Help your employees find time for fitness

If you asked, the majority of your employees would say they would like to get more exercise. But many would add it's hard to find the time.

Fitting in fitness benefits not only your employees, but you, the employer. Why?

Ann Wyatt, with HealthFitness, lays out the facts in her blog, "8 ways to help your employees find time for fitness."

  • Physical inactivity and its adverse health effects are comparable to that of smoking and obesity.
  • Sedentary jobs have increased 83 percent since 1950.
  • More than 80 percent of American adults do not meet the recommended amounts of physical activity.
  • Not only does being physically active boost the health of your employees, but it’s good for your business as well. Research shows that workers who exercise during the day reported a 15 percent boost in performance, a happier mood and increased ability to meet deadlines.

So, how can you help you employees find time for fitness. Wyatt offers these suggestions:

Leadership support. At one of our technology client sites, a focus group shared that a key barrier to participation was an underlying perception that if they were seen working out, they will be seen as slackers and not working. We helped change that perception by recruiting C-suite leadership to work out while on the clock, opening the door for employees to see that fitness was a priority all of the way up the ladder.

Offer a variety of fitness options. To appeal to the range of ages and diversity of employees at a leading biotech company, HealthFitness offers a variety of 15 group exercise classes each week—from strength training to Pilates to HIIT (high-intensity interval training) classes.

Extend hours of corporate fitness center. At one of our manufacturing client sites, the staff has extended the hours of the fitness center early and late to accommodate different work shifts. At another site, employees at a high-tech company work a variety of hours throughout the day. To meet the needs of this diverse group of employees, the fitness center is open 24/7 and is staffed from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Step up to better health. An eight-week walking program at a leading car manufacturing company encourages participants to use pedometers to track steps taken on the production line, in the lunchroom, during breaks, off campus and at home.

Take a hike at work. Walking trails give employees the opportunity to exercise at work. At one of our client sites, the trails are clearly marked and measured so employees can keep up with how far they walk. Employees can walk a shorter route during breaks and take a longer walk during lunch.

Encourage at-desk workouts. To inspire employees at a biotech client site to sit less and move more, HealthFitness staff host 15-minute energy breaks in conference rooms where employees learn workouts do to at their desks.

Provide a virtual fitness trainer. To reach employees who are not comfortable going to the gym—or exercising with their co-workers—HealthFitness staff at one of our high-tech client sites create and post short videos with exercise tips on the company’s intranet site.

A way to take your wellness program beyond paper

Target is taking its wellness program a step further and giving its more than 300,000 employees access to a FitBit tracker. And to sweeten the deal, all employees participating in the FitBit Wellness Program will have a chance to earn money for the charity of their choice.

Employees can sign up to get the FitBit Zip ($59.95) for free or pay the difference for a more advanced FitBit.

Amy McDonough, vice president and general manager of Fitbit's wellness unit, told eWEEK that the deal with Target is one of the largest company-wide wellness arrangements it has made so far.

"The Target announcement was exciting because they are a strategic retail partner for Fitbit products and also a large employer," McDonough said. "It's a great example of how these larger organizations are really putting wellness at the forefront."

Employees who take advantage of the FitBit offer will be grouped into teams for a monthlong challenge. The winning team will get $1 million to funnel into a charity of their choice, Chief Human Resources Officer Jodee Kozlak told CBS News.

Kozlak added that employees will also receive extra discounts on fruits and vegetables, and healthy grab and go snacks will be featured near cash registers.

RELATED: One compelling reason to participate in a wellness plan

The 4-Minute Workout

Originally published by Gretchen Reynolds on The New York Times health blog.

Thanks to an ingratiating new study, we may finally be closer to answering that ever-popular question regarding our health and fitness: How little exercise can I get away with?

The answer, it seems, may be four minutes.

For the study, which was published last month in the journal PLoS One, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, and other institutions attempted to delineate the minimum amount of exercise required to develop appreciable endurance and health gains. They began by reconsidering their own past work, which had examined the effects of a relatively large dose of high-intensity intervals on various measures of health and fitness.

For those unfamiliar with the term, high-intensity intervals are just that: bursts of strenuous exercise lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes, interspersed with periods of rest. In recent years, a wealth of studies have established that sessions of high-intensity exercises can be as potent, physiologically, as much longer bouts of sustained endurance exercise.

