RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As children, we became addicted to playing our favorite games. Whether it was video games, board games, or even a round of Go Fish, it was easy to get caught up in the action and try as hard as we could to come out the winner. What if those same feelings could be brought back into our adult lives, and channeled toward being active and eating right?
That's the concept behind an employee wellness program called Keas (key-ahs), a Web-based social network launched in 2008 for businesses to empower their employees to become healthier through play. Employees join the gamelike program in teams, and pursue simple short-term goals, such as avoiding fast food or exercising for 20 minutes three times that week. Each time a small challenge is completed, the teams are given points. On Keas.com, participants post their daily achievements on a Facebook-type community wall. With enough points, teams are rewarded prizes; typically $50 per team member, though some corporations have offered larger prizes.
What's with the name? "Most companies in the health arena have instantly forgettable names," says Keas cofounder Adam Bosworth, chief technology officer of its Web site. The former vice president of product management at Google Inc., Bosworth named his new venture Keas after a tropical-looking parrot that lives in the pine trees and snow of New Zealand. "The contrast between the Alpine setting and the colorful tropical-looking bird fascinated me," he says.
In Bosworth’s eyes, there are two main components to Keas that make it an effective employee wellness program: positive reinforcement, such as earning points and prizes, and social obligation. The latter comes into play because in a team, everyone must contribute. The combination of teamwork and peer pressure in the Keas program keeps up morale, Bosworth says. Want to try it? Go to Keas.com to read testimonials from participants, and see examples of what your Keas profile page might look like.
If you’d like to get your company involved, check Keas.com/are-you-qualified to find out if your employees are qualified.
Here are some ways you can put the principles of play into effect for yourself:
• Recruit some friends. Ask a friend or two to join you in your mission to become healthy. That way, the group as a whole can work together to get fit. Pooling your resources with friends can also help you save money; you might chip in for a personal trainer session or carpool to the farmer's market. Look for team members whose fitness level or health habits are similar to yours, and who are willing to make as much of a commitment as you are.
• Find your inner child. Think about the activities you enjoyed as a child, and try finding ways to replicate them. Swimming, cycling, even climbing trees or playing a game of tag may feel more like fun and less like a workout. The result: an exercise plan you'll stick with.
• Use positive reinforcement. It's all too easy to focus on what we do wrong. But Bosworth believes positive reinforcement—rewarding what we do right—is a much more powerful approach. Instead of punishing yourself for grabbing that second doughnut during the Monday morning rush, give yourself a pat on the back for avoiding it next time you walk past the bakery. Choose a lower-calorie, high-in-real-fruit parfait for breakfast, instead, and congratulate yourself for completing your challenge of the day. Also, try not to fret over the foods that aren’t the best choices for getting you in shape; instead embrace the foods that will make you look and feel better!
• Use Facebook to your advantage. Recruit some Facebook friends to form a team. Everyone can post their daily achievements, encouraging words, and invitations to events such as going for a group run or meeting for a healthy dinner.