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Posted on September 29, 2016 by West Corporation 


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Four Tips for Encouraging Fitness in Employees with Chronic Conditions

By Fonda Narke, Health Advocate, a subsidiary of West Corporation

In my last article we discussed ways to make fitness more fun for your employees, while keeping it top of mind. We talked about how fitness challenges don’t always have to come from corporate, and how devices like Fitbits make it possible for employees to set up their own competitions among their colleagues, friends, or family.

That’s great for employees who are already healthy, or at least who don’t have any major health challenges, but what about employees with chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, or asthma?

Thoughtful strategies to prevent or manage chronic conditions can improve health outcomes, while saving money. A well architected wellness plan may increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, and drive employee loyalty.

Here are a few tips to ensure your wellness program engages and motivates those living with chronic conditions.

Appeal to personal interests
We all know that brisk walking or running is great for our health, but if you have ever tried it, cardio isn’t exactly “fun,” even when you’re healthy.

When you have a chronic condition, such as arthritis or obesity that makes it painful to move, or asthma that makes it tough to breathe in certain situations, the thought of going out and power walking or jogging is about as appealing as voluntarily rubbing lemon juice into a paper cut.

As a result, programs involving wearable trackers and competitions are likely to have little appeal to this group – even those with popular thematic elements, like saving the world or running from zombies. Studies show that activity trackers are most appealing to those who are already healthy.

Instead, it’s best to find ways to engage employees with chronic conditions based on their current personal interests and what they’re capable of doing comfortably and enthusiastically. You may have to start small.

The current Pokémon Go craze is a great example. It convinced many long-time gamers and other couch potatoes who lived very sedentary lives to leave the screens behind and go out and explore the real world outside their front doors – it bridged the gap between hobby and exercise.

A scavenger hunt throughout the building, a nature walk in a park, forest preserve or corporate grounds, a free throw contest or other low-impact activities can make fitness more fun, interesting, and achievable for this group.

If you have a wellness budget, consider an inexpensive incentive such as a ten dollar iTunes gift card. A new playlist is a great way to motivate people to start working out or to work out longer. Encourage employees to recommend songs that they find particularly pulsating or inspirational.

Team building events and incentives that get them doing a little more than they were before can get employees with serious health challenges on the track to better health and wellness.

Time the program launch
New Year’s Day is a popular time to start a fitness program. One can wipe the slate clean, leave the past behind, and look forward to starting something that might seem difficult. Other optimal times to start a new program are birthdays, the start of a school year, a new job, the company’s anniversary, a new season, even the beginning of each month or week.

Develop your wellness program around these optimal time for change peaks. Proactively planning for competitions and incentives around these times can attract and engage more employees to make a change.

Bundle some bad with the good
It can be challenging to stay engaged, even with manageable life changes marked by the start of a New Year. Temptation bundling is an approach that combines uninteresting, good habits like cardio, with a guilty pleasure like watching a reality TV show.

To make cardio a little more appealing, only allow yourself to watch “The Bachelorette” or “Keeping up with the Kardashians” while using an elliptical or treadmill. Voila, cardio instantly sounds much more interesting.

In a study about temptation bundling, students were divided into three groups. The first group was told about temptation bundling and how it will help them go to the gym more. The second group was given iPods and highly rated audio books along with the bundling knowledge, and encouraged to only listen to the books while at the gym. The third group was given the same as the second, but the iPods were kept at the gym and had to be checked out while the user was in the gym. Which group do you think was most successful?

If you have a way to dangle a carrot for your employees, engagement is sure to see an uptick. As you may have already guessed the third group saw the most success.

Connect the dots
When asking someone to make a lifestyle change, educate them on why the change should happen. Understanding basic health information could be the key to preventing many of these problems.

For example, many individuals with high cholesterol levels think the total cholesterol number is more important than the individual numbers for LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. Did you know that a low HDL (good cholesterol) number is just as risky as a high LDL (bad cholesterol) number? Too many people focus on lowering their bad cholesterol, but ignore their good. Many people have suffered a heart attack simply because they did not have enough good cholesterol to scrub the bad cholesterol from their arteries.

Coaching and personalized conversations about an employee’s habits and lifestyle are even more beneficial. After all, just reading information on a website alone can be done while eating a burrito supreme washed down with a 64 ounce vat of cola. But a direct conversation with a coach who takes the time to understand the individual’s needs and challenges, and who provides support, will be far more effective.

Some fitness trackers offer personalized advice based on user habits, but we run into the same old problem – the people who need the information most aren’t necessarily wearing those trackers, and the advice tends to be generic. My neighbor and I may both have diabetes, but that doesn’t mean it has the same cause or that we have the same needs.

Get them going
Individuals with chronic conditions require more sophisticated ways to get engaged and stay motivated. This blog discussed just four tips to engage them. Have you seen other ways that have worked well?



West Corporation

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