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Dome - Work that mileage

December 2010

Work that mileage

Date: December 1, 2010

Suburban Hospital employees stay fit as they exercise their way to the far reaches of the country.


Bob Hooper “ran” his way to Nashville by taking part in an incentive program to encourage employee fitness.
Bob Hooper “ran” his way to Nashville by taking part in an incentive program to encourage employee fitness.

Valrey Thompson, an environmental services associate, walked 2,395 miles last summer, enough to reach Palm Springs, Calif. Brittany Haliani, medical library director, swam 773 miles to Nashville, Tenn., and Bob Hooper, an IT director, ran his way there.

No, they’re not super athletes. What they do have in common is that they all participated in Suburban Hospital’s third annual Healthy Destinations Challenge, a program that rewards employees who exercise regularly and track their efforts for a three-month period. In the challenge, employees choose a “destination” from a group of preselected locales. Each one has a mileage associated with it, and participants set out to exercise enough, in theory, to reach their goals.

Dennis Parnell helped to come up with the idea for the program. The senior vice president for human resources believes that organizations should be concerned with employee well-being, which includes physical fitness. In addition to the Healthy Destinations Challenge, other Suburban wellness incentives include Weight Watchers at Work, smoking cessation classes, exercise programs such as weight lifting and yoga, and a health and wellness fair.

Additionally, the hospital provides reduced membership rates at several health clubs in the area. As a result of these efforts, Suburban has been designated as “Fit Friendly” by the American Heart Association for two years running.

“Because of programs like Healthy Destinations,” says Parnell, “Suburban’s employees are more aware of their health habits and have been taking better care of themselves. Consequently, the hospital has seen a reduction in three of the past four years in our insurance claims.” In fact, increases in Suburban’s health insurance premiums have averaged about half of what national trends have been.

This year’s destination goals included Charleston, S.C. (450 miles), Miami (900 miles) and Denver (1500 miles). One hour of aerobic exercise is equal to 10 miles, and one hour of nonaerobic activity, like walking or gardening, is worth five.

Weekly check-ins are required and participants get extra miles for attending wellness seminars, for taking an online health-risk assessment, and for knowing important information like their cholesterol level, body mass index, and blood pressure. At the closing celebration in September, those who arrived at their destinations received an American Express gift card and names were drawn for trips to the actual places.

Bob Hooper is one of the employees who became a believer in the benefits of regular exercise and a healthy diet through the program. Like many busy people with a job, a family and constant demands on his time, Hooper found himself coming home and “plopping down on the couch,” every evening. When he played soccer with his two sons and found himself getting winded easily, he knew he needed to make some changes.

Two years ago, he signed up for Healthy Destinations, set a goal, and worked hard to meet it. Realizing it was just as easy for him to watch TV from a treadmill as his couch, he began running. Before he knew it, he was steadily earning his Healthy Destinations miles and could run five miles without stopping. In May, he completed the Frederick Half Marathon, and on Oct. 16, Hooper ran the Baltimore Marathon. “If you asked me two years ago, I never would have thought that I could run either of these races,” he says. But the program has really helped me achieve my goals. Next up, the Walt Disney World Marathon!”

—Debra Scheinberg

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