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Providence Health Care isn’t new to offering health challenges to its staff. Every October during healthy workplace month, the company encourages its employees to change a habit they can easily integrate into their workday.

But when Linda Rankin, the organization’s occupational health and safety coordinator, learned about the annual health challenge offered by Pacific Blue Cross, she was keen to roll it out to the workforce.

“Wellness programs aren’t one size fits all,” she says. “Offering a variety of initiatives provides staff with an opportunity to participate in what interests them.”

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Pacific Blue Cross’s annual initiative incentivizes British Columbians to adopt healthy habits from January to February by offering a cash prize. Participants choose from three health resolutions — exercise, eat healthy or quit smoking — and then share their goal with family, friends and co-workers on social media to gain votes of support. The participants with the most votes in each category will win a cash prize of $2,019, which they can spend on anything health-related, such as gym memberships, a new bike or a smoothie maker.

While the challenge is open to everyone in the province, Pacific Blue Cross encourages employers to get involved and promote the contest in their workplaces. It provides materials, including posters and weekly tip sheets, to help participants accomplish their goals.

The challenge’s friendly approach appealed to Rankin. “It gets colleagues working together, talking about [wellness],” she says. “The challenge also makes participants accountable for their goals because they’re asking their social networks to support them.”

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Contest guidelines ensure people set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely, known as the SMART framework, says Dr. Macy Lai, a registered psychologist and behavioural therapist at Pacific Blue Cross. Research shows people are more likely to be successful if they follow the framework, she says. “For example, a specific health goal would be, ‘I want to walk 30 minutes every day’ or ‘I want to walk 30 minutes, three times a week.’ That’s more likely to be fulfilled than someone who just says, ‘Well, I want to exercise more.'”

The contest spurs people to change their behaviour, says Lai.

As well, positive reinforcement helps turn short-term habits into more permanent ones with a lasting effect, she says. “It’s important to get started, and once clients engage in healthy behaviour for a while, they say, ‘Wow, it’s actually worth it to put in the time to exercise or do these healthy behaviours because I really do feel better. I have more energy. I’m sleeping better. I’m looking better.’ So that’s one set of motivators.”

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For Rankin, the contest serves as another opportunity to help her colleagues think about wellness in a tangible way and incorporate healthy habits, no matter how small, into their work lives.

Accomplishing little goals encourages people to work towards bigger goals, she adds. “It keeps you going. Habits don’t change overnight. If you take a step backward or you fall off a little bit, you just get back on and keep moving forward.”

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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