Achieving corporate health: American Heart Association’s Arizona Heart Walk encourages businesses, individuals to change the way they think about their health
Richard Schulz, CEO of HealthSouth in Scottsdale and chairman of the American Heart Association’s Arizona Heart Walk, knows a healthy lifestyle doesn’t happen by accident.
It takes work.
And something else.
“You have to make it fun,” Schulz says.
In his chairman duties, Schulz meets with representatives from companies to participate and to secure sponsorships for the Heart Walk.
The Heart Walk is a non-competitive 5K walk/run and 1-mile walk at Tempe Town Lake. The event, in its 20th year, celebrates those who have made lifestyle changes and encourages others to make changes to feel better and to live longer.
It also serves as the Phoenix chapter’s of the American Heart Association’s major fundraiser, spokeswoman Jessica Brown says. The goal this year is to raise $900,000 for research, outreach and education, Brown said.
About 15,000 people are expected to take part in the walk.
Large health-related employers tend to big players in the event, Brown says. For example, Banner Health, which runs 14 hospitals, three research centers and other properties in Arizona, had nearly 1,000 registered Heart Walk participants in 2011. Catholic Healthcare West, which operates three hospitals in the area, had 1,023.
Besides the walk, Schulz encourages companies to make a commitment to making becoming fit companies.
As part of that commitment, HealthSouth, Banner and Catholic Healthcare West have engaged in a program with the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association called “My Heart. My Life.” The program is designed to change the way Americans think about their health. It’s about embracing an overall healthier lifestyle to improve cardiovascular health.
This movement is a national rallying cry for change, Brown said, through simple behavior adjustments that help people feel better and live longer. The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association has developed a number of activities under the umbrella of My Heart. My Life. Among them: increased health education, advocacy for better public policy in important health areas such as anti-smoking laws, and helping communities find ways to eat healthier and stay physically active.
“We see examples every day at work,” Schulz says. But other kinds of companies are also climbing on the wellness bandwagon, he says.
One such company is Scottsdale Insurance. A subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance, Scottsdale Insurance specializes in excess and surplus policies as well as specialty insurance.
If you run a fund-raising golf tournament with a car as a prize for hitting a hole-in-one, Scottsdale Insurance will write a policy so that one lucky shot doesn’t submarine your charitable intentions.
Scottsdale Insurance employs about 1,400. Most are in the Valley, but the company has agents across the country.
The parent company encourages community involvement. Pete Harper, vice president of finance and CFO, was drawn to the American Heart Association because some relatives had suffered from cardiovascular problems. The Heart Walk promoted awareness of the need for fitness at the company, which has increased.
“Now, you’ll see groups of walkers at lunchtime,” he says.
Harper said that as the company became more health conscious, he did, too.
“Before, about the only thing I did was play racquetball,” he says.
A healthier workforce is more productive and experiences lower absenteeism, Harper says. Although some of the benefits are difficult to quantify, others are not.
“We’ve seen slower growth in our health care-related costs than other companies,” he says.
And heart health is at the heart of the matter. Heart disease was the No. 1 killer in the U.S. in 2009 (the most recent year that figures are available), the Centers for Disease Control reported. Stroke was No. 4.
“Heart disease is an area we have some control over,” HealthSouth’s Schulz says. “There are some hereditary factors, but there’s a great deal of literature that shows we can reduce risk with lifestyle changes.”
The good news is mortality rates from heart disease started declining around 1950 and have continued to decline, CDC figures show.
The bad news is there are some alarming developments that if they go unchecked would reverse that trend. The American Heart Association reports that about one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. Most experts believe childhood obesity increases the risk of heart disease and stroke in adulthood.
The American Heart Association has established a standard of ideal cardiovascular health. Right now, 1 percent of U.S. population meets that standard. Among children 12-19, the percentage is zero.
And many people are kidding themselves about the healthy lifestyle they lead, Brown said. In an American Heart Association survey, 39 percent of Americans questioned thought they were in ideal cardiovascular health.
The American Heart Association set a goal to in improve cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent by 2020 and came up with My Heart. My Life.
The idea is to make simple changes that can make a big difference, such as eating healthier, exercising 30 minutes a day, controlling cholesterol and blood pressure. The organization offers online trackers for walkers and, of course, an application for smart phone users to create walking paths.
Education and awareness are important, but for a company to encourage its employees to pay more attention to cardiovascular fitness, a dose of healthy competition can boost motivation, Schulz says.
“You can have different groups compete and see who can lose the most weight,” Schulz says.
Making wellness enjoyable is key. Sharon Opitz, wellness director at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, says the wellness program at the Catholic Healthcare West facility includes zumba and yoga sessions, a farmer’s market and cooking demonstration classes.
Catholic Healthcare West tries to incorporate spirituality and stress reduction in its wellness programs, says Robert Lichvar, wellness director at Chandler Regional Medical Center and Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.
20th Heart Walk
When: Feb. 25 at 9 a.m. At 10 a.m., the Heart Healthy Festival begins, and features live music, interactive booths and giveaways.
Where: Tempe Beach Park
Cost: Free, though participants qualify for a T-shirt by raising $100
Purpose: Supports the American Heart Association’s research programs and initiatives that promote the prevention, treatment and better patient care in the areas of cardiovascular disease, the leading killer in the United States.
Participants: About 15,000 people participate each year
Fundraising goal for 2012: $900,000
Where does the money go: To fund research, educational programs and community outreach
Who are some of the biggest corporate participants: Banner Health, Catholic Healthcare West, Scottsdale Insurance, HealthSouth