Getting to the core: Wellness programs, personal trainers help professionals ramp up productivity

TRAVERSE CITY – Juliette Schultz stands poised to catch a yellow weight ball while keeping her feet planted atop a rounded piece of exercise equipment, an activity that works her body's core muscles. It's just one of numerous repetitions the Traverse City marketing professional will do with trainer Mary Lannin during her lunch hour workout.

"My fitness is great – I feel a lot stronger," Schultz, 39, says of committing herself to two 45-minute sessions during her workdays – a routine she's kept up for the past eight weeks.

It was a desire to be healthier, both physically and mentally, after experiencing a pulled stomach muscle that prompted Schultz, owner of the marketing firm Spark, to find a personal trainer.

"I want her to extend my life," Schultz said of Lannin, an independent trainer at Premier Fitness who is certified in sports performance nutrition. "I didn't care about (losing) inches or weight."

It's a sentiment shared by many these days: wanting to be make time to get healthier, despite busy work schedules.

"Most of my people want to improve mental health – overall health," said Lannin, who has an office at the newly-renovated CenterPointe complex in Traverse City. With an expected 50 new employees moving into the complex in the near future, Lannin is hopeful to add to her client roster at the location. Her goal for her clients: "Improve quality of life – and build muscle and metabolism."

Healthy lifestyles are important to both employees and employers, who realize that feeling good generally leads to greater productivity on the job. And as health care costs continue to rise, wellness is of even greater concern for employers who recognize they can play a role by encouraging within the workplace the benefits of healthy choices.

"I truly believe that healthy employees are happy employees," said Susan Vigland, manager of training and development at Hagerty, where a wellness program is in place that features, among other benefits, an annual $150 allowance for each employee to spend on gym memberships, fitness classes or other another health-related activity.

Encouraging good health is simply smart business, Vigland said.

"(Employees) are going to be more productive and do a better job and be happy to be here," she said.

Studies have revealed this, and more employers are indeed taking notice. At least one recent survey, conducted by the Small Business Administration, found that more than 80 percent of businesses with 50 or more employees have some form of health/wellness programs. Popular types include exercise and weight loss, stress reduction, smoking cessation and back care.

Employees appreciate programs like these because they feel cared for by their employers while businesses recognize benefits such as an improved bottom line, Vigland said.

"If you're a business that provides some kind of health insurance program – whether you pay all of it or part of it – you will pay less in the long run," she said.

Certainly larger companies like Hagerty – 350 employees and growing – are more apt to incorporate wellness programs. However, Vigland believes even smaller businesses can reap benefits of encouraging good health in the workplace. It might involve reaching out to local gyms and asking about group discounts, or offering to help employees pay for a portion of the cost of yoga classes.

"It's money upfront, and that can be hard, but you have to believe and know it is going to pay off in the long run," Vigland said. "The benefit is having people being 100 percent there in their mind and body. Engagement is a huge piece of productivity and the bottom line."

According to the February issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, employers can realize a return on investment of up to $6.65 for every $1 spent on a "comprehensive" employee wellness program, said Dr. Greg Chappell, owner of Chappell Chiropractic Wellness Center in Traverse City.

"I emphasize comprehensive because programs focused on either weight loss, nutrition or exercise can improve health," Chappell said. "When all three dimensions of physical, nutritional – including weight loss – and psychological/emotional lifestyle choices are addressed at the same time, it is truly life transforming."

Chappell said these programs show the greatest improvement in decreased body fat, blood pressure, heart rate, endurance, energy, focus and resistance to sickness and disease.

"What these translate into for the employer are decreased medical claims, workers comp costs, injuries, turnover, absenteeism and increased productivity, focus, morale, and stress management," he said. "In addition, instituting a wellness program with positive results allows companies to go back to insurance carriers and re-negotiate lower rates based on lower claims made."

Kandace Chapple, co-publisher of Grand Traverse Woman, believes in the power of good health.

"I love it," Chapple said of working out the past couple of years at The Fitness Center with personal trainer Carrie McCardel. "I always walk out feeling like I can take on just about anything, business-related or otherwise."

Hitting the gym "is 'me' time,'" she said.

"I used to feel like I didn't have time for it because work or family was always waiting," she said. "Now, I know that taking that hour or so for myself satisfies me in a way that leaves me ready to work or play with the kids. Taking an hour for that somehow makes it feel like there's more time to do everything else."

The gym also has proven to be good for her business.

"I've been pitched articles – and jumped on them – from a freelance writer while walking on the treadmill next to her, brainstormed ideas for TV coverage while doing free weights with a rep from TV 7&4 (and she took me up on it), worked out with our GTWoman photographer and took our business relationship to a friendship."

Schultz, who is also back running again and is proud of the higher number of push-ups she now can do, beams as she talks about how exercise is impacting her life.

"I feel I am going to live a little bit longer and be a little bit happier," she said. "And that's awesome." BN