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Why it’s important to focus on health at work

1 November 2012 06:50 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


We have heard so much about workplace stress. As organisations are driven towards more and more success, especially during tough economic times, a greater burden is placed on the employees and decision-makers alike to keep up. All this takes a toll on one’s health. Throw in corporate activities that go through several cocktails, luncheons, launches and what not that usually overflows with drinks and good food and you have a sure recipe for bad health.
Health gone wrong 
Around us, we see and hear and experience episodes of health gone all wrong. Heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and respiratory diseases are not the only ones, although they are bad. There are also long-term effects such as compromised mental health and infertility.
Women in the corporate sector are also driven to work alongside men. We have demanded our share of the perks that come with the hard work and now we have to perform. We can – but there is often a price to pay. 
Delayed marriage is all too common in Sri Lanka now because almost all women opt to go in for higher studies, a career with their own home thrown in for good measure. By the time you decide to have a baby, you are usually in your early to mid-thirties, even late thirties and infertility can be an issue.
Even if you do have kids and manage to balance a demanding career, stress usually builds up in between supervising kids’ work, taking care of the home front and holding it altogether. 
Heart disease among women has risen as a result and more women are now affected than before, according to research. A decade or two ago, heart disease used to mostly affect men but now it is also prevalent among women.
Busy executives tend to practice a busy but unhealthy lifestyle. Fast food, junk food, rich food form the usual combination that is peppered with alcohol socially taken or otherwise, less water taken throughout the day and smoking. All of it thrown in together with rising stress levels creates the perfect setting for a heart attack.
Asia’s diabetes explosion 
There is also what doctors call a ‘diabetes explosion’ in South Asia. From young children to young adults, diabetes is spreading, thanks to having walked away from the traditional balanced food regimes. 
We tend to go in for sugar saturated sweetened drinks, sweetened desserts, oily food and processed food, which eventually render most diabetics. 
Lack of exercise adds the icing on the cake. Most are reluctant to exercise and in many affluent homes, I have seen the shiny new exercise equipment, either locked away or hidden out of sight, while the family is happy to be couch potatoes. 
My husband and I have turned into exercise buffs (some 15 years ago, we used to be couch potatoes too) and I am often asked the question how I manage to fit it in. My answer has always been that exercise to me is like taking breakfast – if I don’t get on the treadmill every morning, I feel I have not eaten for the day. 
Simple logic – make exercise a regimental part of your day. When you fit it in, it becomes so much easier to get out of bed and get on the machine. Or go jogging.
The bad part in all this is that we are being emulated by our children; they watch us and want to do the same. My son and daughter are keen on exercise and watch what they eat because my husband I have developed a lifestyle of eating healthy and exercising. 
Not that we don’t eat out – we do when we go out with the kids but we watch what we eat. Often, people forget what they eat. They just go on with what they eat for the day and forget that they have already had three eggs this week and maybe you should just stick to egg whites for the remainder of the week.
Traditional meal patterns 
We already have a generation of children made obese and unhealthy on fast food. It is up to us as parents whether in the boardroom or outside it, to be the kind of role models our children want to follow. Not just in terms of the career success we have achieved but also for the healthy lifestyle we have adopted.
The corporate world needs to pay attention to the level of bad health that is on the increase. Often the young executives and managers are falsely led into believing that living the high ‘corporate’ life is all about rich cuisine, drinks and partying. 
There was an interesting equip I came through in the process of being commissioned to write a business leader’s autobiography some years ago. The person in question, a leading corporate CEO, had been kidnapped and held in demand for a ransom by a gang. The gang was later busted by the police but while keeping him in their custody, the gang leader wanted to provide breakfast for the CEO and asked whether ham, bacon and eggs should be fetched. The gang leader was taken aback when the CEO asked for kola kenda (herbal porridge) and palm sugar.
As members of the private sector, we would benefit tremendously from going back to the traditional meal patterns that kept previous generations healthy. Kola kenda, red rice, par boiled rice, plenty of vegetables and fruits, herbal drinks such as iramusu, which detoxifies the body and ranawara and the list is endless. We can find ways of bringing these into our canteens, restaurants and eating places. 
Let us make an effort to keep the workplace healthy – we already have an ageing population. We should seriously look at taking care of ourselves.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior writer, journalist and a PR professional can be contacted at   

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