The heart is an intrinsic pump that ensures the right amount of blood carries adequate oxygen to every part of your body. This function is met when the heart beats at the right pressures. The normal blood pressure of the average adult is estimated to be about 120/80mmHg, and blood pressure of 140/90 or above are considered high, also known as hypertension. An abnormally elevated blood pressure which is not controlled can be very destructive to every organ in the body. These may cause eye problems, kidney failure, stroke, heart failure and other cardiovascular complications. Largely, a normal blood pressure can be maintained through the right lifestyle behaviors of eating healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining a healthy mental state. In individuals diagnosed to have a high blood pressure, taking blood pressure medications as prescribed is helpful to keeping healthy and avoiding the complications. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a global rise in cases of high blood pressure since 2020. This pandemic-related rise in blood pressure cases has been attributed to less physical activity, emotional stress, increased alcohol consumption, disruption of health services,  and direct effect of the virus on the human body.

But largely, the pandemic has influenced the work environment in a way that makes employees more predisposed to the risks of high blood pressure in these times. There has been the wide implementation of alternative ways of work, including teleworking. Teleworking has proven to be beneficial in reducing fatigue and improving productivity of employees.  Although the idea of teleworking has existed from the late-1900s, the use is more  pronounced in the work environment now. This has made employees more sedentary than before. Individuals spend more time working from computers and are relatively less mobile.  Studies have shown that the probability of having elevated blood pressure is significantly higher among sedentary persons.

The pandemic has also brought the concept of working from home, which has been  associated with a negative impact on mental health, an important risk factor to  hypertension. Working from home has been predicted to negatively impact mental health
through the following ways;

  • Persons tend to work longer, and many people are unable to make a disconnect between home and office routines,
  • Individuals feel lonelier and suddenly lack the workplace physical connection for support, and
  • Multiple and crash virtual meetings which otherwise would not be possible in a regular office space leads to stress. Stress is a powerful environmental risk factor that causes hypertension.
  • As we learn to work in this post pandemic era, there is a need to consider cardiovascular health of employees. Employees must own their routine of work as they adjust to work demands. Taking breaks for healthy meals and exercising cannot be over emphasized. The discipline of avoiding telework out of working hours, to bond with family and friends is helpful in maintaining your mental health and will promote your productivity at work.

Employers must consider the implications of workplace restructuring to staff, both to deal with the control of COVID-19 as well as protecting the cardiovascular health of staff. Ensuring a health station at the workplace where blood pressure checks can be done for staff is an easy way of identifying staff who will need early interventions. Employers should provide mental health support for staff.

It is important to note that women have been observed to have higher changes in increase of blood pressures compared to men during this period. This demonstrates one of the ways the pandemic has affected women more than men. This calls for gender considerations in workplace structures to support human resource.

Written By:
Dr. Paul Dsane-Aidoo
World Health Organization,