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Dr Dawn Harper: De-stress at work to protect your heart

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GP Dr Dawn Harper, best known for her appearances on TV’s Embarrassing Bodies, shares her workplace tips for heart health.

What impact can a stressful job have on your heart?

In caveman days, stress came from looming mammoths, and our response was an adrenalin rush that allowed us to fight or flee. In evolutionary terms, we haven’t come far when it comes to our reactions to stress, but stressors are almost constant and come in the form of deadlines, relationship issues and the juggling of diaries.

Imagine your body as a car. If you occasionally accelerate past an obstacle, the engine (your heart) will cope fine, but if you always drive with your foot on the accelerator, eventually the engine will show signs of strain. We must find ways of managing stress to protect our long-term health.  

How can you reduce your risk of heart problems?

We cannot alter ageing or genetics, but there are plenty of risk factors for heart disease that we can do something about.

Exercising for 30 minutes, at least five times a week, and maintaining a healthy weight, are essential, as is not smoking and sticking to 14 alcohol units a week. You should also limit fat intake to around a third of your total daily calories. 

How can leaders look after their hearts?

In a position of seniority, it can be difficult to allow yourself time out. Book leave and take it. You’ll be a better colleague and partner for it. 

What can companies do?

I’d like to see all work canteens offering healthy options with moderate portion sizes, and providing incentives for exercising, whether encouraging people to walk at lunchtime, providing basic sports facilities or discounts on gym memberships. Companies could sponsor staff undertaking a charity sporting challenge.

How do you look after your own health?

I have a labrador who needs walking, whatever the weather. Being target driven, I make myself do a charity cycle ride each year. 

Dr Dawn Harper

By Dr Dawn Harper

Dawn is an executive vice GP and media doctor.

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