In the dark mornings of early fall, when breath lingers in the air like smoke, a woman draped in an orange reflective vest struts around her Columbia neighborhood.
What could make a 57-year-old woman walk around the early-morning streets in the cold weather? Is it the stress she relieves? Is it making sure her triple-bypass surgery two years ago was her last?
Yes, both of these reasons play a part. But to get her from inside her warm house out to the frosty air for her daily two-mile walks, Joan Pottinger also thinks about something else: $200.
Pottinger is one of a growing number of people taking advantage of exercise incentives provided by their employers.
Southeast Missouri State researchers released study findings in May that suggested that exercise incentives for employees aids in maintaining a healthy workforce, which can help lower rising health care costs for employers.
Pottinger’s employer, Toastmaster/Salton, along with other Columbia companies including Boone Electric Cooperative, 3M and Boone Hospital Center, offers rewards to its employees for exercising.
Dan Smith is the manager of Wellaware, a company that runs such programs for many Columbia businesses. He says these proactive programs have a good impact for employers.
“They reduce absenteeism, reduce health care costs and increase morale among employees,” Smith says.
Wellaware works with each company to create a unique program for the employees.
Toastmaster/Salton’s program offers 16 goals to choose from. An employee can choose up to six and then he or she receives rewards for attaining the goals in a six-month period.
Pottinger has her six goals written down on a paper at work and another at her home, ensuring that they’re always on her mind:
1. Walk 3,000 minutes
2. Lose 10 percent body fat
3. Lose 10 percent weight
4. Increase flexibility
5. Attend health lectures
6. Increase fiber intake
If she completes three of her goals in the six-month period from late May to November, she’ll receive a $150 check. If she completes four of her goals, she’ll receive $200.
“I’m definitely going for four,” she said.
The Southeast Missouri report says that by 2005, companies will have to pay an average of $11,000 per employee for health care costs. Employees who receive $200 for increased fitness, thereby lowering their health care costs, are positive economic gains for the employer.
Pottinger is on her way to getting that $200. She already has reached her body fat goal and plans to attain at least three of her other targets by the November deadline.
After November, the period will start over, and she will work toward more goals and more incentives. In addition to the monetary benefits, Pottinger receives personal benefits from the frequent checkups involved in the program. “It’s nice to have encouragement from different experts,” she says. “I live alone, and it’s just nice to have someone recognize that I am making an effort.”
Come November, her efforts will be recognized with $200. So will she spend the money on a vacation or shopping spree? No, she’s getting a membership to Columbia’s Activity and Recreation Center so she can exercise more often.
“Any time above ground is a gift,” Pottinger says. “By all accounts, I should have been dead two years ago with the triple-bypass surgery. Now, my grandkids live right by me. I want to see them grow up.”
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