As economic activities gradually recover, the intensity and speed of work are ramping back up. Habits that are harmful for health such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating more than needed, sitting for a long time all return to “hunt” the office workers. Whether you’re a social smoker or in a situation where you can’t say no, these behaviors contribute to an increased risk of ailments like high blood pressure, low blood sugar, and more.
Cardiovascular diseases can stem from busy work schedules and mental pressure when working in a stressful environment. Notably, younger people are increasingly suffering from these diseases. As we cannot immediately let go of work, what can we do to protect the heart, for example, from almost jumping out when we open up a lengthy complaint from a boss or a customer?
The “heartbreaking” numbers
According to research and statistics compiled by the Health & Well-being department of AIA Vietnam, the rate of cardiovascular disease among Vietnamese people tends to increase, and is increasingly younger.
The number of people with cardiovascular disease has doubled since 2000. Each year in Vietnam, about 170,000 people die from cardiovascular disease, accounting for 1/3 of the country’s annual deaths. The main cause is stroke, and the death rate from stroke is 50%. Even if patients survive strokes, they all have sequelae such as cognitive disturbances or muscle weakness.
Unbalanced lifestyle and high-intensity working style of young people are the main reasons that the age of cardiovascular disease patients is getting younger. Reading the whole “Eat, Pray, Love” book is not enough to completely solve that problem. To reduce the risk of disease, we need to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally, so let’s start with some common knowledge of health care which is easy to apply.
Nutrition is the “backbone” of health
“The shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” is not only a funny saying, but also the secret to a healthy heart. One of the main causes of cardiovascular effects — such as high blood pressure or stroke — is an unbalanced diet. More notably, consuming salt is not always a good habit.
Trying to stay below a recommended allowance of less than five grams of salt per day — equivalent to one teaspoon — can be a challenge since canned food is also a “source” of salt that you should stay away from.
The addition of foods that are good for the heart should be focused on in daily meals.
Consider the following:
Whole grains, green vegetables, and fruits are the “magic trio” for a healthy heart. Unrefined whole grains — including brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet, and legumes — provide plenty of fiber and essential amino acids, along with protein and vitamins. For fruits, you should eat 30 minutes before or 2-3 hours after the main meal so that the body can easily absorb the vitamins.
In terms of protein sources, consider lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and especially eggs. If you are a vegetarian, or are a fan of vegan, then seaweed, mushrooms, and legumes are the perfect alternative protein sources.
Besides, experts do not recommend eliminating fat completely, as the fat stores and provides energy for the body. But we should stay away from food with saturated fats and trans fat because of the risk of increasing LDL cholesterol, which is harmful to health, especially cardiovascular health. You can replace with good fats such as:
Monounsaturated fats: olive oil, vegetable oil, avocado and nuts, or copra, which help reduce the risk of hidden cardiovascular diseases;
Polyunsaturated fats: oysters, fish (especially salmon, herring, mackerel, pilchard), nuts, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, chickpeas, or soybeans. They are rich in omega 3 and 6, which not only help support muscle activity and movement, prevent blood clotting, but also help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.
Exercise in the right way
Every day, we — especially office workers — often sit for 6-8 hours to work, ride a vehicle, or entertain, and it gets even worse during the busy “season” of working overtime. Sitting for a long time will cause bone and joint problems, shoulder pain, even make it more tempting for us to order junk food. To protect our health from the sugar and salt content of these snacks, physical activity is extremely necessary.
Daily exercise or physical activity brings five benefits for the hearts:
Control weight, improve oxygen-carrying ability throughout the body. It will then increase our exercise capacity and reduce pressure on the cardiovascular system;
Reduce blood pressure and risk of stroke;
Improve dyslipidemia, reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL);
Prevent diabetes, reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications;
Improve the quality of the blood vessel walls.
When it comes to physical activity, we could easily think of the heavy lifting in the modern gym. However, the heart also needs time to adapt to the pace of our fitness. Immediately doing high-intensity physical exercises can cause adverse effects on the cardiovascular, also make it more stressful and discouraging for us to exercise. Therefore, we should start with gentle exercises.
You can start by changing small habits, such as: take the stairs instead of the elevator, take a short walk instead of a car or motorbike ride, spend 10 minutes taking a walk outdoors everyday, or yin yoga 10-15 minutes per day.
Then you can slowly upgrade to moderate-intensity exercises, such as: endurance running, cycling 15km/h, cardio in place, brisk walking 5km/h, or swimming; for a minimum of 30 minutes/day, 5 days/week, or 30-60 minutes/day continuously for 3 days/week.
When ready, you can practice high-intensity activity: cycling 20km/h, tennis, jump rope, jogging, or hiking uphill; for 75 minutes/week (should be evenly distributed between days in week).
The “office” version of exercises to strengthen the heart
You can practice these exercises early in the morning or on the weekend. However, our purpose is also to regulate the heart rate when working. During eight hours of work, a few simple movements to increase the heart rate could exercise and strengthen the heart, reduce the risk of heart attack and other related diseases.
Here are five exercises that office workers should pocket:
Not stopping at the basic movements, changing work habits also brings a healthy mentality, reduces cardiovascular pressure when working in the office. Similar to five physical exercises, here are five habits to practice to improve mental health:
Limit distractions: You should turn off notifications of unimportant apps while working to avoid confusion and overthinking;
Don’t be afraid to eat and take breaks on time: Take the initiative to get out of your chair every 2 hours for 10 minutes to refresh your spirit at work, eat a nutritious meal instead of snacking while working;
Choose the right way to communicate: Choosing the right meeting platform (if meeting online) and space is very important for you to have an effective meeting. Also, understanding the purpose and mood of the meeting can help reduce anxiety;
Adding green to your working desk: A few flower pots and ornamental plants will help the mind to relax more when working. Also, if the noise in the office is distracting, you can use a soundproof headset when working;
Most importantly, be grateful at the beginning and at the end of each day: Gratitude has the power to heal and reduce work pressure, so don’t be afraid to express gratitude to your co-workers, as well as to yourself!
In order to improve and maintain a healthy body, the first basic step is to be conscious and take care of your diaphragm breathing, and combine that with simple daily exercises to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A healthy body will also help us have a positive and optimistic mentality, reduce negative thinking and prevent us from falling into a state of anxiety and panic, causing emotional imbalance.
The above methods will be a good premise for the Vietnamese community to improve heart health. However, please be gentle, respectful, and listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to consult a doctor or expert when you’re in need.
Source: Synthesized content from Health tips weekly, provided by Health and Well-being Department - AIA Vietnam.
Data updated from:
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in Viet Nam - WHO;
Data on Vietnamese people’s health - IHME;
(*) Professional medical consultation: Dr. Bui Quoc Thang - Cardiovascular Surgeon cum Deputy of Scientific Research Department – Cho Ray Hospital.
Translated by Thao Van