Wellness program tactics that pay major health dividends

Scale and measuring tape

Formal programs that provide incentives, coaching, feedback and themed challenges that actively encourage people to walk more helps them lose more weight and feel better than standard walking programs, research by Independence Blue Cross found.

The nine-month study by the Philadelphia-based insurer followed about 475 employees, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

About half participated in a standard program that included fliers and posters to promote walking. The other half were in the enhanced programs, in which companies actively promoted and rewarded walking.

At the end of the nine months, participants in the enhanced program:

  • Averaged 726 steps more per day and were more likely to meet the desired threshold of 10,000 steps per day.
  • Lost weight--3.8 pounds for men and 2.1 pounds for women--when they increased walking by 1,000 steps per day.
  • Reduced their body mass index, body fat and diastolic blood pressure more than participants in standard walking programs.

“Our research shows that a well-managed walking program, one that consistently tracks steps and motivates people to walk, can be maintained over a long period of time and is very effective at helping people lose weight and feel more energetic," lead author Aaron Smith-McLallen said in an announcement.

UnitedHealthcare took the move to help employers encourage healthier behavior a step further earlier this year by providing members and covered spouses at select companies with wearable fitness trackers. Members can earn up to $1,460 in reimbursement account credits by meeting certain levels for walking: the number of times per day they walk, how quickly they walk and how many steps they take per day.

- read the announcement

- here’s the study