Fitness for fun and profit |

Fitness for fun and profit

John Seelmeyer

International Game Technology plans to more than double the size of the 1,634- square-foot fitness center at its Reno headquarters.

The Washoe County Health Department distributes inexpensive pedometers to its staff members in an effort to encourage them to walk more.

Those efforts, ranging from ambitious to modest,mark a growing interest among northern Nevada employers in encouraging their workers to get fit and stay fit.

Employers often launch the programs in hopes of reducing workers’ health risks and controlling double-digit increases in health insurance premiums.

But employers who’ve committed themselves to fitness programs say the benefits go far beyond health-insurance costs.

Randall Kirner, vice president of human resources at IGT, quotes a NASA study that finds that the productivity of office workers falls by 50 percent late in the afternoon.

Lack of physical stamina is among the reasons.

And the Washoe County School District, which operates a nationally recognized fitness program, has found that absenteeism fell as employees got strong incentives to get fit and stay fit.

Employers’ programs cover a wide range, says Lisa Dettling, director of health and wellness in the community wellness unit of Saint Mary’s.

At one end of the scale is the IGT fitness center, staffed by three trainers and open from 5 a.m.

to 8 p.m.

five days a week.

The center draws about 2,700 visits a month, says Jeff Crozier, IGT’s corporate health services supervisor, and the number is up by nearly 70 percent in the past six years.

The staff of the fitness center provide personal training, conduct ergonomic evaluations of workplaces, run classes ranging from smoking cessation to Pilates and encourage workers one at a time to get into the gym.

More modest are the walking programs that have sprung up at business and government offices, most of them encouraging workers to record at least 10,000 steps a day.

Organizers put plenty of imagination into cajoling workers to take those steps.

At the county health department, for instance, the 100 participants who signed up for a walking program are grouped into teams who race in their imaginations, at least toward Las Vegas.

Reno-based Swift Newspapers Inc., which owns newspapers throughout the West, sent executives and their staff on an imaginary walk from one newspaper’s home city to another.

“Walking is a great tool because it can be done at lunch or on breaks.

It can be done in a parking lot,” says Dettling at Saint Mary’s.

Incentives are important to keep the interest of participants.At the health department, organizer Enid Jennings gets donations to offer as prizes in competition among walking teams.

At Swift Newspapers, the company’s director of human resources, Debbie Spieker- Martin, enters the name of every walker who completes 25 miles into a drawing for a grand prize that will include a pair of walking shoes.

IGT offered fleece jackets to employees who maintained their weight through the holiday season, and executives proudly note that 425 of the 455 participants in the program earned their jackets.

Still, Dettling says,”The very best incentives are cash.” The county school district shows how that can work.

All employees and retirees pay $40 a month into the Good Health Incentive Program that finances fitness and wellness programs, keeping the burden off taxpayers.

They can avoid that cost by completing a health screening and taking action to deal with three health threats high blood pressure, overweight and tobacco use.

Those who don’t reduce their health risks pay for a fitness program that ranges from reimbursement for fitness-center dues to weekend snowshoe adventures.

Aaron Hardy, the school district’s wellness coordinator, sets an ambitious goal that goes beyond mere fitness.He says he seeks to change the culture of the school district’s staff so that employees understand the importance of positive behaviors to improve their health.