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Workplace Wellness Programs Work

Employees who used them lost weight, lowered heart disease risk, study finds

TUESDAY, March 2 (HealthDay News) -- Workplace wellness programs help employees lose weight and reduce their risk of heart disease, a new study shows.

U.S. researchers followed 757 hospital workers who took part in a voluntary 12-week, team-based wellness program that focused on diet and exercise. Data on the participants' weight, lifestyle behavior and heart disease risk factors were collected at the start of the study, at the end of the wellness program and a year after the program ended.

At the start of the study, 33 percent of participants were overweight (body mass index, or BMI, of 25 to 29.9) and 30 percent were obese (BMI of 30 or more).

The researchers found that obese participants lost the most weight -- 3 percent at 12 weeks and 0.9 percent at one year -- and were most likely to reduce their intake of dietary sugar. Overweight participants did almost as well, with an average weight loss of 2.7 percent at 12 weeks and 0.4 percent at one year.

All participants had similar improvements in levels of physical activity, along with lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and reduced waist circumferences at program end and at one year, the findings showed.

"Voluntary wellness programs can successfully address weight loss and lifestyle behaviors for employees in all weight categories, but more work is needed to improve long-term changes," the Massachusetts General Hospital researchers concluded.

The study was to be presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Conference in San Francisco.

Other research to be released Tuesday at the meeting found that aerobic exercise reduces levels of inflammatory markers in men with heart disease.

The Polish study included 100 men, average age 55, who'd had coronary artery bypass surgery about two months previously to treat angina pectoris -- chest pain experienced during physical activity.

The men were randomly selected to be in a control group or a group that did six weeks of exercise training, three times a week, at 60 percent to 80 percent of maximum heart rate. At the start of the study, at the end of the training period and after one year, all of the men underwent an exercise stress test and their blood was tested for levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein.

At the end of their program, the men in the training group showed significant improvement in exercise capacity and a significant decrease in inflammatory markers. This did not occur in the control group. One year later, levels of inflammatory markers among men in the training group were still significantly lower than they had been at the start of the study.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers tips on how to prevent and control heart disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 2, 2010

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