Pat Acker and MaryAnn Strom have been walking together at lunchtime for the past four months.
On Wednesday, the two SEFCU employees were among hundreds who walked the track around the Patroon Creek Corporate Center as part of the American Heart Association’s National Start Walking Day.
“It’s amazing how much you improve just by simply walking,” said Strom, a Delmar resident who’s worked for SEFCU for more than five years.
“She’s a good friend. She’d thought she’d help me,” said Acker, a Latham resident and four-year SEFCU employee. “It just makes you feel better. Running up and down the stairs is no problem.”
Strom said exercise also helps the vain at heart.
“It’s just another way to shed a few more pounds and get rid of more calories,” she said.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, which comes out to around 21 minutes a day — an achievable goal, according to experts.
“People get so intimidated. They think they need to go to the gym for an hour. But just do what you can and get moving,” said AHA spokeswoman Katherine McCarthy, who said a third of New Yorkers are obese. “You need to get with your doctor and make a plan on how to fight obesity.”
Having employers vested in the health of employees is important because work is the place people spend most of their time, according to Dr. John Bennett, president and CEO of CDPHP.
“If we focus more on health and less on health care, we’ll be a lot better off,” he said. “If you get your employees to think about being healthy, your health insurance will go down because healthy people don’t use as many resources. More importantly than that, it’s the right thing to do.”
On the business side, employers can lower their health insurance cost and have more productive employees.
“A lot of studies have shown that it lessens the days off that people take. It lowers the incidences of depression. Depressed workers tend to be unproductive,” Bennett said.
Companies like SEFCU, First Niagara and Prime Care Physicians are among several in the region that participated in Wednesday’s event and have embraced wellness programs. For example, SEFCU provides fitness facilities along with a soup and salad bar for its employees.
Barbara Hess, chief administrative officer for SEFCU, said Wednesday was “a great day for people who haven’t been doing anything to start today.”
“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in this country, and so anything we can do to encourage a heart-healthy lifestyle, like 30 minutes of active exercise a day, is key to combating that disease,” she said.
SEFCU employs 650 people, nearly 300 of them at its office at the Patroon Creek Corporate Center.
SEFCU and CDPHP were honored with “Fit Friendly” awards from the American Heart Association, which recognized the companies for a commitment to promote exercise and good nutrition at the workplace.
“What we see is that employees feel like SEFCU really cares about them and their families because we see employees not just as workers but as whole people,” Hess said. “All employers should consider it because there is a real return on the investment. Our health insurance premiums have really dropped as a result, and that’s another great reason to embrace wellness in the workplace, because wellness works.”
Bennett said taking a stand for health isn’t easy, but the payoffs are significant.
“It takes a lot of diligence. It takes a lot of commitment. It takes a lot of time and you do have an up-front cost. You always have to spend money to save money and you always have to spend money to make money.” Bennett said. “You do have to make an investment, but we see returns on investment for these companies that are multipliers.”
Bennett said he’s seen many employers in the area respond to wellness initiatives, but not enough, especially smaller employers.
“This is a region of small businesses. At the small employer level, because of the statistical swings on their cost, it’s hard to show the benefit. Across the whole pool we can show that,” Bennett said.
But Bennett said the strategies that work at larger companies can also be effective for smaller companies.
“We can apply those principles across the whole pool and have an effect there,” Bennett said.