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By Vukosi Maluleke

Digital Journalist


‘Heart’ at work? Your much loved job could literally break your heart

September 29 is World Heart Day.


“If your heart’s not in it, then don’t do it,” so goes the age-old adage – encouraging go-getters to put their hearts and minds into everything they do.

High-functioning work environments often come with immense pressure, requiring workers to perform at “superman” levels.

But, how much of your heart does it really cost to get the job done?

Global Health Advisor Clinical at International SOS, Dr. Chris van Straten said cardiovascular diseases were a leading contributor to workplace absenteeism and decreased productivity.

According to the World Heart Federation, 45% of people will have at least one cardiovascular disease by 2023 – Van Straten said the percentage would equate to an average of thirteen working days lost per patient.

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Working to the bone

When it comes to overworking, Van Straten said nobody wins – “not you, not your relationships and not your company.”

He also said the stress associated with overworking can lead to cardiovascular problems in the long-run.

Warning against the likelihood of burning out, he said overworking without the backing of a healthy lifestyle and reliable support could be detrimental to one’s well-being.

“At some point, the wheels are going to fall off,” he warned, explaining overworking could lead to anxiety, depression and burnout.

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Toxic workplace

Van Straten said toxic work environments were psychologically taxing, and often came with unreasonable demands – eventually leading to constant stress.

“If you’re constantly stressed, you release [too much] adrenaline and cortisol, which result in high blood pressure,” he said, adding that could lead to depression and anxiety in the long run.

“People who are depressed and anxious are less productive,” he said.

Unnecessary energy boost

Your favourite energy drink may give you wings to perform like superman but if you keep burning the midnight oil, your heart could soon take flight.

Van Straten said although energy drinks can help keep energy levels up, they should be taken in small quantities.

Warning against the excessive use of energy drinks, van Straten said they can lead to heart complications.

“If you use energy drinks to constantly push your body…what’ll happen is your blood pressure will go up,” he said, adding that could increase chances of cardiovascular diseases.

Recently, there’s been reports of misuse of ADD medication in the workplace to boost brain performance.

Asked about the health implications of ADD treatment, van Straten said such medication should only be used for medical reasons – not to boost brain performance.

“For someone who doesn’t have [ADD], you’re putting yourself at risk for cardiovascular diseases related to high blood pressure,” he said.

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Building a resilient workforce

Van Straten said employees tend to thrive where companies invest in wellness programmes such as psychological support.

“[Employees] end up doing really well when they feel supported…. they’re healthier, more engaged and those companies tend to be more efficient,” van Straten told The Citizen.

Urging employers to prioritise employee well-being, van Straten said since cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, employers should pay attention to heart health.

“In today’s fast-paced work environment that culminates in high pressures and increased stress levels, organisations need to foster a more vibrant, engaged, and resilient workforce,” he said.

ALSO READ: Health and wellbeing policies in the workplace need to shift

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