Investigating Heart Damage from COVID

Investigating Heart Damage from COVID


Investigating heart damage from the coronavirus

“COVID is such a bizarre virus in that it truly presents a constellation of symptoms with each person having a completely different subset.”

The “What We Have Learned From COVID” file has grown from the discovery of the genetic information of the virus (RNA) to the long-term damages of coronavirus on the heart. We know that nearly one-fourth of people hospitalized with COVID-19 have been diagnosed with cardiovascular complications — inflammation of the heart muscle and reduced heart function are two of the main concerns. Dr. Brion Winston is an interventional cardiologist with Captial Cardiology Associates. As part of his specialty area, he routinely diagnoses and treats cardiovascular disease and structural heart conditions through catheter-based procedures. Since March, Dr. Winston has noted an increase in COVID patients needing cardiac cath lab testing to assess their heart health. “I have had several such cases; really, the most common manifestation is related to the inflammation caused by COVID.”

Inflammation is a natural response initiated as a defense mechanism by our body when a foreign bacteria or toxin is detected. Damaged cells release chemicals that cause blood vessels to swell, acting as a lock to close the infected area from spreading to the rest of the body. We have learned from COVID that the virus is triggering different inflammation response levels from patient to patient. In the cases investigated by Dr. Winston’s team, these patients have similar responses to people with myocardial infarction, a heart attack, or poor/reduced heart function common with congestive heart failure. “COVID appears like myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscle), but we also see the general stress response of a variety of conditions when someone is sick where the heart is placed under strain. We call this by different names, including stress cardiomyopathy, to say that the heart is working hard and has some degree of damage.”

the outbreaks COVID is not the first virus that has presented short or long-term damage to the heart muscle or vascular system. The common cold is an example of a rhinovirus, which can develop into a severe form that can sometimes lead to chronic bronchiolitis, pneumonia, or a lower respiratory tract infection. The seasonal flu virus, in extreme cases, can affect the heart muscle, especially for patients at-risk or have heart disease. “In cardiology, we had quite a bit of experience with viral syndromes that could affect the heart; we did anticipate that COVID could bring complications,” added Dr. Winston. This was confirmed in the early reports from outbreaks in China and Italy. Viral myocarditis, along with inflammation, can affect the heart’s ability to pump efficiently or cause abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). These symptoms are problematic because a change to the heart’s electrical system may not present conditions detected by the average person. A heart that beats out of sync presents the opportunity for blood clotting; combine that with people at risk for stroke or heart attack, and this could produce a negative outcome. “We see that people are more prone to forming clots with more severe COVID infections. This can manifest deep vein thrombosis (DVT), blood clots that can form in the leg and migrate to the lungs, or form in the lungs – we see that.” As DVT forms blood clots in the vein, blood circulation decreases, leading to cramping pain, weakness of the area, or discoloration at the clot site.

Long haulers into the future

As COVID survivors have increased this year, they are learning to live with the long-term effects. They call themselves “long haulers,” those who continue to suffer from lingering symptoms from the virus. For some, it’s body aches and fatigue, shortness of breath is common in others. A journalist for The Atlantic shared her experience in an article she penned in September. She recalled how her heart rate rapidly increased when walking up the 53 steps at her apartment in Brooklyn. She thought she had a racing heart that might be connected with aging. After visiting her healthcare provider, she was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome or POTS. Dr. Winston noted that this disorder of the heart and nervous system is not typically associated with a viral illness. It is usually a rare issue for young women in their 20’s. However, POTS has become a trend physicians are observing as part of the many cardiac dysfunctions associated with COVID.

For long haulers, there is support in the form of online groups that have increased this year. Survivor Corps is one of the largest and fastest-growing grassroots movements connecting, supporting, educating, motivating, and mobilizing COVID-19 survivors. They have over 100,000 members after beginning with just one case. Diana Berrent describes herself as a “canary in the COVID coalmine.” She was one of the first people in her Long Island community to test positive for the virus. Diana was also Participant #0001 in Columbia University’s clinical trial of volunteers who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood to treat others with this virus. While journaling her experience for the New York Post, Diana founded Survivor Corps. This year, Diana has appeared on major news outlets, been featured on social media, promoting her support group, advancing coronavirus research. “COVID is such a bizarre virus in that it truly presents a constellation of symptoms with each person having a completely different subset. I would love for people to read through the stories of people on the Survivor Corps Facebook page. I promise you will change your mind,” Berrent concluded.

