Lessons for Life

Getting paid to get fit

How to incorporate successful weight-loss incentives in the workplace

Track your fitness

MotoACTV wristband is a GPS fitness tracker, heart rate monitor-enabled and smart music player packed into a small, sweatproof device. (HANDOUT)

Being fit can do more than help you lose weight. In today's workplace, it can even put money in your pocket.

"Studies have shown that financial incentives are great tools for weight loss," said Jimmy Fleming, co-founder of HealthyWage, a purveyor of financial incentive-based weight-loss programs for businesses and individuals. "There was a study that took a big group of people who were already participating in a weight-loss program and divided then into two groups — one that would just continue with the weight-loss program they were already in, and one that would continue with the weight-loss program and also get paid if they succeeded."

Fleming said those who took place in the incentive group lost "about three times more weight" than those without the financial incentive.

"Insurance companies are moving into a model where employees will get a discount on their monthly premium if they stay fit," Fleming said. "These incentives are becoming more and more common because people really want to succeed once they get started."

But health and wellness expert Shea Vaughn warns the results for weight-loss incentives could be short-lived if people are only focusing on the number on a scale.

"You want a program that will change the culture of the company from the top down — personal culture blended with corporate culture," Vaughn said. "Their productivity will be higher because they're involved in fitness and in wellness. And the managers need to be involved too. Even if people are getting a cash reward for losing weight, It won't be as affective if those who are running the company aren't leading the charge."

Pierce Hutchings, a personal trainer and Chicago-based fitness expert, said companies need to be careful their healthy initiatives aren't excluding those people who are already in shape.

"Most of these programs are geared toward rewarding those who are overweight, but you want to reward the healthy and fit ones as well," Hutchings said. "Instead of going for weight loss, a way to include everyone would be to have movement-based rewards. Several companies make wristbands now that track your movement during the day. So the team that moves the most could get the incentives. You don't want to have the skinniest staff, you want the fittest staff."

Here are more tips from our experts on how to incorporate a successful incentive-based fitness program at the office:

Do it in groups.

"We help corporations do a team challenge, which puts people in teams of five and they spend 12 weeks supporting one another and pressuring one another," Fleming said. "They're competing with other teams within the same company and sometimes against other companies. When more is at stake, participants tend to stick to it."

Vary the rewards.

"Find out what's important to your staff," Vaughn said. "Really connect on what they consider valuable. Maybe paid days off would mean more to them than a cash reward? "

"Gift cards and vacation or spa packages could cost less for companies because they can buy them in bulk or in packages," Hutchings said.

Pay to play.

"Employers think that more people will participate if they make it less expensive, but the academic research shows — and our experience shows — that if people don't have some skin in the game so to speak, they tend to care about it less, they tend to be less likely to finish and less likely to lose weight," Fleming said. "Our participants pay a little money when they sign up (between $30 and $75 depending on the program or corporation), but if they've succeeded, they get their money back along with a cash reward. It's like betting on yourself."

Use social media.

"We encourage people to do things together, like making a healthy meal or exercising together, and then post pictures or videos in social media," Fleming said. "We have a contest where they have the best 'before' photo and the best team exercise photo. People submit all sorts of crazy photos that are focused on being healthy and this keeps people engaged and social ...You can be healthy and fun at the same time, and that's what our research is showing us."

Jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

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