Every January, many of us vow to lose weight, quit smoking, eat smarter, and exercise more, prerequisites to better health and lower risk for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, lung cancer and other maladies.
And every year, researchers at the University of Scranton say, about 80% of us break those vows by mid-February.
Failure, though, is not preordained. Individuals can attain their health goals, and their employers can play a key supporting role, say health experts like Colleen Gavin, Hilary McMahon, and Gina McDonald from Capital BlueCross.
Gavin, a certified exercise physiologist, and health and wellness coach at Capital BlueCross Connect in Center Valley, Lehigh County, preaches “SMART goals: Smart. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Time-bound.”
Losing 40 or 50 pounds is a great long-term goal, Gavin said, but those long-term goals are really made up of a series of short-term goals along the way. “Short-term goals may include eating three vegetables a day, or exercising three times a week, or reducing calories each day,” Gavin explained.
“Instead of saying, ‘I want to lose 100 pounds,’ set a goal to lose 10 pounds and achieve that,” said McMahon, a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist, and health coach at Capital BlueCross Connect health and wellness center in the Hampden Marketplace in Enola.
“You’ll be more motivated and confident to set a goal to lose another 10 pounds,” she said.
Patience and consistency are vital, said McDonald, a senior health coach, certified trainer, and American College of Sports Medicine-certified exercise physiologist at Capital BlueCross. “If you set a goal to exercise, make it something small and daily to accomplish. Make that feel like a routine, then progress. Actually make a plan and evaluate it. If something is not working, change it. Don’t give up on it.”
Because the average American spends nearly 90,000 hours of their life at work, employers are in a unique position to encourage healthy behaviors and support healthy lifestyles.
“Businesses absolutely should get involved with employee health and fitness goals,” McMahon said. “It will not only help the employees, but it benefits the company as well.” Some companies, she said, will bring in a certified personal trainer, health coach, or dietitian, or offer discounts on gym memberships, or they might offer seminars on goal setting or improving health and wellness.
A study by the Rand Corporation found 69% of companies with more than 50 employees have dedicated wellness programs. Some two-thirds of those companies reported their programs were “somewhat effective” or “very effective” in reducing healthcare costs, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Return on investment for corporate wellness programs can vary. One small study published by the Harvard Business Review reported an ROI of $6 for every dollar spent. A much larger, 10-year study by Rand reported an ROI of $1.50 for every dollar spent. Those studies, however, cannot account for what some call the “positivity factor” that results from exercise.
“Exercise produces natural endorphins which can give a person more energy and improve their mood,” McDonald said. “Those employees are often more productive.”
“Evaluate your culture,” she added. “Take it slow by polling your employees to find what they want. A lot of times there is a rush to implement programs without actually knowing where to start.”
McDonald suggests forming a wellness committee comprising employees from all departments to help determine which types of programs will best serve a company.
“When communicated with a positive, compassionate tone, the work environment can be a place where wellness goals become made and achieved,” McDonald said.