In a representative study from 2010, for instance, Canadian researchers showed that 10 one-minute intervals — essentially, 10 minutes of strenuous exercise braided with one-minute rest periods between — led to the same changes within muscle cells as about 90 minutes of moderate bike riding.

Similarly, the Norwegian scientists for some years have been studying the effects of intense intervals lasting for four minutes, performed at about 90 percent of each volunteer’s maximum heart rate and repeated four times, with a three-minute rest between each interval. The total meaningful exercise time in these sessions, then, is 16 minutes.

Which, the researchers thought, might just be too much.

“One of the main reasons people give” for not exercising is that they don’t have time, says Arnt Erik Tjonna, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who led the study.

So he and his colleagues decided to slim down the regimen and determine whether a single, strenuous four-minute workout would effectively improve health and fitness.

To do so, they gathered 26 overweight and sedentary but otherwise healthy middle-aged men, determined their baseline endurance and cardiovascular and metabolic health, and randomly assigned them to one of two groups.

Half began a supervised exercise program that reiterated the Norwegian researchers’ former routine. After briefly warming up, these volunteers ran on a treadmill at 90 percent of their maximal heart rate — a tiring pace, says Dr. Tjonna, at which “you cannot talk in full sentences, but can use single words” — for four four-minute intervals, with three minutes of slow walking between, followed by a brief cool-down. The entire session was repeated three times a week for 10 weeks.

The second group, however, completed only one four-minute strenuous run. They, too, exercised three times a week for 10 weeks.

At the end of the program, the men had increased their maximal oxygen uptake, or endurance capacity, by an average of 10 percent or more, with no significant differences in the gains between the two groups.

Metabolic and cardiovascular health likewise had improved in both groups, with almost all of the men now displaying better blood sugar control and blood pressure profiles, whether they had exercised vigorously for 16 minutes per session, or four minutes per session, and despite the fact that few of the men had lost much body fat.

“This is not a weight-loss program,” Dr. Tjonna says. It is, instead, he says, “a suggestion for how people can make a kick-start for better fitness,” or maintain fitness already gained, when other obligations press on your time.

The results, Dr. Tjonna says, persuasively suggest that “getting in shape does not demand a big effort” in terms of time.

That finding, though, inevitably raises the question of whether the bar could drop even lower. Could, for instance, a mere two minutes of strenuous training effectively improve health and fitness?

Dr. Tjonna, the killjoy, doubts it. There are other groups of scientists looking at even shorter bouts of exercise, he says, “but it seems like they don’t get the same results regarding the maximal oxygen uptake” as the four-minute sessions used in his experiment. Since improved maximal oxygen uptake can reliably indicate better overall cardiovascular health, he suspects that “we need a certain length of the interval to trigger” such health and fitness benefits.

Thankfully, for those worried that a trip to the gym is an inefficient means of completing four minutes of exercise, the workout can effectively be practiced anywhere, Dr. Tjonna says. Sprint uphill for four minutes or race up multiple flights of steps. Bicycle, swim or even walk briskly, as long as you raise your heart rate sufficiently for four minutes. (Obviously, consult your doctor first if you haven’t been active in the past.)

“Everyone, we think,” Dr. Tjonna says, “has time for this kind of exercise three times a week.”

Special thanks to the Reduced Shakespeare Company and Christopher McDougall for their contributions to the Well 4-Minute Workout playlist.


