Employees of the municipal government of East Kootenay, B.C., are staying active during their workday through a new physical wellness program.

The program, run by fitness organization ParticipACTION, allows employers to create teams of employees to take part in daily self-managed fitness routines and a series of Canada-wide challenges throughout the year, the latter of which offer prizes for the winning team. Employees can also track their fitness progress via the program’s mobile app.

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East Kootenay’s government was among the first employers to join the program last summer. While it regularly sees roughly half of its 70 employees taking part in daily fitness breaks, that number increases whenever a new challenge is issued by ParticipACTION, says Becky Hoglund, human resources coordinator for the municipal government. While most employees are back in the office, roughly 25 per cent are still working remotely, she adds.

“It was something different to get people moving and make them aware of how long they sit during the work day and how important movement is. . . . We’re a super-competitive office — we’ve created an upstairs team and a downstairs team and there’s always words whenever [employees are] walking out the door.”

With a few eager employees encouraging their coworkers to join in, the program has also helped with engagement, says Hoglund. “You always have the keeners that want to take part in things, while it’s harder to get other people involved.”

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According to Statistics Canada, 82.5 per cent of Canadian adults are sedentary for roughly 10 hours per day and are at increased risk for chronic health conditions including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Natalie Toman, health promotion lead at ParticipACTION, says the program’s main goal is to improve employee health by reducing sedentary behaviour through any form of movement and not just rigorous exercise. “Many of us are spending 10 or more hours fairly sedentary — sitting or lying with little to no movement. By that definition, many of us aren’t getting a lot of movement into our day.”

And as employees begin returning to the workplace either full time or in hybrid arrangements, employers are looking for ways to reinvigorate camaraderie, she says. “What I’m hearing from [employers] — especially those in the service industry — is that [employees] are fatigued and feeling isolated. They’re coming to us hoping to bring back a little vigour, fun and connectivity through something engaging. That’s where we fit in. When we’re more active, we’re healthier and see things with a more positive attitude.”

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