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Using a Walking Program to Breathe Life into your Wellness Efforts

Starting in 2014, health care reform will allow for larger incentives associated with wellness programs – up to 30% of total premium for single coverage – so now is a great time to consider revamping your wellness efforts.  Have you tried adding a walking component to your program? 

walking programWalking programs are a relatively inexpensive undertaking, and they’ve proved effective for many companies.  What makes walking programs so attractive is that it involves a natural exercise that almost everyone can participate in at their own pace.  And it doesn’t require investment in expensive equipment, instructors, or renting space.

A look at the numbers backing walking programs

While walking is considered a “low impact” exercise activity, it can have a high impact on health outcomes.  In a four month study of worksite walking programs, CHC Wellness found that:

  • Walking 10,000 steps a day eliminated one metabolic risk (and an estimated savings of $1,200 per risk) for high-risk participants.
  • High-risk participants lost an average of seven pounds when they walked 10,000 steps a day during the study. Those who did not participate in the program gained weight.
  • Diabetic participants reduced glucose, while non-participants increased glucose.
  • 52% of participants with high blood pressure reduced their classification to medium or low risk for high blood pressure during the study period.

These outcomes are significant, yet not every walking program will yield these results. Some programs will have enthusiastic, long-term participation and a great ROI, while others have low participation and modest results.

The difference? Planning and implementation. If you want your program to be successful, it must be well-planned and structured to keep energy around the program up.   

Tips for Running A Successful Walking Program

Want to start a walking program, or re-boot the one you’ve got in place? Try the following:

1. Get executive sponsorship/buy-in up front.

Employees will react more positively when they know that the executive team is committed to wellness.  Consistent, positive support from management will show in the program’s results.

2. Design, document and designate.

All comprehensive wellness programs should be well planned, funded, and communicated – and the walking component should be no exception. The structure and goals of the program should be meticulously defined and documented, and should include:

  • A designated program administrator  - There should be someone who has the appropriate authority and responsibility for setting parameters and resolving issues.

  • A firm start date - The date should allow for ample time to communicate the program to employees and generate sufficient “buzz.”

  • Clear goalsYou won’t know if your program is successful if you don’t first define your goals, e.g. 30% employee participation. Your goals should correlate with the general health and wellness needs of your workforce.

  • Frequent rewards and opportunities to succeed - When designing your competitions or challenges, keep duration/intervals relatively short.  This helps maintain interest and gives people a chance to start over again if they fall behind the first time.

  • A big kickoff - Start the program with a bang! Consider a major challenge event or competition—something that will engage and excite employees.

3. Get the word out.

Use a variety of communication techniques to promote your walking program, including break room posters, emails, and newsletters to generate excitement and encourage participation. Create a registration process using online tools if possible.

Different groups communicate differently. Use whatever works for your culture, environment, geography, and demographics.

4. Use good pedometers.

Pick a couple of quality pedometers to recommend to people that have good reviews and are accurate.  You want people to get credit for their extra efforts like taking the stairs, parking further from the front door, etc.!  It may be a good idea to standardize to one pedometer model – especially if you have competitive employees. 

5. Make it social.

Participants will benefits from peer support to keep them challenged and accountable.  Encourage people to walk together at lunch or perhaps form teams to increase engagement in the walking program.

Tools like GetMovin and other social wellness platforms can also add a more interactive to the program.

6. Give good rewards!

Rewards and incentives should be worth the effort given by the employees. While most won’t participate for the prize alone, having a fun reward can be motivating to keep people on track.  Consider whether it makes sense to give one large prize or a number of small prizes to top performers based on your budget.

7. Never stop communicating.

Continually advertise and reiterate the goals of your walking program, and promote the challenge events in a variety of formats. Keep corporate leadership involved, and share successes with everyone by recognizing achievers publicly.

Walk it out: Keeping the Walking Program Alive

Walking programs are sometimes thought of as having a limited “shelf life” – participation may wane after they’ve gone on for a while.  Don’t be disheartened by this, because any little thing you can do to get people moving makes a difference. 

Consider doing walking programs on a seasonal basis (maybe during the winter when people tend to be less active).  Create as much variety as possible in your walking programs and in your wellness program as a whole to keep things interesting and let people choose what works the best for them.

Topics: HR / Employee Benefits