UC Irvine has been named a platinum-level Start! Fit-Friendly Company by the American Heart Association’s Start! initiative for helping employees eat better and move more.

“People – our students, faculty and staff – are at the heart of UCI’s excellence, and we’re committed to providing an environment that fosters their fitness so that they can achieve their full potential,” said Chancellor Michael Drake. “We’re pleased to be recognized by the American Heart Association for our successful efforts to enhance wellness on campus.”

Platinum-level companies or institutions:

  • Offer employees physical activity options.
  • Increase healthy eating choices.
  • Promote a culture of wellness.
  • Meet at least nine criteria outlined by the American Heart Association in the areas of physical activity, nutrition and culture.
  • Demonstrate measurable outcomes related to workplace wellness.

UCI has many safety and wellness partnerships on campus, including the Living Well program funded through the University of California Office of the President’s Be Smart About Safety resource.

“We offer a series of behavioral change programs: Step Up UCI, the pedometer-based walking program; Fuel Up UCI, the healthy eating program; and Limber Up UCI, a flexibility program,” said Jill Schindele, Campus Recreation director. “On-site fitness programs such as ARC in the Park and Fit Squad [a mobile fitness cart and instructor that travel to high-risk departments for 30-minute workouts] are also available free of charge to campus employees.”

In addition, UCI supports a culture of health in the workplace with safety and wellness events, including Know Your Numbers health screenings and the annual Wellness & Safety Fair. Campus employees can access other educational resources, such as wellness-based lectures and healthy meeting guidelines, throughout the year.

“By making wellness and safety a top priority, our work-related injury and illness days off have decreased by 42.85 percent from 2009 and 2010,” said Susan Pihl, benefits director for Human Resources. “Programs sponsored by our campus partners – RSIGuard [stretch break software], ZotWheels [bike sharing program] and Peter’s Pick [a symbol identifying smart choices on campus], for example – add to the healthy culture.”

U.S. employers face increasing healthcare expenses as well as health-related losses in productivity that cost an estimated $225.8 billion a year. Many American adults spend most of their waking hours at sedentary jobs. Lack of regular physical activity raises their risk for a host of medical problems, such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Employers must absorb $12.7 billion in annual medical expenses due to obesity alone. The Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program helps change corporate culture by motivating employees to take up walking, which has the lowest dropout rate of any physical activity.

Recognition is a critical component of the Start! program. Participating employers who achieve specified goals get an official letter and plaque from the American Heart Association; are listed on the Start! national website; and may use the program’s annual recognition seal for internal and recruitment-related external communications.

All companies receive free access to the Start! Walking Program, materials promoting employee wellness, internal newsletter templates and consultation on CPR/defibrillator programs. Start! also provides My Start! Online, a free Web-based fitness and nutrition tracker for companies and individuals. A “dashboard” feature lets human resources or wellness managers view employee participation in the program.

“The Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program offers a unique, easy-to-implement opportunity for corporations to increase employees’ physical activity, which will help improve their health – and their employers’ bottom line,” said cardiologist Dr. Shalizeh Shokooh, board president of the American Heart Association’s Orange County division.

“Even people who haven’t exercised regularly until middle age can reap significant benefits by starting a walking program. A study published in 1986 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that some adults may gain two hours of life expectancy for every hour of regular, vigorous exercise.”

For more information about the Start! Fit-Friendly Companies Program, call 949-856-3555 or visit www.startwalkingnow.org.

About the American Heart Association: Devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the No. 1 and No. 3 killers in the U.S. – the American Heart Association teams with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, advocate stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. Based in Dallas, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or join, call 800-AHA-USA1 or visit www.heart.org.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4.2 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.

News Radio: UCI maintains on campus an ISDN line for conducting interviews with its faculty and experts. Use of this line is available for a fee to radio news programs/stations that wish to interview UCI faculty and experts. Use of the ISDN line is subject to availability and approval by the university.