How reducing workplace stress could help prevent heart attacks

Fit for duty: How reducing workplace stress could help prevent heart attacks

When the leader of a major organisation suffers a heart attack, it tends to make the headlines.

That was the case in 2017, when the American Heart Association’s volunteer president, cardiologist John Warner, M.D., went into cardiac arrest. That was the case in 2009, when 42-year-old Ranjan Das, CEO of SAP India, suffered a heart attack and died — after a workout, no less. And that was the case in 2015, when United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, an athlete and vegan, suffered a heart attack, an incident that is still often called upon to underline the link between stress, well-being and heart trouble among business leaders.1, 2, 3

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Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world, representing 31 percent of all global deaths. Yet we are still surprised when it affects people like Warner, Das and Munoz. That’s perhaps because we forget the role of stress, an under appreciated risk factor in cardiovascular disease – and one that may disproportionately affect expatriate employees.4

While individuals can’t control factors like age and genetics, they can drastically reduce their heart-disease risk by avoiding smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and following a healthy diet. Research has shown that those four actions alone reduce the risk of coronary artery disease and sudden cardiac death by 80 percent. (Imagine a drug maker announcing a therapy with an 80-percent efficacy and virtually no negative side effects!)5

But tackling those four risk factors isn’t enough if stress isn’t addressed.  Consider what one source told The Times of India about Das: “Ranjan was a health freak. He ate right, jogged and worked out daily. He had no bad habits like drinking or smoking. He was always very ambitious, and always believed that four hours of sleep were enough for him to be fit and fresh.”6

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