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National Employee Health & Fitness Day encourages companies to implement wellness programs

For National Employee Health & Fitness Day, the largest corporate health and fitness observance in the United States, companies across the nation were encouraged to promote healthy workplace habits to their employees.

In addition to enhancing employee productivity and decreasing absenteeism, employee wellness programs have also been shown to reduce healthcare costs by decreasing illness and injury rates as a result of implementing a culture of healthy eating, fitness improvement and weight loss in the workplace.

According to Kaiser Permanente, American employees spend an average of 5.5 hours in meetings per week, and even those who don’t are often stationary for most of the day. In order to combat the physical inactivity and unhealthy eating that are commonly associated with meetings, companies are recommended to offer healthier food choices and allow breaks for employees to stretch or take a short walk during meetings that last more than an hour. Additionally, shorter meetings can be held as standing meetings.

Employees at ThyssenKrupp Bilstein America’s plant in Hamilton, Ohio, are provided with free fruit every Friday, as well as pedometers to track how far they walk in a month, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The company, which manufactures shock absorbers for automakers, put together an employee wellness committee last year and has since implemented a variety of health- and fitness-based initiatives.

According to Tom Barnes, human resources manager at Bilstein, more than 80 percent of employees participated in one of the committee’s first offerings – a biometric health screening. When pedometers were given out to more than 100 participants last October, the average employee walked nearly 118 miles over the month. A weight loss competition in the style of NBC’S “The Biggest Loser” was another success, with workers losing a total of 750 pounds.

The incentive of losing weight and getting fit is enough for some employees, but companies must appeal to the competitive spirit of others in order to get them involved. Dr. Rajiv Kumar, founder and chief medical officer of Shape Up Rhode Island, advocates taking a social approach to get workers more involved, such as the “Biggest Loser”-style challenge.