How can business leaders take a proactive approach to wellbeing to protect their heart health?
There's no question that stress can exert physiological effects on the body. According to the World Health Organisation1, stress can cause an increased heart rate, difficulty in breathing, disturbance in sleeping patterns and the worsening of pre-existing health conditions (both physical and mental).
And, while the connection between chronic forms of stress and heart disease isn't well defined, it’s perhaps no surprise that people in high pressured jobs are increasingly worried about how work-related stress may affect their heart health.
Bupa Global’s latest Executive Wellbeing Index2 tells us a little more about the physical manifestations of stress and the possible link to heart health. According to the study, during the last year, 17 per cent of executives have experienced burnout - a state of ongoing exhaustion often caused by the stresses and strains of professional life. What’s more, many of these executives experienced physical, heart-related, symptoms. Nine per cent of executives reported feeling tight chested, faint or short of breath as symptoms of stress – causing concern for many.
There are marked differences in how many executives in different territories experience burnout – for example, 29 per cent of respondents in Egypt reported symptoms of burnout, compared with 19 per cent in the UAE and 16 per cent in the UK. But, while the numbers fluctuate across territories, it’s clear that this issue is causing concern for executives around the world.
So, what can they do to turn stress around and protect their heart health? Dr Yassir Javaid, Clinical Director for Cardiology at Bupa has some specific tips to make an immediate impact on health and wellbeing.
While the direct link between stress and heart disease hasn’t yet been proven, stress may influence heart disease in more subtle ways.
"Stress causes some people to act in ways that increase their risk of heart disease," Dr. Javaid says. “They may turn to unhealthy eating habits, tobacco or even drug use to combat feelings of stress – all of which can have a negative impact on our heart health.”
If this sounds like you, it’s crucial to speak up and get support. And, says Dr Javaid, “The sooner you recognise the signs, the quicker you can take action to make things better.”
Every time you are physically active, your body releases mood-boosting chemicals called endorphins. Exercising not only helps control stress and boosts feelings of happiness, it can also protect against heart disease by lowering your blood pressure, strengthening your heart muscles, and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
Dr Javaid comments: “Of course, not everyone is able to exercise in the same way, but it’s important to find ways of keeping as active as possible, whenever it’s possible. And it’s important to do things you enjoy. If exercise is a chore, you’re less likely to keep it up for the long-term.”
Bupa’s study revealed that nearly two in ten (19%) executives around the world report experiencing disturbed sleep over the last year. Many factors can interfere with a good night's sleep — from work stress and family responsibilities to illnesses.
Dr Javaid says: “You may not be able to control the factors that interfere with your sleep – but, more promisingly, you can adopt habits that encourage better sleep. Stick to a sleep schedule, pay attention to what you eat and drink, create a restful environment – and limit any daytime naps you take.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed it can be easy to de-prioritise the routine health appointments which help keep you well. Tackle this by creating calendar reminders to book important appointments, setting periodic or annual reminders to do so.
Private Client by Bupa customers with an Ultimate health plan can also take advantage of personalised services like the Lifecare Concierge Manager, where a dedicated manager is charged with understanding and supporting the health needs of the individuals and families they look after. Over the course of a day, a Lifecare Concierge Manager might deal with everything from arranging regular dental appointments to appointments with specialists, or even co-ordinating emergency repatriations in times of crisis.
What’s more, Bupa customers may be able to benefit from resources like annual health checks, which are an important factor in ensuring good health for the long-term.
It's impossible to escape stress when it follows you everywhere. Dr Javaid asserts the importance of creating boundaries between work and home life and taking opportunities to turn off completely. “Avoid your phone, emails and even TV news,” he says. “Take time each day - even if it's for just 10 or 15 minutes - to escape from the world.”
“Remember that time is precious, and work is not the be-all and end-all of life” continues Dr Javaid. “Your work can cope without you while you take time to relax and unwind. And the calmer you are, the more productive you’ll be in the long run.”
He continues: “Another way to establish a good work life balance and tackle stress is to commit to a regular ritual or fun routine with your family or loved ones and prioritise this over anything else during the set time.”
1 Stress (who.int), last accessed in October 2022
2 Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index 2022, last accessed December 2022