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Heart health: How employers can make a difference

Heart health: How employers can make a difference

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As we near the end of February, during which the UK recognises Heart Month, we’d like to share some tips and information to help employers support their employees with their heart health.

British Heart Foundation (BHF) research advises that heart disease affects 7 million people in the UK. It is one of the leading causes of disability and death, with 170,000 deaths a year attributed to cardiovascular disease (CVD). High risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, carrying excess weight – especially around the waist – and atrial fibrillation (AF). To consider the prevalence of some of these risk factors, currently over 14 million people (20% of the total population in the UK) have recorded high blood pressure, and 25.9% of adults are obese.[1][2]

Socioeconomic factors that contribute to health inequality are especially prevalent when it comes to heart disease, with many risks being preventable. Those in the most deprived 10% of the population are almost twice as likely to die due to cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared to those in the least deprived 10% of the population.[3]

Pandemic pressure on the NHS has contributed to the rise in cardiovascular disease in the UK, with both short-term and long-term impacts. Short-term impacts include missed medication or medication shortages, and ambulance delays. Long-term impacts include the NHS backlog, which can result in missed diagnoses and treatment, and disrupted medical research.

The most effective way that employers can help improve their employees’ health and wellbeing is to create and manage an agile wellbeing strategy, driven by the company’s strategic aims and considering your employees’ demographic and needs. While it’s important to support overall health, which has a positive impact in reducing CVD risk factors, there are also opportunities to focus specifically on heart health.

Below are some of the more targeted tools that employers can utilise to reduce heart risks:

  • Encouraging employees to make use of public resources, such as undertaking the NHS Heart Age online test and accessing the British Heart Foundation website for support and tips
  • Using insurance providers’ early intervention support where appropriate, in the case of any early onset heart – or contributing – conditions
  • Some providers offer free webinars and courses around heart health, both for HR professionals/line managers and employees. Employers can share these to boost awareness about heart health.
  • Reminding employees that they can use their EAP to discuss improving their lifestyle if heart health is a concern. Some EAPs may offer services such as advising on healthy recipes, or provide access to online fitness classes, meditation and other resources.
  • Explore whether your provider offers services or resources such as employee blood pressure screenings, heart health checks and other health screenings, and employee training in CPR. Employers may also want to investigate installing defibrillators in workplaces – while there is no specific legal requirement to do so, it may have particular value in some circumstances, eg. where employees do physically demanding work. Organisations such as St John’s Ambulance provide guidance on installation and maintenance.

Long-term, preventative measures are crucial to reducing hearth health risks. Employers can ensure that benefits and resources are available to their employees to support them in maintaining their overall health, focusing on lifestyle factors such as:

  • Reducing stress; Buck’s recent blog on stress in the workplace includes further detail on how this can be achieved
  • Cutting back on alcohol consumption and smoking. It may be especially beneficial to share information about helping employees maintain a healthy approach to alcohol during the festive season, to bolster resources that support consistent risk reduction.
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet, and staying at a healthy weight
  • Reducing caffeine and salt intake
  • Getting regular physical exercise: beyond providing benefits such as gym memberships/allowances or exercise apps, this could be encouraged through company initiatives such as organised bike rides or walks. Making this part of a charity fundraiser can boost participation and awareness.
  • Providing support such as digital GP access to seek medical advice early, especially in the case of a condition which could lead to other complications

Employers have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their employees’ heart health, through a balance of holistic and heart-specific health support. This can be achieved by implementing a wellbeing strategy that best enables employees to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing, and thus reduce long-term CVD risk factors, as well as providing specific tools and resources to target heart-specific health.



[1] https://www.bhf.org.uk/-/media/files/for-professionals/research/heart-statistics/bhf-cvd-statistics-uk-factsheet.pdf

[2] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn03336/#:~:text=Adult%20obesity%20in%20England,is%20classified%20as%20’overweight’.

[3] https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/clinical-policy/cvd/