Thomas Williams, the director of finance for Wayne Densch, a beverage distributor near Orlando, Florida, has witnessd a dramatic transformation among his employees now that their wellness program is using fitness trackers to incentivize daily walking.
One employee, for example, lost 20 pounds without changing anything in her diet. “She and another colleague take the first half-hour of their lunch break and go for a walk to get their 3,000 steps,” said Williams. Another guy told me he and his wife have started walking together at night. It’s so great to hear things like that.”
The uptick in walking didn’t happen by chance. In 2016, Wayne Densch started participating in UnitedHealthcare Motion™, a collaboration with Qualcomm Life that helps encourage employees to become more active by using a fitness tracker. If enrollees walk either 10,000 steps a day, 3,000 steps in 30 minutes, or get 300 steps within five minutes six different times during the day, employees can earn up to $4 a day. People receive the devices at no additional charge, and the financial incentives are deposited on a quarterly basis into a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) or Health Savings Account (HSA). Over the course of a year, participants can earn up to $1,500, which may help offset health care expenses (the amount employees have to pay for care before their health plan begins to pay).
Why are people getting paid to get moving? It’s simple. While everyone knows that exercise is healthy, too many of us get too little of it. Americans walk between 5,900 and 6,900 steps per day on average. That’s probably not enough.
• Research also suggests that people who get more steps or increase their physical activity have better insulin sensitivity, a key indicator of diabetes risk.
• Some people may not realize they’re skimping on steps, as people tend to overestimate both the amount and intensity of their daily exercise. To see what 10,000 steps looks like in cities nationwide, click here for an interactive map.
Still, fitness isn’t an all-or-nothing endeavor—some is always better than none. Studies show that shorter bouts of intense exercise — 3,000 steps in 30 minutes, to be precise — provide a health boost. Even getting up and moving frequently throughout the day — even if it’s only a few hundred steps at a time — is healthier than sitting still for hours on end.
“People are living busy lives,” said Craig Hankins, vice president of digital products at UnitedHealthcare. “They don’t always know what would help their health, and just getting through every day can be a challenge. With this program, the device does the nudging, and the financial rewards remind people that when they get the nudge, they should do something—because if they do enough, they can earn some real money.”
Expect more companies to introduce wellness programs tied to fitness trackers in the near future.
Some 13 million people are expected to participate in such programs by 2018, according to the technology consultancy Endeavors Partners. It’s easy to understand why. Not only are healthier employees more productive, they may also cost less to insure. Thanks to vigorous promotion efforts, including contests to see who could get the most steps, some 90 percent of Wayne Densch employees participate in the fitness tracker program. In 2016, the amount Wayne Densch paid out in claims compared to the amount its previous health plan collected in premiums fell by more than half.
UnitedHealthcare is expanding the Motion program this year so that more people can earn rewards for healthier behavior. The program was introduced in 2016 as a pilot in 12 states, and allowed only custom-built fitness trackers. In 2017, the program will become more broadly available to employers, and users will also be able to sync their own Fitbit Charge 2 devices to participate.
Get stepping, get paid: it’s a formula that works for employers and employees alike.
See if your company will reward you for getting more steps! Check in with your company’s benefits manager or call the number on the back of your health plan ID card and ask about UnitedHealthcare Motion.