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Vital Stories

On World Day for Physical Activity, Think of the Workplace

By Fiona Buchan, Head of Human Resources, Vital Strategies

One of the pleasures of working in public health is the knowledge that our efforts are improving the quality of life for people all around the world. Whether our teams come to the office focused on informing people about the health dangers of tobacco, extending the documentation of vital statistics in countries and cities that have little recording of births and deaths, or reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages or the worldwide incidence of road crashes, we know that at the end of the day, we are improving health, helping people live longer and healthier lives.

Ironically, all of the hours dedicated to improving the health of others can take an unexpected toll on our own health. Like many working people, we run the risk of becoming afflicted with the ailments that arise from inactivity. Hours of sitting and staring at computers without breaks and healthy movement can wreak havoc on our posture and circulation, and compound the stresses that come from working in a fast-paced environment.

The sad truth is that this problem is urgent. As development continues worldwide, and as more and more activities and jobs become computerized and automated, people are adopting increasingly sedentary lifestyles. According to the World Health Organization, insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide. Today, 80 percent of the world’s adolescent population, and one in four adults, don’t get appropriate daily physical activity. As a result, they are at increased risk for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

Vital Strategies has taken on a number of projects to help people lead more active lifestyles, from our work in obesity prevention, to improving air quality and working to make cities more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians.

As proud as we are of all of these projects, we also want to make sure we are doing everything we can to improve the health of our co-workers. For that reason, we take the opportunity of World Day for Physical Activity to highlight some of the initiatives we’ve come up with to help all of us lead healthier, happier, more active lives, at work and at home.

First, we have taken great care in making sure that we offer a greater range of choices in our health benefits through a new platform, which enables employees to enroll in individualized wellness programs with interactive lessons and diet and exercise trackers, or flexible savings accounts.  We want staff and their families to benefit the most in terms of health, happiness and security through a tailored health benefits plan.  Introducing this platform is a significant way of encouraging healthy behaviors.

Additionally, to encourage immediate activity, at our headquarters in New York, we have organized a walking/running club, which meets during lunchtime once a week. We also sponsor an annual softball team, open to all employees. As we enter the spring, we will be introducing more group activities, including a yoga class, seminars on stress reduction and mindfulness, and a lunchtime series on the subject of physical activity, with guest speakers.

But we don’t want to limit our efforts to our headquarters. As a global organization, with members of our team stationed around the world, we are also working on incentives and programs that benefit our overseas colleagues. We are currently recruiting a Global Occupational Health Officer who will be continually assessing and monitoring the occupational health needs for our staff and consultants stationed around the world.  This person will ensure we have a safe and healthy work place throughout our offices and projects.

As the head of Vital Strategies’ Human Resources, I am happy to do my part to help get these programs started. By creating an active atmosphere at work, we will not only improve our health, but also make our workplace an example of how physical activity fits into our fast-paced days.