Written by: Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates. HeartTalk airs Sunday at 1PM on NewsRadio 810 and 103.1 WGY. You can listen anytime on iHeartRadio.

Joy in Running

Joy in Running


Joy in Running

For adults, running offers unmatched health benefits. How can we recapture the joy in running later in life?

Almost 45 years ago, Thaddeus Kostrubala, MD, a psychiatrist, wrote his bestselling book, “The Joy of Running.” Dr. Kostrubala was one of the first medical professionals in the mid-1970s to investigate the benefits of long-distance running, specifically its effect on a person’s mental and physical health. He began running in San Diego in his early 40s after realizing that his weight, family history, and a lifestyle of limited exercise put him at high risk for a heart attack. After finishing his 3-mile run, at a slow pace, Dr. Kostrubala noted that he was joyful. As he continued running, he identified that reaching a cardiovascular rate of 75-80 percent around the 45-minute point in a distance run three times a week, brought the most health benefits. For almost 45 years, Dr. Kostrubala was called “The Running Doctor” or “The Running Psychiatrist” until his passing on September 4, 2020.

One point that Dr. Kostrubala made in one of his final interviews with Runner’s World was that walking, jogging, and running are activities that date back to the earliest humans, who relied on their feet to travel, some 4-million years ago. That thought came to mind as I watched my nephews chase each other around the backyard during a family cookout this past summer. They were laughing, loudly, as their little legs carried them around the yard. When we were younger, running was fun. There was such freedom found in our youth as we ran as fast as possible. When did we lose that joy? Is it possible to recapture it later in life?

Joy in running became personal as I entered my mid-30s for similar reasons as Dr. Kostrubala. I have a family history of diabetes and stroke. After an annual visit with my doctor, along with some changes to my diet, I needed to find a daily form of exercise that could help manage my “bad” cholesterol numbers. I started by jogging around my neighborhood on Saturday or Sunday mornings. Those jogs gradually led to slow runs where distance and my speed increased. After a year, I entered my first 5K. After that event, I was hooked! I reached out to Charles Woodruff, a former collegiate runner at the University of Connecticut, who has been coaching runners of all abilities since 1994. Woodruff also owns the Fleet Feet running stores in Malta and Albany. He joined me on a recent episode of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates, as we discussed the recent spike in those who have rediscovered the joy in running.

Starting over

Just as every run has a beginning, so does every runner. The image of a marathon or long-distance runner may come to mind, but if you have a routine of going out three to four times or log a few miles every week, you are a runner. As Coach Woodruff outlined, the most important component in any running routine is rest. “We don’t rest enough; we become a slave to miles or how much we are doing. We need to realize that our bodies are capable of adapting to just about anything. Running is a very progressive sport. You want to approach it gradually.” Start easy is the best advice he offers. “If a friend got you into running, you might not be where they are, and you shouldn’t be trying to keep up with them. Running is a very individual sport.” If your last distance run was the mile in high school, your body needs at least 12 weeks to adjust. The best beginner plan starts with 30 minutes walks that build up to 30 minutes of running.

Once you start your running plan, be ready for changes. I didn’t fully embrace an athlete’s mindset until this year when I began training to run my first 10K. My “weekly” runs became more structured. Instead of getting a run or two during the week and one on the weekend, I formed a plan that increased in time/distance runs with set rest and active rest days. I learned early on how important rest is, especially the days following a five-mile run! Coach Woodruff noted that aches are normal initially — as long as they don’t develop into pain that lasts for more than a day or two. I also realized that proper running gear, hydrating after a run, getting enough protein in my diet, and quality sleep at night are the building blocks necessary for success.

Coach Woodruff’s advice

“When we form our training groups, one of the things we emphasize all of the time is that in a group, you are part of a community. Even when running with other people, you need to be doing this for yourself. You are going to be successful when you take the gifts and talents that you already have and maximize them. Don’t worry about being fast or being the slowest person in the group. If you are taking what you have and working hard to make it better – that’s where you will find success.”


“The five things you need to have hanging in your closest for winter running: a good base layer, briefs that are not cotton, hat and gloves, element jacket, shoes, and socks. Come in and talk with us at Fleet Feet and we will be happy to point you in the right direction for gear.”


“Make sure you are wearing apparel that has reflective material on your moving parts, like your arms and legs. This helps drivers see you more clearly. Make sure you are running on the left-hand side of the road against traffic. Don’t run with your back to the road.”

