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Wellness at the workplace

Published:Wednesday | June 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Kenneth Gardner

Lifestyle-related problems continue to be the number-one cause of death locally. This is a major cause for concern as the cost of health care spirals upwards and the benefits that can be derived from a healthy lifestyle continue to elude the average person.

The need for a healthy population, especially in a struggling economy, speaks eloquently to containing health-care costs and improving productivity. The workplace is ideally positioned to sensitise the public to the advantages of a healthy lifestyle. It is one of the major agencies to afford its personnel the opportunity to participate in fitness programmes. Offering fitness programmes at the workplace can be beneficial to all the stakeholders. The convenience and accessibility of such programmes can eliminate the main excuses most persons give for not getting involved in fitness activities.

The workplace benefits from its wellness programmes via improved employee health, productivity, morale, reduced absenteeism and informed employees on health issues. The worksite can also be an ideal location for identifying employees at risk for disease and engaging them in health-promotion programmes. Health screening, timely counselling, referrals of high-risk individuals, health education and other health promotion programmes can be provided to persons for whom much of this would have been otherwise inaccessible.

Use incentives

The workplace can use incentives to encourage employee participation including risk-rated health insurance premiums, subsidies or reduced fees for participation in community-based fitness programmes that are not available on site.

It is well documented that workplace fitness programmes improve health and reduce health risks in the participants, many of whom would not have otherwise been involved in fitness programmes.

Opportunities such as flexible work hours and breaks for physical activities can encourage employees, especially those who perform sedentary work, to participate. For others it may be more practical to encourage the development of self-help programmes that can be implemented at home or at a community site, in this case, reimbursements could be made to participants or discounted rates negotiated, as well as assistance provided towards the development and implementation of such a programme.

Encourage physical activity

Physical activities should be a part of our daily routine at best, if not, at least within our weekly routine. The exponential value of having a healthy population makes it prudent to legitimise the development of national policies to promote physical activities as an aid to prevent chronic diseases and improve the quality of life of our people to reduce health-care costs. Thus, by having the workplace as a major contributor to health and wellness this could help to influence greater success nationwide. This would put the workplace in a very powerful position to influence legislative and regulatory policies to promote physical activities toward their corporate goals.

Workplaces could also collaborate to provide programmes for their employees. Little benefits like these sometimes mean more to the employees than an insignificant pay increase.

Dr Kenneth Gardner is an exercise physiologist at Holiday Hills Research Center; email: