Blue Shield's 'walkstations' help employees exercise and work at same time

Conjure up the scene, if you will, from the movie "Snow White" where the fair maiden tackles mundane and tedious house chores while singing the song "Whistle while you work." Now, instead of house cleaning, picture an office filled with paperwork and rather than Snow White whistling, picture an employee walking on a treadmill, and you’re visualizing the cornerstone of one insurer's health and wellness program.

Blue Shield of California is hoping its walkstations, which integrate a treadmill with a desk, computer, and phone, can help members reach new and improved health and wellness goals. Bryce Williams, director of Blue Shield's internal wellness program, Wellvolution, told me this initiative allows people to think about physical activity in a different way.

"By walking while working, you don't have to make time to do it. You can walk and work simultaneously," he explained. The program "embeds wellness into the business unit as how business is done," thereby changing how wellness is positioned.

Kristin Harlan answers the phone from a walkstation.

The insurer is currently testing the walkstations and, so far, has placed six walkstations throughout four of its own offices, allowing 15 to 20 people access to the office-treadmill each week. Employees log off from their computers at their desks, then go to the walkstation at their reserved time to resume work. "Employees can work on emails, create documents and have conference calls all from the walkstation," Williams says. Since the walkstations max out at two miles per hour, they burn calories without getting overly sweaty.

The walkstations have been well received among the more than 200 Blue Shield employees who have used them, Williams said, noting that their productivity hasn't waned. Perhaps one reason walkstations are so popular is that they're seamlessly integrated into daily life, avoiding additional time and effort to, say, count calories, log hours in a gym, talk to a health coach about quitting smoking, or discuss mental health concerns with a therapist. People just walk--while they work, which they would be doing anyway. In fact, most choices related to wellness are unconscious, Williams says, so walkstations fit the bill perfectly.

And walk the Blue Shield employees did--during the first 12 weeks the walkstations were available, about 100 employees walked more than 3,500 miles.

Blue Shield hopes its walkstation program will be as well-received among its members as it has been with its own employees. Fortunately, it appears the time is right for all insurers to increasingly promote their health and wellness programs, with more employers recognizing the value and cost-saving opportunities they provide. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 74 percent of employers provided wellness programs in 2010, compared to 58 percent in 2009. All insurers should capitalize on this increased interest and emphasize their health and wellness programs, like walkstations, to their members. Then maybe we all can, like our heroine Snow White sings, "get smart, tune up and start to whistle"--I mean walk--while we work. - Dina

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