Integrative Health in the Workplace

In designing a wellness program, we often focus on the common health risks that drive health care costs. In doing so we often focus on common behavior such as tobacco use, physical inactivity and obesity. Perhaps it’s time to consider a different approach. Increasingly businesses are turning to integrative health approaches that consider the whole person, not just the physical aspects of our being.

What is integrative health? According to the National Institutes of Health, integrative health is practices that focus on the interactions among the brain, mind, body and behavior with the intent to use the mind to affect physical functioning and promote health. You are probably most familiar with integrative health in the forms of practices that employees can be trained to do, such as yoga, meditation and relaxation response. It also includes therapies that are provided by licensed professionals such as acupuncture or biofeedback. Integrative health varies from some traditional medical approaches in that it is proactive and preventative.

The most common health risks linked to over 20% of employer health care spending are: depression, stress, high blood sugar, obesity, inactivity, tobacco use, high blood pressure and chronic pain.[i] According to integrative health expert Dr. Ruthann Russo, evidence-based integrative health practices such as meditation, imagery, biofeedback, yoga, acupressure and qui gong can be used to treat each of these risk factors.

Over the past several years, Aetna (a Hartford, CT based health insurance company) has introduced free yoga and meditation programs to their workforce. To date, over 25% of the company’s 50,000 employee have participated in the program. Aetna estimates that there has been a direct impact on productivity through increased productive minutes per week as measured by asking employees about their ability to stay on task, worth over $3,000 per employee per year.[ii]

The Cleveland Clinic conducted a study of an eight-week web-based, mindfulness stress management program in a corporate call center. The study showed that a full year after the stress reduction program the call center employees reported decreased stress levels (31% lower) and increased vitality (28%), which is a measure of how energized a person feels through the workday. [iii]

Time to think differently? Consider incorporating integrative health approaches in your wellness (or well-being) program. To get started, check with your health plan to see what services they offer in this area. Connect with local organizations that offer these services or check the Working on Wellness Healthy Workplace toolkit for additional resources.

[i] Goetzel, R. et al. Ten Modifiable Health Risk Factors Are Linked To More Than One-Fifth Of Employer-Employee Health Care Spending. Health Affairs. 31,NO. 11 (2012): 2474–2484

[ii] Gelles, D. “At Aetna, a C.E.O.’s Management by Mantra”, New York Times, February 27, 2015 Retrieved November 18, 2016

[iii] Allexandre, D. et al. A Web-Based Mindfulness Stress ManagementProgram in a Corporate Call Center, Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine: March 2016 – Volume 58 – Issue 3 – p 254–264