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New Ulm Medical Center

Banking on good health with Heart of New Ulm

If the employees at New Ulm's Citizens Bank Minnesota seem even happier than usual, it may be because they're feeling healthier than ever.

Thanks to inspiration and help from Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project, bank employees have collectively lost more than 600 pounds, walked enough to circle the Earth and regularly gather to exercise after closing time. It's a new culture of prevention that's not only good for employees' waistlines and heart health, but for business as well.

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A lunch and learn with Hy-Vee Dietitian April Graff, MS, RD, LD is just one of the heart healthy activities that Citizens Bank in New Ulm has hosted for its staff in recent months. Inspired by the Heart of New Ulm Project, bank employees have collectively lost more than 600 pounds.

"It's better for business if employees are healthy," said Jean Geistfeld, a consultant to Citizens Bank who previously served as its marketing director for more than a decade. "It's about team building as well as fitness. When we get together to exercise, we're not just talking about work, we're building camaraderie."

The Heart of New Ulm Project, which is a partnership between Allina Health, Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation and New Ulm Medical Center, aims to decrease the number of heart attacks in the New Ulm area over the next decade. The project works to help residents reduce the risk of heart attack through physical activity, healthy eating, weight loss, tobacco cessation and much more. And it offers special resources to help employers create healthier workplaces.

A wake-up call

For Citizens, it all began in 2008. Heart of New Ulm staff visited the bank to offer free heart health screenings that included cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass measurements along with other lab tests. When employees got their results back, "a lot of people went 'Whoa,'" said Geistfeld. The screenings were a wake-up call. Citizens decided to jump headfirst into employee wellness. Geistfeld said that today, about half or more of the bank's 80 employees participate in their health promotion activities, many of which are done in teams.

The bank takes part in Heart of New Ulm sponsored activities and designs its own heart- healthy challenges too. For example, staff has participated in the project's pedometer challenge, had classes with educators from Allina Health and embraced SWAP IT to DROP ITβ„’, a community-wide campaign that helps residents make small daily changes that can help them lose weight.

About a year ago employees devised a wellness activity where they collectively walked one million steps – enough steps to make it from New Ulm around the world and back to New Ulm. Another activity – aptly named Buff Bankers – challenged employees to commit to weekly exercise. The Chubby Checker promotion challenged employees to lose weight after the New Year, with a maximum healthy weight loss goal of 20 pounds over three months.

After-hours fun

In addition to challenges, the bank also offers its employees free weekly exercise classes. After closing time, employees stay in the bank, change into their workout clothes and take instructor-led classes in Zumba and PiYo, a combination of Pilates and yoga.

"Heart of New Ulm brought an awareness to the bank and people said, 'Wow, I really need to do something,'" said Geistfeld. She herself has lost 20 pounds since the wellness efforts began. "It's about healthy balances in your life and I think that's what Heart of New Ulm teaches. It's been a lot of little valuable things I've picked up on. They stick with you and really make a difference."

For more information about the Heart of New Ulm Project, visit www.heartsbeatback.org.