10 Tips to healthy eating and physical activity for you


  1. Start your day with breakfast.Breakfast fills your "empty tank" to get you going after a long night without food. And it can help you do better in school. Easy to prepare breakfasts include cold cereal with fruit and low-fat milk, whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, yogurt with fruit, whole-grain waffles or even last night's pizza!
  2. Get Moving!It's easy to fit physical activities into your daily routine. Walk, bike or jog to see friends. Take a 10-minute activity break every hour while you read, do homework or watch TV. Climb stairs instead of taking an escalator or elevator. Try to do these things for a total of 30 minutes every day.
  3. Snack smart.Snacks are a great way to refuel. Choose snacks from different food groups - a glass of low-fat milk and a few graham crackers, an apple or celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, or some dry cereal. If you eat smart at other meals, cookies, chips and candy are OK for occasional snacking.
  4. Work up a sweat.Vigorous work-outs - when you're breathing hard and sweating - help your heart pump better, give you more energy and help you look and feel best. Start with a warm-up that stretches your muscles. Include 20 minutes of aerobic activity, such as running, jogging, or dancing. Follow-up with activities that help make you stronger such as push-ups or lifting weights. Then cool-down with more stretching and deep breathing.
  5. Balance your food choices - don't eat too much of any one thing.You don't have to give up foods like hamburgers, french fries and ice cream to eat healthy. You just have to be smart about how often and how much of them you eat. Your body needs nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, fat and many different vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and A, iron and calcium from a variety of foods. Balancing food choices from the Food Guide Pyramid and checking out the Nutrition Facts Panel on food labels will help you get all these nutrients.
  6. Get fit with friends or family.Being active is much more fun with friends or family. Encourage others to join you and plan one special physical activity event, like a bike ride or hiking, with a group each week.
  7. Eat more grains, fruits and vegetables.These foods give you carbohydrates for energy, plus vitamins, minerals and fiber. Besides, they taste good! Try breads such as whole-wheat, bagels and pita. Spaghetti and oatmeal are also in the grain group.Bananas, strawberries and melons are some great tasting fruits. Try vegetables raw, on a sandwich or salad.
  8. Join in physical activities at school.Whether you take a physical education class or do other physical activities at school, such as intramural sports, structures activities are a sure way to feel good, look good and stay physically fit.
  9. Foods aren't good or bad.A healthy eating style is like a puzzle with many parts. Each part -- or food -- is different. Some foods may have more fat, sugar or salt while others may have more vitamins or fiber. There is a place for all these foods. What makes a diet good or bad is how foods fit together. Balancing your choices is important. Fit in a higher-fat food, like pepperoni pizza, at dinner by choosing lower-fat foods at other meals. And don't forget about moderation. If two pieces of pizza fill you up, you don't need a third.
  10. Make healthy eating and physical activities fun!Take advantage of physical activities you and your friends enjoy doing together and eat the foods you like. Be adventurous - try new sports, games and other activities as well as new foods. You'll grow stronger, play longer, and look and feel better! Set realistic goals - don't try changing too much at once.


Fitness in Middle Age Lowers Medical Costs Later: Study

By Ellin Holohan
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- Subsidizing exercise and fitness-related lifestyles in middle age could significantly reduce the ballooning cost of health care in later years, a new study of more than 20,000 people suggests.

The study, slated for Thursday presentation at an American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta, found that fit middle-aged men and women had significantly lower medical expenses later in life compared to people who failed to stay in shape.

The more-fit study participants had 38 percent lower medical costs many years later, measured by Medicare and other insurance claims from 1999 through 2009.

"We wanted to determine if higher levels of physical fitness in middle age are associated with lower costs later in life," said study author Dr. Justin Bachmann. "We found that fitness confers dividends later in life even when other risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity are controlled for."

The implications of the findings give "credence to efforts like Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' campaign," he said. The First Lady has initiated a project aimed at reducing childhood obesity through exercise and proper nutrition.

Levels of fitness were determined by a treadmill test measuring metabolic equivalents (METs), Bachmann said. The higher the METs, the more fit a person is. People who exercise regularly perform better on the test because they have greater aerobic capacity, which translates into better cardiorespiratory health and lower costs later in life, he said.

The study was a collaboration between the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center and the Cooper Institute, both in Dallas.

Researchers screened participants for previous heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Of the 20,489 given a "healthy" designation, 16,186 were men and 4,303 were women, with an average age of 51. When Medicare costs and other insurance payments were compared, the average age was about 72, Bachmann said. The study participants were drawn from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, a repository of health-related data from close to 100,000 patients collected over the past four decades.

Many of the study participants were business executives who went to the center for physicals and represent "an unusually healthy cohort," reducing the effect of confounding factors, Bachmann said.

The analysis controlled for health risks, such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body-mass index (BMI). Body-mass index, used to measure the impact of obesity, is based on a combination of height and weight in adults.

Even in the presence of risk factors, better fitness in middle age predicted lower medical costs later.

The least-fit group at the study's onset had higher risk factors across the board. For example, 31 percent of the most out-of-shape men smoked, compared with 9 percent of the most-fit men. About 5 percent of the least fit men had diabetes, vs. less than 2 percent of men in the best condition. A similar pattern existed for women in the study.

