The faint hum of a slow-moving treadmill mingles with the rapid clicking of keyboard keys inside a BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee office building.
Wearing a pair of tennis shoes, Jeffery Choice, a customer service representative, fields phone calls and enters data into a computer workstation attached to a treadmill that tops out at 2 miles per hour.
In an effort to encourage a healthier lifestyle for employees tied to their desks by work, last fall the state's largest insurer began a pilot program that put three treadmill workstations in its offices on Cameron Hill. Since then, at least 100 workers have used the treadmills while completing their day-to-day tasks.
"For awhile I didn't even come up to it, because I didn't know how to use it," said Mr. Choice, who has regularly been using the machine for the past two months.
ADULT OBESITY STATISTICS
* 31.6 percent of Tennessee's adult population is obese, tied with Alabama as the nation's second fattest state. Mississippi ranked first with 33.8 of its population classified as obese.
* 28.1 percent of Georgia's adult population is obese, tied with Indiana for the 17th fattest state.
Source: Trust for America's Health "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future" 2010 report.
OFFICE WELLNESS TIPS
* On occasion, use an exercise ball instead of a traditional chair. It will help alleviate back pain, enhance balance and build core strength.
* Get up from your desk and walk around at least once an hour. If possible, take a 10 minute walk outside in the sunlight to get a dose of Vitamin D.
* Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
* Park in the back of the parking lot instead of trying to find a spot close to the door.
Source: John Bilderback, Step One program director
He said it didn't take much to get used to typing while walking at the slow pace, and now prefers to do the work standing up. When sitting at his desk, he gets cold easier and feels lazy, he said.
"It's better to get up and stretch your legs," Mr. Choice said. "I would prefer some sunlight and some fresh air too, but I will take this."
John Bilderback, program coordinator for Step One, the anti-obesity initiative of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, said it's the small exercises that can add up over time and help people reach their health goals. Though not all offices are equipped with fancy machinery to allow employees to walk while working, there are other ways to stay physically activity while at the office, he said.
Simple changes such as parking further from the building and taking the stairs can help people get more steps each day. Mr. Bilderback said people need to take about 10,000 steps every day to stay healthy, but most don't get nearly that amount.
"There really are a lot of things people can do to be active," he said. "You've just got to be a little creative sometimes, and even the smallest bit is better than nothing."
Mr. Bilderback encourages other businesses in the Chattanooga area to think of ways to make it easier for employees to get some sort of exercise during the day. Extending lunch hours so workers can get outside and walk, providing bicycle parking areas and partnering with local gyms are all low-cost ways to promote wellness in the workplace, he said.
An added benefit of exercise during the workday is that it helps to recharge the brain, Mr. Bilderback said.
"When you're sitting over extended periods of time, that can be a serious problem," he said. "You need to be able to get up and increase circulation in the legs themselves, and it does go beyond some sort of novel idea."
On Cameron Hill, where Mr. Choice tries to spend at least an hour on one of the three treadmill workstations a few times a week, employee morale and overall health have improved, said Corporate Wellness Manager Ryan Picarella.
"From last year to this year, through a lot of our wellness initiatives, we have seen an improvement in our employee health," he said. "We're reaching people, and the next step is isolating which programs are seeing the biggest impact."
In addition to the treadmill workstations, the company also offers an on-site fitness facility, a wellness program and a new bicycle rental program where employees can rent one of six blue bicycles instead of taking their car out for lunch or get to another of the company's office buildings, said company spokeswoman Mary Thompson.