On a spring-like day, six women gathered at a parking lot north of Streeter Brothers Insurance after completing a moderately paced walk that circled the campus of Billings Clinic.
Fitness instructor Jaysun Mims backed his black SUV into a parking lot, left the tailgate open and cranked up the tunes on the stereo. As Mims handed out resistance bands, the women went to work on toning their arms. First came the biceps curls. Then, as Mims provided pointers on posture and the proper grip, each woman anchored the elastic band with a foot and started counting out triceps presses.
“Keep that core nice and tight,” Mims said, his voice booming across the parking lot. “Good job! Breathe in. Exhale. Now squeeze. Squeeze. Squeeze!” he said.
“When I count it down, we’re going to take this a little faster,” Mims continued. “Hit those triceps. Keep those elbows in and press it up. We’re gonna push! Push! Push!”
“He always loses count,” Paula Vigus deadpanned as Mims seemed to be repeating a few numbers on the way to the last repetition.
Class participants say the exercise has paid off.
"I feel better," said Grace DeLong, a regular in the exercise group. "I've noticed that I can do things I couldn't do before. Jaysun always challenges us, and I always look forward to Tuesday."
Mims, who owns MimsFit with his wife, Mistie, has carved out a unique niche in the growing world of corporate wellness. Working together and often in consort with other fitness professionals, they can tailor a wellness program that both fits their clients’ priorities and their budgets.
MimsFit takes a mix-and-match approach to its services, whether it’s starting a Weight Watchers program, scheduling yoga classes, setting up health screenings or participating in community events such as Relay for Life or the Heart and Sole Run. A twice monthly newsletter is designed to provide motivating tips and to keep participants moving.
“Some people don’t like to see that number on a scale,” Mistie said, mentioning Weight Watchers. “It’s about how you’re feeling mentally, whether employees are feeling stressed, trying to lower their cholesterol or trying to stop smoking. We can design a wellness program that’s based on what the business’s needs are.”
One of Jaysun’s specialties is demonstrating how common office fixtures — tables, chairs, desks, stairs and walls — can be used for health-enhancing exercise.
During a recent visit to Avitus Group, the trainers led a group of employees on a brisk walk up and down the stairwell in the Wells Fargo building. Then they gathered in a conference room for pushups and other exercises.
Jaysun’s push-up challenge has received an enthusiastic following. Zoe Elyada, a corporate accountant at Avitus Group, said she has worked her way up to 90 pushups.
“There are all sorts of exercises that you can do at your desk or in your cubicle to get in shape,” Jaysun said. “You don’t have to have a lot of expensive equipment.”
Mistie and Jaysun were both long-time instructors of group classes at the Billings YMCA. About two years ago, Jaysun decided to strike out on his own and began offering personal training and corporate wellness programs. As his client list grew, Mistie decided to leave her position as the Y’s development director and join MimsFit.
Skyrocketing health care costs and the rise of health problems related to smoking and obesity have prompted businesses to invest in corporate wellness programs.
About half of U.S. businesses with 50 or more employees, a group that represents three-quarters of the U.S. workforce, offer wellness programs to their employees, according to a study by the Rand Corp.
Rand’s research indicates that wellness programs can reduce risk factors such as smoking, while increasing exercise and other healthy behaviors.
“We find that these effects are sustainable over time and clinically meaningful,” the Rand study’s authors wrote. “This result is of critical importance, as it confirms that workplace wellness programs can help contain the current epidemic of lifestyle-related diseases, the main driver of premature morbidity and mortality as well as health care cost in the United States.”
Many companies pursue wellness programs with the idea that a healthier work force will help keep health insurance costs in check.
But that wasn’t the primary motivation behind Avitus Group’s workplace wellness program, said, Don Reile, president of Avitus Group.
“We looked at it more as a morale booster,” he said. “If people feel better about themselves, they will be able to offer better customer service to our clients.”
Of Avitus Group’s 268 internal employees across the U.S., 211 are participating in the company’s wellness program. Since the program began last April, 402 fitness-related events have taken place. Many employees participate in numerous events.
As part of its program, Avitus Group reimburses employees for a portion of the cost of joining a gym.
MimsFit also provides one-on-one coaching, in which employees can set up a six-month wellness goal. Smoking cessation, stress reduction, weight loss and getting started in exercise are among the wellness goals.
Each employee who has completed a six-month goal will receive an extra day of paid leave, Reile said.
The great sense of accomplishment that employees receive from participating in the wellness program is well worth its $200,000 cost for Avitus Group, Reile said.
Research shows that a healthy employee is usually a happy employee. "If you invest in your employees, your employees will invest in you," Mistie said.