Average annual claims for medical costs for the least-fit men, at $5,134, were about 36 percent higher than the average of $3,277 a year for the most-fit men. The average medical claims of $4,565 for the least-fit women were about 40 percent higher than the $2,755 average for the most fit.

Another expert called the study "quite compelling" and connected the results of the treadmill tests to regular exercise, promoting it as a path toward fitness.

"Exercise is the best medicine we have," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Noting that exercise has an impact on blood pressure, diabetes and even mood, she said "the positive effect of exercise on the body is powerful and it's empowering."

Exercise affects "so many chronic conditions leading to major health care costs," said Steinbaum, who also is the hospital's director of women and heart disease. "We should have financial support for people to go to gym facilities."

People who are more fit should "get some benefit" from insurers, Steinbaum said. Society should "give them the ability to become fit," and then "give people a reward when they demonstrate" fitness, she added.

Because the new study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Wellness Perks and Relocations

Discounts for fitness centers tops employees' favorite wellness perks, according to the Principal Financial Well-Being Index. One quarter of respondents picked gym discounts as the most valuable perk, followed by on-site preventive screenings (22 percent), access to nutritionists (21 percent) and on-site fitness facilities (19 percent). However, gym discounts figure as the third most popular wellness perk offered by employers, preceded by online wellness information (19 percent) and educational tools (18 percent), and tied with printed wellness information (17 percent).

Many employers are willing to shell out cash to help new hires relocate, according to a new report by CareerBuilder. Among companies polled, 32 percent of employers said they'd be willing to pay to relocate new employees, while 44 percent of workers said they'd be willing to relocate for a job opportunity. Companies in the engineering and technology fields were the most likely to say they'd cover moving expenses for new hires, the report said.

The Obama administration has proposed a compromise to quell the backlash about a new women's health services requirement from a number of religiously affiliated organizations. President Barack Obama announced that religiously affiliated universities and hospitals would not be forced to cover contraceptives for their workers. However, insurance carriers would be required to provide complete coverage for birth control at no charge for any woman at those institutions.  This rule, which still excludes women employed by churches, will take effect for employers on Aug. 1. Religiously affiliated groups will have an additional year before the rule affects them.

Prepaid credit cards and gift cards are among the most popular incentives doled out by companies, according to a new survey. Young America Corp.'s survey of 355 executives found that 46 percent use prepaid cards for their rewards programs, compared with 33 percent who use cash and 47 percent that cut company checks.

A new law that expands the California Insurance Equality Act may have an impact outside the state. The previous law barred insurance carriers from issuing policies that treat spouses and "registered domestic partners" differently, according to a press release by Corporate Synergies. However, the new law clarifies that an insurance policy cannot discriminate against domestic partners (including same-sex partners) of California-based companies, even if the employees don't work in the state. The law also applies to employees who work in the state for companies headquartered elsewhere. Experts suggest employers review their policies but seek professional advice before making any moves regarding their plans.

The IRS recently issued guidance clarifying whether patients who use Indian Health Services (IHS) facilities can also contribute to a health savings account (HSA). The IRS states that individuals who are eligible for IHS services can make tax-free contributions to an HSA as long as they have not used IHS services in the previous three months.

About 22 percent of U.S. employers offered supplemental health coverage for retirees in 2011, down slightly from nearly 23 percent in 2006, according to a report by Compdata. On average, employees had to work for 12 years under their employer to be eligible and had to pay about 65 percent of the premium.

The average starting salary for new college graduates with bachelor's degrees was $41,701, up 2.3 percent compared with the class of 2010, according to a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Graduates in the engineering and computer science fields fared the best in overall starting salaries, with computer science graduates enjoying the largest overall increase, the report said.

The IRS has changed the vehicle value calculation for employers that own fleet vehicles. The maximum vehicle values for 2012 include:

  • Cars (for which cents-per-mile valuation rule is applied): $15,900 -- up from $15,300 in 2011.
  • Trucks or vans (for which cents-per-mile valuation rule is applied): $16,700 -- up from $16,200 in 2011.
  • Cars (for which fleet valuation rule is applied): $21,100 -- up from $20,300 in 2011.
  • Trucks or vans (for which fleet valuation rule is applied): $21,900 - up from $21,200 in 2011.