TMH enjoys healthy competition

Registered Nurse Dave Higgins of The Memorial Hospital is on a mission to eat a more balanced diet. Denise Jones, of the Human Resources Department, is exercising more regularly than ever before.

And hospital administrator Randy Phelps is trying to live up to his personal goal of jogging three to four miles most days of the week.

If all goes according to plan, about 80 staff members at The Memorial Hospital will have shed unwanted pounds and be more active by December.

The plan -- a wellness program to create healthy lifestyles, pits teams of staff members against each other to lose the most weight, quit smoking and log the most exercise hours in the next 10 months -- is already making an impact on hospital staff, said program coordinator Amy Knights.

"Especially in each department, this is bringing people together," she said. "It has been a positive thing in the workforce."

Knights secured a $500 grant from the Colorado State Health Department for the program. Hospital employees began to sign up for teams last month. Seventeen teams of four employees each earn points as a team. At the end of the competition, individuals in the top three teams with the most points will earn one paid vacation day.

Teams, with names such as the "The Spare Tires," "Johnny and the Cruisers," and the "It Team" are judged by their collective progress.

Quitting smoking, for example, is worth 10 points a month, while each hour of exercise is worth one point. Each pound of weight lost is worth one point and groups can earn points for attending the hospital's once-monthly support and educational presentations.

The program is based on the honor system, but the most important part of the effort is its message, Knights said.

"We have a mission to promote healthy futures," she said. "We can start by using ourselves as the first example of that."

Jones said the program has helped motivate her desire to lose 35 pounds and eat more nutritious foods.

"I've always felt that if I exercised more, I'd be more alert," she said. "We're doing this to better ourselves, but if we're being monitored and there's competition you do better."

Since starting the program, Jones has been kickboxing a few times a week and walking regularly.

"It's fun and it makes you feel guilty if you don't exercise because you're letting the team down," she said.

Higgins' main goal is to stick with the program over the long haul because that's what it takes to create a lifestyle change, he said.

As a nurse, Higgins sees the long-term effects on patients who have neglected their health. At a minimum, poor diet and a lack of regular exercise often results in an underlying depression in patients, Higgins has noticed.

Obesity, especially in old age, can compound a number of disorders, he said.

"Diabetes and joint stress are common outcomes of being overweight for long periods of time," he said. "It's hard getting around when you're older anyway and having health problems can make those problems worse."

To fit exercise into his busy schedule, Higgins exercises in the hospital's weight room for 20 minutes of his half-hour lunch break.

"I only really need 10 minutes now to eat my lunch because exercise is a natural appetite suppressant," he said. "I think I have to set a good example. It's important to talk to people about diets and exercise and know something about it personally."

Phelps said he is proud of the staff's effort to promote healthy lifestyle changes because it serves as an example to the community. Healthy workers also may be more productive, he said.

"I think everybody knows that if your state of well-being is higher then you tend to be more productive and less ill," he said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or 2@craigdailypress.com.

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