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Wellness & Office Morale: Are You Accountable for Your Well-Being?

March 28, 2012

Colleen Reilly, Nelnet Director of Wellness & President of Total Well-Being

I was working late last night and received an e-mail from a friend asking for help with a question on a job application. After reading the question, I have to say I was really impressed with this organization. The organization clearly wanted to see its applicants’ views on being personally accountable for one’s choices and actions.

Take a look at how I would have answered this question if it were my job application. More importantly, I challenge you to think about how you would answer the question. Ask yourself, “Am I accountable for my health and well-being?” Do you own your health or do you fall victim to countless excuses? “I am too busy. I am too tired. I don’t have time. Eating healthy is too expensive. I have kids.” When are you going to commit to creating the life that you want—full of energy, optimism, and good health?

Job Application Question and My Answer

Make a thoughtful, rational, and emotional case (in less than one page) for why it is important (economically & psychologically) for Americans to take personal responsibility for their health and well-being. 

When reflecting on our society, it makes me think of the typical tradition of abandoning New Year’s resolutions and how that has been going on for hundreds of years. At the turn of the century, the Irish poet Oscar Wilde noted that New Year’s resolutions are merely “checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account.”

Now is the time for Americans step up and become more accountable. We are in the throes of a health crisis with growing obesity and Type II Diabetes epidemics, not to mention high every-day stress levels. The good news for Americans is that there is a tremendous amount of scientific information available on the importance of regular physical activity and healthy nutrition and how these two things can delay death and disease.  However, there is a huge gap between what is known scientifically about eating healthy and exercising and what most US citizens and other Western countries actually do.  For example, we now know that approximately 40% of all cancers are caused by the typical American diet, lack of physical activity, and obesity, and that cancer is mostly a preventable disease. Despite this information, only 20% of Americans eat fruits and vegetables per day.  Also, most Americans fail to get enough physical activity to receive any health benefits. To extend life, improve the quality of life, and avoid the onset of chronic diseases, the gap between what is currently known and what Americans actually do needs to be reduced.

Forks need suitable options on the plate…

Local culture, money, taste, time, and availability of food all help us determine what to eat. Making smarter choices in this decision making process is difficult.  Some people don’t change because they may not have had the opportunity to learn what makes up a healthy diet, how much exercise is enough, and how these two lifestyle choices are directly related to the causes of death.  Sometimes, even if people know they should live a healthy lifestyle, their ability to change is overwhelmed by lack of motivation, time, social support, and presence of environmental pressures to eat unhealthy foods and to be sedentary.

Change is hard and it takes time, but it can be done.  It takes education and awareness, resources and tools, a short- and long-term strategy, and a strong social support system. Most importantly, it takes self leadership and accountability.  You must take care of yourself; no one else can do that for you.  I have seen this transformation happen personally and within others such as my colleague, Heather. So, I’ll leave you with her story:

At 5’3” and 185 pounds, Heather felt she had reached a low point in her life.  She decided it was time to make some changes. So she decided to reduce her sugar intake, fatty food consumption, portion sizes, and fast food meals.  Shortly after making these changes, she joined her company’s wellness committee and gained more knowledge of the wellness program. That’s when she started her second set of healthy lifestyle changes. 

Heather began to increase her exercise as well as intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.  She also started paying attention to her water consumption and intake of high fiber foods.  Heather states that not only has she improved her health, but she has also benefited financially as she spends less on healthcare expenses.  She credits her family, friends, company, and most importantly, her personal commitment to herself as the keys for the sustained motivation to live a healthy lifestyle. 

Heather has embraced what it means to be accountable and is on the path to a long, healthy life. She currently weighs 110 pounds, feels great, and has more energy for her family and the community.  She uses her story as an inspiration to create a healthier and more vibrant community and to help people understand the endless possibilities when they become accountable for the life they want to live.  She is the most positive and happy person I know.

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