UHealth Hosts American Heart Association’s “Fit Friendly” Wellness Symposium

Heart Specialists Highlight Win-Win Benefits of Corporate Programs

Corporate wellness programs can play a key role in combating heart disease and stroke, according to cardiovascular specialists at a January 30 “Fit Friendly” Wellness Symposium hosted by UHealth in partnership with the American Heart Association.

“We are here tonight as business leaders and as healthcare providers to take steps toward erasing the nationwide epidemics of obesity and heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in this nation,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School, and CEO of UHealth.

At the symposium, held at the Medical Wellness Center on the Miller School campus, Goldschmidt said there are three key health strategies for avoiding cardiovascular disorders and stroke: engaging in physical exercise, following a nutritious diet, and avoiding risky behaviors that can aggravate hypertension or other chronic conditions. All three of those components can be incorporated into an organization’s wellness program, he said.

Noting that obesity costs American businesses an estimated $12.7 billion a year in medical expenses and $225.8 billion in health-related productivity losses, Goldschmidt said, “We know that tackling these problems starts in the workplace, because Americans spend so much time on the job.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) is partnering with UHealth to create “Fit Friendly” workplaces that provide employees with information about cardiovascular health, access to exercise sites, and incentives for employees who make positive changes in their lifestyles.

“As a medical school, learning ways to make people healthier and taking that knowledge into our community is at the heart of our mission,” Goldschmidt said. “The ‘Fit Friendly’ program is a win-win for employees and employers, since worker productivity increases, absenteeism is reduced, and turnover rates and healthcare costs are both lowered.”

To help South Florida organizations get started, UHealth and the AHA offer wellness consulting services, “lunch and learn” sessions with UHealth physicians at area workplaces, onsite health screening services, executive physicals, and discounted memberships for three months at the Miller School’s state-of-the-art Medical Wellness Center.

“Our medical school and the AHA share a similar goal of helping Americans enjoy healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke,” said Ralph Sacco, M.D., M.S., professor and chair of neurology, Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders and the first neurologist to serve as AHA president.

Sacco said that the AHA has achieved its 2010 national goal of reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke. “Now, we have a more ambitious objective for 2020 – continuing to reduce deaths, while improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent,” he said. “Corporate wellness programs can play a key role in reaching that objective.”

Steve Nivet, South Florida Area President of Regions Bank, is one of a growing number of South Florida executives who recognize the many benefits of a corporate wellness program. “The most important asset of any business is its people,” Nivet said. “Our organization has made a significant commitment to wellness, which has resulted in better health for our associates, while reducing absenteeism and turnover.”

Chad Buschell, Executive Director of the Greater Miami/Fort Lauderdale Market of the American Heart Association, said now is an ideal time for South Florida companies to consider launching or expanding their wellness programs. “The AHA is here to support your organization, and see what you can offer,” he said.

Noting that the AHA has already recognized 50 companies in Miami-Dade and Broward as “Fit-Friendly Worksites,” Buschell challenged symposium attendees to become advocates for corporate wellness programs.

Summing up the symposium’s primary theme, Goldschmidt said, “As the American Heart Association says, there is no better benefit employers can offer employees than helping them have healthier, longer lives.”

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