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TRAINING CHAMPIONS: Engaging Health Care Executives

Cecil, Beth R.D., L.D.; Reed, Brandy L. Exercise Physiologist, ACE-PT, ACE-LWMC; Henning, Natalie Exercise Physiologist, ACE-PT, ACE-LWMC, GFI, AHS

ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal: May/June 2011 - Volume 15 - Issue 3 - pp 29-33
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182160f17


* From this article, the reader should understand the benefits of a healthy and active administrative team and learn effective strategies to incorporate wellness programs into the lives of busy health care executives.

Discover proven fitness and nutrition program ideas that turn health care executives into wellness champions.

Beth Cecil, R.D., L.D., is a wellness dietitian at the Owensboro Medical Health System HealthPark. She herein provides outpatient nutritional counseling for individuals of all ages, leads weight management programs for children and adults, and speaks on nutrition throughout the community. She holds a bachelor of science degree in dietetics from the University of Kentucky and has a certificate of training in childhood and adolescent weight management. She writes the weekly "Eating Well" column in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer newspaper.

Brandy L. Reed, Exercise Physiologist, ACE-PT, ACE-LWMC, is a graduate of Western Kentucky University, with a bachelor of science degree in exercise science. She also holds personal training and lifestyle and weight management consultant certifications from the American Council of Exercise, as well as fundamentals of Yoga certification from SCW Fitness Education. Her current work focuses on engaging executives, prenatal and postnatal exercise, personal training, and group fitness.

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Natalie Henning, Exercise Physiologist, ACE-PT, ACE-LWMC, GFI, AHS, holds a bachelor of science degree in sports medicine from the University of Evansville. She has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years and has served the last 11 years as manager of Health and Fitness at the Owensboro Medical Health System HealthPark. Here she has led a fitness team of more than 25 staff members that includes exercise physiologists, personal trainers, and group fitness instructors.

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Health care leaders operate in a business focused on prevention and healing, but full work schedules with deadlines and multiple meetings represent just a few of the challenges facing today's business leaders. As a result, stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices have become common among those who work at the executive level. Although fitting exercise into busy schedules can present challenges, wellness among leaders remains important for their own health and for the sustainability of the organizations they serve.

In his article, "Fit to Be a Leader," Carmine Gallo discusses the success of well-known leaders, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Condoleezza Rice, and Frank O'Connell, general manager of Hersheypark Entertainment. Despite schedules that might wear down the best of us, these three individuals make the time to exercise and stay fit. "They look better, they have better posture, they exude unwavering confidence and optimism, and they have far more energy than everyone else in the room," says Gallo (1).

Owensboro Medical Health System (OMHS) in Owensboro, KY, uses an executive team (see box A) that fully embraces the importance of health improvement. In addition to fostering strategies that enable the organization to improve community health, administrators participated in a 2-year wellness effort, yielding positive outcomes. Today, OMHS leaders not only have become more energetic - they have embraced a better understanding of how lifestyle choices can impact health.

Team members from the HealthPark, the organization's medical-based fitness center, coached and navigated the executives through wellness education that included increasing physical activity and making healthier food choices by developing a creative wellness program. The fitness and nutrition staff knew that they had to show value, positive outcomes, and fun to keep everyone interested. Program development strategies included time-efficient activities, easy-to-follow nutrition tips, and programs that were taken directly to the group. Before approaching the executive team, the HealthPark staff devoted many hours to planning and developing ongoing programming to ensure that they were successful.

The very first initiative was a pedometer challenge held during Medical Fitness Week. The goal was to have each participant take 10,000 steps a day, for 7 days. More than 75% of administrators participated, racking up 1,016,901 steps in 7 days, far exceeding the initial goal. The success of this program fueled interest in additional programs.

A few months later, the wellness program officially began with an Administrative Fitness Fun Day. The afternoon gave executive team members an opportunity to experience programs and services at the OMHS HealthPark by choosing two activities. The afternoon included:

* a red carpet welcome by the staff

* Yoga, BodyPump, and Zumba classes

* MicroFit® assessments

* stretching sessions

* personal training

* Pilates reformer training

* myofascial release

* chair massages

After sharing laughter and shaking a little sweat, the afternoon culminated with healthy snacks, a preview of a year's worth of challenges, and the start of the upcoming program, Fall Fork Down.

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This challenge was a 4-week contest that offered individualized personal training sessions, a group information session with the registered dietitian, and personal physical activity logs.

"Weight loss is more than a trip to the scale… it is a new way of life," said Carla Shown, administrative assistant to the chief financial officer.

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With June as National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, the focus of this challenge was to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables. This challenge emphasized the team approach to wellness, with the executives forming "pea pods" of three people in an effort to create camaraderie. The challenge began with a healthy lunch served to the group. Participants were given recipes and a handy list of local fresh produce vendors as support to eating right. This program brought in new participants to the wellness challenges. Education that was focused on nutrition generated positive comments. "It's a fun way to make positive lifestyle changes. Great teambuilding!" said Mia Suter, OMHS chief development officer.

