Best Practice Profile:
Walking Their Way to Health
At KCI Technologies, not only do the more than 950 employees own this Maryland-based engineering firm, but they’re also fitness-minded enough to request that the company offer a formal walking program to help them keep their health goals on track.
Four years ago, KCI – which is headquartered in Sparks, MD, but operates throughout the East Coast – had an informal, “home-grown” walking program. It was so popular that the HR Department decided to “step it up” (literally!) and partnered with Cornerstone Fitness, developers of "Just Walk 10,000 Steps-a-Day."
“Our employees liked it so much that we’re now in our third year,” says Carolyn Roberts, CCP, KCI’s Assistant Director of Human Resources.
According to Cornerstone Fitness President Steven Smith, the "Just Walk 10,000 Steps-a-Day" program works with employers to show employees how they can benefit from the accumulation of incidental activity, and encourages them to engage in shorter sessions of physical activity throughout the day. “You can take a 10 minute-walk at lunch, park your car at the back of the parking lot, and walk with your family in the evening – just move more in your normal daily activities because all the little steps add up,” says Smith.
Smith, whose clients include corporations, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations (including CIGNA HealthCare, Lowe’s, Western Union, and Sony Entertainment), says the program is a win-win for both employers and employees. The program is not only easy to administer, including options for co-branding, program reporting, and full funding for the employees; marketing communication and support; and team creation and award incentives, but also provides a healthy ROI. Studies have shown that employer-sponsored wellness programs can result in savings of $269 a year per employee who goes from a sedentary to an active lifestyle; $1200 a year on employees who reduce their cholesterol levels from 240 to 190; and $177 a year for every employee who goes from obese to a healthy weight.
“Our benefits costs are definitely going down,” says KCI’s Roberts, pointing out that since the company is employee-owned, “what’s good for the employees is good for the company.” Also going down are the employees’ vital statistics, from cholesterol to weight to blood pressure. “Every single indicator is going in a positive direction,” Roberts adds, noting that KCI employees are a technical-minded group, and respond well to numbers. “When they can see their numbers improving, they know they’re on the right track,” she says.
Cornerstone’s program offers companies like KCI such components as ACCUSPLIT pedometers, to help employees measure their daily progress toward 10,000 steps (the Harvard Health Letter reports that a summary of 26 different studies showed that pedometer users walked at least 2,000 more steps each day than nonusers, and using a pedometer helped them increase their overall physical activity levels by 27%); an online program for employees to track their progress and receive coaching tips; educational materials such as a walking handbook, stretch card, weekly motivational newsletters; and the option to extend the eight-week online walking program for up to one year.
The program has been so popular at KCI that employees have requested that the company keep renewing their participation.
The walking program is part of KCI’s overall attention to health and wellness, a focus that has earned it recognition from both the Baltimore Business Journal and the Tampa Bay Business Journal as those cities’ “Healthiest Employer.” In addition to “Just Walk 10,000 Steps a Day,” KCI sponsors Health Awareness Days, Wellness Wednesdays, biometric screenings for both employees and their spouses, Weight Watchers membership, and Bike to Work Month every May.
“There is a lot of peer support through all these programs,” says Roberts.
“Walking programs are a low-cost solution that can reach vast numbers of employees,” adds Smith. “Businesses are realizing that walking is something most everyone can do, and that employees don’t have to dramatically change their lifestyle to enjoy better health.