Business of Well-being

Interview with 3 Wellness Leaders on How to Keep Your Employees out of the Doctor's Office

This month I interviewed the Wellness Officer for Costco, the President and CEO of Weight Watchers International, and the Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Center for Employee Wellness and Health Promotion at the National Institutes of Health and asked the question:

"What is one thing that you can tell your employees to do to "stay out of the doctor's office?"

Anne W. Casey, MS, FAACVPR,  Manager, Health and Wellness, Costco Wholesale

"If I had to choose just one piece of advice to help someone avoid visiting their doctor, it would be regular physical activity. Research suggests that over half of the visits to physicians can be related to poor lifestyle choices that lead to chronic disease or illness. Exercise is the one modality that provides a wide range of benefits to improve overall health.  Regular physical activity can reduce the incidence of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stress, and cancer.

Can you think of any other "medical prescription" that has such a positive impact on an employees health? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has established national health objectives outlined in the Healthy People 2010 initiative. One of the goals of Healthy People 2010, is to increase the number of people who participate in daily physical activity. Currently more than 28% of Americans are completely sedentary, with another 50% engaging in less than 30 minutes of activity per day.

The good news is it is not necessary to train for a marathon to receive the health benefits that exercise can offer. Going for a walk, mowing the lawn or taking the stairs at work, can have a significant impact on one's health. Finding ways to incorporate regular activity into your daily lifestyle, can make the difference in achieving long term success and improved health outcomes. By including regular movement for at least 30 minutes per day, there is a significant decrease in the risk for chronic disease as well as an improved quality of life."

Annie recommends the following websites:

CDC Guide to Healthy Living

ACSM: Physical Activity and Public Health Guidelines

Next, Let's hear from David P. Kirchhoff, President & CEO, Weight Watchers International

"Not surprisingly, if I could only choose one recommendation, it would be to clean up your diet by shifting to healthier foods. Excess weight is the primary driver of numerous chronic conditions that cause so many doctor visits. In particular, the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is significantly increased with excess weight. We recommend a combination of regular activity and a healthier diet, and I personally vouch for both.

However, in order to lose weight, you have to reverse the calorie equation so you are burning more than you consume. It is extremely difficult to accomplish this without reducing consumption. The best way to reduce excess calorie consumption is to shift your diet to healthier foods such as lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy.  Combine this with sane portion sizes, and you have a healthy diet that can lead to sustained weight loss. Making this change happen requires replacing a variety of unhealthy eating habits with healthy ones, but it can absolutely be done with effort and by getting education and support."

Our third opinion comes from Rachel Permuth-Levine, PhD, MSPH, Director, Center for Employee Wellness and Health Promotion, NHLBI, NIH

"My number one recommendation is to find some way to move more every day and enjoy it!  Regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk for heart disease stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and depression. It can improve thinking ability in older adults and the ability to engage in activities needed for daily living. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that adults ages 18-64 get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.

Walking briskly is one of the easiest ways to improve your level of physical activity, and it can be done almost anywhere. Other examples include water aerobics, bicycling, ballroom dancing, and general gardening. Keep in mind that it's best to spread out your aerobic activities - activities that make you breathe harder and your heart beat faster than normal - throughout the week.

Also, episodes of activity that are at least 10 minutes long count toward meeting the guidelines, so you don't need to commit to long periods of time on any given day. One of the best ways to continue any form of physical activity is to have fun doing it. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of moving your body:

1. Find your favorite upbeat music. It will keep you moving faster. Change your music often to keep you motivated and inspired.

2. If you can find a friend or family member to join you, even better. Keeping fit together can be doubly motivating, and your friend or family member can give you that extra push if you are losing your resolve.

3. Start slowly at first, but just get started! The hardest part about changing your behavior is often just getting started. If you start your walking program with 5-10 minutes at a time, you will find it easier to continue than if your goal is initially a 30-minute walk. Set goals that you can accomplish and you will find that you are able to increase your time walking gradually.

It's also easier to stay physically active over time if you work in opportunities in your daily life. For example, use the stairs instead of the elevator, or park farther away from your office or store and walk the rest of the way. Rachel recommends the following resources.

Your guide to a Healthy Heart:  

Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

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