Making Worksite Wellness a Priority
● By Kerri Regan
Small Steps, Big Changes
By Kerri Regan
Most people know healthy eating and physical activity are key to living your best life. But when you spend the bulk of your waking hours at work, it can feel impossible to squeeze a workout or a healthy homemade meal into your day, despite your best intentions.
That’s why a growing number of North State employers have adopted worksite wellness programs, where employees are encouraged to invest in themselves.
“We are reshaping how people think about their health. It’s not just treating sickness – we want to help employees stay healthy,” says Betsy Amstutz, patient educator for Shasta Community Health Center. Two years ago, the health center “decided to focus on small steps that create big change,” Amstutz says. “It shows employees that we care. We don’t have a gym or a large budget, so we try to be creative with what we do have. We are creating a culture change.” The health center offers monthly “lunch and learn” classes that cover physical and mental health topics, as well as yoga before work and Zumba after work.
Turtle Bay Exploration Park offers bicycles that employees can ride around the campus. “Since Turtle Bay is 300 acres total and split by the Sacramento River, we encourage staff to walk or bike whenever possible to keep healthy and to enjoy the beautiful place we get to work every day,” says Cristy Kidd, Turtle Bay’s marketing and public relations manager. “Plus, technically speaking, it is faster to bike from one end of campus to the other than it is to drive.”
Some of the bikes were funded by Healthy Shasta, and others were donated by staff or volunteers – including “my lovely pink and white beach cruiser,” Kidd says with a smile.
At Mercy Medical Center Redding, stairwells are well-maintained and can be used for exercise year-round, says employee health coordinator Curtis Chow. They also encourage walking with co-workers, the cafeteria offers numerous healthy options and bicycle lockers are available for employees who wish to bike to work.
The Shasta County Office of Education also offers on-site education and health challenges throughout the year. “Diet and exercise can help prevent most of the chronic diseases that Americans battle every day,” says Brenda Palmer, human resources director for the Shasta County Office of Education. “It is difficult to measure your return on investment, but good health supports improved productivity, attendance and employee morale.”
The investment also pays off financially. “The Office of Education is a self-insured organization and healthy employees lower health care costs, which in turn, helps to manage our overall insurance costs,” Palmer says.
Carrie Edwards, wellness coordinator for Redding Rancheria, said the same is true of her organization. “Every doctor visit or emergency impacts the bottom line,” she says, adding that wellness program policies and procedures are part of their daily operations. For example, all functions include healthy food choices, and they offer on-site classes on weight management, nutrition education and various workout classes.
The Rancheria and other employers routinely participate in annual wellness challenges, such as Walktober, the Bike Commute Challenge and others.
Healthy Shasta offers numerous low- or no-cost suggestions for creating a healthier workplace. For instance, its healthy meeting guidelines suggest providing nutritious snacks (if snacks are necessary at all) and incorporating short, optional physical activity breaks. For businesses with vending machines, suggestions include incorporating more items that are lower in fat and sugar, and replacing soda with water, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, unsweetened tea and nonfat or lowfat milk.
The bottom line? It doesn’t take a huge investment of money to help build a healthier workplace.
“We spend so many hours at work, I feel it is important to support our employees as much as possible in their pursuit of healthy lifestyles,” Palmer says.
HAVE A HEALTHY WORKDAY:
Keep a pair of walking shoes at your desk so you can take a quick walk on your break. Fresh air invigorates body and mind.
Suggest a “walking meeting” - if there are just a few of you, ditch the conference room and take your agenda on the road. Moving your body can even boost creativity.
Stretch every hour or so – you’ll reduce the aches and pains you feel at day’s end.
Take turns bringing in a tray of healthy snacks for the breakroom.
Keep a tally of how much water you’ve consumed - if you drink three glasses before lunch and three glasses after lunch, you’ve almost met your requirement for the day. Toss in some fresh berries, mint or cucumber slices for a little extra flavor.
Take a mental health minute. Move away from your desk, close your eyes and take some deep breaths.