Executives lead by example in Fittest Execs competition

Top executives are tasked with leading their companies by example, and that can be crucial when it comes to making time for fitness.

While the finalists in the 2012 BizTimes Media Fittest Execs competition all lead busy lives, they find time in the morning, evening, or even between meetings to squeeze in workouts.

The Fittest Execs program recognizes executives who are leading the charge in encouraging wellness in the workplace.

“It’s a celebration of a commitment to fitness for not only the participants, but really the companies who they represent,” said Dan Meyer, owner of BizTimes Media. “What you do with fitness is one of the few things you can control with your health.”

The competition included both individual and team entries. Individual qualifiers had to work as a CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, president, executive vice president, owner, partner, executive director, mayor, city manager, or city council member at a company or government organization with at least 20 employees in southeastern Wisconsin. Retired executives could also participate.

Teams were made up of four people, with an executive team leader and no other title limits. Companies could enter more than one team, and member scores were tabulated cumulatively.

Participants, who could be from any fitness level, were divided into categories based on gender and age and underwent fitness testing at the Wisconsin Athletic Club.

A biometric screening, executive engagement questionnaire and fitness test were part of the contest. The five-part fitness test included measuring resting heart rate, body fat percentage, a three-minute step test, a sit and reach test, a push-up test and a hand-grip test.

Scores were determined by comparing the results to the national fitness norms for each category.

The Wisconsin Athletic Club sponsored the fitness tests because of the company’s desire to interact with executives who are the face of a company and can show employees that fitness is a priority for them.

“We feel it’s important for companies to promote health and wellness to their employees,” said Nick Neitzel, community wellness director at WAC. “This is a great way to get that word out to people.”

Employers should also consider the return on investment of a wellness program, he said.

“They’re typically surprised by how quickly they get that ROI up and it’s usually 3:1 or higher depending on the type of engagement they have with their employees,” Neitzel said.

Larry Schreiber, president and general manager of event sponsor Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Wisconsin, tries to set an example for his employees by squeezing a run in during lunchtime near the company’s Glendale campus.

Sometimes he leads meetings in his workout clothes after he returns, Schreiber said. The 5-foot 8-inch executive has taken his own weight loss journey – from 242 pounds to 155 pounds at lowest – over the last several years, and hopes others will be inspired to follow suit.

If employers are effectively promoting a culture of health in the workplace, it can result in substantial reductions of sick leave, worker compensation claims and overall health related costs, he said.

“The employer has the unique advantage of being in contact with that employee five days a week, sometimes more,” Schreiber said. “The more you can encourage it and normalize it in public, the more people will be likely to get on board.”

The Wellness Council of Wisconsin also served as an event partner, including administering the executive engagement questionnaire, since capturing CEO support is one of the Wellness Council of America’s seven benchmarks for success, said Jessica Raddemann, executive director. They also include: creating cohesive wellness teams, collecting data to drive health efforts, carefully crafting an operating plan, choosing appropriate intervention, creating a supportive environment and carefully evaluating outcomes.

“From our experience, CEO support is essential to the process of developing best-in-class wellness programs,” Raddemann said. “Indeed, we know of very few programs that have contained costs and improved employee health that don’t have strong senior level support.”

Dr. Robert Gleeson of Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin was the keynote speaker at Fittest Execs, sharing insights from his book, “What Healthy People Know.”

BizTimes Media hosts the event to shine a spotlight on the importance of fitness for the overall community, Meyer said.

“If we can in our small way help change attitudes to make a greater commitment to fitness, we’re all going to be better off for it,” he said. “It’s been proven that fitness and wellness in a workplace makes it a better environment overall.”

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