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MU excels in workplace wellness

MU excels in workplace wellness

Armine Alioto, nurse manager for Healthy for Life, helps coordinate the new program that gives University of Missouri employees more healthy fitness choices.

The University of Missouri’s flagship campus and the University of Missouri Hospital have just received the American Heart Association Start! Fit-Friendly Award. The award is given to employers who encourage workplace wellness and create a work environment conducive to physical activity through various efforts.

To work toward these goals, the campus and hospital established walking routes around the office, encouraged walking teams, offered healthy food options in cafeterias and/or vending machines, generated online wellness newsletters and implemented tracking tools, and allowed staff to wear athletic shoes in the workplace.

“We are the only employers in Columbia to receive the award,” said Armine Alioto, nurse coordinator for MU’s Healthy for Life program. “The University of Missouri’s flagship campus in Columbia is also the first large-scale university to receive the award.”

The Fit-Friendly Workplace Award also recognized AT Still University in Kirksville, Audrain Medical Center in Mexico, Heartland Health in St. Joseph, Jefferson City Medical Group in Jefferson City and Truman State University in Kirksville.

Healthy for Life, the T.E. Atkins University of Missouri Wellness Program that kicked off in June 2004, is a major factor in the university and University Hospital’s receiving the recent awards.

“Our leadership understands that our people are our greatest asset,” said Dr. Laura Schopp, Healthy for Life director.

The program started with an online health risk assessment of more than 1,000 employees, and now has a team of eight employees working for the cause.

“Healthy for Life is based upon areas of lifestyle modification that employees have expressed interest in via surveys,” Alioto said. The four areas that employees wanted to improve most were physical activity, healthy eating choices, weight management and being smoke-free.

Long-range goals include outreach to all University of Missouri campuses and affiliate hospitals and implementation of a research committee to disseminate knowledge to the public.

“It’s long overdue. We want to lower healthcare costs, have fewer sick days, and see better attitudes,” said Healthy for Life program manager Jenny Workman, who completed the Fit-Friendly application for the campus.

“The employees are really, really excited for these opportunities. We even have the community fitness facilities giving them discounts.”

Healthy for Life programs include a monthly newsletter, Weight Watchers at Work, Eat for Life, “Million Step” (employees buy a pedometer for $15, walk 1 million steps and receive their money back and a T-shirt upon completion), stress reduction programs, tobacco cessation, 173 Wellness Ambassadors, health/nutrition/exercise presentations, health fairs, screenings and noon meditation.

“Employees particularly like our Million Step program because nobody’s cracking the whip,” Alioto said. “Not everybody has time to go to the gym, but you can walk at work. People have started taking the stairs and walking during lunch.”

The Fit-Friendly Award was to have been presented on May 29 to MU deputy chancellor Mike Middleton at the Chancellor’s Wellness Walk, an open event sponsored by the MU Staff Advisory Council that started on the south steps of Jesse Hall and continued to Lowry Mall.

The event was designed so that participants could learn about plants throughout the MU campus as well as the importance of proper exercise. A Healthy for Life station offered blood pressure checks and stretching demonstrations at Jesse Hall. Pedometers were sold at Tiger Plaza, and extended tours of the Mizzou Botanic Garden were offered.

The Fit-Friendly Award also was presented at the University Hospital Human Resources Benefit Fair on May 28. The fair featured information on programs offered through the UM Faculty and Staff Benefits Office, as well as a number of Healthy for Life activities.

“Healthy for Life is a whole new way to raise consciousness about wellbeing,” Alioto said. “To me it means that employees can choose this as a place to work because leadership cares about our health.”

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