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Employees who walk together, work together

Computers, email, the Internet and smart phones have revolutionized the way America does business. Compared to manual typewriters and carbon paper, or pneumatic tubes that delivered handwritten messages between floors in air-propelled capsules, today’s workplace is a technological marvel.

But that technological progress has come with a price. Today’s workforce is far more sedentary than the workforce of generations past. Instead of walking down the hall to confer with a colleague, we send an e-mail or text   message. Instead of walking to the reference shelf to look up an obscure fact or figure, we prefer to use the Internet.

The increasingly sedentary lives of our employees have produced a heavier and less healthy workforce. The combination of reduced exercise and increased weight often translates into higher health-care costs and lower productivity.

America’s obesity epidemic has roots that extend far beyond our jobs, but in the workplace, owners and managers can make a difference and help turn the tide. It's as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

By encouraging employees to walk -- on breaks, at lunch, before or after work—you can help them become more fit. Walking outside or in the hallways, or using the stairs instead of elevators, are small efforts that make a big difference. The specific activity is not important. What matters is getting people up and moving.

As pounds drop off, overall health will improve, often including the ability to better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. With improved fitness and health comes increased energy — a powerful antidote to the mid-afternoon lethargy that often leads to a slowdown in productivity.

Many community groups, churches and schools offer group walking programs. Kaiser Permanente has established a program -- “Every Body Walk!” -- that encourages walking for better health. The website, http://www.everybodywalk.org/, is geared both for individuals and families. In addition, we encourage every business to implement a strategy to incorporate exercise in the workplace.

For example, businesses can set up a walking club and encourage employees to walk during their meals and breaks. Better yet, they can set up several clubs and promote friendly competition. They can encourage employees who can do it to walk to work, and those who can’t to park farther from the door every morning. For employees who take mass transit, is it feasible to get off a stop or two early on their commute and walk the rest of the way?

The "bottom line" is to make moderate exercise part of a regular routine, and realize the health benefits that come from as little as 30 minutes of walking three to four times a week. Employees do come in various shapes, sizes and physical condition, and we recommend that, before starting an exercise program, each employee check with his or her personal physician.

The benefits of participating in an exercise program extend beyond improved health and energy.  Employees who walk together develop a camaraderie they might not have experienced otherwise. That camaraderie contributes to teamwork and unity of purpose — and physical fitness brings a more positive outlook on everything we do.

Improved health, camaraderie, teamwork, and a more positive outlook benefit the individual, the work unit and the business – a true win-win for all.

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Dr. Jennifer Slovis practices internal medicine and is an Assistant Physician-in-Chief at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. She is active in Kaiser’s regional “Healthy Eating, Active Living” campaign (HEAL), and in “Live Well, Be Well,” the health-care provider’s internal workplace-wellness program.