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Gyms, wellness providers capitalize on corporate kick for fitness

ACA, Blue Zones help boost services companies

Procter & Gamble employee instructor Stephanie Kelly leads a workout session for fellow employees at Jazzercise Iowa City Fitness Center, 1014 S. Gilbert St., in Iowa City, Iowa, on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Procter & Gamble employee instructor Stephanie Kelly leads a workout session for fellow employees at Jazzercise Iowa City Fitness Center, 1014 S. Gilbert St., in Iowa City, Iowa, on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Six months ago, Adam Means shifted the business model at his downtown gym, Iowa City Fitness.

Rather than market to the ever-transient student population in this college town, he refocused around corporate wellness. And why not? Many employers already are giving the motivational kick in the pants for their workers to get fit.

“We will still have open memberships, but we gear more toward business owners and personal training,” Means said. “Every year students come and go. This could create a more sustainable business.”

Means targets nearby businesses to develop wellness plans. The more employees that sign up, the cheaper the rate for everyone, he said.

Many businesses are trying to capitalize as corporate wellness grows. It’s a $7.4 billion industry that’s grown 19 percent in the last two years, up from $6.3 billion in 2012, and is projected to balloon to $11.3 billion by 2019, according to a corporate wellness services industry report by IBISWorld, an independent industry research company based in New York City.

Efforts such as the Blue Zones Project, a rise in the cap on discounts for wellness programs allowed through the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, and a desire to control rising health care costs are fueling an expansion of corporate wellness.

That in turn feeds external wellness-related services such as fitness clubs, health risk assessment, weight management, nutrition and smoking-cessation programs.

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The hope is healthier employees will miss fewer days at work, be happier on the job and therefore lead to less turnover, and need less medical care, which ideally would cut back on an employer’s health benefits costs.

Some employers offer cash payouts or days off for participating in wellness programs, and if screenings show employees are maintaining or improving health the incentive may increase, said Thomas Banta, organization lead for Blue Zones Project in Iowa City. Employers are hoping to do right by their employees but also build a more productive and stable work force, he said.

“Happier and healthier employees produce more and cost less,” Banta said.

A 2012 Mercer Survey found that 87 percent of employers with at least 200 employees plan to add or strengthen incentive programs.

Meanwhile, incentives of $50 or more have proved to entice people to join wellness programs, and incentives of $200 or more lead to “statistically significant” increases in weight loss, smoking cessation and exercise, according to the RAND Corp., the not-for-profit research institute.

Because of all this, Corridor business owners such as Kristi Bontrager, of Jazzercise Fitness Center in Iowa City, are finding more opportunities to work with employers.

ACT has contracted Bontrager to offer classes on its Iowa City campus. Last month, she provided free sessions for Procter & Gamble employees at the Jazzercise gym.

Bontrager also attends local health fairs, such as at ACT and through the Iowa City Community School District.

But those fairs are becoming more saturated with vendors, she said.

“I do think there is more of an emphasis corporately ... and that helps those of us in the fitness industry,” Bontrager said. “That corporate push encourages their employees to be more fit, and nothing motivates better than your boss encouraging you to be healthy.”

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As the corporate wellness industry grows, so does competition, and not just from external service providers. The IBISWorld study found more employers are increasing in-house services.

ACT, for example, hired a wellness manager, Sandy Stewart, to cultivate a healthier work force.

She’s set up lunch hour sessions of Zumba, fusion fitness and martial arts, and discount rates at local fitness facilities. Meanwhile, ACT is also building a free on-site fitness center with cardio equipment, weights, locker rooms and showers.

“It’s not necessarily about going to the gym, it’s about being more active,” she said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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