Louise Zacest: 25 February 2022

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, financial market jitters, workforce shortages and the spread of Omicron, corporate risk registers throughout the country will be sounding alarm bells.

As leaders, we focus our attention on navigating the uncertainty and supporting our teams, so it’s easy to overlook the personal impacts, including the stresses we absorb and manage every day.

And, as International Heart Health month ends, I thought what better time to reflect on the way stress can affect our wellbeing.

If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll recall that a World Health Organisation global study found how those of us in leadership roles working long hours are more at risk of experiencing significant health issues. In fact, working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.

My father dropped dead suddenly from a heart attack at age 58, so it’s an issue I’m acutely aware of, with genetics often increasing risk for the following generations.

I’m also mindful that here in New Zealand, almost 1 in 3 of us will die from heart disease, and in fact, a New Zealander dies from a fatal cardiovascular event every 90 minutes.

So while the focus rightly is on the pandemic, we shouldn’t forget that cardiovascular disease is still our world’s leading cause of death, killing 17.9 million people every year, a number that’s expected to exceed 23.6 million by 2030 according to the World Heart Federation. 

As you’d understand, I’m keen to avoid following my father into an early grave, so I reached out to cardiologist Fiona Stewart from The Heart Group and went through testing and screening. 

My treadmill test raised some questions, so I progressed to a CT Angiogram, which thankfully concluded I was OK, have very low risk and have perhaps dodged the genetic bullet.

Fiona’s not just an expert cardiologist, she’s also a longstanding personal friend. During our discussions over the years, I’ve learnt that, amongst other things, unmanaged high blood pressure can have significant long-term consequences.

That’s because excessive pressure on your artery walls, caused by high blood pressure, can damage your organs as well as your blood vessels. 

The higher your blood pressure, and the longer it goes uncontrolled, the greater the resulting damage. 

While age and genetics do play a part, lifestyle factors are a big contributor to risk and that includes periods of work and personal stress.

What’s also a big worry is data from a worldwide analysis published in the Lancet.

It reveals around 70% of women and men in high income Western countries and in Asia Pacific who have high blood pressure, haven’t been diagnosed. 

And if it’s not diagnosed, the outcome can be deadly.

Which is why education and awareness are vital.

At UniMed, in partnership with our employer clients, we’re looking at how we can build more proactive and preventative approaches into our health plans, so we can remove barriers to employees accessing the health and wellbeing services they need.

Despite the enormous challenges, there are practical changes we can make, simply by modifying our behaviour. 

We all know the drill. Quit smoking, eat more healthily, be active, reach a healthy weight. But identifying and managing high-blood pressure and reducing stress are perhaps not so top-of-mind.

When it comes to heart health, a focus on education and awareness is a good place to start and at UniMed we’re committed to doing everything we can to alleviate risk and help keep working New Zealanders and their whānau in lifelong good health.

When was the last time you had a blood pressure test? 

Maybe this week’s a good time to make an appointment.

Noho ora mai,

Louise Zacest,

Chief Executive,