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People V Pounds: Ten local law firms vie to shed weight in friendly contest to promote wellness

April 9, 2007

Ten local law firms vie to shed weight in friendly contest to promote wellness

Ten city firms indeed are vying to see whose members can shed the most inches from their waistlines within 10 weeks. The impetus for the "friendly" competition, which ends April 9, is modeled after Gov. Mitch Daniels' INShape Indiana program challenging Hoosiers to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks.

Because participating firms range in size from behemoth Ice Miller LLP to boutique Schuckit & Associates PC, percentage of weight loss by participants-not overall pounds lost-will determine the winner. Overall, 290 people are taking part in the contest.

Weigh-ins are conducted every Monday, in the privacy of each office, and results are tabulated at Barnes & Thornburg LLP. T-shirts may be presented to the winning team, but the real prize is bragging rights.

"A little competition between law firms gets people motivated," said Lisa Heldman, a benefits administrator at Locke Reynolds LLP who helped coordinate the challenge. "I was just shocked at how many people were interested."

Most teams include a mix of lawyers, paralegals and administrative personnel. The "Locke Losers," for instance, boast 37 members who collectively dropped 2.9 percent of their total weight, putting them in second place, with a week left in the competition.

Leading the pack, though, is Barnes & Thornburg, whose 46 participants have doffed 3 percent of their figures. Associate lawyer Angela Imel has contributed almost 10 pounds to the cause.

Her goal to maintain a healthier lifestyle began about a year ago, when she made changes to her diet and started exercising. The challenge is an extension of that.

"This was a way to get back on track and have some accountability," said Imel, who represents commercial lenders and borrowers. "It gave me the extra boost to help me stay on track."

Many of the participating law firms are adopting their own practices to give employees additional support and incentive.

Locke Reynolds purchased pedometers for everyone to wear while walking together in their building's parking garage or on the downtown canal. The firm offers yoga and aerobics classes as well. For her part, Heldman made a batch of healthy chili for lunch.

A support group has assembled at Barnes & Thornburg to encourage members to stick with their regimens. They also started a kickboxing class, and the exercise room is in greater demand.

Like Imel, Greg Cummins, a legal administrator at Schuckit & Associates, said the challenge gave him the incentive to return to the gym on a more regular basis. The time he spent the past 18 months helping to launch the startup firm cut into his workouts.

Ten of Schuckit's 14 employees are participating, causing the firm to replenish the traditional spread of afternoon snacks with apples and oranges instead of chips and crackers. Water has replaced soda as the drink of choice, and staffers are forgoing coffee for tea.

"I used to constantly fill up the chip tray," Cummins said, "but now all that stuff just sits there."

Several members of the firm walk down the stairs from their office on the 30th floor of Market Tower, and hike several flights up before taking the elevator the rest of the way.

One woman donned her favorite outfit again, after shedding eight pounds, and another rouses her husband and two children out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to visit the gym before work and school starts, Cummins said.

Heldman at Locke Reynolds and Laura Miller, personnel administrator at Barnes & Thornburg, are both members of the local chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators. After kicking around ideas about starting various wellness programs, the pair concluded that a challenge similar to the governor's initiative would be more intriguing-and competitive.

Indiana's perpetually high smoking and obesity rates led Daniels to launch his program. Dr. Judy Monroe, Indiana Department of Health commissioner, welcomes anything companies can do to further promote healthy choices.

"Some of the companies that are serious about wellness are beginning to see a return on investment," she said. "There's the health message, but there's an economic side to this, too."

To be sure, rising health care costs in employer-sponsored health plans are accelerating employer interest in workplace health promotion.

Wellness and disease management programs promote healthier lifestyles and encourage employees to focus more on maintaining and improving their health rather than on seeking treatment once they are sick.

The positive return on the programs has increased employer interest and stimulated companies to adopt incentives that reward employees for making healthy lifestyle choices.

Losing 10 pounds in 10 weeks is an attainable goal, Monroe said, simply by eating healthier and exercising.

Here's one way to do it, she said: Passing on one soda pop or candy bar can cut 250 calories from a daily caloric intake. Walking 2-1/2 miles a day can burn another 250 calories. That totals 500 calories a day which, when multiplied by seven, equals 3,500 calories, or one pound a week.

The response to the governor's challenge has been so positive that Monroe said Daniels likely will roll out another program in the summer.
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