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Keep Fit at Work

Wellness programs foster weight loss, fight disease, boost productivity

En español | Since March, Wendy Feiner has shed eight pounds while wearing a small step-counting device on her shoe. A computer at her law firm automatically tracks her imaginary trek around the world as part of the "Destination: You" physical activity program.

"Every time you hit one of your destinations, it puts a stamp on your virtual passport," Feiner, 50, administrator at Fox Rothschild's Las Vegas office, says of the product manufactured by GlobalFit. To accumulate more steps (and collect more stamps), she parks farther away at work and while running errands.

See also: A few extra pounds may be good for you.

Companies that support employee exercise programs benefit in numerous ways - photo of paperclip man raising office supply weights

Keeping employees fit helps cut health care costs for employers. — Photo by Richard Morrell/Corbis

Many of the Philadelphia-based firm's 1,100 employees, who include more than 500 attorneys, have signed on for Destination: You. From mid-August through mid-September, anyone who reached the goal of 116,000 steps — about 4,000 a day — could enter a drawing for a $200 debit card. Drawings are run every six weeks or so. In a year-end giveaway, three workers will win vacations — one valued at $5,000 and two at $2,500 each.

Wellness programs a win-win

Workplace wellness is winning over employers and employees. Creative programs like Destination: You are intended to motivate weight loss, prevent chronic disease and boost output while cutting health care costs. They're voluntary, but goals and contests fuel participation and make fitness fun.

Such efforts are not only gaining momentum, but showing success, according to MetLife's "9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends," released this past spring.

Of employers with wellness programs, 72 percent report that they help lower medical costs and 76 percent note that they improve productivity by decreasing absences.

"We got a huge discount on our benefits when we implemented the wellness program," a San Francisco-based human resources professional says in the MetLife study. "So now everybody in our company gets to take an hour off from their job to go work out."

In recent years, "we have really seen wellness come to the forefront" at work, says Colin Milner, chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging in Vancouver, British Columbia, whose membership is mainly U.S.-based. "The corporate heads are saying we actually have to do something to keep people healthy."

Within the senior-living industry, which constitutes most of its membership, 56 percent of organizations offer corporate wellness to employees, according to a survey in late 2010. "When I started 30 years ago," Milner says, "that number was almost zero."

Next: One-on-one coaching makes an impact. >>

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