How to stay fit on the work/life balance beam

by Tracy Clayson
Tracy Clayson is managing partner, business development of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.
Tracy Clayson is managing partner, business development of Mississauga, Ontario-based In Transit Personnel.

When my forty-something client recently told me how thrilled he was to have completed his first marathon, he had a look on his face that I both recognized and envied. It was that “I slayed the dragon” look of satisfaction you only get when you really challenge yourself and still manage to come out ahead.

It was a look that also reminded me how crucial it is for all of us to remain focused on making better daily lifestyle choices. And that includes me.

My first career was as a trained professional performance artist in dance. Since I started my second career, I have managed to remain quite fit by making physical activity and healthy eating key priorities. Of course, I still experience the odd dips in energy of a typical gal in her fifties!

As we approach our more mature years it becomes ever more important to set goals to keep our bodies moving and our minds sharp. But as we age, it also becomes more difficult to change our habits.

It doesn’t help to learn, then, that costly employer investments in programs designed to motivate employees to quit smoking, lose weight, exercise more and make healthy food choices are not that effective.

Yet the resulting costs of increased work absences, rising health plan premiums, lower productivity and higher turnover are startling. These costs are also causing many employers to question how they became responsible for subsidizing and managing folks who won’t make exercise, diet and healthy living higher priorities.

On the bright side, workplace wellness programs that address disease management are quite effective—certainly more so than those general programs that try to motivate people to make changes.

For example, a recent Rand study (quoted in the Harvard Business Review story “Meet the Wellness Programs That Save Companies Money”) examined 10 years of data from a US Fortune 100 employer’s wellness program. The study, called “Do Workplace Wellness Programs Save Employers Money?”, shows that, “when compared against the lifestyle-management component, disease management delivered 86 percent of the hard health care cost savings, generating $136 in savings per member, per month and a 30 percent reduction in hospital admissions.”

Since workplaces are made up of both employees at risk of chronic illness due to existing conditions and those in good overall health, a one-size-fits-all message does not work.

Instead, an ongoing preventative action plan can ensure improvements for employees with existing conditions by targeting those who can benefit from teaching them about topics like prevention and the risks associated with disease. For those with fitness-focused lifestyles, messaging about stress management, relaxation, prioritization or team building will be more effective.

It is reasonable to assume those with more energy, better agility and lower blood pressure could have become that way by living a life with less stress and making more time for relaxation.

We might also assume this will translate to better overall health, leading to better response times in a crisis, like auto or truck collisions, workplace errors and slips or falls. It could also better prepare someone for sudden health issues.

Someone who drives a truck or sits at a desk likely already has some tension in parts of their body. These areas could benefit from better flexibility, more regular movement and, ideally, some rigorous activity.

Taking time to walk and take the stairs during your work shift is a good start, but what’s truly needed is a commitment to set goals to raise fitness levels and improve ongoing medical test results.
One program for truckers is The Healthy Fleet program, which uses a healthy competition model to get industry participants focused on exercise and weight reduction. That’s a good initiative, and there are others like it for those willing to seek them out.

Yet Canadians still have a 24 percent obesity rate, according to Statistics Canada. This is more than 10 percentage points lower than the rate of Americans (34.4 percent), but there remains much room for improvement.

Staying fit and healthy may be tough, but it is not impossible. It takes a willingness to try new approaches, persistence, and the patience to know that every journey starts with a single step.