It's no surprise that American workers have become sedentary as the nature of work has changed significantly over the decades. A recent study outlined in the New York Times concluded that over the last 50 years, American workers are expending an average of 120 to 140 fewer calories a day in physical activity. According to the study, the decline in caloric expenditures supplies a missing puzzle piece in the explanation for the rising rates of obesity.

There's an old-fashioned form of exercise available to any company, of any size, with or without resources to commit to corporate wellness. It's a walking program that's safe, accessible and available to everyone, requiring little more than program coordination, communication and endorsement.

In September, CNA, a global property and casualty insurance company in Chicago, Ill., will kick off the fourth year of its Walk This Way program, a 10-week walking program. Cost to participants is $25 and includes a pedometer with a seven-day memory. Participants aim for 10,000 steps a day.

"We encourage people to establish a baseline so they can assess the number of steps that they take in a normal day and set a goal to increase the volume slowly," says Fran Scott of HealthFitness, and the wellness coordinator for CNA.

Walk This Way is about getting people engaged in physical activity so they can realize the benefits, says Cheryl Kennedy, director of benefits consulting for CNA. The obvious benefits of walking include improved biometrics, reduced risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and looking/feeling better.

Every Monday, Scott sends participants an email with a tracking tool. By accessing the memory in the pedometer, participants log the number of steps walked each day of the prior week. Every week, there's a raffle for a $25 American Express gift card, plus acknowledgements for the most improved walker and the champion walker of the week.

This year, participants will automatically be recognized when they reach certain levels, starting with 75,000 steps per week and working their way up to the very elite 1,000,000 steps for the entire program.

The program is one of CNA's three corporate wellness offerings. The other two programs, "Feel Like a Million" and "Maintain, Don't Gain," are equally popular. "A high level of participation comes from corporate engagement in wellness. It's the big game-changer," says Scott.

This year, CNA is literally stepping up Walk This Way by becoming a corporate participant in the American Heart Association walk. The event, "Start! Heart Walk," occurs about midway through the program. Corporate involvement in a community event gives the program more exposure, greater endorsement, and a chance for co-workers to bond for a common cause.

Walking burns anywhere from 50 to 100+ calories per mile, depending on the walker's weight and speed. Ten thousand steps is the equivalent of about five miles. Five miles a day for the average sedentary American worker isn't attainable without making time for a good, long walk during the course of the day. Walking is exercise, but it's also a chance for leisure and camaraderie. And it can be an easy first step, literally, into a corporate wellness program. -L.F.

Contributing Editor Leanne Fosbre is a senior summary plan description writer with HighRoads, an HR IT consulting company in Woburn, Mass. She can be reached at lfosbre@highroads.com.

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