How to Start a Workplace Walking Program

It’s no secret that obesity is a problem that’s been getting worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of obesity doubled among adults between 1980 and 2008, and tripled among kids. However, with a busy work schedule and the demands of a modern lifestyle, it might feel as though there’s little time in the day to combat that creeping waistline.

That’s where workplace wellness programs, including walking programs, can help. By walking during the workday, you won’t have to fit it into your already-busy schedule before or after work. What’s more, social support can be the key to lasting success, suggests the American Psychological Association.

Whether you’re an employee at the bottom of the pay scale or you’re the head of your company, here are a few tips for starting a workplace walking program.

Get support. Start by enlisting the help of a friend or trusted co-worker who’s committed to leading the charge. Then approach your human resources officer or another supervisor with your idea. If the higher-ups seem less than enthused, remind them that a healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, and one that can cost the company less in health care costs. In the best-case scenario, your bosses will even have some funds available to help you pay for marketing materials or to pay a professional trainer to lead the program.

Create a survey. Use an online survey website or create a short typed survey that gauges people’s interest in the program, perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10, for example. Also ask people to share information about what might prevent them from participating and what times of day or days of the week are best. You might also ask people to offer other ideas for exercise.

Scope out the routes. Naturally, you’ll need a walking course that is easily accessible from the workplace. Look for local parks, tracks, or perhaps even a route around or inside the office building that will offer safety and enjoyment. Better yet, find a few routes that can offer various challenges. Pick a hilly course you can use for tougher days or a short course you can use when work is particularly busy. Since you’ll probably be walking on your lunch break, plan for routes that will take up about half of that lunch period.

Don’t be afraid to start small. If it turns out that you and your organizer buddy are the only ones interested, don’t let that stop you. Create a bulletin board or send out a reminder email that lets people know when you’re walking and how much fun you had on the last walk. Also invite people individually to join you. Some people will respond to a group email invite; others need that individual invitation in order to feel comfortable joining.

Get competitive -- but don’t push. Some people thrive on a little friendly competition, so after you’ve been walking a while, you might offer a prize for the most miles walked or award points every time someone participates, ending in a prize when they reach a certain milestone. Still, don’t make those things requirements of joining or you could lose the people who don’t like to compete. After all, some people might have avoided exercise and sports in the past because they couldn’t deal with competition.

Add in some extras. All this extra walking means you might start to see results like weight loss or increased stamina. People like results, and they can be a great motivator. To keep that fire going, try adding other options to your routine to help people see even greater results. For example, you might spend a few minutes using dumbbells at the end of the walk, or you might bring in a health coach to help people assess their diets.

With a successful workplace walking program, your entire company could not only be healthier, but more productive and more cohesive as well.

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