How running improves your heart health

For adults, running offers unmatched health benefits. It lowers your risk of heart attack or stroke. A massive study in 2014 on running and heart health showed that it’s good for your bones, blood pressure, and brain. This study covered all forms of running: slow, fast, short, and long. As you run, the exercise causes your heart to increase blood flow, training the heart to pump more efficiently. We often don’t think of the heart as a muscle, but it is. Running increases the myocardium (heart muscle), strengthening the heart’s ability to pump blood (ejection fraction) through your vascular system. I never considered how my heart functions while watching TV on my couch, but I think about it during every run. Every stride is making me stronger in ways I cannot see.

Another point I shared with Coach Woodruff was how, during a run, I have some of my best thoughts. He pointed to science, how during exercise, blood flow improves, sending more oxygen through our vascular system, and bringing fresh energy to our brains. While we are listening to music, focusing on the road ahead, or enjoying the scenery, the neurons in part our brain that processes critical thinking and memory are highly active. Some research has suggested that aerobic exercise improves cognitive function, aiding in boosting our memory. The biological effects of running provide a fresh supply of nutrients to the brain, enhancing the brain function all aid in a more “hyper-alert” mind, a by-product that leads runners to say, “I do my best thinking while running!”

Joy in running

In one of his final interviews with Runner’s World, Dr. Kostrubala opened up on when he found his joy in running. It happened after he completed his first 3 miles at a slow pace. For him, the joy replaced depression, which motivated him to pursue greater distances, eventually finishing marathons. In 2011, he shared that when leukemia hit, his chemotherapy made him weak. His runs downgraded to walks, which he could do for about half an hour until he had to use a wheelchair. For almost sixty years, Dr. Kostrubala advocated that running can save your life — and your soul.

I thought about Dr. Kostrubala’s words during my conversation with Charles Woodruff. I had found my joy in running. This may sound odd, but I was excited to wake up before my alarm at 5:30 on summer mornings to go for a run. Why? Because that time is my time. Every beginning ignited a sense of purpose; every finish brought a feeling of accomplishment. Coach Woodruff is a morning runner; he’s logged thousands of miles before sunrise. “There is something magical in seeing the sun coming up, seeing the animals, this feeling that you own the world. There are no distractions. The world is waking up, and you can hear the sound of your feet. It’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Written by Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates

I thought about Dr. Kostrubala’s words during my conversation with Charles Woodruff. I had found my joy in running. This may sound odd, but I was excited to wake up before my alarm at 5:30 on summer mornings to go for a run. Why? Because that time is my time. Every beginning ignited a sense of purpose; every finish brought a feeling of accomplishment. Coach Woodruff is a morning runner; he’s logged thousands of miles before sunrise. “There is something magical in seeing the sun coming up, seeing the animals, this feeling that you own the world. There are no distractions. The world is waking up, and you can hear the sound of your feet. It’s the perfect way to start the day.”

Written by Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates

Work and Heart Health

Work and Heart Health


Are you working
toward an increased
risk of heart disease?

“Job strain” and
stress can be more
dangerous than
hard work

It is a known fact that some careers and jobs are more hazardous than others. For service-oriented professions like firefighters, police officers, or military/soldiers where intensity levels can fluctuate from 0 to 100 miles per hour in a matter of seconds, there is a known risk of the impact of developing irregular heart rhythms or poor blood flow. Researchers have deeply studied the biological pathway between high-strain jobs and the development of atrial fibrillation, connecting mental stress as the cause of elevated blood pressure, inflammation and hypertension, and abnormal electrical activity in the left atrial of the heart. Science has also shown the role in the release of adrenaline and other hormones inside the body that can trigger arrhythmia, causing generalized inflammation that is associated with atherosclerosis; the process that leads to heart disease and blockages in the arteries.

But what about those with desk jobs? What is their risk?

Miranda VonFricken

Miranda VonFricken is a Life & Career Coach based in the Albany area, she is also a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She joined us for a recent episode of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates to discuss careers, COVID, and heart health. The phrase “work/life balance” is trendy among job seekers, as it depicts a situation where there are clear work and home-life boundaries. “People are talking more about mental and heart health now more than ever. A lot of people in the community are engaged, and so are employers. The stress that comes with working full-time, at-home, with children requires more flexibility from employers,” VonFricken added. This applies to workers searching for new opportunities due to COVID economic downsizing or those looking to make a career change to meet employment demands.

