Health & Wellbeing
Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference to Your Heart Health
Jackie Sharp
Jackie Sharp
Senior Manager,
Health & Well-Being
Sodexo North America

February is American Heart Month, a great time to commit to a healthy lifestyle by making small changes and incorporating more heart-healthy behaviors that can lead to better heart health. Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in America. It’s a chronic disease that many are genetically predisposed to have, but there is a lot you can do — and help your employees do — to delay or prevent it.

In fact, discussions about cardiovascular health belong in the workplace as much as they belong in the doctor’s office. Researchers suspect there are links between stress — often work-related stress — and heart disease. Stress can not only raise blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease, but it can also lead to other unhealthy behaviors, like inactivity, high cholesterol or smoking.

Here are a few ways you can encourage employees to reduce stress and stay heart-healthy.


Let’s start with the basics: Eating well and exercising are two of the best things you can do to keep your heart healthy. (After all, it’s called “cardio” for a reason.)

Getting your heart-rate up tends to release endorphins and reduce stress. New research shows that those who are fitter are more likely to survive if they do have a heart attack, and the same study suggests that fitter people are less likely to have heart attacks in the first place. Exercise and good nutrition also help protect against obesity, which leads to high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) a risk factor for heart problems or stroke.

Many workplaces have fitness programs or on-site gyms to make it easier for employees to get exercise — some even reward them with perks for using them. Even if you don’t have access to these amenities, offices can offer standing desks, encourage employees to go for walks during the day, or even have active meetings to get employees moving.


A 2011 study linked poor sleep to a type of inflammation that’s a sign of heart disease. Those with sleep apnea also increase their risk of high blood pressure, which can cause heart attack and stroke. And not getting enough sleep has been linked to weight gain, another risk factor for heart disease.

As an employer, one thing you can do to help your employees get more rest is build flexibility into their schedules. We’ve written in the past about how employees who telecommute or have a flexible schedule get better sleep. It’s not just healthier; it makes them more productive at work, too.

Food & Chocolate

The American Heart Association recommends eating an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes:

Chocolate – You don’t want to overdo this one (cardiovascular disease is also linked to obesity after all), but a small amount of chocolate may help your heart. Some studies have found that the flavanols, the chemical compounds found in cocoa beans, can reduce blood pressure.

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which are actually seeds from the fruit of the cacao tree. Chocolate’s health benefits come from flavanols, antioxidants found in the cocoa bean. Other foods rich in flavanols include red wine, tea, onions, peanuts, berries, apples, and cranberries.

Dark chocolate may provide health benefits, but even small amounts still add calories, fat, and sugar to your diet. Choose at least 70% dark chocolate and eat only about 1oz/day.

How are you planning to promote cardiovascular health in your workplace this month?  Please tell us in the comments.


Jackie Sharp is the Senior Manager of Health & Well-Being for Sodexo North America responsible for guiding Sodexo’s commitment to programs, initiatives and partnerships that improve health and well-being for individuals, organizations and communities. Jackie is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian who specializes in corporate wellness, sports nutrition and physical fitness.


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6 comments on “Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference to Your Heart Health

  • Avatar
    Mark Contratti says:

    I wanted to get your take on diets higher in nuts and lugumes.. Ive read that Omega 3 fatty acids are more beneficial to health than Omega 6?Which nuts which are recommended in relation to ratio of Omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids? Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, pecans….
    Any preference?

    Thank you

    • Avatar
      Jackie Sharp says:

      To answer your question, walnuts are the best source of omega 3 Fatty Acids (FA) out of the options above. Flaxseeds (ground) are also a great source and great to add to oatmeal, yogurts, smoothies, anything you’d like!

      I included a little background below, but it sounds like you’re familiar with the importance of the ratio. This is one of many reasons why it’s a good idea to focus on consuming a plant-based diet!

      Omega 3 and Omega 6 are both polyunsaturated FA and both required for the human body to function. But studies show they do have opposite effects when it comes to inflammatory response and cardiovascular health.

      It’s important to maintain a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Studies show that excessive amounts of Omega-6 and a high ratio of omega 6/omega-3 FA, found in Westernized diets today, promote inflammation in the body and increase risk for disease. Improvements in decreasing the risk for disease has been shown with lowering the ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3, however all results were different depending on the disease.

      Some sources of Omega-3 include: fish oils, marine algae, flaxseeds, olive oils, canola oils, walnuts, many plants

      Some sources of Omega-6 include: soybean, corn, sunflower, and peanut oil (what most fried foods use), and a small amount in animal meat, dairy and eggs

  • Avatar

    In the past 11 months I’ve lost 51 lbs. This transformation has inspired our staff to want to become more healthy.
    To encourage that we have implemented a 10 lbs. in 10 weeks weight loss challenge in two sessions. One was in the fall before the Christmas season, the other is currently under way.
    During this time several employees have made dramatic strides both to loose weight, and to get into healthy eating and exercicing.
    Each week we have sent out researched weight loss tips to encourage them as well.
    I’m grateful to work for a company that values the health and wellbeing of their employees.
    Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Jackie Sharp says:

      This is great news Karin! Congratulations! I would love to hear more about what your unit is doing and the progress you’ve seen along the way! Keep up the great work!


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