NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The workplace can be the best place to boost employee health and well-being, experts say.
And corporate fitness programs can help employers to strike that delicate balance between competition and team spirit that makes the business world go ‘round.
Sixty-five percent of the adult population in the United States can be reached through worksites, which makes them ideal settings to implement strategies for reducing overweight and obesity, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report.
And to that access add amicable rivalry, the mother’s milk of capitalism, and you’ve got game.
“The corporate environment is a natural for friendly competition,” said Dr. Rod K. Dishman, who headed a study about an employee exercise program at eight Home Depot home improvement stores in the United States and Canada.
The researchers tracked the daily activity of employees in the 12-week program. For extra motivation they split the workers into small teams and each got a group exercise goal. More than half of the workers met their minimum goals, according to study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“It’s human nature to keep commitments to others when we’d let ourselves down,” Dishman, of the University of Georgia at Athens, said in an interview. “Having the support of a group probably played a large role.”
As health care costs skyrocket and absenteeism erodes the bottom line, corporate-funded fitness programs may be the gift that keeps giving back.
“There are observational studies that show lower health care claims by active people,” Dishman said.
That message is not lost on companies like Google, which provides on-site fitness centers, free classes and discounted personal training to its 10,000 employees worldwide.
“We also offer our monthly newsletter, a fitness web site, fitness expos, seminars, and even a “Stretching on the Toilet” bathroom publication,” Josh Glynn, the fitness program manager, said from the company’s California headquarters.
Crunch Fitness partners with some 350 companies, including Google, in corporate wellness programs that range from on-site workouts to lunchtime seminars.
Instructor Taj Harris says some exercises are better suited to the corporate environment than others.
“At a corporate facility it is hard to offer equipment-based classes,” Harris explained. “Yoga classes have been very successful, especially since they calm the mind. Healthy bodies keep people out of the doctors’ offices.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if this country adopted the idea of siesta during the day and made it mandatory to take an exercise break?”
While siestas probably won’t be the custom at Random House anytime soon, the publishing giant has been embracing corporate fitness for 22 years.
“We offer on-site classes in therapeutic yoga, Pilates mat classes, cardio classes, stretch and alignment,” Diane Gallagher, director of health and fitness for Random House, said.
Stephanie Hui, who has taken the classes for six years, agrees.
“Before doing daily yoga at Random House, I was overweight, out of shape and lazy. Now, I’m in the best shape of my life,” Hui said.
Glenora Blackshire, who has taught yoga at Random House for five years, is impressed by the level of corporate commitment.
“When people leave Random House to go elsewhere, they ‘ll say to me, ‘I’ll miss the yoga classes.’ “
Well, there’s always “Stretching on the Toilet.”