By ANDREW GAUG
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — A pipe producer in the city is giving its employees one less excuse for not exercising.
V&M Star recently implemented the Start! Walking Program, a project that offers employees a chance to take a walk in a specific area while staying on the clock.
The program has offered employees the chance to take a one-mile walk on three different levels — beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Gwen Vennetti, medical services supervisor for V&M, said the program developed during fund-raising efforts for the American Heart Association. The program, however, has nothing to do with raising money.
“This wasn’t about fundraising,” said Allison Mohr, Heart Walk director for Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties. “It’s about what we can offer to people to improve their health.”
The heart association has set up exercise programs at other companies, including American Church, an envelope maker in Boardman, and Trumbull Memorial Hospital.
Mohr said the program is essential for businesses because it gives employees a chance to take their mind off the job and get exercise.
“Jobs these days have become so sedentary,” she said. “Breaks like that increase productivity. People come back to their desks feeling more energized.”
V&M’s program has no set hours, Vennetti said, so it’s hard for her to track how many people are walking at any time. The mill employs 450.
“They can walk whenever they prefer to do it,” she said.
Vennetti said she could see it as a benefit for many of the company’s employees.
“Our average age is 49 years old.” she said. “We have the usuals with diabetes, hypertension. We’re no different from anybody else.”
The American Heart Association said employers encounter losses of $225.8 billion a year because of health-care costs and losses in productivity stemming from employee health problems. Programs such as Start! Walking were created to help reduce these expenses.
All of the program’s activities take place indoors at the mill’s three-story administration building. Each level of advancement has a different set of challenges.
The beginner’s level has participants walk a path in one of the hallways. The intermediate levels uses a combination of walking through hallways and stairs, and the advanced level has the person walk up and down a stairwell.
Vennetti worked with an engineer to map the routes and she developed a system for people to track their distance.
Using a peg board, walkers can keep an eye on how far they have walked.
“I know if I’m walking with friends, I lose track of how far I was going,” she said, “This helps with that.”
Identified as exercisers
Work still occurs in the administration building, even when its workers are walking, so Vennetti created cards that walkers where around their necks to identify themselves as exercisers.
“[The cards] basically say you don’t bother me, I don’t bother you,” she said.
Though the program does have people walking while remaining on the clock, Vennetti said it was supported by Roger Lindgren, V&M’s chief executive.
“The only thing that was asked was to control the noise levels,” she said.
The program is focused only on walking because it’s a good exercise for anyone, regardless of experience, Mohr said.
“Thirty minutes of walking a day for a majority of people is sufficient,” Mohr said, “Plus, walking has the lowest drop-out rate of any exercise.”
Mohr said a 12-week program is encouraged because studies show exercise becomes a habit after the 12th week.
Vennetti said she’s focused on getting word out about the program at V&M and getting more people to try it. But, she said, it’s up to them to go from there.
“I can lead them to water, but I can’t make them drink,” she said.
In the future, Vennetti said she hopes to be able to supply incentives for participants of the Start! Walking program.
“I want to increase the number of people walking,” she said.
XEmployers looking to become part of the Start! Walking Program can contact Allison Mohr at the American Heart Association at (330) 965-9230.