Corporate wellness programs are embracing wearable technology like never before. Experts point towards wearable fitness trackers (think Fitbit, Apple Watch and Garmin devices usually worn on the wrist) as performing larger roles in company wellness programs around the nation. Trends show we’ll see approximately 13 million wearable devices incorporated into the U.S. workforce in just two years (2018).
So, what is the big attraction?
Why does your employer think it’s a great idea for you to wear a fitness tracker?
One of the key reasons is that employers are able to receive greater savings from insurance companies based on the amount of participating employees and their results. Employers are seeking creative and fun ways to motivate you, the employee, while decreasing their health care costs. Everyone can agree that being healthier, getting fit and living longer are great goals to aim for. Still, there is no denying that it’s easier to motivate if more immediate rewards are on the table. With that in mind, more companies are taking steps to incentivize employees to help them become more active. Some employers offer decreased insurance premiums in exchange for wearing a tracker and reporting daily steps. Participating companies have been known to offer material rewards like blankets, t-shirts, gift cards and company discounts.
This is just the beginning. In late 2015, Target Corp. presented its 335,000 employees with the option to receive free or discounted Fitbits in an effort to encourage more walking and being active. On March 1 of this year, Qualcomm and United Healthcare revealed a new program, which allows employees to earn up to $1,460/year for reaching step and other designated goals. Several companies recently announced that their employees could purchase an Apple Watch for $25 in exchange for reaching their monthly fitness goals over a two year period – or they would have to pay the full price of the watch. This is all in an effort to encourage employees to be more active.
Why Count Steps?
Keeping track of our steps helps us to be more mindful of how active (or inactive) we are. The World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Center for Disease Control, U.S. Surgeon General, American Heart Foundation and U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommend that we take 10,000 steps a day because it improves our health and decreases the risk of so many different diseases.
Why 10,000 steps a day?
It turns out that the 10,000 steps a day recommendation originated in Japan back in the 1960s. Dr. Yoshiro Hatano and a team of Japanese researchers undertook studies, which showed the average person takes about 3,500 to 5,000 steps per day. He also theorized that if people were to increase their steps to 10,000 steps per day, they would be more physically fit inside and out.
Dr. Hatano’s calculations went on to demonstrate that if people were to increase their daily steps to 10,000, they could burn up to 500 extra calories per day and possibly lose up to 44 pounds in a year. Because of this study and its influence, one or two pedometers have long been present in most Japanese households. In fact, up until the recent surge in popularity of fitness trackers, annual sales for these devices regularly topped the seven million mark in Japan.
It took over twenty years for the modern pedometer’s popularity (or devices like Fitbit and other fitness trackers) and Dr. Hatano’s research on 10,000 steps/day to impact North America. With obesity rates increasing steadily, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that other researchers and consumers began to take a second look at Dr. Hatanos’ 10,000-step research. Today, 10,000 steps is considered the “norm” when it comes to setting a daily step goal and some fitness trackers and walking programs are automatically set to 10,000 steps when you purchase them.
Everyone (Not Just Your Employer) Wins When You Wear a Fitbit or other Activity Tracker
Walking is a proven activity when it comes to lowering heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and even helps to combat depression and anxiety.
A walking program helps prevent stroke and high blood pressure. The Stroke Association and the American Heart Association both state that walking for up to 30 minutes can help prevent and control high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to strokes and according to the Centers for Disease Control is connected to an estimated $51 Billion in health care costs.
Walking reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Current statistics show that 86 million Americans are classified as “Pre-Diabetes.” The American Diabetes Association released a report stating that the total assessed cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion, comprising $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in reduced productivity. The cost of diabetes alone is enough to make corporations sit up and take notice when structuring their yearly health care benefits.
If your employer is offering an incentive to help you live a longer, healthier life, this benefits you in the long-term as well as your employer for as long as you’re employed. Providing you with a fitness tracker or discounts on a fitness tracker is a win/win situation. As you track your steps and become more active, you’ll feel better, be in a better health and, ideally, visit your physician less often which means less health care claims for employers and less time taken out of your life on medical or physician visits. More time for you and doing the things you care about is definitely something to smile about.