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During National Golf Month, a 1-day program took place in the administrative hallway to challenge those executives who like to hit the links. This program included stretches and a putting contest.

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Executives formed teams of three to four people and were challenged to engage in physical activity a minimum of three times per week during this 8-week program. Activity logs helped the participants keep track of their exercise. During this series, the Borg rating of perceived exertion scale and FITT (frequency, intensity, time, and type) Principles of Training were introduced.

"I need to stay in shape as getting back in (shape) is difficult," said Mike Mills, vice president of ancillary services. "I must make time to exercise and document my activities to ensure I stay on track," he said.

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The most successful program to date was an 8-week challenge that kicked off in January 2010 to coincide with New Year's resolutions. The participants were required to exercise at least three times a week, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and attend one fitness class at the HealthPark per week. Prizes were awarded for the overall male, female, and team winners.

"I feel so much better physically, mentally, and spiritually when I'm dedicated to the program," said Lisa Fulkerson, administrative assistant to chief executive officer and chief operating officer.

A survey was conducted to gauge the effectiveness of the program (see box B).

Survey results revealed requests for annual fitness assessments, challenges during the holidays, tips for keeping food diaries, and more weight loss and exercise contests.

The administrative team shared what was of most value to them with the wellness initiative:

* importance of personal training

* nutritional guidance

* fitness testing

* massage therapy

* sport-specific training

Suggestions for future programming were obtained through the survey. Topics the administrative team would like to see in the future include heart health education programs, healthy recipes, range-of-motion analysis, balance training, injury prevention exercises, and posture improvement ideas.

"It wasn't so much about winning, as it was about knowing I did my best," Jeanie Norcia, administrative assistant to the chief legal counsel.

"With all that is going on in my life, HealthPark's programs have helped me stay focused on myself," said Debbie Zuerner-Johnson, OMHS manager of community benefits.

"Accountability works. It is hard to miss a workout when you know someone is counting on you," said John Hackbarth, chief financial officer.

Two years after the beginning of the challenges, leaders continue to learn and progress. Variety remains essential as individual preferences vary. Pretesting and posttesting with measurable outcomes at each program offer more participant accountability and motivation. The inclusion of an evaluation after each program provides timely feedback and guidance. Finally, announcing the next competition at each finish line, while celebrating the current successes, triggers more participation in upcoming events.

Perhaps Stephen M. Johnson, executive director of governmental, community, and legislative affairs said it best, "From the perspective of a health care executive, we are accustomed to developing a multitude of matrix and indicators designed to measure health. In the midst of our efforts to measure the health of everything else, we neglect one critical health measurement … our own health. Thanks to our HealthPark staff, the focus now placed on individual health by the administrative team can be described only as transformational. How can we expect to improve health without improving our own? We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude and thanks to our HealthPark staff for 'accepting no excuses' and 'taking no prisoners.'"

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In conclusion, engaging health care administrators creates a win-win situation for everyone. The fitness and nutrition staff at HealthPark established good relationships and gained respect from the organization's leaders. These leaders gained knowledge and the ability to implement healthy lifestyle habits. Furthermore, the administrators have set a good example for other employees and for the community as a whole.

The OMHS serves an 11-county region in western Kentucky and southern Indiana. The hospital has received awards for clinical excellence, patient safety, and patient experience from HealthGrades, placing it among the top 5% of hospitals in the nation for overall quality (OMHS is 1 of only 16 hospitals to receive all three honors). Cooperative Health Services, an affiliate of OMHS, also operates the HealthPark - a medical-based fitness center - and a number of clinics and diagnostic centers in Beaver Dam and Madisonville (KY) and Tell City (IN) as well as The Clinic at Wal-Mart in Owensboro, Henderson (KY) and Newburgh (IN).

The OMHS mission: "OMHS exists to heal the sick and improve the health of the community."

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Health care executives operate in a business focused on prevention and healing, but full work schedules and time demands often present challenges when it comes to their own health and wellness. The fitness and nutrition staff at the Owensboro Medical Health System's medical-based fitness center successfully has engaged their administrators in a variety of exercise and nutrition programs. Leaders of this organization have implemented healthier lifestyle habits, setting a good example for other employees and their community. The program has been a win-win situation for everyone.

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1. Gallo C. Fit to be a leader. Business Week [Internet]. 2006 [cited 2006 Mar 16]. Available from: http//
2. Hall D. Busy People's Low-Fat Cookbook. Nashville (TN): Rutledge Hill Press; 2003. p. 224.

Administration; Exercise; Nutrition; Physical Activity; Challenge

© 2011 American College of Sports Medicine.