On-the-job fitness programs get high marks from local speakers

August 4, 2011

By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

One Henry County teacher lost 18 pounds during the last school year through an after-school program that promoted healthy lifestyles.

Another dropped two pants sizes.

“It was an awesome experience, and our teachers expressed that they felt much healthier” afterward, said Sherry Vestal, specialist for school health services in the county schools.

Vestal described the program, which was the result of Henry County Schools’ partnership with the Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness, during a meeting with representatives of about 30 local employers on Wednesday.

They attended a luncheon at the Dutch Inn to learn about opportunities to integrate health and wellness in the workplace and also to kick off National Health Center Week on Aug. 7-13.

It’s important to incorporate health and wellness “where we already are,” Barbara Jackman, executive director of the coalition, told the group.

The coalition works with local employers, directing them to programs that can be incorporated into their worksites.

It also gives them a plan and offers them incentives, such as pedometers for walking, exercise bands for aerobics and lunch containers to promote portion control, according to Kayla Craddock, community health educator with the coalition.

In the partnership with the county schools, three groups of teachers met after school for 12 weeks last year at either Stanleytown Elementary, Drewry Mason Elementary or the Henry County Schools Central Office in the Henry County Administration Building, Vestal said.

The incentive for the teachers — other than becoming healthier — was that if they participated in 10 of the 12 weeks of the program, they would receive points that went toward their recertification, Vestal said. Teachers’ certification must be renewed every five years.

During each week of the program, an average of 25 to 30 teachers in each group learned about a health-related topic, such as nutrition, for about 20 minutes and then exercised for about 45 minutes. They did aerobics, yoga or different exercise videos, Vestal said.

The exercises and the discussion topics all were related to the state’s Standards of Learning tests. “They could take it (what they learned) back to their classroom, but they were getting healthy as well,” Vestal said.

Susan Shively, common health coordinator at Patrick Henry Community College, told those gathered that PHCC also is encouraging healthy lifestyles in the workplace.

PHCC employees had a “Biggest Loser” competition at work and also are part of the Weight Watchers program, Shively said.

Each quarter, the college holds a new program about topics such as sun safety, exercise and how to interpret nutrition labels. Employees exercise twice a week and participate in Zumba, yoga and exercise routines taught by specific instructors.

“It’s a great program ... the healthier you are, the happier you are,” which is better for the employer, Shively said.

“In the long run, prevention saves our industries a lot of money,” Vestal said. “If we can get our employees to be healthy now, it may cut down on our company insurance having to pay for their treatment later on down the road.”

It is important for employers to encourage their employees to make healthier choices in their daily lives. “Healthy kids miss less school, and healthy parents miss less work,” Jackman said.

“Health is not solely health care. Health is the choices we make over our lifetime that enable us to do the things we like to do,” she said. “As leaders, we can make a difference in carrying that message.”

Improving health in a community occurs “when everyone is participating, and people are supporting and encouraging each other,” Jackman added.

The coalition will sponsor other events next week to celebrate National Health Center Week.

From 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Aug. 10, The Starting Place in Liberty Fair Mall will host the Early Childhood Access to Health Care Fair and School Readiness Month activities.

It will include gift bags, Zumbatomic, developmental obstacle course, healthy snacks and nutrition information, Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) applications, Bassett Family Practice children’s health programs and information, and Smart Beginnings programs and information.

From 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Aug. 11, the Community Fellowship Church in Collinsville will host a Senior Health Fair.

That event will include blood sugar, total cholesterol and blood pressure checks; chair aerobics and Zumba Gold demonstrations; information on Komen, Med Assist and Bassett Family Practice; samples of healthy recipes made by the coalition; and information about healthy meal planning from the Virginia Cooperative Extension.


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