As of January 1, 2009, our conference has a new health insurance plan (HealthFlex) through the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (of the United Methodist Church). The plan offers a new incentives program, Virgin HealthMiles, designed to get participants active and fit.
Participants who sign up for the program can earn HealthMiles (i.e. reward points) which can generate HealthCash (up to $300/year per participant). HealthMiles is currently only available to organizations, but is going to be made available to individuals in the future, according to the site.
From the perspective of the health insurance companies, active/fit people tend to have fewer health issues and therefore cost less to insure so it’s a win-win for both participants and health insurance companies.
This comes at a good time for us. As I’ve written before (this post and this post) exercise is an area where we’ve needed to find the rhythm in our new life as parents. I also need to lower and contain my (bad) cholesterol, which has always been a nagging problem (for mostly non-dietary reasons).
I think that because I’m a competitive person, simply having the system of tracking activity would be good for me, even without the financial incentive. Of course, adding HealthCash to the mix makes it even better! 🙂
The HealthMiles program involves wearing a pedometer, which automatically counts (most) steps (we each received a free pedometer with the program), and then periodically uploading steps to the computer (via USB cable). The website offers a central location to track activity, results, and rewards.
Participants earn HealthMiles by taking steps (i.e., walking, running, even biking) or other kinds of (cardiovascular) workouts using a heart rate monitor, participating at the website (visiting the site, logging entries in an activity journal), and by showing improved health (body mass index, body fat percentage, and blood pressure). There are special incentives along the way as well. For example, last week, there was an opportunity to earn extra HealthMiles simply for logging at least 7,000 steps each of the five days leading up to Valentine’s Day (we just started on Valentine’s Day, unfortunately).
It took us a little while to sign-up and to get our pedometers registered/activated. We’re also waiting for a Mac version of the software (used to upload steps from pedometer to computer) which is slated for a late March release (in the meantime, we’re using a PC that we have access to).
Even though I’ve just gotten started, I’m finding it a real incentive to keep moving and to be more active. For example, I’ve always parked toward the back of parking lots and I usually take the stairs instead of elevators, but this program has already increased my commitment to that! (In the early days of our relationship, I use to tell Joleen she’ll thank me when she’s 90. 😆 ).
So, how many steps should you take each day? According to one of the FAQs at the Virgin HealthMiles website …
We recommend 30 minutes of accumulated, moderate physical activity at least 5 days a week. This equals about 7,000 steps a day, including the steps you take just going about your daily life. Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator, take the dog for a jog on the beach, start a lunchtime walking group at work, consider a walking tour instead of a bus tour on your next vacation. It all adds up.
It’s amazing how quickly the steps add up. I tend to do a lot of walking, anyway, while I think, pray, and (sometimes) eat (some might call it pacing 😉 ).
There are five reward levels. Level 2 earns $25 (with 6,000 HealthMiles) and Level 5 tops out at $300 (with 36,000 HealthMiles). At the outset, I’m thinking Level 4 is doable, and while reaching Level 5 will be somewhat intense, I think it’s also doable, especially if there are some extra incentives along the way.
So what have you found to be a good incentive for you in staying active and fit? Also, if you participate in the Virgin HealthMiles program, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.