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Banking on Better Health

October 08, 2012

Reported in: The Hampton Roads Health Journal
By: Alison Johnson

Photo by: Page Freer, Hampton Roads Health Journal Editor


At age 40, Christy Rudisill ran her first competitive race, a half-marathon. Rudisill had never thought of herself as an athlete, yet she found she fit right in at that event. Mixed in with the insanely fit runners who led the pack, she saw people of all shapes, sizes and speeds, including some with disabilities.

“It was so inspiring,” says Rudisill, a longtime registered nurse who now works as Wellness Director for TowneBank. “It was proof that you don’t have to be an obvious athlete to enjoy fitness. Everybody can be into healthy living in their own way, and at their own level.”

Rudisill has drawn on that insight in her first year with TowneBank, which has 26 banking offices in Virginia and North Carolina. Hired in the fall of 2011 to develop employee wellness programs, she has begun by reaching out to as many of her co-workers as possible—the dedicated health junkies, the couch potatoes and the majority who fall in between. “It’s about helping them take care of themselves the way they should, making small changes that can add up to great benefits,” she says.

The “Towne for Life” program—named by employees and shaped by staff surveys and health claims data—has four initial goals: promoting nutrition and healthy weight, encouraging physical activity, endorsing better individual health management and handling stress.

Rudisill has deliberately kept many early initiatives as broad as possible. A holiday challenge, for example, wasn’t a “weight loss” but a “weight maintenance” contest, with employees trying not to gain more than two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That way, people already at a normal weight could participate. Instead of trying to scorch pounds with extreme methods—and likely gaining them back later—everyone also could follow Rudisill’s practical nutrition tips, such as simple substitutions to make better holiday snacks. Of the 550 employees who signed up, 94 percent met the challenge, with many losing weight in the process.

TowneBank has also run a pedometer walking challenge and put the winner of a healthy recipe contest, a Mediterranean chicken salad, on the menu at its employee café at corporate headquarters in Suffolk. “We want to make all of this as fun and easy as possible,” Rudisill says.

Workplace wellness programs are important because… they help create a supportive environment in the place where people spend the majority of their waking hours. This ultimately is not only a great benefit to the employee but also to the employer, because healthier employees tend to be happier and more productive.

The best way to inspire people is… to give them the support they need and keep reminding them of the benefits. Most people know what they need to do, but they have so many other priorities and time is limited. As adults, we no longer have our parents taking us to the doctor and dentists for checkups; we no longer have our teachers taking us out to recess or coaches inspiring us to reach new goals. We are on our own. Sometimes, we all need a little help.

To draw in as many participants as possible, our program… will offer a diversity of activities and try to make things as convenient as possible, fun and tailored to the employees’ interests and needs. Our program is not a “cookie cutter” program. It belongs to the employees, and that ultimately will hopefully help with participation. In addition, our senior leadership is very supportive.

Future ideas for the program include… more onsite health screenings, onsite exercise classes at our member service center, and a stress management and work-life balance initiative.

If people tell me they’re too busy to participate, I would say… that is exactly why you need to participate! You won’t know the benefits until you try. You can put off taking care of yourself for as long as you want, but eventually it catches up with you, both physically and mentally.

To stay healthy, I… try to stay active—I run about twice a week, usually three to five miles—eat healthy whenever I can and take time out to have fun and enjoy life. It is not always easy. Life is busy! But my philosophy is, if I don’t take care of myself, who will? I don’t try to be perfect. If being healthy required perfectionism, we would all fail. I applaud myself for every step I take in a healthier direction and when I fail, I get back up and try again. Every step counts. Everything in moderation—that is the key.

My favorite exercise is… running and walking outdoors.

My favorite splurge is… Harry and David Moose Munch (a toffee, popcorn, candy and nut mix).

And my favorite healthy food is… watermelon.

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