Stress is the number one contributor to heart health problems in the workplace. Sadly, something as simple as a change in shift work (from day to night) or work hours, over time, can affect your heart rhythm. The Women’s Health Study (WHS) is one of the largest and longest-running observational studies of women’s health in the United States. The study included almost 40,000 female health professionals aged 45 years old and older, who were followed for an average of 10 years. Some of the results showed that our body doesn’t distinguish stress as well as our mind does. For example, an emergency triggers life-saving chemicals and hormones to be released that increases our body’s functioning abilities. We have a boost in speed, strength, or stamina in “fight or flight” situations. That reaction is similar when the stress comes from deadlines, interactions with co-workers, or pressure moments at work. What’s worse, an email or text on vacation can trigger that same stress. The amount of stress we carry in our work-life may vary, but everyone can recall or relate to instances where simply worrying about potential work problems consumed our thoughts. In those stressful moments, the body is still releasing the chemicals and hormones needed to confront or escape those perceived threats.

Harvard researchers involved in the WHS trial were unable to find how job strain gives rise to heart health issues. Scientists examined how stress physically affects the body, triggering inflammation in coronary arteries leading to blood clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Mental health experts point to stress as a contributor to bad lifestyle choices. People who are stressed out tend to find it harder to consistently exercise, eat a healthy diet, get regular sleep, and avoid excess drinking or tobacco use. One surprise finding was workers who perceive that they are subjected to high demands but have little control are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

What you can do

❤ Foster mutually supportive relationships with friends, family, and co-workers.
❤ Get regular exercise. It’s good for the heart, reduces anxiety and depression, and improves sleep.
❤ Limit intrusions (such as work-related e-mails) on your life outside of work.
❤ Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, or visualization.
❤ If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek help from a mental health professional.

Find a job you love

There is an old saying that some will point to on workplace stress, “find a job you love, and you will never work another day in life.” While most Americans enjoy their job, the fact remains that most people spend about 25% of their adult lives working. We are also putting in more hours on the job than any other industrialized nation. According to an International Labor Organization study, Americans put in the equivalent of an extra 40-hour workweek in 2000 compared to ten years previously. We are also working harder. In a 2001 survey, nearly 40% of workers described their office environment as “most like a real-life survivor program.”

The American Heart Association created Workplace Health Solutions to help employers and employees assess and monitor their heart health. The assessment is grounded in the evidence-informed science of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7®, the seven most important predictors of heart health. What’s unique about this resource is that the program is an easy 4-minute assessment that allows employees to assess their heart health and take small, simple steps that can result in real improvements.

Find Joy Painting

VonFricken also offered advice on committing to personal and professional goals to eliminate stress from daily life. She recommends creating a vision board, a visual tool that can be words, images, photos, or a combination of all three. These boards are typically poster-sized. “The principle is that as you walk by it, you exchange energy with it. I literally have a conversation with my vision board every day. These are things that I want; my goals are focused on the person who I want to be. ‘I am confident. I am strong. I am absolutely determined to achieve my goals.’ These are my affirmations,” VonFricken explained. And, they are not just for adults looking for accountability or inspiration to reach personal or professional goals. “My (eight-year-old) daughter has one with cookies on it! She wants cookies, wants to learn how to ride a bike and get a laptop. Just seeing these pictures every day gives you the power to make them happen.”

Written by Michael Arce, Host of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates

Photos by Brett Sayles and Bich Tran from Pexels

RX for EX

RX for EX


RX for EX


Regular activity and exercise are two of the most important things you can do daily for your heart health. But how, and how much? On a recent episode of HeartTalk, presented by Captial Cardiology Associates, Dan Myers shared tips on how heart patients can safely stay active. Myers has over 25 years of experience as a certified personal trainer and exercise physiologist. He began his career as the Director of the Coronary Detection and Intervention Center at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

In your experience creating exercise requirements for heart patients, where do you start?

It all begins with a review of a person’s Health History. Most heart patients have had a stress test. Based on the results of that stress test, a target heart rate (THR) is generated. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 60-90% of the maximum heart rate (MHR) comfortably achieved during the stress test. However, other factors need to be taken into consideration.


• The present level of health and fitness
• Orthopedic considerations
• Medications

Individuals who have not exercised regularly need to start slow in the 60-70% range. Whereas someone who has been active, 70-90% is a good THR. It would help if you remembered not only are you going to be overloading your cardiovascular system, your muscles, bones, and connective tissue need to adapt to progressive overload. The biggest mistake is to do too much too soon. Sometimes THR is not appropriate primary due to medications that blunt HR at rest and with exercise. Perceived Exertion is recommended. This number represents your overall feeling of exertion. Not just the way your heart and breathing feel but the way your muscles bones and connective tissue feel. The goal is to be working “somewhat hard” if your overall feeling is comfortable, you are probably not working hard enough. On the other hand, if your overall experience is hard to extremely hard you are overdoing it.

