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July 26, 2010 / Tony Arena

Push A Healthy Business

Making your work force healthier is healthy for business. It can result is increased employee productivity and lower medicals costs.

To create a culture of well-being, little changes can make a big difference. Some tips:

Get in the game. Find new ways to create healthy interaction among employees, says Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.”

He suggests creating a jogging club and office softball, basketball and soccer teams.

Support volunteerism. Employees who help out together, says Buettner, build a shared sense of purpose that can lead to greater teamwork in the office: “Our team of experts at Blue Zones has found that those who volunteer are healthier than those that don’t.”

Offer healthy alternatives. Don’t stop celebrating birthdays; just cut down on cake by offering options like fruit. If you have group lunches, pick restaurants that offer healthier choices. Buettner suggests providing employees with attractive water bottles to discourage drinking soda. Fill vending machines with healthy snacks, and make access to water coolers easy.

LuAnn Heinen, vice president of the National Business Group on Health, which advises companies from its Washington, D.C., headquarters, suggests making the most healthful offerings at company cafes the most affordable ones. Their low prices can be subsidized, if need be, by increasing prices on the least healthy items.

Make lunchrooms attractive. By keeping them and their refrigerators clean and bright, you encourage employees to bring healthier food from home rather than go out to convenient but potentially health-busting fast-food restaurants.

Get executives on board. “Communicate the CFO’s participation in the Maintain Don’t Gain or Biggest Loser competition; encourage leaders to walk the talk by using stairs, gym facilities or walking paths at work,” Heinen said. “In business, managers set the tone.”

See the big picture. CEOs should grasp that wellness is about more than physical conditioning, says Allison London Brown, vice president of Healthways (HWAY), a well-being improvement company.

“An organization that is on the path to improve well-being acknowledges the combination of emotional, social, spiritual, physical and intellectual factors, which play a powerful role in an employee’s outlook on life, their health and productivity,” Brown said.

Utilize technology. Companies can direct Internet resources — healthy eating tips, exercise plans and support chats — to employee cell phones, Brown says.

Ask employees. Find out what would make their health goals achievable. “Simple requests like ‘fewer lunch meetings; they interfere with my workouts’ or ‘less food in the call center; it’s too tempting’ can help point the way to a healthier corporate culture,” Heinen said.

Be positive. “The group setting that a workplace provides can be a great starting point for creating a supportive community focused on well-being,” Buettner said.

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