The journey of 3,000 miles begins with a single step, to borrow a phrase.
And if you were to begin those steps from Reading and head west, 5.6 million steps later you’d end up in California.
To help its employees get healthier and incorporate exercise into their daily lives, Reading Health System, the second largest employer in Berks County, launched an eight-week competition Monday that would be the equivalent of walking to California.
More than 4,500 employees, two-thirds of Reading Health’s workforce of 6,800, are participating in the walking challenge, dubbed PA2CA.
The goal? The teams that “reach” California, or 5.6 million steps on their Fitbits, at the end of the challenge will be entered into a drawing to win a trip to California that Boscov’s Travel and White Star Tours helped arrange. The 5.6 million steps goal over eight weeks was based on research that shows health benefits of walking a minimum of 10,000 steps a day.
“We see this as an opportunity to improve the overall health and wellness of our employees,” said Clint Matthews, president and CEO of Reading Health System.
“Our responsibility as an employer is to look out for our employees. I think a healthy place of employment is not only good for the physical body but also the mental and spiritual body.”
A healthier workforce is also good for the company’s and employee’s bottom line, which could help an individual save money on health insurance co-pays and out-of-pocket medical costs, Matthews said.
“It helps us manage the cost so we don’t see an increase in premiums in years to come,” he said.
The company offered employees an incentive of extra steps added to their totals if they participated in a health screening before and after the challenge that measures health markers such as weight, heart rate and blood pressure. The data could be used later for research, Matthews said.
The competition is encouraging teamwork among employees, which Matthews said is crucial for people who work in health care. Employees had fun coming up with creative names for their teams which often incorporated California, their department or walking. Examples include the Holy Walkamolies, Revenue Cycle Warriors, Agony of Defeet.
Matthews said he is participating with other administrators on the Suits Are Made 4 Walking team.
Employees track their progress on their Fitbit Flex wristbands and an app. Reading Health System, which partnered with Fitbit, was able to offer employees the Fitbits, which retail for $80, at a discounted price of $10.
Each Monday, Reading Health will recognize the employee and team that walked the most steps during the previous week.
The challenge has generated a lot of enthusiasm among employees.
“It’s really rewarding to watch people walking outside and inside,” Matthews said.
Especially when he hears people talk about more active ways to go about accomplishing everyday tasks.
“I hear people saying, ‘Well, I can do that and get some steps in along the way.’ ”