Hundreds of Long Islanders gathered last week at Crest Hollow Country Club in Westbury as a collective show of force against disease, obesity and other illnesses at nonprofit Action Long Island’s kickoff for the first annual Long Island Wellness Challenge.
The Challenge encourages Long Island companies and their employees to become more energized, fit and healthier through participation in “Healthy Work Place” programs, “Individual Online” programs and company-scheduled “Lunch and Learn” seminars. The company with the highest percentage of participation, based on company size, wins.
The roughly 300 attendees June 22 represented more than 20 companies and 6,000 people already registered for the competition. Sponsors and supporters networked, enjoyed a healthy breakfast and discussed the many positive benefits resulting from such an initiative. Keynote speakers included former New York Islander and Action Long Island (ALI) Healthcare Task Force Co-Chair Bobby Nystrom and North Shore University Hospital Executive Director Susan Somerville.
“Many people fall off the healthy wagon at work,” explained Lenae McKee, ALI development director. “The goal is participation.”
Participation ranges from implementing healthy workplace practices such as walking meetings to individuals tracking their personal physical activities and caloric intake through online logs.
The Challenge is also an effort for participants to contain upward spiraling health care costs. In a tough economy, healthy habits sometimes fall to the end of people’s priority lists, says ALI. Fast food, for example, can be a popular inexpensive lunch choice. Yet ALI, too, has worked to reduce the potential costs for participants in the challenge: the American Heart Association donates the online programs for all involved. In addition, several Long Island nonprofits provide the lunchtime seminars.
Improper workplace habits contribute to obesity, says ALI. The biggest contributing factor, however, the group explains, is stress.
A recent study by the University of Rochester Medical Center states it is common for a work environment to have high stress levels and low physical activity. Together, this combination leads to overweight and obese employees, it concludes.
Lead author of the study Diana Fernandez, Ph.D., says the findings emphasize the significance of providing strengthening wellness programs in the workplace. She suggests the following as a remedy to reduce workplace stress: “More opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty.”
“It’s crucial that we, as a community and a state, have a standard for wellness,” remarked New York State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), at the event. “The efforts and initiatives of Action Long Island are helping to pave the way for that standard, while simultaneously actively promoting a healthy living style for everyone.”
By Siobhan Cassidy