Research shows that if you work extremely hard, you do not get any considerable benefits, and the incidents of a repetitive stress injury increases. If you hurt yourself and you cannot exercise, you have to start all over. So why risk it? Choose an aerobic activity that you like! Try to do it for 30 minutes every day. You should be able to carry on a conversation while you are exercising. If you cannot be overdoing it.

What is an exercise physiologist’s role when working with a cardiologist, nurse, dietician, or primary care provider?

When an individual comes to Capital Cardiology, it is usually because they are symptomatic. Chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, syncope. Some are referred to a cardiologist because they have an abnormal EKG, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, all major coronary risk factors. Based on their symptoms, our cardiologist then starts an investigation. The results of this thorough examination are used to make a plan to correct the underlying problem that caused the patient to seek medical attention. The program may require the patient to have intervention such as catheterization, a stent or bypass surgery.

All this information is used by the exercise physiologist to design a safe and valid exercise prescription. The cardiologist decides when it is safe to begin to exercise. Once they have been given the green light, that’s when I take over. Again, it is all about looking at the individual’s health history, the results of any testing they have had. This information along the patient’s goals form the basis of an exercise prescription.

What are some ways to walk for at least 10 minutes per day?

Aerobic exercise requires rhythm contraction of large muscle groups sustained over a length of time. Many heart patients have claudication, cramping of the leg muscles. For those individuals, we recommend walking as far as they can tolerate, stop, sit down and rest, and, when recovered, do it again. Slowly build up to a goal of 30 minutes a day.

How much water should a heart patient drink daily?

The rule of thumb for everyone is to drink eight, 8 ounces of water, daily. For every caffeinated beverage you consume, add two more glasses of water. It is estimated that 60% of our population walk around dehydrated. This can lead to all kinds of health issues. People do not realize that during the night, as we sleep, we lose water through our respiration. One of the best things you can do, first thing in the morning is to drink two glasses of water. Think of it like this: water is a celebration of life. Every time you drink a glass of water, you are celebrating your life. One sign to see if you are drinking enough water: your urine should be the color of lemonade by midday. If it is darker than that you are most likely dehydrated.

What other forms of cardio activity exist outside of running or walking?

There is a principle in aerobic exercise called Specificity of Training. Every time you perform aerobic exercise doesn’t matter what kind of aerobic exercise, there is a central training effect. You are either maintaining or improving your heart, lungs, and circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. The ability to take the oxygen and nutrients out of the bloodstream is specific to the muscles that are used to perform that form of aerobic exercise. That is why Cross Training is advised. The more variety of aerobic exercise performed, the healthier your entire body gets. This also cuts down on the incidence of repetitive stress injuries. Something else to keep in mind when performing aerobic exercise.

Most cardiac rehab programs focus on 5-6 weeks of building up to a 45-minute walk at least five days a week. Walking, jogging, cross country skiing are all considered weight-bearing exercises because they are performed standing up on your feet. Cycling, rowing is done in the seated position and therefore are non-weight bearing examples of aerobic exercise. This an important consideration, especially for the female population because it helps offset the onset and progression of osteoporosis.

The importance of stretching

There are two categories of stretches, active and passive. Active stretches may be static, dynamic, or ballistic. Passive stretches are normally performed as static or dynamic (as in Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation).

Types of stretching

• Active Stretch: This happens when the person stretching supplies the force of the stretch.
• Passive Stretch: This occurs when a partner or device provides the force for the stretch.
• Static Stretch: A constant stretch in which the end position is held for 30 seconds. It includes passive relaxation and concurrent elongation of the muscle. It is easy to learn and effective. It does not elicit the stretch reflex of the stretched tissue, and the likelihood of injury is less than if ballistic stretching is used. It helps to relieve muscle soreness and is relaxing when correct methods are used. The sitting toe touch is an example of a static stretch.


1. Get into the starting position of the stretching exercise. Try to stay relaxed during the whole stretch and breath slowly in and out through your nose.
2. Move the body or body segment into the stretching movement (easy stretch) until a mild stretching of the muscle is felt.
3. From the easy stretch position, slowly increase the intensity of the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Do not bounce while stretching!
4. Do not stretch so far that pain is felt in the muscle or joint. If this happens slowly, decrease the intensity of the stretch.

