Wellness programs lower insurance premiums

For instance, working out at a health club will result in fewer points than successfully completing a smoking cessation program. "People can get rewards ranging from an iPod to a flat-screen TV," Carlos says. The Vitality mall, where only points can be redeemed, has 2.2 million items.

While the employee is the main focus of wellness programs, many companies extend it to the employee's family. After all, a sick family can result in increase absenteeism, slowing down employee productivity. First Lady Michelle Obama, who is fighting childhood obesity with her "Let's Move" campaign, says the U.S. spends $150 billion a year on treating obesity and related problems.

LifeCare of Shelton, Conn., which has implemented wellness programs in 11 companies across the country, urges all the family members to get involved and sends out fliers to employees' homes to inform spouses of the program. LifeCare's programs, which are focused on physical, emotional and financial health, boast 55 percent to 65 percent participation. LifeCare Chief Executive Peter Burki says incentives are a big part of the reason employees join the wellness programs.

"There are a variety of incentive awards," says Burki. "In some instances, it's a reduction in insurance premiums and medical co-payments. With other organizations, it's reimbursement or complete payment for gym memberships and yoga classes. Some organizations make contributions to flexible spending accounts and some do free wellness screening on site."

Wellness programs save employees' money, but they do require a commitment. They also require time. But at the end of the day, being healthier will improve your life and not just your wallet.

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