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Exercise and Employee Wellness: The Financial Impact of a Sedentary Population

Most of us know we should exercise more. And as employee wellness professionals, we know we should be encouraging employees and health plan members to be more physically active. But do you really know what the impact is of getting people off the couch and into a more active lifestyle? And do you know how much activity is needed to make a difference in people’s health?

WebMD Tipping Point Study Looks at Exercise and Health Risk Assessments

In 2009, WebMD conducted a “tipping point” study of 205,000 employees, covering more than 100 organizations and representing a wide variety of industries. The study looked at self-reported exercise and health for these individuals over a two-year time span by comparing 2008 health risk assessment responses to 2009 health risk assessment responses.

Financial Impact of Exercise on Employee Wellness

WebMD also looked at how changes in exercise impacted health, and how those health outcomes could affect a company’s bottom line. At the end of the two-year period, WebMD compared the results of employees who increased their weekly exercise against those who decreased exercise or remained sedentary. The study showed that the impact of activity on health is clear: Those who remained sedentary added an average of 1.4 pounds per year, while those who increased exercise lost an average of a pound a year and achieved a substantial reduction in their waistline.[1. WebMD study of 205,000 employee end users, covering >100 organizations representing a wide range of industries. Impacts were measured by comparing 2008 health risk assessment responses to 2009 health risk assessment responses.]

More than that, employees who increased their exercise levels were more productive, more satisfied with their jobs and lives, and were less stressed. Perhaps the greatest impact of increased exercise was the decrease in the presence of costly health risks, including elevated risks for depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and stress-related illnesses. Individuals who increased their exercise were also more likely to reduce other health risks, including diet, smoking rates, cholesterol levels, and moderation of alcohol over-use.

The full white paper on exercise and employee wellness, “Connecting Exercise to Outcomes: WebMD Exercise Study Finds Answers,” is now available for download. It provides plenty of detail on the study, including changes in health risks and changes in projected healthcare costs.


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