- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Jay Powell, Julia Brown and Kacey McCarthy know what they’ll be doing at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. every single work day: walking.

The co-workers walk with the rest of their office personnel for 15 minutes a day, twice a day without fail, the Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/1sM3Vyt ) reported.

They work at Sioux Empire United Way and participate in an employee walking program that has been going on for 10 years.

“We’ve seen tremendous results in employee health and stress reduction,” says Powell, president of the Sioux Empire United Way in Sioux Falls.

Employed there for 15 years, Powell has participated in the program since it started. “Before we started the walking program, we had a questionnaire about the levels of stress at work, and most people were pretty high,” Powell says. “We redid the tests recently, and not a single person is high.”

He credits regular walking for that. The others agree.

Not only is it a way to bond with co-workers about non-work-related topics or their personal lives, it gets employees outside getting in touch with the environment.

Promptly at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Coleen Thompson, director of finance, stops at every employee’s desk to find out how many are going to walk.

Most of them go along if they don’t have a meeting or too much work, Powell says.

They stroll the nearby Japanese Gardens in nice weather and use the wide hallways of Dow Rummel Village during the winter, usually starting sometime in November.

“No one takes a break,” Powell says. “That’s our break. No one sits in the break room and eats or drinks - we go out and walk.”

And they all wear their bright-colored walking shoes they had purchased for an employee event a few years earlier.

“It’s nice to step away from your desks, stand up and move around. It helps lower stress, and the team time helps build relationships,” says Brown, a 27-year-old executive assistant. She’s been walking with the group ever since she was hired four years ago.

Brown plays tennis and golf outside of work but appreciates the opportunity to walk. It’s refreshing and is another way to add more movement to life, she says.

McCarthy, campaign manager, has been at her job for 11 years and has been part of the initiative since it began.

It all started when they began using a health coach, Powell says. Employees can meet privately with a nurse once a quarter and talk about their health goals, which could include improving eating habits, quitting smoking or lowering cholesterol levels. The plan also offers biometric screening, which involves blood pressure checks and tracking lipid panel, glucose and body mass index.

The daily commitment to walking on a break maintains accountability. If you don’t go, everyone knows.

“It’s a great way to get out of the office - it combats the mid-morning and afternoon slump, plus you build relationships with co-workers,” McCarthy says.

Still, with all of the healthy activity going on in the office, do they ever have doughnuts?

Of course, says McCarthy with a laugh. “We get very excited about doughnuts, but we can balance it out with the walking.”

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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