AHA's Workplace Wellness Program Pushes For 'Culture Of Health' Among America's Employees

Employee Wellness Programs
Experts say work wellness programs can help lower your risk of heart disease. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Employers want healthy, productive employees, and what better way to improve their well-being than by implementing programs that encourage fitness and balanced diets? Half of all organizations with 50 or more employees have wellness programs, and they’re growing in popularity, according to an analysis by RAND.  The American Heart Association (AHA) recognized the need and released a set of guidelines for an effective, heart-disease lowering program outline to meet the increasing demand for comprehensive workplace wellness programs (CWWPS).

"As employers increasingly adopt or refine workplace wellness programs, they need guidance on evidence-based measures and optimal programs that will ultimately improve employee health — or they will not fulfill the true potential of such programs," AHA advisory chair Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, professor of cardiovascular medicine and science at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a press release. "Our recommendations provide a blueprint for employers to accurately track the heart health of their employees and provide clear, evidence-based solutions to improve cardiovascular health."

The AHA’s recommendations, which were published in the journal Circulation, were written by a presidential advisory panel with combined expertise in population and workplace health, cardiology, and preventive medicine. The panel found there were two outstanding gaps in employer knowledge, which holds an organization back from providing an effective CWWPS for their employees. The first problem was how inconsistent they varied, while the second highlighted problem revealed failure to address each employee’s heart health. Wellness programs are supposed to promote activity, improve health outcomes at work, or an implemented organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behaviors.

Some programs already in place include allowing time to exercise, offering healthful food options in the vending machines, holding walk-and-talk meetings, and offering financial reimbursement or compensation for wellness activities and gym memberships, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If there isn’t a CWWPS or version of a health promotion program at your place of work, the CDC recommends suggesting implementing one at your office. Now that the AHA has provided detailed guidelines to follow, employers new to CWWPS can easily transition in a new procedure to improve heart health and overall wellness.

"These findings have important implications for the design and recognition of workplace wellness programs. In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death, and stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, and workplace wellness programs have the potential to prevent many of these deaths," said advisory panel’s co-author Dr. Elliott M. Antman, senior physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and president of the AHA. "If we can increase the proportion of the 155 million working-age adults in the United States with improved cardiovascular health, we will make a major step towars achieving our 2020 impact goal of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and decreasing mortality from cardiovascular diseases by 20 percent."

Every year, 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States — that’s one in four people, according to the CDC. The panel came up with “Life’s Simple 7” to provide employees a list of simple and concrete guidelines. Along with list, the AHA provides an online tool called “My Life Check” for employees to calculate their level of heart health on a scale of 1 through 10.

Prevent Heart Disease with “Life’s Simple 7”

1. Stop smoking

2. Get active

3. Lose weight

4. Eat better

5. Manage blood pressure

6. Control cholesterol

7. Reduce blood sugar

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