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5 Secrets to Getting Healthy at Work

5 Secrets to Getting Healthy at Work

More than 80 percent of large American companies have workplace wellness programs and most offer cash, insurance premium refunds or merchandise (such as gift cards) to motivate employees to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking and improve their health. But only one in four employees is on board with this powerful way to boost well-being.

Why the disconnect? Done right, company wellness plans work—but they often fall short. One great example? At the Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Mike is Chief Wellness Officer, a long-running program has helped employees drop a total of more than 445,000 pounds. That’s 222 tons! Five years ago, chronic diseases among their employees were rising at a rate of 10 percent per year. Today, they’re falling by 2 percent per year. The medical center and its employees are saving more than 80 million dollars annually through lower premiums and savings passed to them thanks to a healthier workforce that’s sick less often, visits their doctors less frequently and is more productive.

We’ve learned a lot about what makes workplace wellness programs work. Harness these five success secrets to get the most out of your plan:

1) Choose incentives that motivate you. If you have a choice, pick an incentive that’ll pump you up. Or boost motivation by buddying with a co-worker. Wellness plans that offer a discount on your health insurance premiums could save you a bundle.

(Note: In one headline-grabbing University of Pennsylvania study, a wellness program that offered $550 back on insurance costs—more than a year after people reached weight-loss goals—fizzled. At the Clinic it took a timely payment of a more than 10 percent discount on insurance costs to get positive results. And now programs with timely incentives that offer 30 percent off insurance costs motivate participants toward success at five times the national average.

2) Try fitness programs for mind, body, soul—and heart. Take advantage of options that help you reduce stress, share your health journey with others (like teams of co-workers, family members or an online community) and connect you with your higher purpose in life (such as through volunteer work). One success story: An employee in a wellness program set up by the Cleveland Clinic dropped 50 pounds, trimmed belly fat by 12 inches at the waist and gave up smoking—and his spouse lost 80 pounds! At the Clinic successes are shared every month and there’s no problem finding successes.

3) Change the environment so healthy is the easiest choice. If your cafeteria offerings look like a fast-food menu board, all that talk about getting healthy could leave you feeling jaded instead of jazzed. Lobby for salads, fruit and veggies at prices lower than the muffins, cookies and doughnuts and a bit of time for a lunchtime workout or quick walk on your afternoon break. When healthy choices are the easiest choices, everybody wins.

4) Explore different options until you find what works for you. If one weight-loss offering doesn’t ring your chimes, try another. Try as many options as you can. Or, talk to your team leader about modifying a plan to fit your needs. There should be programs for healthy folks as well as those with chronic health problems. One example: If you’re not into the office’s group fitness class, ask if you can start a walking group or a before-work strength-training club.

5) Open yourself up to Ah-Ha moments and share them. Say yes to health screenings, educational programs about weight loss, quitting smoking plans, diabetes control groups or whatever health-related program is important to you. And talk to coworkers who are doing the same. At the Cleveland Clinic, getting healthy with others is a big part of the wellness plan. You’ll increase your chances for experiencing powerful AH-HA moments that help you understand your own strengths and challenges—and change your life for the better. 

Medically reviewed in February 2019.

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