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New wellness benefit studied

June 13, 2006

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University is participating in a pilot program to determine the feasibility of offering a new health-related benefit that takes a holistic approach to improving the overall wellness of its faculty and staff.

The one-year program, called Western Wellness--Improving on a Good Thing, was launched in March and will run through March 2007. It is being offered through and managed by Holtyn & Associates, a health promotion consulting firm in Kalamazoo that provides science-based, well-implemented and periodically evaluated worksite wellness programs.

Western Wellness is a confidential, voluntary program that has been customized for WMU. The free program helps people set achievable as well as measurable goals, based on their individual physical, emotional and mental health needs and preferences. It also is designed to consolidate information about all of the university's wellness-related services and resources, making this information easier to locate and use.

Jen Bailey, coordinator of fitness programs in University Recreation, is serving as chair of the 11-member committee of WMU employees who have volunteered to oversee Western Wellness during the pilot period.

"Our goal is to give faculty and staff the tools and knowledge they need to take better advantage of the programs and resources already available on campus," Bailey says. "We want to encourage individuals to pursue a lifestyle of wellness, leading us toward a healthier campus community."

The Western Wellness health benefit has been approved for 500 participants during the pilot period, and 340 people are already taking advantage of the program.

"With growing health care costs across the nation, the need to address health care issues has become crucial," Bailey says. "Issues plaguing rising health care costs locally revolve around obesity levels, stress, and diabetes and various other physical aliments."

A key feature of Western Wellness is its individual focus. Participants decide what areas they want to zero in on, then work with a consultant to create a personalized wellness plan.

The consultant not only provides hints and guidelines participants can to follow to achieve their goals, but also contacts participants every six months to monitor progress and provide ongoing support and encouragement.

To begin the program, faculty and staff complete a five-minute online health survey questionnaire and take part in a 30-minute on-site wellness screening session.

During the screening session, a degreed health professional takes cholesterol, blood pressure and other common health-related measurements and assesses participants' fitness levels. Before walking out the door, participants meet with a wellness consultant and, using the information just collected, develop their personalized wellness plan.

Bailey notes that participants access their wellness data via their own secured Web sites. WMU does not have access to anyone's data, nor does it keep a list of program participants.

She adds that participants can also tailor the program to fit their personalities and work schedules. For instance, they can pursue their goals independently or exercise in groups, and use only a few of WMU's existing resources or join Zest for Life, the West Hills Athletic Club and many other currently offered programs.

"Through Western Wellness, we're learning healthier habits and improving our overall health," Bailey says. "The really neat thing is that this is a guided self-help program, so we get to go at our own pace, and we can monitor our personal progress by repeating the health questionnaire and the health screening tests."

More information about Western Wellness is available online at www.holtynhpc.com or by contacting Jen Bailey jen.bailey@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3762.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

WMU News
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Western Michigan University
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