Wellness programs can work, faculty researchers say

Employee wellness programs are new initiatives at many area organizations in an attempt to help employees maintain healthy lifestyles and promote physical health improvements. Research by two Shippensburg University exercise science faculty members shows such programs can be effective.

exerciseDr. Sally Paulson and Dr. Russell Robinson tracked and evaluated the effectiveness of a four-month employee based walking program at Shippensburg University. They, along with exercise science students who were part of the evaluation process, presented “Effects of a 16- week employee-based walking program on selected physical fitness components” at the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibition as well as at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine.

The study focused on a walking wellness program offered to Shippensburg faculty and staff in 2008. The wellness program encouraged members to monitor their step count each week with a pedometer. A goal was set for each participant to reach 10,000 steps per week and maintain that count for four weeks.

Twenty-nine individuals enrolled in the program volunteered to be part of the study. The researchers prescribed exercise programs to help participants reach the goal. Once the goal was reached, Paulson and Robinson helped participants design a walking program to increase heart rate by walking faster or using different walking routes.

“It was obvious the wellness program had an impact, especially related to body composition and weight. We saw positive trends in every variable,” said Robinson.

The study showed that participating in the wellness program decreased body mass, body mass index and body fat, as well as increased aerobic capacity. The wellness program also functioned as a way to maintain weight.

According to Maryrose Wilson, the university’s benefits manager and chair of the campus wellness committee, “The purpose of the wellness programs is to create a proactive and visible wellness climate on campus and to offer opportunities to the campus community members to improve their wellness. I hear frequently from campus community members that they are becoming more aware of their habits and of ways to improve their health. Surveys from the programs indicate that participants are reaping the benefits and making changes.”

The research could lead to more wellness programs on campus, according to Paulson. She and Robinson recently submitted a grant to support the start up of programs, such as cholesterol screenings on campus; “exer-gaming” days which will integrate exercise with the popular Wii video game system; and other more wellness initiatives.