Monday, September 7, 2009

Building a culture of wellness and active living

Most readers know that I’ve been a big champion of the key IBEW value of safety in the workplace. We’ve made tremendous strides in safety and now I think we must start to focus the same kind of energy and attention on wellness and healthy living. Although the damage of an unhealthy lifestyle isn’t as immediately obvious as the aftermath of a workplace accident, the truth is that far too many of our members end up suffering from poor health and a reduced quality of life.

The mission of Local 37 is “to work as a team to improve the lives of our members and their families”, and I believe that encouraging a growing focus on wellness and a healthy, active lifestyle is clearly within that mandate, in a number of ways.

The immediate benefit is direct improvement in health for our members. Study after study shows that an active, healthy, lifestyle boosts resistance to disease, lowers stress and improves or prevents many serious health problems (heart and stroke problems, diabetes, etc.). We want members to have a good quality of life, not only while working but also in retirement and one of the best ways to do that is encourage a culture of health, wellness and active living.

A secondary benefit relates to the savings we will see in the cost of our benefit programs. The prices we pay for our benefits are directly linked to the costs we incur as a group. The costs of drug coverage and health benefits are rising every year, and many of those cost drivers are related to preventable illnesses and risky health conditions that would benefit from an increased focus on an active healthy lifestyle. For example, every year we collectively pay hundreds of thousands in benefits premiums for cholesterol lowering medication like Lipitor. Obviously, there are some people who need this medication, but in a lot of cases, high cholesterol can be successfully treated through proper diet and exercise.

To support the above outcomes, Local 37 has already done a number of things to encourage our members to lead healthier, active lifestyles. As talked about in the last blog entry, we introduced a program to encourage member participation in community fundraising events that support healthcare and involve physical activity. We also have a program that can provide modest grants to groups of employees for workplace wellness activities. Earlier this year we also partnered with NB Power to encourage participation in the provincial walking challenge, and early reports are that it definitely has had a positive impact on the number of people participating in this summer long event.

I know it’s important to lead by example, and if I’m going to “talk the talk” on wellness and active lifestyles, I’d better “walk the walk”. My life is pretty busy and in the past that’s been my excuse for not finding time to be more active. But I’ve decided there will be no more excuses, I’m going to get moving, so I’ve recently started a running program. I’m taking it slow, as I build my fitness, but I’ve got a goal of running in a 5K event next year. That will be the topic of another blog entry though!

No comments: