AHA Recognizes Businesses for Wellness Programs

More than 900 businesses across the nation have been recognized by the American Heart Association's Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program for promoting physical activity and health in the work place--a 20 percent increase over last year.

Start! is AHA's national initiative to get Americans walking. Most adult Americans spend a majority of their waking hours at work--many in sedentary careers--increasing their risk for medical problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, AHA officials said. Companies participating in Start! implement various options to encourage physical activity, nutrition, and culture enhancements, such as on-site walking routes, healthy food options in cafeterias and vending machines, annual employee health risk assessments, and online tracking tools. Participants who achieve Platinum recognition--the highest tier--take the program a step further by actually measuring the outcomes of their wellness efforts.

Wellness programs have increased in popularity in recent years because they are economical and efficient ways to help offset increasing employee healthcare costs, according to an AHA survey. The survey also found that fewer than one in five employees evaluate their employer as encouraging participation in their company wellness program extremely or very well. However, employees in these highly encouraging environments are more likely to participate in and value these programs.

"Physical inactivity is an epidemic in our country--we just don't get enough exercise," said, Dr. Timothy Gardner, president of the American Heart Association and medical director of the Center for Heart and Vascular Health at the Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. "Physical activity is one of the best preventive health measures there is, and people who find ways to incorporate more walking into their lives gain health benefits. Our study revealed that employees are far more likely to engage in a workplace wellness program like Start! if company executives promote it, which is underscored by securing the Start! Fit-Friendly designation from the American Heart Association."

The biggest obstacles preventing employees from getting enough physical activity are the time constraints and responsibilities of their jobs. The American Heart Association's answer to this is Start!, which aims to develop a corporate culture of physical activity by motivating employees to walk during their workday. Start! targets both individuals and companies and focuses on walking because it has the lowest dropout rate of any form of physical activity. The Association provides free toolkits to companies who want to implement a worksite walking program.

The list of 2008 Start! Fit-Friendly Companies and more information about the study conducted by Harris Interactive are available at http://www.heart.org/start. The Oct. 27 issue of FORBES magazine will include a special advertising section that features all companies participating in the 2008 Start! program. Companies interested in applying for recognition in the program should contact their nearest AHA office or download an application from the Web site. Applications are due in January for review by a volunteer expert panel.

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