1 million Americans miss work each day because of stress. A further $51 billion is spent a year on depression-induced absenteeism, not including an extra $26 billion in treatment costs (Zippia).
An additional $13,728, on average, is spent per employee for annual healthcare costs as of 2020.
These stats should shock you. And that’s not the only worrying part—healthcare costs are rising, and daily stress among employees is at an all-time high, according to Gallup. In addition, an estimated 61% of American adults have had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment in the past year (2021).
How do we reduce healthcare costs and improve wellbeing, mental health and quality of life? Employers can learn from what’s known as the blue zones—these are regions worldwide where people consistently live longer, healthier lives.
What are the blue zones?
In certain regions around the world—Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, CA, USA—people consistently live longer, healthier lives. These regions are known as blue zones, and there’s a lot we can learn from them.
All blue zones share certain lifestyle habits, including:
1. Making movement part of their day
2. Eating a diet rich in plant-based foods
3. Prioritizing stress relief
4. Getting plenty of sleep (including daytime naps)
5. Eating until they’re 80% full
6. Drinking alcohol in moderation
6. Exercising regularly
7. Having a purpose and a healthy social network
Many of these habits are small but compound. They’re basic, but there’s evidence that they work. By following these habits, you can decrease healthcare costs and improve the wellbeing of your employees—we’ll detail more on how to do this below.
Implement Blue Zone habits at work
Encourage daily movement
There are various ways to encourage daily physical activity in your workplace. You can add walking meetings—these were a favorite of Steve Jobs—you can host fitness classes or organize challenges to get people moving. Think: who can achieve the most steps, maintain a run streak, or attend the most yoga sessions in a month?
Provide nutritious plant-based dietary options
One way to promote wellness at work—and to reduce financial costs for employees—is to provide free or subsidized nutritious plant-based dietary options. It’s one of the hottest wellbeing trends in 2024 and can even help reduce financial stress. That’s two wins for the price of one.
Prioritize stress relief
As mentioned, stress is at an all-time high in the United States. Your employees feel the burden of too much work and insufficient rest. Maybe you’re stretched thin, and the employee who manages your social campaigns is now writing your weekly newsletter, creating video content and is occasionally dragged into meetings they shouldn’t be.
Focus on reducing stress by lessening the workload on the employees that need it most.
You can also add stress management initiatives such as meditation for stress and anxiety relief sessions, finance talks and advice, and more. But note: no number of meditation sessions will reduce stress if the worker has too much work to do—you have to tackle the root of the problem first.
Promote regular exercise
Regular exercise can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, infectious diseases, and cardiovascular disease, says the CDC It may also help combat and prevent depression.
Organize regular fitness classes for your employees and participate in movement challenges and step goals. As part of your wellness program, you can also offer discounted gym memberships and vouchers for fitness classes or healthier takeout food options.
Build a healthy social network
Create a healthy social network at work that encourages employees to make friends and connect with each other in a meaningful way.
One study found that employees who have best friends at work perform better. Furthermore, companies could see up to 12% higher profits, 36% fewer safety incidents, and 7% more engaged customers—all because of work friendships.
Team building events can help build friendships and improve communication. At FitPros, we host various team building exercises, including murder mystery nights, great escapes and magic shows. These are available both in-person and remotely.
To further build a healthy social network, you can organize regular social events, implement a welcoming onboarding process with a buddy system, and create a communal space for interaction.
For more tips on how to foster friendships at work, you can read our blog post on Creating Friendships at Work: A Guide for Employers
Educate employees on diet and alcohol
One of the key Blue Zone habits is eating a diet rich in plant-based foods and drinking alcohol in moderation. While it’s not our place to tell you what you should eat or drink, we can help educate your employees on healthy habits via our health talks
Instead of after-work beers, you can organize team building events, fitness classes, or other activities that don't center around drinking. And if you still want to host drinks, provide alcohol-free alternatives.
We can help guide your employees to make healthier decisions. Also, we can provide advice for you to adjust your catering options to be healthier and more nutritious.
Why implement blue zone habits?
In 2008, Albert Lea, a small city in Minnesota, suffered in the face of the economic downturn. In 2009, the city partnered with Blue Zones to launch a pilot project. Over the next 9 months, the city implemented the science-based solutions and has done so ever since.
Today, the small city has saved $8.6 million in annual healthcare costs for employers. They’ve also added a projected 2.9 years to the lifespan by encouraging healthier habits, natural movement, and a positive outlook on life. You can read the full project results here
Join FitPros live
At FitPros, we provide workplace wellbeing solutions and activities to help support your employees' health and happiness. We’re trusted by world-leading companies such as Forbes, Grammarly, Tik Tok, and Discord.
We implement Blue Zone habits into our programs, including daily movement with our fitness classes and yoga sessions, build meaningful relationships with our team building activities, and educate your employees on how to improve their health and happiness with our health talks.
Join our workplace wellness subscription, FitPros Live, for daily content every day. Employees can drop in whenever and you can track employee attendance and engagement to see the real-time effect of our wellness solutions.
Want to learn more? Book a demo today
Author: Lindsay Johnson, CEO and Founder of FitPros
FitPros is a turn-key wellness provider empowering people to take charge of their personal health.
Contact FitPros to diversify your company’s wellbeing offerings and help employees meet their health & fitness goals.