pressure are still on the rise in the country. The results revealed several key health indicators that highlight the importance of workplace wellness programs (WWP) for health awareness and disease prevention.
Corporate culture is a key factor in attracting and retaining talent, and employee health and well-being initiatives are among its most important components. Driven by the always-on nature of digital business and the 24/7 working style followed increasingly around the world, current studies show that more than 40 percent of workers face high stress in their jobs that adversely affects their productivity, health, and family stability. Healthier, less stressed employees bring more to the workplace.
For the average working person in Dubai, a regular day may include lots of caffeine before and during work, a quick meal at the office with a side of snacks, hours of staring at a screen, and a box of fast food and TV time to end a very long day. Repetitively living this day, however, could put a growing number of young professionals on a collision course towards heart disease and even heart attacks at an early age.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a third of ischemic heart disease cases can be attributed to high cholesterol, which is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths worldwide.
Heart disease is often preventable, and small changes can have a huge impact not only on individual health but also on employee performance and business profitability. These include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Steering clear of active and passive smoking
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes five days a week
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
Incorporating at least one of these changes into workplace wellness programs can make a considerable difference to employee health, and ultimately, boost the performance of employees. Moreover, if the company has a health insurance policy, which is now mandatory in the UAE, a healthy workforce is a major factor in controlling year-on-year premium increases.
A surefire way to promote heart health at work is through building a culture of well-being rather than launching isolated initiatives. Here are a few simple points to incorporate into a workplace wellness program to prevent heart disease and improve employee performance:
- Regular health screenings. Health screenings can help employees find out if they have any pre-existing symptoms of heart disease. Companies can bring in professionals to test their personnel’s blood pressure, BMI, glucose, and triglycerides. In addition, they can offer employees incentives for completing their annual physical check-ups.
- Workplace de-stress program. To avoid the negative effects of chronic stress and burnout, people need time to replenish and return to their pre-stress level of functioning. This recovery process calls for switching off from work through allocating periods of time when they are neither engaged in work-related activities nor thinking about work. Adopting a holistic approach, workplace wellness programs should cover mental and emotional health, which includes stress management. Companies should educate their employees about ways of dealing with workplace stressors. Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety and ease pressure. Yoga or meditation classes at work can help employees relax and de-stress.
- Heart-healthy diet. Studies have linked vitamin B with good mental health, while omega-3s may help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. In short, eating right ranks high on the list of stress-busting activities. Workplace cafeteria, vending machines, and lunch break snacks should include heart-healthy foods such as dark chocolate, citrus fruits, blueberries, oatmeal, potatoes, soy, nuts, broccoli, spinach, kale, coffee, as well as salmon and other fatty fish, and flax seeds.
- Physical activity. As part of workplace wellness programs, employees should be allowed to take short breaks from work each day to stretch. Also, companies can encourage workers to take, for example, 10,000 steps daily, or set their own daily fitness goals that gradually increase. They can take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from the office, or incorporate a mid-day walk into their daily lunchtime routine. In addition, firms can:
- Promote after-work team activities. Create a sports team or participate in a charity walk - anything to get people up and moving.
- Partner with a gym to provide complimentary or discounted memberships for employees. This is a vital part of any workplace wellness program.
- Employee challenges. Employees should set personal fitness goals and share their progress with their colleagues. This will encourage others to engage and persist in regular exercise.
Simply showing employees that the company cares about them and wants them to thrive at work is often enough convince them to embrace healthier lifestyles, in addition to nurturing loyalty. Workplace wellness programs play an integral part in preventing cardiovascular diseases. Keeping employees’ heart-healthy ensures peak performance, which earns the company higher returns and prevents financial losses.
At Cigna, we are committed to helping you in your health journey. Take the first stop now with our wellness assessment and get insights on your health. Log on to www.cigna-me.com and take the test.
 2019 Cigna 360° Well-Being Survey
 Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2009/11/creating-a-hearthealthy-workpl