Workplace program ups employees’ exercise levels

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A workplace program that encourages employees to set exercise goals appears to boost regular activity substantially, according to a new study.

After 12 weeks with the program, offered to workers at eight Home Depot sites, 51 percent of workers were meeting experts’ general recommendations for exercise — at least 30 minutes of moderately intense activity five times a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three or more times per week.

That compared with just 31 percent who exercised at that rate at the study’s start.

In contrast, employees at eight other sites without the program showed no change in their exercise habits. At the beginning and end of the study, roughly one-quarter of these workers were getting adequate exercise, according to findings published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The findings suggest that similar workplace programs, focused on exercise goal-setting, could help more adults become physically active, according to lead researcher Dr. Rod K. Dishman, of the University of Georgia in Athens.

This is especially true, he told Reuters Health, because the Home Depot sites used in the study were spread out across the U.S. and Canada and included men and women of various races and employment levels.

The program, dubbed “Move to Improve,” is based on the idea that setting realistic exercise goals — in this case, gradually increasing weekly exercise times by 10-minute chunks — can help people get and, it’s hoped, stay, active.

Workers were given handbooks to help them set their personal exercise goals and overcome obstacles to staying active. For extra motivation, they were also split into small “teams” that each came up with a group exercise goal.

Employees were given pedometers, or step-counters, that kept track of their daily activity levels.

Over three months, Dishman’s team found, the program showed benefits. On average, the workers were taking about 2,000 more steps per day, and many more were getting enough exercise to potentially make a difference in their health.

According to Dishman, the “biggest pleasant surprise” was the steady, consistent progress employees in the program made. The combination of personal goals and having the support of a group probably played a large role, he and his colleagues say.

SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, February 2009.

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