Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and Their Relation to The Workplace

on April 26, 2021

Mankind has always been plagued by diseases, some highly contagious and some not at all. When it comes to the latter, there is an umbrella term for a list of diseases that haunt those in the modern world: non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The WHO reported that, globally, 41 million people die from NCDs, contributing to 71% of all global deaths every year. Given that these are diseases that are not contagious, the death toll reaped is alarmingly high. Common examples of NCDs are hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and stroke), and cancer. NCDs impact not just the physical health of the individual, but also their financial stability and, ultimately, mental health.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in Malaysia, with ischaemic heart disease responsible for the majority. There are 3 diseases that fall under NCDs and are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes; and,
  • High cholesterol

Unfortunately, 1.7million people in Malaysia currently suffer from all 3 of these major risk factors while 3.4million people suffer from two of the risk factors. The prevalence of hypertension amongst adults (>18 years) in 2019 was 30%, diabetes was 18.3%, and high cholesterol was 38.1%. These statistics are taken individually, meaning that an individual could actually be contributing to statistics of all three categories at the same time.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

6.4 million people in this country suffer from hypertension. Hypertension is known as high blood pressure and is the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases worldwide. An individual whose blood pressure measures above 140/90 mmHg is considered hypertensive, compared to an average blood pressure of around 105/70.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Hypertension is when the blood pressure against the walls of the blood vessels is too high, especially at rest. The increase in pressure causes the heart to work harder but with less efficiency. The blood vessels on the other hand start to narrow, thus, also increasing blood pressure as well. The reason for the narrowing of vessel walls is due to micro tears that form from the increased blood pressure, causing a building up of cholesterol along said micro tears. This is a snowball effect of hypertension, and the situation will continue to deteriorate if left unattended to.

Of the 3 major risk factors of cardiovascular diseases, hypertension is the easiest to assess, as a mere home blood pressure monitor would suffice. Despite that, it is important to keep in mind that symptoms of hypertension are not conspicuously presented, unless dangerously high. Common risk factors of hypertension include:

  • Age
  • Physical inactivity
  • Weight (overweight and obesity)
  • Improper/unhealthy diet
  • Stress
  • Family history

Left untreated, uncontrolled hypertension can progress to serious conditions such as stroke, heart attacks, and even heart failure.


In just 2017, the NST reported that 3.6 million adults in Malaysia suffer from diabetes, roughly over 10% of the population in Malaysia. In 2020, the National Health and Morbidity Survey for 2019 was released and it stated that 3.9 million adults (18 years old and above) suffer from diabetes in Malaysia. These numbers have been ever increasing, not just in Malaysia, but throughout the world.

Diabetes occurs when blood glucose (blood sugar) levels gets too high. An individual who is diabetic is unable to produce enough insulin (if at all) to allow glucose to be absorbed by the cells within the body, thus causing an increase in blood sugar levels.


There are 2 common types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas either cannot produce any or enough insulin or the body has trouble utilising insulin to transport sugar into the cells (in other words, insulin resistant). Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is when the pancreas is unable to produce any or enough insulin. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the β-cells of the pancreas, hindering the production of insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It is when there is a deficit in insulin secretion by the β-cell of the pancreas due to its declining function, peripheral insulin resistance, and impaired regulation of hepatic glucose.

To put to perspective, high concentrations of glucose in the blood could potentially cause damage to the blood vessels. As mentioned above, if the vessels close to the heart are victims of damage due to the high glucose concentrations, there will be a build-up of plaque or cholesterol. Thus, contributing to hypertension.

Risk factors are Common risk factors of diabetes include:

  • Age
  • Physical inactivity
  • Family history
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight
  • Improper/unhealthy diet

High Cholesterol

8 million people in Malaysia have been diagnosed with high cholesterol. Unfortunately, there are no symptoms for high cholesterol which could explain why 1 in 4 people in Malaysia were unaware that they actually do have high cholesterol.

While cholesterol is an essential substance produced by the body, just like everything else, too much of it is detrimental. High cholesterol is when there is excessive “bad” fatty substance within the blood, whereby the concentration of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), supersedes that of high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDL causes build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels. This, in turn, will lead to high blood pressure.

High Cholesterol

High cholesterol will result in a build-up of cholesterol within the arterial walls. This may cause atherosclerosis, and if left untreated, will progress to thrombosis. Once again, if the build-up of cholesterol is close to the heart, it will cause hypertension. With that, it is suffice to say that there is an array of NCD that will evidently lead to hypertension eventually.

