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Small Steps, Big Differences - Embracing National Wellness Week

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With beach season in the rearview mirror and holiday festivities ahead, I feel tempted this time of year to pull out my sweaters, find a cozy fire and hibernate for the winter. Unlike January, I find the fall a particularly difficult season to try and "overhaul" one aspect of my health - such as starting a ‘diet' program or instituting a new fitness regimen. Yet in 2011, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) chose September as the month to celebrate National Wellness Week (this year, September 13-19) in an effort to promote the importance of not just nutrition and physical fitness, but the many other aspects of what it means to be "well." SAMHSA defines wellness as "not the absence of disease, illness, or stress but the presence of purpose in life, active involvement in satisfying work and play, joyful relationships, a healthy body and living environment, and happiness." The image below portrays all the elements included.


This definition sounds wonderful (in theory) but it begs the question of how one can actually achieve wellness? Research has shown that health and wellness is a complex puzzle with many social, emotional and physical determinants. Behavioral scientists have theorized and empirically tested many approaches to initiating and sustaining healthy behaviors. One commonality among approaches is the notion that a gradual progression or small steps toward new/healthier behaviors are most likely to be effective. So in honor of wellness week, let's not jump on the latest diet bandwagon or try to overhaul our entire health regimen but rather consider how small wellness changes could lead to a lasting difference.

Own It! (Your health and wellness that is…)

As individuals we sometimes require new knowledge or information to make healthy changes. Other times we require motivation, social support or the belief that we are capable of trying something new. In some cases we have the requisite knowledge and desire but are faced with physical or structural barriers that limit our ability to change. If we hope to design effective interventions we must consider the attributes and needs of individual people (and their communities), the places in which they experience life and the messages that influence them. Strategies for behavior change will often include a call to action, or a small step toward a larger behavioral goal that can boost self-efficacy or help establish a habit. An example of this type of intervention can be seen on social media and around the Washington D.C. area on signs that read: "Own Your Health" - a wellness initiative sponsored by the D.C. Department of Health (DC DOH).

DC DOH Own Your Health

This campaign considers both the people and places that influence healthy behaviors and promotes small steps toward behavior change. For example, an individual could experience physical, emotional and even spiritual benefits by engaging in a physical activity that they love to do. Additionally, making healthy lifestyle changes in the context of a relationship may not only support the change itself but also serve to improve the social wellness of the individuals. The series of ads (not shown) also demonstrate that wellness can be pursued anywhere—not only in the gym or kitchen - but in the many places we live (our neighborhoods, ball parks etc.).

Working Toward Wellness

One important place not emphasized in the above campaign is the workplace. A recent article published by Forbes debunks common myths about obesity and calls employers to the carpet urging them to be part of the solution instead of the problem. Fair point - but that does not absolve us as individuals to find ways that we can take small steps toward wellness, even at work! Here are a few resources that provide wellness tips targeting both people (employees) and place (company/employer).

As noted in Nicole's blog post yesterday The U.S. Surgeon General suggests that brisk walks are a great (and easy) way to fight sedentariness and reduce the risk or symptoms of chronic disease. The Surgeon General also notes the importance of "place" by encouraging communities and municipalities to find ways of making sidewalks and neighborhoods safer and more accessible for walking.

Speaking of wellness in the workplace, at Fors Marsh Group we celebrate wellness throughout the year, and this week in particular, by kicking off our Get Active Challenge. This challenge has been a great way to motivate our team to sit less, move more and connect with each other. By making it a competition there is greater purpose and more fun in those small healthy steps.

How will you or your company embrace wellness, not just this week, but each day of the year?

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