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Man stretching at work

Time to get physical

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Hisham Musa, a corporate wellness consultant from, shares some simple tips on how leaders can build healthier workforces.

In Singapore, overweight and obesity levels among employees have been increasing over the years. In the US, the total cost of obesity for US companies is estimated to be $13 billion a year. This is about US$8720 per claimant of obesity related issues every year for wage-loss coverage. Obesity also contributes to work-related injuries.

Companies in Singapore can prevent costs and lower productivity levels by embracing and integrating a weight management intervention as part of their wellness programme.

One of the quickest and most cost-effective methods of a weight management programme is to outsource it to a qualified vendor. Singapore companies are also in for a treat by the government, which provides grants (no co-funding needed) for target interventions such as this.

Besides incurring zero cost (if you’re taking this grant), employees also appreciate outsourced programmes because they don’t like to feel as if they’re being watched by their bosses. This usually improves co-operation and synergy between participants, which will assist in making the programme to lose fat and gain lean mass successful.

A good weight management programme usually comprises three main components: Physical activity, nutrition and mental skills. But the key component that makes the programme successful, and binds those three components, is adherence.

While we usually think the “physical activity” component is usually a hard and intense workout session – it is actually more (or less) than that.

Any kind of movement such as walking briskly to the train station or climbing up staircases are also considered physical activities, termed as non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT. They don’t take up too much time, and they’re easy to do. They burn calories during the activities and after. When employees are made aware of how simple it is to integrate NEAT activities into their lifestyle, the probability of them improving their weight and health will improve.

When employees think of nutrition, they usually think of “DIET” (don’t include eating this), which is very negative. Diets usually involve extreme calorie reduction and imbalanced meals. Experts teach employees that the secret to healthy eating is to be smart in their choices – which include eating the food that we love and not depriving our bodies of good food.

A negative calorie intake and eating the right food are the solutions to the problems of being overweight. Employees should be made aware that progressive calorie reduction is important to weight loss, so they lose fat, and not muscle.

Even if employees have all the knowledge on negative calorie intake, physical activity and nutrition, it won’t be complete without mental skills – one needs to find the motivation and volition within one’s self, and there are skills that can be learnt to bring out the best in them. Long-term adherence to a healthy lifestyle should be the outcome of these programmes.

I usually advise employers to also consider the barriers and find solutions for the successful implementation of these programmes. The lack of employee engagement, the lack of time for employees to participate, and the lack of staff are some of the barriers most companies face. Based on the many companies that we work with – the ones with the highest success rates have programmes which:

1. Have support from management. Bosses need to encourage employees to take up the programmes.

2. Allow employees some time off from their usual work routine to attend such programmes, or even to join a weekly exercise programme.

3. Are conducted during lunchtime (and give them some time to have their lunch afterwards).

Another alternative is to do the programme on the last hour of a weekday so they can leave for home straight after.

There are many other solutions and options employers can do to raise the awareness of the dangers of obesity and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Image: Shutterstock

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