- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

The two dozen co-workers Lisa Jefferson leads out of Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP at precisely 12:30 p.m. are on a self-enforced march. It’s the Washington law firm’s lunchtime walking club.

“I like to stay ahead of everyone else,” the petite 37-year-old says on a recent afternoon without missing a step in her brisk stride.

Mrs. Jefferson, a legal secretary at the firm, has been briskly walking with co-workers during her lunch hour for the past few months.

The law firm’s walking club, which started back up in April as a twice-a-week exercise program, brings together from 12 to 50 employees on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The group generally walks three miles in 50 minutes, giving employees time to get a quick shower or grab a sandwich before heading back to work.

During the recent walk, 24 employees — 22 women and two men — head out of the firm’s office in Northwest decked in cotton T-shirts, shorts and gym shoes. They walk down L Street to 22nd Street, then take a turn onto Massachusetts Avenue toward the Embassy Row.

“I find if I don’t do this, I don’t get any exercise at all,” says Jack Martins, a 29-year-old human resources manager. Mr. Martins doesn’t feel as out-of-breath during the jaunts after three months of frequent walking.

Stacy Cohen, Dickstein Shapiro’s benefits administrator and one of the regular walkers in the group, says she first started the program in April 2004 as a fitness program for employees. The law firm also offers other exercise programs.

While other companies are incorporating exercise incentives for employees to bring down health care costs, Ms. Cohen says Dickstein Shapiro did not start the walking club with that purpose.

The direct medical costs associated with physical inactivity for which businesses and employees pick up the tab hit nearly $76.6 billion in 2000, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It just started out as a fun wellness program for our employees,” Ms. Cohen says, adding that the firm has not calculated any effects the club has had on its health insurance costs.

A smaller number of Dickstein Shapiro employees participated biweekly walks in the first year of the program, which dwindled in the winter months.

Ms. Cohen revamped the program in April, during Dickstein Shapiro’s Wellness Week, the company’s health insurance enrollment fair that also included nutritional consultations and health screening.

On average, 20 to 40 employees regularly walk outside in good and bad weather during their lunch breaks, Ms. Cohen says.

Despite humid, sweltering temperatures the previous week, the group has relatively mild weather during the walk at 83 degrees with 44 percent humidity.

Sharon McGhee, an administrative assistant who has done every work walk this year, says she keeps walking partly because the incentives.

The law firm gives various rewards for employees who stick with the walking club, such as a free energy bar for those who complete 15 miles with the group.

“I may take a little break after today,” she says. But Ms. McGhee reconsiders after several colleagues loudly protest. “It does help me clear my mind,” she says.

The group continues down Massachusetts Avenue for nearly a mile before turning around and heading back to the firm.

They pass construction crews, amused pedestrians, puzzled tourists and a few other lunchtime joggers on their way. The group accomplishes 2.97 miles by the end of the jaunt, Ms. Cohen says, showing off her pedometer that clocks the group’s progress.

Laurie Vikander, one of the few lawyers of the firm who makes a regular appearance for the walks, hangs farther back in the group but says she does not feel compelled to speed up.

“I go at my leisure,” the 48-year-old administrative council says, sweat beading her forehead. “I’m sure there are some health benefits, but that’s not why I’m doing this. It gets me out during a time I would otherwise be working.”

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