UHN Staff face the FACTS with new wellness program

In Spring 2009, UHN Wellness Centre began a pilot program called ‘FACTS (fitness, activity, cholesterol, tone and self-esteem) for improved health’. The purpose of this program was to determine if UHN wellness programs and initiatives could reduce staff health risks – and if reduced, whether it would benefit UHN financially.

FACTS targeted clinical staff – nursing and allied health professionals, asking participants to self-identify whether they had cardiovascular health risks using an on-line screening tool. While 36 individuals were identified as appropriate for the program, 24 completed the entire 12-months. Each participant had between 2 and 9 health risks and contributed $300 to participate, with $150 returned upon completion of the program.

After her 30th birthday Tammy Mackenzie, Registered Nurse, Cardiac Short Stay Department, UHN, joined the FACTS program with hopes of incorporating a healthier lifestyle into her normally busy life. “I found my love of running again and ran 2 half-marathons by the end of the program,” says MacKenzie. “It has had positive effects on every aspect of my life, especially sleep and stress.”

The program started with a health assessment. All participants were measured according to height, weight, body mass index, percentage of body fat, blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, fitness level and all completed a health questionnaire. They were then required to take part in health coaching, three personal training sessions, three sessions with a Registered Dietitian, three wellness programs and optional weekly ‘check-ins’ to assess progress. At the end of the twelve months, there was a final health assessment (identical to the initial), which measured the health of the participant at the program’s completion.

Those who participated in the program found improvements in their overall health and well being. This translated into pounds and inches lost, improved fitness levels, feelings of increased energy and even reduced health risks (from an average of 4.5 per employee at program start to an average of 3.4 per employee at program end). However, despite its clear health rewards, participants fought to overcome obstacles familiar to us all.

“The biggest challenge was just starting. Finding the motivation when life is so busy is hard. I also had to remind myself that it takes 21 days for an activity to become a habit,” Mackenzie explains. “My advice to others would be to make time for yourself, it’s important. A healthy lifestyle is within all of our reach and there are so many benefits. Just get started.”

Overall the program’s results were very encouraging, prompting UHN’s wellness team to look at ways it can be modified and piloted further. Other future ideas include a possible trial of a self-directed on-line nutrition behavior modification program to support UHN employees in making healthy food choices. Moreover, UHN benefited from this program too. A very conservative estimate of financial savings for UHN from the participants improved health was $13,412 (or $583/per employee) per year, most of those savings being related to improvements in cholesterol and positive nutritional changes.