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American Heart Association Announces Start! Fit-Friendly Companies

Survey of Employees Proves Worksite Wellness Programs Work

DALLAS, Sept. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- More than 900 businesses across the nation have been recognized by the American Heart Association's Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program for promoting physical activity and health in the work place -- a 20 percent increase over last year.

Start! is the American Heart Association's national initiative to get Americans walking. Most adult Americans spend a majority of their waking hours at work -- many in sedentary careers -- increasing their risk for medical problems such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program participants implement various options to encourage physical activity, nutrition and culture enhancements such as on-site walking routes, healthy food options in cafeterias and vending machines, annual employee health risk assessments and online tracking tools. Those participants who achieve Platinum recognition -- the highest tier -- take the program a step further by actually measuring the outcomes of their wellness efforts.

Wellness programs have increased in popularity in recent years because they are economical and efficient ways to help offset increasing employee healthcare costs, according to an American Heart Association survey.

The survey also showed that fewer than one in five employees evaluate their employer as encouraging participation in their company wellness program extremely or very well. However, employees in these highly encouraging environments are more likely to participate in and value these programs.

"Physical inactivity is an epidemic in our country -- we just don't get enough exercise," said, Dr. Timothy Gardner, president of the American Heart Association and medical director of the Center for Heart and Vascular Health at the Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. "Physical activity is one of the best preventive health measures there is, and people who find ways to incorporate more walking into their lives gain health benefits. Our study revealed that employees are far more likely to engage in a workplace wellness program like Start! if company executives promote it, which is underscored by securing the Start! Fit-Friendly designation from the American Heart Association."

The biggest obstacles preventing employees from getting enough physical activity are the time constraints and responsibilities of their jobs. The American Heart Association's answer to this is Start!, which aims to develop a corporate culture of physical activity by motivating employees to walk during their workday. Start! targets both individuals and companies and focuses on walking because it has the lowest dropout rate of any form of physical activity. The Association provides free toolkits to companies who want to implement a worksite walking program.

"Employees participating in wellness programs experience fewer sick days, improved quality of life and higher job satisfaction," said Dave Josserand, chairman of the American Heart Association and executive vice president and chief strategic officer of The Dalton Agency in Jacksonville, Fla. "Wellness programs will continue to play an important role in the health of Americans in years to come. The evidence that participating employees realize health benefits is key; research shows that businesses can save as much as $16 for every $1 they spend on health and wellness."

The list of 2008 Start! Fit-Friendly Companies and more information about the study conducted by Harris Interactive are available at The Oct. 27, 2008 issue of FORBES magazine will include a special advertising section that features all 2008 Start! Fit- Friendly Companies.

Companies interested in applying for recognition in the Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program should contact their nearest American Heart Association office or download an application from the Web site. Applications are due in January for review by a volunteer expert panel.

Start! is sponsored nationally by SUBWAY(R) restaurants, Healthy Choice(R) and AstraZeneca.

SOURCE American Heart Association
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