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Financial analyst Thomas Rice spends his lunch time in the gym at Sirva Worldwide. Sirva hopes the on-site gym helps to lower medical costs.

Wellness plans say sayonara to softball

The crack of the bat, cleats kicking up dirt after a hit and the pop of the mitt.

Cody Strack loves it all, but knows company softball teams aren't exactly safe from the company ax, even though the business he works for has a squad.

“There are other things they sponsor,” said the 29-year-old, an hourly worker at Ultra Electronics-UnderSea Sensor Systems Inc. in Columbia City. “We have basketball, 5K runs or walks, volleyball and memberships at a gym. I totally get people doing other things.”

Ultra Electronics makes sonobuoys, or underwater detection devices. The company is one of several businesses open to other types of health initiatives, especially if they contribute to lowering medical costs.

In January, Sirva Worldwide Relocation & Moving in Fort Wayne kicked off its Vitality Wellness Program, which encourages healthy living among Sirva's more than 500 employees.

The effort has an 88 percent participation rate. One reason for the high involvement is that Sirva makes it easy for employees to get fit. The company has an in-house workout center and cafeteria with healthy food choices.

“We've tried to have softball, volleyball and similar activities, but the participation isn't always there,” said Kristen Merwin, executive vice president of human resources for Sirva. “People have so many other activities going on in their lives.”

She sought out Vitality Health Group Inc. of Chicago in hopes of improving employee health and lowering company insurance premiums.

“We try to make getting fit and living a healthy lifestyle convenient,” Merwin said. “Workers can exercise over their lunch hour” and some workout before the start of the day.

In January, Abby Rike, a former contestant on NBC's reality series “The Biggest Loser,” who shed 100 pounds from a starting weight of 247 pounds, served as a cheerleader to fire up Sirva's employees.

To spur healthy habits, Sirva even lowered the prices on nutritious foods and plans to expand the menu at the company cafeteria.

“It's important for all of us,” Merwin said.

Mike May is a consultant with the Sports & Fitness Industry Association in Silver Spring, Maryland. He said company softball teams are on the decline. He couldn't provide specific numbers, but wholesale figures are an indicator.

“There hasn't been a big jump in sales,” May said. “Things have leveled off. That is to be expected when you consider people have other choices these days. Softball is no longer the only game in town. It hasn't been for years.”

May said company wellness plans are a factor, but so are electronic games.

“Instead of playing softball, people sit home on a couch and let their thumbs do all the work, while playing some video game,” he said. “The only thing getting a workout are your fingers. That's not healthy.”

pwyche@jg.net

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