Common risk factors of high cholesterol:

  • Improper/unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Weight
  • Family history

The abovementioned NCDs are among the more common NCDs known worldwide. These 3 diseases are intertwined and compliment each other in adverse ways. For example, if an individual has an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle, he or she may gain weight and eventually become overweight or obese. This will then lead to developing diabetes and high cholesterol, which leads to a multitude of health issues, such as hypertension and stroke. If all this is left untreated, death could be imminent.

In addition, NCDs (more specifically: cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer) cost the Malaysian economy an upwards of RM 8.91 billion. This is based off of productivity losses due to absenteeism and presenteeism within the workplace as well as premature death of the working class’ population in the country. On top of that, an estimated RM 100.79 billion was lost due to the burden of these diseases (eg: disability), almost 10% of the national GDP.

An obvious, and more costly approach to manage these NCDs is medication. As mentioned above, many of the risk factors of NCDs are improper diet and physical inactivity. In other words, most of these diseases are preventable and/or manageable with a healthy active lifestyle. For example, cooking a healthy meal at home is cheaper than eating out; and exercising at home is free. A misconception of a healthy active lifestyle is that an individual has to eat steamed chicken with vegetables and exercise every day. Fortunately for us humans, we just need a moderate amount of consistent exercise and a simple balanced diet (it is not a crime to eat a piece of chocolate once in a blue moon).

Health Risks of Working A Desk Job

Those that work in everyday desk jobs are at risk of developing NCDs. Here’s a scenario to think about: we sit during breakfast, sit in the train or car to get to work, sit in front of a desk at work, sit during lunch, sit on the ride home from work, sit during dinner, sit to watch TV. That is a lot of sitting in a day. In addition, it is likely that once we get home from work, we are demotivated to exercise, especially if we have dinner to cook. This is the epitome of a sedentary lifestyle and exactly why those with desk jobs are at a higher risk of developing NCDs. Prolonged sitting has been termed as “The Sitting Disease” and deemed “The New Smoking” because of the risks it imposes onto health.

A desk job is in stark contrast with jobs where people are required to move around and be on their feet constantly. Flight attendants spend a lot of their time on their feet pushing around a heavy cart, helping people with their luggage, serving drinks, all while trying to balancing in a moving plane, which is made significantly harder for those in high heels. They are at a lower risk of developing NCDs as compared to those constantly sitting at a desk (or even compared to the pilots), simply because they spend more time moving around throughout the day.

It is understandable that to ask an individual to exercise before or after a hard day’s work could come across as uninviting. While physical activity and exercise is important for health, the intention of this article is to create awareness on the dangers imposed on an individual’s health from a sedentary lifestyle and how to avoid it by taking one step at a time.

Not only does prolonged sitting endanger health, it could also cause desk-related injuries such as back pain. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome these potential diseases and injuries. It is important to remember that it’s not all about going jogging for half an hour every single day; even small efforts and measures count. Not only does moving throughout the day make enough of an impact to reduce the risk of NCDs, it also diminishes the chances of sustaining desk-related injuries.

Health Risks of Working A Desk Job

Here is a list of a few examples of small changes in daily work lifestyle that could make an impact in health and wellbeing:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walking to work (if possible)
  • Go for short walks during lunch breaks
    • Those having lunch away from the workplace can walk there instead of drive
    • Those having lunch within the workplace can take a short 5-10 minute walk before the hour is up
  • Employers can invest in a shared space standing desks for those who want to take a break from sitting on-and-off (a healthy work environment with healthy employees have been proven to promote productivity within the company)

Aside from moving throughout the day at while at work, it is also important to remember to apply the same concept at home as it is easy to forget about moving in the comforts of our own home. Smart watches such as Fitbit and Garmin even include hourly reminders to walk around and have step goals for users to reach by the end of the day. Studies have found that taking more steps a day will help in the prevention of all-cause mortality and NCD. That being said, there are still disputes on the ideal step goal per day in order to significantly lower the risk of NCD.

Over the weekend, it is also important to try to squeeze in a short exercise regime, be it walking, jogging, going to the gym, or even doing house chores. Any activity involves constant movement and promoting blood flow and circulation throughout the body is always beneficial and better than being sedentary. The following are guidelines released by ACSM for weekly exercise recommendations:

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD)

With the current pandemic, companies are adapting to the work from home culture. This could pose a risk to an increase in sedentary lifestyle throughout the country. It is clear that many NCDs are intertwined; one NCD could cause another, or significantly make it worse. It has been proven many times that prevention is better than cure. On top of preventing NCDs, exercises also prevents NCDs from getting worse.

If you want to know more about the effective ways to boost employee productivity and improve retention, feel free to give us a call at 03-50315946 or send us a Whatsapp or Make an Appointment. We at Rehamed Therapy are always here to help!


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