Caroline Shugart column mug

Compared to the summer months, I always feel housebound during Utah’s winters. It’s not that I’m inactive. Rather, the limited daylight hours put a cramp in my style. I like running up Green Canyon on early summer mornings. I enjoy riding my bike around the neighborhood with my hubby, Robert, on autumn evenings.

I know I’m not alone in unintentionally reducing my activity level in the winter. But link this decreased activity with extra time sitting in front of a television or computer, eating holiday meals, and snacking, and you’ve developed a great recipe to add inches to your waistline and fat to your body frame. I consciously combat this tendency by practicing mindful eating, standing while working at my computer and making sure I exercise at least 60 minutes per day, often visiting the gym.

Both Logan and Smithfield have great community recreation centers. There are numerous fitness clubs in the valley and I encourage using them. But visiting these facilities has to fit into your schedule and many people have that 8-5 job that takes up a major part of their day.

One solution is that employers adopt a workplace culture that promotes health and fitness. Our valley has some great examples of employers who encourage cycling, discourage snack foods and sugary sodas and provide flex-time that allows employees to exercise during the lunch hour, or sometime throughout the day. Why do these employers do it? Although I’d like to brag that these businesses just love their employees, the bottom line is that employee wellness programs reduce health care costs, cut absentee rates, increase productivity and help attract top talent. They can also be team-building and sources of inspiration.

Employers can reap these benefits by improving their wellness offerings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, has an online Worksite Health ScoreCard (tinyurl.com/lo9bdqn) that allows employers to answer a series of questions to evaluate whether they have implemented “science-based health promotion and protection interventions in their worksites to prevent heart disease, stroke, and related health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.”

This CDC evaluation includes introspective questions like, “During the past 12 months, did your worksite conduct an employee interests and needs assessment for planning health promotion activities?” “Did you set annual organizational objectives for health promotion?” “Do you provide flexible work scheduling policies?”

It also asks about specific health promotion initiatives, including smoking cessation counseling, subsidizing and promoting healthier foods and beverages at work, and providing free or subsidized blood pressure or cholesterol checks followed by directed feedback and clinical referral.

How does your place of employment stack up here? You will spend decades of your life, perhaps a third of your time from ages 20-65, working. Integrating wellness-promoting activities into this part of your life makes sense, both for you and your employer. These programs can start with a low budget and evolve over time. And what if you work at home or are self-employed? In this case, your wellness probably is just as critical to maintain. How can you care for others, or be able to put 100 percent into your home business, if you are battling health issues yourself?

Health promotion is not just a national conversation about insurance coverage. It may start with a personal commitment, but it must be followed by a community of support (both at home and at work.) I encourage all employers to invest in their employees this year. Take the Worksite Health ScoreCard assessment. Let’s make Cache Valley a model for wellness, in the winter and all year round. Be Well!

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.

Caroline Shugart is a nurse, dietitian, and personal trainer. She can be reached at caroline.shugart@gmail.com.