Goal-Setting Drills Make For More Active Coworkers

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Workplace programs that encourage employees to set exercise goals pay off, finds a new study that looked at physical activity levels of Home Depot employees who participated in the "Move to Improve" program.

The program increased the proportion of employees who regularly participated in either moderate or vigorous physical activity from about 30 percent at the start of the study to about 50 percent during the last six weeks, said lead author Rod Dishman, Ph.D.

The study appears in the February 2009 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Workers set personal and team physical activity goals weekly for three months, receiving incentives for achievement. Throughout the intervention, researchers tracked changes in the 1,442 participants' physical activity levels with pedometers.

By the sixth week of the study, 51 percent of program participants logged at least five 30-minute moderate exercise sessions or two to three 20-minute vigorous exercise sessions weekly, compared with only 25 percent of the control group.


In addition, Move to Improve participants sustained that level of activity through the end of the 12-week study, with few dropouts, said Dishman, a professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia.

"The biggest pleasant surprise was the steady and sustained progress. That can probably be explained by the social incentives and support from personal goals and achievements that had direct impact on team success," Dishman said.

Workplaces offer great opportunities for physical activity and wellness programs because they offer a captive audience, said Katherine Alaimo, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Michigan State University.

In this case, success might be in part because investigators included a combination of things not usually in workplace wellness programs, Alaimo said.

"They had individual goal setting — a common technique — but they also had group and organizational goal setting, which provided the peer encouragement that is necessary and important," Alaimo said.

"Personal and team goals work best when they are self-set, specific about how much activity and when, realistic but attainable and easily assessed, such as by weekly logs or pedometer steps," Dishman said.