A quick guide to cholesterol and the risk to your employees

Most employees that have a Healthy Performance health check will be aware that too much cholesterol can progress heart disease. Fewer employees will know that cholesterol comes in good and bad forms but, that’s where most people’s knowledge will end.

Put simply – “Bad” (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) cholesterol clogs the arteries that pump blood to the heart and feed the brain.  This increases the risk of a heart attack and stroke.  “Good” (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) cholesterol removes excess cholesterol and fat from the bloodstream, keeping arteries healthy.

The amount of cholesterol in the blood (both LDL and HDL) can be measured with a very simple blood test via the finger prick test.  Once an employee find out that they have high cholesterol, there are numerous reasons for them to make changes immediately as evidence indicates that high cholesterol can increase the risk of narrowing the arteries, heart attack, stroke and mini stroke.  Furthermore, heart disease is responsible for around 73,000 deaths in the UK each year – that number is particularly troubling because heart disease is largely preventable. 

What causes high cholesterol?

There are many factors that can increase your chance of having heart problems or stroke if you have high cholesterol, including the following,

Unhealthy diet – some foods already contain cholesterol (known as dietary cholesterol) but it is the amount of saturated fat in your diet which is more important

Smoking – a chemical found in cigarettes called acrolein stops HDL transporting fatty deposits to the liver, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)

Diabetes or high blood pressure (hypertension)

Having a family history of stroke or heart disease

There is also an inherited condition known as familial hypercholesterolaemia(FH). This can cause high cholesterol even in someone who eats healthily.

How can you help your employees lower their cholesterol?

Health Checks.  If your employees know what their cholesterol numbers are then, they can take steps to change their lifestyle – what people can measure, they can improve.

Workshops.  Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise can help lower the level of cholesterol in your blood.  Educating your employees on key areas such as nutrition and exercise can make all the difference.

Eat fruits and vegetables.  Encourage your employees to eat their five a day and not too eat convenience foods at their desks.  Fruit and veg can help lower bad cholesterol and the antioxidants in these foods may have cholesterol lowering benefits, too.

Consume a balanced breakfast. A bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal has fibre and complex carbohydrates with whole grains to help you feel full, and help reduce LDL cholesterol.  Offer the use of a microwave to employees so they can make popcorn for a snack and add brown rice to their lunch.

Offer healthy snacks. Nuts are high in monounsaturated fat, which helps lowers LDL cholesterol. Studies show that people who eat about an ounce of nuts a day have lower risk of heart disease.

Exercise!  Just 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week can help lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Many local gyms will offer discounts to businesses who are looking to offer gym membership as part of their benefits package for employees.

Walk.  Encourage all staff to get away from their desks at lunchtime and take regular breaks.  Walking is low-impact, easy, and all you need is a good pair of shoes. Try a 10-minute walk and gradually build up from there. Ask one of the Healthy Performance for details of our corporate pedometer challenge and foster a working atmosphere full of motivation and a healthy competitive spirit.

Breathe. Chronic stress can raise blood pressure. Research shows that stress might directly increase cholesterol levels. Employees can reduce their stress levels with relaxation exercises and meditation.

For advice on how to implement a health and wellbeing strategy aimed at ensuring your employees have low cholesterol levels please call the Healthy Performance team on 0844 4325 849.