Firms boost fiscal fitness with worker health perks

story.lead_photo.captionIt’s one thing to hold your leg up while seated at your desk, it’s another to lean forward while doing that because it really stretches muscles made tight by sitting a lot. (Democrat-Gazette illustration/Celia Storey)

Corporate workers face unique health challenges each day. Long commutes, extended sitting, high stress and poor diet are just a few of the many factors that can negatively affect working people. Now more than ever, corporations understand that employee health directly influences the bottom line.

Here are some of the latest corporate wellness initiatives and how workers can take advantage of those opportunities.

Health insurance discounts are often used to provide a financial incentive for workers to achieve better health. Some companies offer a tiered program that features a low cost/high benefit plan for the healthiest employees, along with a high cost/low benefit plan for those who are at higher risk.

Although this type of program can be some motivation, it does not provide any tools or resources to help the worker to change behavior. In my view, this strategy is like tossing someone off a boat and giving them $500 if they can swim to shore.

Most (smarter) corporations understand this and combine health insurance discounts with myriad wellness resources for employees. In larger organizations, these resources may be contained within a wellness technology platform. Such platforms allow employees to access education, challenge campaigns and other programs aimed at positive behavior. Although some platforms are better than others, the best ones include a live health coach who can provide feedback and advice along the way.

If your employer offers this option — take advantage of it. Health coaches employed by platforms are skilled professionals who can support any sort of change an employee is considering.

These days, virtual fitness programs are more popular than ever. Some employers allow their workforces to access livestream or on-demand fitness classes via desktop, mobile device or smart TV. This is another truly useful resource that employees should explore. Retail costs for this type of technology can exceed $40-$50 per month for an individual, so an employer-sponsored program can save you a lot of money.

In the current work-from-home environment, virtual fitness also makes a lot of sense.

This week’s exercise is a movement that fits right in with a virtual fitness program, because it’s performed in an office chair. The Desk Chair Hamstring Stretch is appropriate for all fitness levels and recommended for pretty much anyone who sits for a good portion of the day.

1. While sitting in a desk chair, move your hips to the front of the seat. Place your hands on the arm rests for support.

2. Extend the right foot out straight in front of you until the leg is at full extension. The left foot should be on the floor.

3. Lean forward slightly with your torso while keeping the back straight. This should increase the tension in your right hamstring.

4. Once you feel a mild discomfort, hold the position for 15 seconds.

5. Switch legs and repeat. Perform 5 repetitions on each side.

In general, companies will provide the wellness resources their prospective and current employees demand. Now more than ever, employees are evaluating such wellness resources as part of their total compensation.

I’m thrilled to see this trend and encourage those who are passionate about their own health to form a wellness committee at their workplace. Sometimes, a dedicated group of advocates is all it takes for the employer to take notice. Now, let’s get to work!

Matt Parrott has a doctorate in education (sport studies) and a master’s in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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