Wellness: A marathon, not a sprint


Spending a few of these can make a difference. (AP photo/U.S. Mint) Spending a few of these can make a difference. (AP photo/U.S. Mint)

As the busy holiday travel season is solidly in our rear-view mirror, I am reminded about how wellness is not so much a destination, but a journey – filled with unexpected rewards.

Often, the stress, pressures and diet that accompany the holidays leave many of us feeling like we need to press the wellness re-start button come January. For employees, embracing wellness can often be hastened through a well-designed employee benefits package that provides motivation in a variety of forms.

I admit that, in my younger years, I did not entirely embrace wellness, despite rowing on my school’s crew team, running about three miles a day and being the daughter of a registered dietitian.

It was not until shortly after I turned 30, got married and lost my grandmother (and realized that my three-mile loop was now by car to the grocery store or shopping mall) that I began to think about wellness at all. It was at that point that I started my wellness journey.

It began innocently enough – a friend was training for a marathon, which set off my long-dormant competitive juices. I headed out the following day for a run, but made it less than a mile. The next day, I marked off 1.5 miles from my door on my odometer. I still made it less than a mile at a jog, but completed the three-mile loop. Subsequent days saw improvements and soon I was doing the full three miles at a jog. I entered a 5K run with a friend and felt great pride completing it.

A few weeks later, I got more ambitious and entered a local 10K. I struggled mightily, but another runner stuck with me with lots of encouragement and let me finish before her so I would not finish the race dead last. That act struck me powerfully.

As I have continued my wellness journey, I have taken the time to help motivate others. I was hooked at that point and proceeded to run a half marathon and, about a year later, my first marathon. I also started to focus on my lifestyle more broadly and making healthier choices.

So, what does this story have to do with voluntary benefits?

Most importantly, it shows the power and importance of motivation. Different things motivate different people and different things can motivate us at different times. Sometimes it is competitive drive, sometimes positive peer pressure, sometimes compassion and sometimes a financial incentive.

Much ado has been made about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the requirement that plans cover preventive care at 100 percent. However, we have learned that individuals need extra motivation to get the annual preventive screenings (many of which are “uncomfortable”). A wellness benefit as part of an employee benefits package provides a financial and, in a best-case scenario, competitive motivation for preventative care.

A well-designed plan can remind employees to get the health screenings, after which they receive their financial incentive and often talk about the process with colleagues. The enthusiasm can spread, building competitive drive and positive peer pressure for wellness.

My own company, ING U.S., is the title sponsor of marathons in New York City, Hartford and Miami, and, through ING Run for Something Better, supports youth running programs throughout the United States. One reason for those sponsorships is to support the message that wellness matters.

In the long run, everyone benefits when employees get preventive screenings – the individual affirms their health or uncovers an early stage disease or medical condition that can be contained or controlled before it becomes a bigger problem, employers see increased benefits satisfaction and even lower claim costs for significant illnesses that have been treated early, and carriers can see a decrease in complex claim situations over the long run.

Now is a good time to talk to employers about wellness benefits, ways to motivate employees and voluntary benefits options, such as critical illness insurance or accident insurance coverage that can be a helpful supplement to an employee’s medical coverage.

I encourage you to get out there and find your motivation to get active, embrace wellness and encourage others to do the same. And if your wellness journey is anything like mine, you’ll find it to be a journey well worth taking.

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