How To

Develop Your Own Wellness Program

Buck Consultants’ 2010 survey report, Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies, revealed that 66% of workplaces surveyed have a formal wellness plan in place.

While the top objective for investing in such a program for United States employers is to reduce healthcare costs, improving employee productivity, reduced absence, morale, and engagement are also key drivers behind a wellness initiative. Interestingly, those same objectives can have a positive impact on your own life, from a mental, physical, and financial standpoint—whether you work for yourself, or someone else.

If your employer has yet to jump on the wellness train, there’s no excuse for idly sitting by. Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA) has identified the best practices businesses should follow to successfully build and execute a wellness program. You can apply their proven strategies to your own personal wellness program to save money, boost your performance (and maybe even your pay rate), while increasing the quality of your overall well-being.

Get support

Corporations need the buy-in of executives in order to pull off a successful wellness initiative and your personal wellness efforts will thrive with outside support, too. Tell your friends and family about your commitment to improve your health, so that they’ll make an extra effort to help your success. While getting support from friends and family will help you reach your goals, be mindful about how outside influences might hinder your progress, too.

If eating better ranks among your top goals, banish junk foods from sight at home, and try to select restaurants with healthier alternatives while dining out with others. If you have kids, ask your family to allow you the time you need to hit the gym in the morning or after work, or start taking family walks or bike rides instead of pulling out the dessert and remote control after dinner. Loved ones supporting your positive goals make the challenge of improving your health more realistic and more rewarding. Better still, your actions might motivate them to join in your efforts as well.

Identify your interests

Successful workplace wellness strategies identify what issues are of concern and interest to employees, and then provide solutions around them. Define your own wellness action plan with the same defining principles. Simply saying that you want to “be healthier” won’t give you any actionable guidance on how to start. Identify just three things about your life that you’d like to improve when it comes to wellness.

Focus first on what you personally identify as your biggest “problem areas,” whether that’s eating more fruits and vegetables, decreasing stress, getting more sleep, improving dental hygiene, drinking more water, being more active, or simply shutting down technology to connect with your family each night. Once you’ve identified solid goals, outline what steps will get you there.

Develop an operating plan

Corporate wellness programs involve a calendar of events, areas of focus and a budget to achieve goals—and so should yours. Using the interests that you outlined in the previous step, map out changes you’ll continue to make throughout the year, and how much money it’s going to cost. While eating quality foods and exercising probably will cost you more money and effort than cruising through the drive-thru and being a couch potato, consider “preventative healthcare spending” as a long-term investment towards your present and future well-being.

Fostering healthy behaviors lowers your chances of developing stress and weight-related conditions such as, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders and heart disease, all of which will cost you far more than a gym membership and organic produce ever will.

To avoid the chances that you’ll abandon you goals or balk at paying for what it costs to achieve them, identify how much up-front money you will need, and prioritize where you’ll make room in your budget to fund your wellness program. If eating more fresh produce will hike your grocery bill, then plan for it and remember that you’ll also benefit (financially and physically) by cooking at home more and eating out less.

If a gym membership is going to cost you $50 a month, but that’s what you need to get fit, buy it, commit to regularly using it and make concessions by dropping at least one bad habit that costs you money, in exchange for this “good” expense. Not convinced you can find a place to cut? Keep track out how much you spend on things like shopping, drinking, unnecessary driving, and entertainment.

Money can also be a powerful motivator in getting fit. Ten trips to the gym each month on that $50 membership means your money was well spent. When you consider skipping your workout one day, remember that one missed day is literally throwing your hard-earned money down the drain.

Think prevention

You may avoid the doctor in order to keep your medical costs low, but mimicking corporate wellness initiatives and getting screened for disease indicators is money well spent. For example, risks of coronary heart disease (CHD), the number one killer of women and men in the United States, can be controlled to a degree through periodic screening of cholesterol, triglyceride levels and blood pressure.

Seek out health fairs, pharmacies, and gyms that offer free wellness events. They often screen for many of the above indicators, as well as vision and bone density, free of charge. Take advantage of preventative benefits that your insurance plan does cover for routine physicals, annual Pap tests, and mammograms. Its never too late to make lifestyle adjustments such as, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, getting proper sleep, managing stress, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and maintaining optimal weight to find some control over the amount of medical care that you’ll need in the future.

Reward yourself for good

Corporations motivate employees to get (and stay) involved in wellness programs through reward-based incentives like lower health premiums, gift cards, and  ”points” when they workout or get a health assessment. You can implement the same idea into your own wellness program and your reward doesn’t need to cost any money. Simply “allow” yourself to dedicate time to something you enjoy. Perhaps each week you manage to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, allow yourself to sleep in on the weekend, have some breakfast in bed, try a hobby you’ve been curious about, clear your calendar to catch up on a good book, or take a relaxing bubble bath.

Evaluate your outcomes

Progress is a powerful motivator when it comes to finances and health. Maintain your upward momentum by taking a “time out” to realize the benefits you’ve made at the end of every six-month period. Though you may have spent money on a gym membership or a high-quality diet, make sure you evaluate the changes you made in other areas and what the net benefit was. Did you notice significant improvements in your physical well being, mood, attitude, and bank account? Did you reduce any of your medical bills, improve your performance at work, or your personal life because of your improved focus on health? Take note of all your hard work and accomplishments, which is the key to keeping your wellness program thriving and moving forward.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.