NIRSA HOME National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association    
 August 2007 • NIRSA news and information
Front Page Membership Education Conference & Expo Sports Foundation Leadership Notes Research Risk Management Sustainability


Walking for wellness and financial gains

A pilot experimental investigation demonstrates health benefits for college faculty and staff and financial benefits for the institution 

National Research Institute

Dr. Danell Haines, Director of The National Research Institute for College Recreational Sports and Wellness, and colleagues conducted an evaluation of the effectiveness of a 12-week walking program supplemented with a pedometer, computer educational program, and weekly e-mails.1


Excessive weight and sedentary lifestyles have affected health care in the United States at a direct cost of more than $90 billion a year.2 Based on empirical evidence demonstrating the positive effects of physical activity on workplace production and health, employers are beginning to implement health promotion programs. By the year 2000, approximately 90% of all workplaces with 50 or more employees had some form of health promotion program.3 The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has demonstrated a return in cost to the employer ranging from $1.49 to $4.91 (median $3.14) in benefits for every dollar spent on the program.4 The cost savings of increased health promotion are associated with a reduced number of primary care patient visits and a reduction in employee absenteeism.

Researchers have repeatedly shown that health benefits are experienced when inactive people become moderately active.5 Although health benefits of moderate activity have been well publicized, the physical activity habits of people in the United States have remained relatively unchanged. Thus, there is a continued need for physical activity incentives and tests of novel worksite physical activity programs.

Experimental Investigation

To increase employee physical activity and reduce costs to employers, researchers set out to determine whether the “Virtual Walking and Wellness Program” made a difference in faculty and staff health status (operationally defined as the effect on Body Mass Index, blood pressure, blood glucose, physical activity habits, and total cholesterol level) and whether the participants perceived that the program made a difference in various aspects of their physical and psychological well-being. A secondary aim was to provide the Office of Human Resources on a college campus with data that would support providing incentives for faculty and staff that participate in campus physical activity programs.

In order to examine these questions, researchers at The Ohio State University recruited participants (n=125) to participate in a one-group pretest-posttest design experiment to measure the effects of a 12-week walking intervention. Following baseline tests measuring participants’ BMI, blood pressure, blood glucose, and total cholesterol, participants were enrolled in the virtual walking component of the intervention. The “Virtual Walking and Wellness Program” consisted of a 10-unit virtual (computer based) educational program that focused on physical activity and wellness. Virtual educational units helped participants learn to use a pedometer, design a personal walking program, and learn about nutritional topics. Participants were given a pedometer and asked to record the number of steps they took each day for the entire 12 weeks of intervention. Each week participants were instructed to increase the number of steps they average per day by 10% until they reached the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 10,000 steps per day. Participants were also sent a weekly email encouraging their physical activity. Upon completion of the 12-week intervention, participants were post tested on biometrics tests (the same as the pretest), completed a program effects survey, and submitted their walking logs.


Results confirmed research hypotheses. After enrollment in the “Virtual Walking and Wellness Program,” participants were more physically active. Figure 1 demonstrates the gain in physical activity of participants. The mean number of steps recorded by participants increased 27% from week 1 to week 12.



The intervention also caused improvements in participants’ physical and psychological well-being.

  • At follow-up, 33.3% of program graduates had a normal BMI, an increase of 4.8%
  • Mean BMI decreased from 29.06 to 28.76 (p=.024)
  • At follow-up, 3.4% of graduates moved out of stages 1 and 2 hypertension
  • Mean blood glucose of graduates decreased 5.27 mg/ml to 91.44 (SD=23.07; p=.06)
  • Mean total blood cholesterol of graduates decreased from 184.68 to 178.81 mg/ml (SD=30.90; p=.09)
  • Participants also reported a greater than moderate effect on the following health categories: fitness level, mood, health awareness, nutrition habits, and health status.

The results of this study demonstrate that a health promotion program using novel motivation tools has a positive impact on the health of employees and, in turn, may also have a positive impact on the financial burden of health care for the employee and employer, as demonstrated in other studies.6,7 As evident by the participants’ perceived impact of the program on increased work productivity and decreased work absenteeism and the improvements in health status, it can be surmised that the program indirectly provided financial gains for the employer.

Article summary provided by The National Research Institute for College Recreational Sports and Wellness. Dr. Danell J. Haines, Director; Tyler L. Fortman, GAA.  For the complete manuscript of this study refer to the following publication.

Haines DH, Davis L, et al. A pilot intervention to promote walking and wellness and to improve the health of college faculty and staff. The Journal of American College Health. 2007;55:219-225.


  1. Haines DJ, Davis L, Rancour P, Robinson M, Neel-Wilson T, & Wagner S. A pilot intervention to promote walking and wellness and to improve the health of college faculty and staff. J or American College Health. 2007;55:219-225.  
  2. Colditz GA. Economic cost of obesity and inactivity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999;31:S663-S667.
  3. Association for Worksite Health Promotion. US Department of Health and Human Services, William M. Mercer Inc. 1999 National Worksite Health Promotion Survey. Northbrook, IL: Association for Worksite Health Promotion and William M. Mercer, Inc. 2000.
  4. US Department of Health and Human Services. Prevention makes common “cents.” Available at: Accessed February 27, 2004.
  5. Thomas S, Reading J, Shephard RJ. Revision of the physical activity readiness questionnaire. Can Sport Sci. 1992;17:338-345.
  6. Bertera RL. The effects of behavioral risks on absenteeism and health-care costs in the workplace. J Occup Med. 1991;33:1119-1123.
  7. LynchWD, Golaszewski TJ, Clearie AF, Snow D, Vickery DM. Impact of a facility-based corporate fitness program on the number of absences from work due to illness. J Occup Med. 1990;32:9-12. 

NIRSA Know is a service of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association
NIRSA National Center: 4185 SW Research Way, Corvallis, Oregon 97333-1067
tel: 541-766-8211 • fax: 541-766-8284 • email:
Copyright ©2007 National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association
Archives | Search | Contact Us