Fit-Friendly Companies Program Promotes Corporate Wellness

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Fit-Friendly Companies Program

Fit-Friendly Companies Program encompasses three main criteria: physical activity, nutrition and Culture.

American employers continue to experience an ever-ascending rise in health care costs along with a simultaneous depletion in productivity resulting in an expense of $225.8 billion due to employees' personal and family health problems.

The American Heart Association is offering employers an opportunity to proactively address these issues through its Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program. The program is a primary element in the association's groundbreaking new Start! Movement which launched in January 2007.

Physical Activity:

-- Worksite actively promotes tools such as walking program, online newsletters, information pamphlets and pedometers to motivate employees

-- Worksite encourages employees to take stretch breaks or participate in other physical activities during meetings

-- Worksite has an indoor walking path with mile distance marked off, provides a map for safe and convenient walking outside the office, or has access to outdoor facilities that allow walking or jogging

-- Worksite encourages walking meetings with participation from all management levels

Nutrition:

-- Worksite enforces policies that require its cafeteria to offer a minimum of one "healthy" food option and one "healthy" beverage option at each meal served

-- Worksite offers discounts that encourage the purchase of "healthy" food and/or beverage

-- Worksite requires on-site vending machines to offer a minimum of 25% "healthy" food and beverage options

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Culture

-- Worksite president/CEO appoints an internal wellness program coordinator or wellness promotion staff member to be available to employees for consultation

-- Worksite offers employees annual health risk assessments (blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, online mental health screening) and provides feedback to employees

-- Worksite organizes and promotes employee health programs, services or classes (e.g. cardiovascular disease in women, stroke warning sign recognition, incentives or competition to increase smoking cessation)

-- Worksite identifies procedures and develops activation plans to handle employee at-work health emergencies

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at worksites with physical activity programs employers have reduced health care costs by 20 to 55[AB1]%, reduced short-term sick leave by 6 to 32% and increased productivity by 2 to 52%.(i) This leads to a healthier environment for all employers and employees while decreasing the company's health care costs.

Companies that participate in the Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program are provided various options to implement and encourage physical activity practices such as providing walking routes, promoting walking programs, and online newsletters and tracking tools to motivate employees. An example of this is allowing staff to wear athletic shoes in the workplace on designated "sneaker days."

Another component of the Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program is the recognition opportunity. Participating companies are provided free access to program resources, materials to help promote company wellness programs to employees, newsletter templates for internal distribution to employees, and consultation on CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator) programs.

Employers who adopt the Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program will also be recognized by the American Heart Association on the program's national website. In addition, eligible companies will be granted the right to use the program's annual recognition seal for internal communications to employees and external, recruitment-related communications.

"The Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program offers a unique and easy-to- implement opportunity for corporations to increase employees' physical activity which will improve their health -- and their employers' bottom line," says Andy Buroker, American Heart Association Chairman.

Adult Americans spend a majority of their waking hours at work, and many are in sedentary careers. In fact, Americans now work 164 more hours per year than 20 years ago.(ii) This amplifies their risk for a host of medical problems such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Obesity alone costs American businesses $12.7 billion per year in medical expenses. This current environment provides the driving force behind the Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program.

The Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program organizers recognize that employees have time constraints and responsibilities that often keep them from taking care of their health. Start! helps to improve the corporate culture by motivating employees to start walking -- the exercise with the lowest dropout rate of any physical activity.

Even people who have ignored regular exercise until middle age can reap significant benefits by starting a walking program. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1986 found that individuals lived two hours longer for every hour of exercise they performed when performed on a regular basis.(iii)

Start! is sponsored nationally by SUBWAY(R) restaurants, Healthy Choice(R) and AstraZeneca. For more information about the Start! Fit Friendly Companies Program and how it is helping improve the health of Americans by focusing on an activity that is convenient, free and easy, visit americanheart.org/start. Companies interested in joining the Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program should contact their local American Heart Association office to obtain an official application. Applications are due by July 30 for review by a panel.

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