Get fit at work — it’s good business

‘How many steps have you taken today?” asks the boss. “I’m at 2,300 so far,” says the worker, looking at the pedometer…

‘How many steps have you taken today?” asks the boss.

“I’m at 2,300 so far,” says the worker, looking at the pedometer hitched to her belt.

“You’ll have to pick that up if you want to make quota… it’s almost quitting time,” says the boss. “I’m at 15,000 myself, but I went for a run at lunch.”

“Yes, boss.”

Those working in an office may not recognize this exchange, but it may become more familiar if the Recreation and Parks Association of the Yukon has its way.

“RPAY’s mandate is to promote healthy lifestyles and active living in the Yukon, and one of the ways to accomplish this is to take action through workplaces, seeing as most of us spend a lot of time at work sitting on our butts,” said Michelle Christensen, the active workplace co-ordinator at RPAY.

The fattening of society has reached epic proportions, (pun intended) and the cost to public health care could be tremendous.

“According to Statistics Canada, the aging Canadian workforce uses twice as many sick days of work each year, and cause likely escalation of health care costs,” said Christensen.

Last week, RPAY launched a new pilot project aimed at getting stagnant office drones back in the pink.

Test subjects for the project: the workers at Yukon Archives.

Archivists, librarians and technicians … not exactly what one thinks of as physical jobs.

“We’re often seen as working in some basement, with old dusty papers,” said Ian Burnett, territorial archivist and head of the archive’s staff.

“At first I thought we were a fairly sedentary group,” said Burnett. “But I don’t think that’s true, we’re always running up and down the hallways, and we do a lot of lifting.”

Thursday morning, the archives’ staff met with Christensen to discuss the program and get their pedometers.

With 14 permanent staffers and a few contract workers, the archives was just the right size for the active workplace program’s test run.

Similar programs have been attempted in the past, but they just didn’t seem to hold.

This time around, RPAY’s approach is to be flexible, offering a program for each workplace interested in getting active.

“It’s different in that it caters to unique needs. It’s not a prepackaged thing.”

In the first week, workers gauge their activity level using the pedometers. Then, they will meet again with Christensen to set up a plan for the next 10 weeks, which will focus on four main elements.

First, individual healthy living goals, such as Walking the Silver Trail a 204-kilometre hypothetical hike from Stewart Crossing to Keno Hill, all without leaving town.

The idea is to set a goal for activity and keep track using the pedometers and a logbook.

It’s flexible, those that are already active can do more, and those needing motivation to get active have a challenge to meet.

“I’m going to run up and down stairs,” said Burnett, who considers himself to be an active person.

“How many times would I have to do it to climb the equivalent of Mount Logan. It’s tailored to the individual.”

Second, a series of healthy living talks over the 12 weeks. Topics include smoking cessation, goal setting and motivation, time management, ergonomics, stress, active commuting, being active in winter weather and nutrition.

Third, additional activities, such as group stretch breaks, theme activities (commuter challenge, heart month), active birthday celebrations, like a walk or a ski instead of going out for lunch, or bringing in a massage therapist to work around the office every once in a while.

The final component of the program, policy changes, is the most far reaching. Ideas about fundamental changes in the workplace, like providing bike racks, showers, lockers, and wellness rooms with fitness equipment.

“People would ride their bikes to work if they could shower when they got there,” said Christensen.

Giving employees time off to get active and creating subsidies that favour active modes instead of just mileage compensation for vehicle usage are other ideas that have been raised.

Although it may seem extreme, getting companies to pay employees to be fit may be the way to get real results.

“We’ve got to think outside the box,” said Fay Tangermann, an archives employee. “This is a larger issue, a real threat to the health-care system. Why not attack it in a way that people will understand? Precious time and money.”

Burnett disagrees. “If you’re health is not going to motivate you, then what the hell is.”

Perhaps it’s a good sign that debates like this are happening in the workplace, and that attention is focused on this often-overlooked aspect of the working life.

Businesses focused on the bottom line may be interested in a BC Hydro’s claim that every dollar spent in its 10-year employee wellness program equaled $3 in savings.

“Likely through worker’s compensation payments, absenteeism, insurance costs,” said Christensen.

“Once those statistics get known in senior management positions, perhaps they would be more willing to do some of the things we’re advocating,” said Burnett.