Wellness days save lives and money

Heart disease, strokes and diabetes are the biggest non-infectious killers in the country. Here’s how company wellness days can save lives – and trim the bottom line.

With an estimated 56% of women and 29% of men being overweight in South Africa, corporate wellness should be a top priority at all organisations, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA (HSFSA).

Being overweight is one of the biggest contributors to the development of high cholesterol and –blood pressure, which can lead to heart problems, strokes and diabetes. In fact, 80% of these diseases are due to lifestyle and behaviour and are, as such, largely preventable.

One study by the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that just a 1% reduction in excess weight, high blood pressure, blood glucose- and cholesterol levels can save around R1500 annually in medical costs per person – adding up to massive savings on a company-wide scale.

Besides that, unhealthy employees are less productive, have lower rates of job satisfaction, and higher turnover rates than healthy employees, says the HSFSA. “Investing in employees’ health through employee wellness programmes is increasingly being recognised as a value-add for both the company and its people,” says a representative of the organisation. “Companies are benefiting through reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and lower medical costs. Individual benefits are risk reduction in heart disease, strokes and other occupational conditions such as stress-related illnesses.”

Wellness days should encourage awareness and management of chronic disease, with health checks for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose levels (diabetes), and body mass index (BMI) – all indicators of a risk of chronic disease.

South Africans who work full-time spend more than a third of their day, five days a week, at their workplace, says the HSFSA. “It is therefore not surprising that the workplace provides an opportune setting through which a large part of the population can be helped through workplace wellness programmes. Wellness screening days (height, weight, waist circumference and finger prick blood tests) are evidence-based strategies that have been shown to work.”


Small changes, big difference

If you’re worried about low participation levels in health- and wellness programmes, start small by making these healthy, but hardly noticeable, changes in the company:

  • Slowly introduce healthier options to the catering menu and vending machines.
  • Install bicycle racks to encourage employees to cycle to work.
  • Make the area around the office building conducive to lunchtime walks.
  • Move some meetings outside for a less-stressed setting.
  • Create a workplace with adequate natural lighting and low noise levels to reduce stress.
  • Provide hydration stations throughout the premises.
  • Offer incentives to encourage employees to quit smoking.
  • Set a good example by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and encourage others to do the same.

Additional sources: Health24, Statistics SA


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