According to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, consumers pay an average monthly fee of $45.30 for access to a fitness center. Employers are starting to tap into that need, and one program specifically has met it - at about half the cost of a typical gym membership.

Health Care Service Corporation's Fitness Program offers users membership to a network of numerous brands for $25 a month, making a healthy lifestyle even more accessible. They've not only seen results with more members living healthier, but also in real dollars.

HCSC, a health benefits company comprised of four Blue Cross and Blue Shield programs and Dearborn National, is taking on the initiative in the anticipation of a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that allows employers to spend 30% of employees' health insurance premiums - or up to 50%, with the Department of Health and Human Services' approval - on wellness incentives starting in 2014.

In 2010, there were 5,000 members enrolled in HCSC's fitness program. Comparing members' medical claims costs in 2009 - when they were not a member of the fitness program - to 2010, when they were a member of the fitness program, medical-only claims costs decreased by $1.02 million. During the same time, however, medical-only claims from those not participating in the fitness program rose 5%.

"We've said before that we expected that individuals who get exercise have better claims experience," says Debbi Brooks, divisional vice president of the wellness program at HCSC. "Directionally, we're excited."

Each time a member goes the gym, they earn points, and at the same time their participation is tracked and can be correlated with how many claims they have.

The average member works out once a week and posts 8% less medical costs. For those who work out two to three times a week, medical costs average 28% lower; for people working out more than three visits a week, costs average 44% lower. On top of it, there isn't much administrative legwork for corporaate HR/benefits teams to do; reporting and incentives are all handled by HCSC.

"We recognized that the clients were looking to do more than a cost-sharing wellness program," Brooks says about clients coming to them with increasing complaints about swelling premiums. "We're now trying to focus on being ahead of the curve."

Office Max, although only in its first year of participating in the HCSC wellness program, has experienced an undeniable increase in employees' positivity and productivity.

"There is a culture shift you see when people are focused on their health; it improves productivity and, as another benefit, it helps smooth your health trend, which then means everybody has fewer increases every year," says senior director of benefits Jill Chapman. The program is at no cost to Office Max, though Brooks noted that some employers are so enthusiastic that they subsidize the membership for all employees.

The business case for engaging employees in their health is striking; HCSC's own data analysis showed that, on average, $1,091 was spent on annual pharmacy costs for members with metabolic syndrome, compared to $282 for those that did not have Met-S. "We feel that employers who embrace the program and the components can use it as a way to attract and retain good employees," Brooks says.

To be sure, HCSC is seeing results, which translates into better health for client premiums, which trickles down to employee deductibles.


7 ways exercise improves your life


When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. If you can't do an actual workout, get more active throughout the day in simple ways - by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or revving up your household chores.


No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases.


Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.


Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance. Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily chores.


Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. Just don't exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to fall asleep.


Regular physical activity can leave you feeling energized and looking better, which may have a positive effect on your sex life. Regular physical activity can also lead to enhanced arousal for women. And men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don't exercise.


Physical activity can help you connect with family or friends in a fun social setting. Take a dance class, hit the hiking trails or join a soccer team. Find a physical activity you enjoy, and just do it. If you get bored, try something new.

Source: Mayo Clinic

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