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Bahram Akradi, founder, chairman, and CEO of Life Time — Healthy Way of Life

If there’s any upside to our country’s soaring healthcare costs, it’s that the shock of those costs is forcing many businesses to consider investing more deeply in their employees’ health.

A growing number have suddenly realized that they have nothing to gain — and everything to lose — by creating a culture in which people are expected to perform professionally even as their well-being is being actively undermined by poor nutrition, lack of exercise, excess stress and inadequate sleep.

In some cases, companies are developing programs and policies that nudge, cajole, entice or even straight-up shove employees toward healthier choices (for more on how that approach is working, see “Healthy Profit”). In other cases, they are leaving it up to individuals to sink or swim — even as their share of healthcare costs continues to rise and their vitality continues to dwindle.

Here at Life Time’s corporate office, we’ve chosen to take a more active approach — and I mean that quite literally. In addition to a number of innovative new health-improvement initiatives, we’ve begun encouraging our employees to participate in a wide variety of athletic events.

For some people, that might mean doing a single 5K fun run. For others, it might mean forming a relay team with coworkers and competing in a range of endurance events over the course of the year. In all cases, it means giving our employees an opportunity to integrate activity — and training — into their lives in a way that is meaningful, fun and satisfying for them.

As a result, over the last several years I’ve seen an impressive transformation in our corporate employee population. Every day, I see them: Dozens of previously sedentary types who have somehow morphed into incredibly fit, athletic-looking individuals. And it’s not just their bodies that have changed; it’s their whole attitude and energy. Every single one of them now seems to project more self-assuredness. There’s an alertness in their attitudes, and an easy confidence in their step that simply wasn’t there before.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: This is a fitness company, so all this athleticism must come naturally to everybody who works here, right? Not so. While it’s true that our clubs tend to attract a predominantly fitness-focused crowd, our corporate office is pretty much like any other — populated by accountants and analysts, IT and HR professionals, the whole gamut.

But here’s what’s amazing: We have about 600 employees at our headquarters in Chanhassen, and last year more than 300 of them participated in relay teams to complete a sprint-distance triathlon. There were 28 teams from our construction division alone.

The net effect of all this, in terms of building team spirit as well as fitness, was incredible. In fact, it’s been so exceptional that even if we weren’t in the events business (in addition to the Life Time Triathlon and Leadman series, we put on nearly 60 events across the United States each year), I’d still wholeheartedly recommend an events-based approach to any company that’s serious about improving its employees’ health and morale, while also improving its bottom line.

Of course, we’ve done lots of other things, too. Like making sure that all the food served at our meetings complies with the same no-junk standards as the foods served in our Life Cafés. Like tying employee health-insurance premiums to individual “health scores” (evaluated by a comprehensive health-and-fitness testing protocol we now offer to other employers through our myHealthCheck division). Like encouraging lunchtime workouts. It all makes a difference.

Over the past few years, we’ve also been trying to reduce our employees’ exposure to environmental toxins. In our corporate bathrooms, for example, we got rid of phthalate-laced air fresheners and began offering all-natural, paraben-free hand soaps from J.R. Watkins. (You may have noticed we recently rolled out these same upgrades in our Life Time Fitness club locker rooms, too.)

I’m especially happy about these changes, because I think they send a subtle but important message that is consistent with how we define a “healthy way of life.” It’s not just about what you eat or how you exercise, it’s about all the little choices you make every day: choices about what goes in and on and around your body; choices about the perspectives you hold, and the people you surround yourself with.

If the changes we’ve made to date are any indication, respecting these healthy-way-of-life principles is as good for our business as it is for our members and team members. And I know that it’s just going to keep on getting better.

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