Why put the onus on the workplace? "People spend more time at work than they do anywhere else," says Yvonne Ingram-Rankin, president of the Association for Worksite Health Promotion (AWHP), based in Northbrook, Ill. Indeed, she and other exercise experts say that corporate fitness programs are tailor-made for the reality of working Americans' lives.
"By far, the number one reason people give for not exercising is that they don't have enough time," says Richard Cotton, PhD, exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. "To get someone to exercise, we've got to help them carve out the time. Having a gym at your fingertips does just that."
In fact, more and more companies these days are jumping on the fitness bandwagon. According to the Wellness Councils of America (WCA) based in Omaha, Neb., more than 81% of businesses with more than 50 employees now have some sort of health program. Such programs usually involve exercise promotion, though only small proportions include corporate gyms.
There's more in it for the employer than simply warm fuzzies. The cumulative benefit has been estimated at $500 to $700 per worker per year, according to an article published in the February 1999 issue of the journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine -- an amount that would certainly cover the cost of an in-house wellness program. A few private companies have reported similar benefits. In the early 1990s General Electric found that fitness program members reduced their health care costs by 38% in an 18-month period. DuPont Co. reported that each dollar invested in workplace health promotion yielded $1.42 over two years in lower absenteeism costs. And the Traveler's Corporation claimed a $3.40 return for every dollar invested in health promotion, amounting to a savings of $146 million in benefit costs.
In the current tight labor market, gyms and wellness programs also help attract and keep good employees, says Kurt Atherton, vice president of corporate operations at Club One in Santa Clara, Calif.; his company sets up fitness facilities and wellness programs. "To be considered a world-class employer, you have to compete. Having some kind of wellness facility is a valued amenity." (For more on how to convince your employer to promote workplace workouts, see Friendly Persuasion.)