Employee Health and Fitness

Employee Health and Fitness


A Healthier Workforce

The push to improve the health and
fitness levels in America’s workforce

To say that Diane Hart has dedicated her life to health and fitness is an understatement. In 1981, she launched Hart to Heart Fitness, her personal training business in Albany County. Her career path extended to launching corporate wellness and resilience programs for area businesses. Diane’s leadership skills and passion for helping people change their health and lifestyle led to her current role as President and Executive Director of the National Association for Health and Fitness (NAHF). She brought her signature “high energy” personality to a recent episode of HeartTalk, presented by Capital Cardiology Associates, to discuss workplace health and fitness.

Advocating for healthier communities

Moments before our program, Diane had just finished a phone call with Senator Chuck Schumer. She shared the details of their conversation, Diane was lobbying for consideration of legislation to be included in the Senate’s next Stimulus Package. “We have attempted to pass this for six years, it’s the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act. This has tremendous bipartisan support,” she added. PHIT would make any expense exclusively intended to be physically active, eligible for FSA/HSA reimbursement. This would cover sporting equipment, health club memberships, youth camps, pay to play sports fees, tournaments, and fitness tracking devices for health conditions (like heart disease). “This act promotes a healthy culture. When you look at healthcare costs today, 3.3 trillion expenditures go towards people with chronic and mental health conditions, which we know physical activity can improve. We also hope this will relieve some of the comorbidity factors Americans face due to COVID.”

Diane Hart accepting the 2016 President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Lifetime Achievement Award

Advocating for legislation that improves American communities’ health is just a part of the NAHF’s mission. The Association’s members are also leaders in developing change-behavior programs, like Global Employee Health and Fitness Month (GEHFM). This event, traditionally, was a workplace-focused health awareness month held during May. It’s active in 38 states, with almost 7,000 companies and organizations participating. However, Hart noted that following the impact of the pandemic, 2020’s edition would need to be updated. “We realized the need to move it virtually when the world moved to work from home and exited office buildings.”

The state of health in the American workforce

A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation survey reports that 82% of large firms and 53% of small employers across the country offer some form of a wellness program. There are two reasons why: many employers believe that improving their workers’ health and their family members can improve morale and productivity and reduce health care costs. The CDC reported the systematic review of 56 published studies of worksite health programs which showed that well-implemented workplace health programs can lead to 25% savings each on absenteeism, health care costs, and workers’ compensation and disability management claims costs. The CDC added that productivity losses related to personal and family health problems cost U.S. employers $1,685 per employee per year or $225.8 billion annually. Healthy workers are more productive workers, and that helps the company’s bottom line.

Today’s job seekers are also looking for employee benefits that extend past competitive compensation, medical/dental/vision coverage, and time-off. Employers who consistently rank as a “Top Workplace” has noticed that Americans working full-time spend more than one-third of their day, five days per week at the workplace. Applicants are pursuing happiness — an offering that includes work/life balance and positive workplace culture. Firms with an on-site gym or those that offer gym memberships as perks are highly sought by savvy job hunters. While these amenities may not be possible for all business owners, Hart pointed out examples of company fitness opportunities like participating in 5K runs or healthy eating demonstrations, creating healthy moments where individuals can bring these good habits home. “The excitement from participating in these projects needs to expand to help families and children.”

The recent push to offer health incentives has not moved the needle on the state health for the American workforce. “I’m sad about that,” Hart said as she took a deep breath. “We are actually 35th in the world, mostly because our workforce is over-worked.” Last year, Spain surpassed Italy on the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, which ranks 169 economies according to factors that contribute to overall health. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, by 2040, Spain is forecasted to have the highest lifespan at almost 86 years. The country has seen a decline in cardiovascular diseases and deaths from cancer. Experts note that their eating habits, particularly following the Mediterranean diet, have reduced Spain’s obesity rate. That is not the case in America.

Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity are the two main causes of heart disease. According to an article from Corporate Wellness Magazine, more than 50% of health care costs in the United States are due to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking, inactivity, and weight gain. Healthy workplace activities and programs reduce the development of chronic disease risk factors like alcohol/tobacco use, raised blood pressure, and high blood sugar or cholesterol levels — all by-products of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles. “When I look at the chronic diseases in America, six out of ten of us as adults have a chronic disease or condition,” noted Hart. “Sadly, we know that most heart disease cases, heart attack, stroke, and cancer can be prevented through good lifestyle choices and regular health screenings.”

Written by Michael Arce, host of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates