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Fitness Incentive

March 6, 2013

A few weeks ago, Conall arrived home a bit late from work.  He’d had to stop at the office to pick up a pedometer.

“A what?!” I asked.

“A pedometer,” he replied.

“Whatever for?” I wanted to know.

It seems that his workplace is jumping on the “get healthy” bandwagon, and is encouraging all it’s employees to “get moving, get fit, get healthy.”  I guess it could be worse, as they aren’t equating “lose weight” with “get healthy.”  His take on it was that they are giving out incentives for walking however many miles. The ultimate reward is if he walks the equivalent from Colorado Springs to El Paso, approximately 600 miles.

He has until the end of August to get there.

Of course, there are smaller goals with smaller rewards. Unfortunately, the employer hasn’t identified what the rewards are — not for the smaller rewards nor for the ultimate goal. So of course, there hasn’t been a lot of people signing up for it. I mean, if they are going to have an incentive program to help people get fit, they need to define what the incentives are! Conall’s doing it because he knows he walks a lot at work, and it’s free — whatever — just for documenting what he normally does in a week anyway.

Conall is a tall man (6’2″) and weighs around 220 pounds. He’s just shy of 52 years old and, besides having a very active job (as I’ll show in a minute here), he also engages in fencing every week.  He usually fences with “kids” half his age, and he keeps up with them all. His usual partner is a man who is in his late 20s, who is currently in the military (so he’s in the best shape he’ll ever be), and who has just been awarded our group’s highest honor for fencing. Now, I’m not saying that Conall wins against his friend very often, but he’s able to keep up with him, hour for hour on the dance floor. And there are many times they fight to a double kill (or draw).

And yet, Conall regularly is told (mostly by his mother, but also by coworkers, even the occasional doctor and stranger) that he needs to lose weight.

See, he’s got a little bit of a tummy. His BMI is 28.2, which according to the standard (which, yes, is completely bogus), means he’s overweight. *GASP SHOCK DISMAY*

According to the world, he needs to stop being overweight, stop watching TV every night, and just go out and exercise!  I mean really!  He NEVER does anything physical…

Oh, yeah, that whole fitness incentive thing. Remember how I said he was in a very physical job? Since he’s been wearing that stupid pedometer every day, we have proof of just how physical the job is. Well, at least how much he walks a day. Of course the pedometer can’t measure things like all the 50 pound bags of chemicals he hauls upstairs from one place to another. Or what type of energy and strength it takes to manually pull a 40- to 60-pound pump out of a deep pit. Or any of the other millions of duties that make up his job.

But it does measure his walking. And he has logged in about 35 miles a week so far. At this point, he’s pretty much made it over the Colorado/New Mexico border and is almost to the first town on the other side of the border. Raton is about 148 miles from here. He’s only had the pedometer for four weeks. With 29 weeks left to go, he could potentially rack up over a thousand miles by the end of the contest.

No wonder we have to replace his shoes every six months or so.

And yet, he’s still “fat.”

If somebody like him, who is in a very active job, who gets a lot of physical fitness every day, is still “fat,” well then we really do need to rethink what “causes” fat.  Because even though nobody would ever believe that he does this much, we now have empirical proof of how much activity he gets in a week.

I can’t wait to explain that to his mother the next time she tries to tell him that he needs to get more exercise because he’s so fat.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    March 6, 2013 10:10 am

    Awesome post, Bronwen. My husband is 5′ 10″, weighs about 275, and walks about 5 to 6 miles every day that he works. He works in a SuperWalmart as maintenance, which means he’s walking all over that store his entire shift – cleaning bathrooms (and there are 6 of those, only two of which are small [the family one and the one in Tire & Lube]), emptying ALL of the trash cans (inside the store and all of the ones out in the parking lot), cleaning out the butt cans for cigarettes, cleaning up whatever spills happen wherever in the store, moving boxes of cleaning supplies in the warehouse, cleaning and mopping the cooler, etc. But his doctor keeps telling him he needs to exercise more. Yeah, I don’t think so.

    • koi permalink
      March 19, 2013 2:48 pm

      Walking and being on your feet all day don’t burn fat. Burning fat requires much higher intensity workouts. Within the realm of walking we’re talking a daily 20-30+ minute power walk, run, swim, bike, row, etc. at a very hard intensity. You should be out of breath and sweating. If he’s okay with his weight and the amount of fat he has, then that’s fine. If it’s a risk to his health in some way, cardio is the way to go.

      • March 19, 2013 2:55 pm

        Actually, exercise doesn’t typically “burn fat.” If you’re talking about expending calories, then that’s what caloric restriction is for. Exercise improves your health by strengthening your cardiovascular system. Unless you’re doing Biggest Loser-sized workouts (46 hours per week of high intensity), then the caloric expenditure from vigorous exercise is trumped by your basic metabolic processes throughout the day. Only caloric restriction offers some semblance of control over your caloric expenditure.


  2. March 6, 2013 10:24 am

    Tell me about it. I had a job once that involved dragging stuff out of a warehouse to serve up to 40-50 customers a day. I rarely got to sit down (and got yelled at any time I did). After two years, I had lost exactly no weight…but I was signed off sick with depression. (I’m not someone whose meds cause weight gain, either.) It was eventually determined that the department was breaking UK health and safety laws, and I should never have been put in that post – I was moved to the job I’m now in, and I never went back there. My mother’s response at the time was that it was a pity I hadn’t stayed in the job because I ‘needed the exercise’.

    • March 6, 2013 11:14 am

      Jeez sounds like you worked in the same warehouse that I did. Except my weight meant I was used as a scapegoat and regularly accused of being slow and lazy. Every time I had a departmental transfer however, they had to replace me with 2 people, and yet they still didn’t learn.

      Same story here. One doctor even told me that exercise at work doesn’t count because “we all have to do that”. I asked him when was the last time he’d got his ass out if the chair today. He told me to get out of his office. I go to the gym between 3 and 6 times a week! My problem isn’t exercise!

      After being sneered at by doctors from the moment I hit sixteen for being overweight (BMI since then increasing from the 30s to the 50s), even being told whilst in floods if tears that if I lost weight my depression would vanish, I FINALLY got a diagnosis for a currently unspecified eating disorder. The next doctor to tell me to lose weight by exercising will lose his eyeballs.

      • March 7, 2013 1:01 pm

        I was once also told that Morris dancing (if you’re outside the UK and unfamiliar with it, Google ‘Border Morris’ for the kind we did) ‘wasn’t exercise’. Partly because it hadn’t made me lose any weight, but sadly, I think, mainly because I actually enjoyed doing it.

  3. Elizabeth permalink
    March 6, 2013 12:11 pm

    I hope no one is bothered if I point out that we’re talking class issues here. People such as doctors, who are mostly sedentary, telling people with physical jobs that they are fat and need to exercise is, if you stop for a moment, pretty darn hilarious. This seems like the flip side of the coin Paul Campos wrote about in The Obesity Myth: the upper classes deny themselves food to prove they have character unlike us lower-class slobs who like to eat. They can’t call us lower-class slobs or racial epithets, but it’s okay to call us fat, lazy gluttons. And what world are we living in where a 6’2″ man who weighs 220 pounds is fat?!?!? What is wrong with his mother?

  4. March 6, 2013 12:37 pm

    Oooh, medieval sword fighting! The treatise about the double hit you linked to was fascinating to me as a modern-style fencer (foil and epee), as I have been trained to induce a double hit whenever possible if my opponent is even likely to be able to get through my defenses, and that sometimes it’s even more advantageous to avoid a lengthy point-bout or bind by just sacrificing the single for a double and attempting to single the next time.

    Umm… that said, I hope your husband gets an awesome prize for making it to El Paso. Maybe a nice trip to somewhere awesome for two?

    • bronwenofhindscroft permalink
      March 6, 2013 11:46 pm

      It would be nice for a trip, but I doubt it’s going to be anything so good.

  5. lifeonfats permalink
    March 6, 2013 12:57 pm

    I love it when the “just go and exercise” criers don’t realize that many fat people already work physical jobs because of the economic status of many of these folks, who tend to work lower-paying jobs that require non-stop physical movement. I worked in a nursing home as an activities assistant for four years and was on my feet 7 hours out of an 8 hour workday. I pushed residents, helped lift them, I even conducted a weekly exercise class. All while weighing 300+ pounds. I eventually had to leave that job due to burnout and it was taking a toll on my knees. Exercise is not just done in a gym or running on sidewalks. If you’re working a job all day where you are moving and lifting, that’s plenty of movement I think!

    • bronwenofhindscroft permalink
      March 6, 2013 11:46 pm

      And it’s made worse when a person tells them what they do for a living, how active it is, and they are discounted. Conall’s Mother has been told many times how active his job is. But you know, since he *looks* big, obviously, he’s not getting enough exercise. :/

  6. Bookeater permalink
    March 6, 2013 10:31 pm

    Does the company require all employees to use pedometers? What about those with disabilities that impair or preclude walking? I walk with a crutch and feel like slapping anyone who tells me to climb a mountain or walk an hour a day or whatever to lose weight. I swim, but that doesn’t show up on a pedometer.

    • bronwenofhindscroft permalink
      March 6, 2013 11:44 pm

      No. It’s a totally voluntary, opt in program. Conall decided that since he was walking a ton in the normal day anyways, he would go ahead and do it.

  7. JennyRose permalink
    March 8, 2013 1:48 pm

    My company has a surprisingly enlightened wellness program. We do metrics testing for blood pressure, cholesterol and a few other things. The employee is them given the results and discusses what they mean with a nurse. That is it. It is up to the individual to decide what she chooses to do with the information. We are given knowledge about our health stats but that is about it. They did measure BMI and mine was near obese and the nurse did not even mention it! I think they do this because they know most people no longer get annual physicals and only go to the doctor when sick. The incentive is that insurance costs are reduced by $350 for anyone who participates. It is a participation only incentive. I actually feel like I am being treated like capable of making her own decisions.

  8. The Real Cie permalink
    March 8, 2013 7:28 pm

    My brother is a firefighter/paramedic (now captain.) During a fitness competition, he and his partner were docked points for being “obese.” Both of them have bodybuilder physiques. The guy that won the competition got points for having an “optimal BMI.” He also smokes like a chimney.
    I hate pedometers. I was forever losing the thing when I wore one. I haven’t utilized one in at least five years.

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