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Friendly Persuasion

By Elizabeth B. Krieger
WebMD Feature

April 24, 2000 (San Francisco) -- Frustrated by the lack of support for healthy activities at your job? Sick of trying to squeeze in a workout before work at the pricey club across town? Here's how to nudge your company into making fitness a priority.

  • Find strength in numbers. The first thing you should do is seek out like-minded employees. Together, present your case to your human resources (HR) or benefits department, suggests Joan Bassing, a program director at StayWell, a health-management company in St. Paul, Minn. An organized group is usually stronger than one squeaky wheel.
  • Shoot for the top, too. If you can, find a fitness-minded person in top management and make your case, says Richard Cotton, PhD, an exercise physiologist and spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. While the HR department is the first place to go, a sympathetic "higher-up" may get the company moving faster.
  • Arm yourself with facts and figures. Bring out the statistics and appeal to the power of the bottom line. "Opening a fitness center doesn't have to cost $2 million," says Kurt Atherton, vice president of corporate operations at Club One in Santa Clara, Calif.; his company sets up fitness facilities and wellness programs. A small but well-equipped gym (roughly 4,000 square feet) can cost as little as $600,000 to establish.

Remind higher-ups that 40% to 60% of employees are likely to use it, says Atherton, so it will be well worth it. And be sure to mention that the company will save money in the long run: fitness programs cut sick time by an average of half a day per person, per year, says a study published in the September 1997 issue of the Journal of Occupational Medicine. And they trim health and medical expenses as well.

For example, according to the Wellness Councils of America based in Omaha, Neb., the Traveler's Corporation claims a $3.40 return for every dollar invested in health promotion, amounting to a savings of $146 million in benefit costs. Fitter employees are more efficient and loyal, too: A February 1999 report in the journal Physician and Sportsmedicine found that workplace exercise programs result in a 4% to 5% increase in productivity and a lower rate of employee turnover. Contact the Wellness Councils of America and the Association for Worksite Health Promotion for more statistics.

  • Go for a group membership. If an on-site gym isn't going to happen, ask if the company will seek a corporate rate at a local gym. Many clubs have deals that waive initial joining fees for groups, and have lower monthly rates. Or try to lobby for health club reimbursement as part of your benefits package. Some companies will pay a fixed amount per year toward such healthy endeavors, wherever you choose to do them.
  • If all else fails, order take-in. You don't need a gym to have an instructor come to the office a few days a week. Talk to your HR department about reserving a conference room for a fitness class, such as noontime yoga or weight training. Many instructors offer discounts for large groups or when you buy several weeks worth of classes at once.

Elizabeth Krieger is an associate editor for WebMD.

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