A Walker Tracker Christmas Story

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Parzybok house, not a creature was stirring, not even a kitty cat; The hiking socks were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that pedometers soon would be there!

Ever wonder how it all started?  Well, I’ve enlisted some help to tell our tale.  Meet Laura Moulton, partner of Walker Tracker CTO & Founder, Ben Parzybok, who has been so gracious as to recount.

“Not too many people know the story of how Walker Tracker came to be, but I think it’s a good one.

Many years ago, Ben’s brother Ezra stuffed each of our Christmas stockings with a pedometer. These were cheap, rattly pedometers that did not record steps very acccurately, but we all gamely wore them on our belts anyway. Since our extended family began competing for the highest step counts, and since we were in different parts of the country, Ben decided to write the code for a website where people could enter their steps, along with commentary about their experience. Word of his website spread, and more family and friends began to participate. In no time, there was a robust walking community of several thousand, entering their steps and encouraging each other along the way. This was during a period of time when Ben worked a regular day job, (generally as a web designer for different corporations), and maintained the Walker Tracker project at night and on weekends. He was also writing novels and being a very hands-on dad to our 2 children at the same time, so it was a lot to juggle.

Around 2010, Ben began to explore ways to make Walker Tracker a revenue-generating company, instead of just a side project. His timing was perfect – many corporations had begun to look for wellness programs for their employees, and the walking program Walker Tracker offered was exactly what they were looking for. Ben took the risk and went full-time with Walker Tracker, and the company has been growing and thriving ever since. I’m so impressed with the caliber of people who have joined over the years – they are a stellar, dedicated team that has become its own kind of family. At home, with our own family, the little kids who played at Ben’s feet while he built the code for Walker Tracker are now teenagers who live for the annual white elephant gift exchange at the company holiday party. We’re grateful to Ben for his creative brain, for his supportive team that makes all the work happen, and for the companies who rely on Walker Tracker to help their own employees thrive and be successful.”

Ben with son Cohen, daughter Sylvie and Laura, our narrator.

Get Moving at Work – for employees & benefits managers

It is estimated that only one in five Americans achieves a relatively high level of physical activity at work1. Many of us are aware that it would be beneficial to incorporate more fitness into our work day, yet, where to start? A knowledgeable benefits or human resources manager can provide employees with options on how to make room for fitness in their work day.

The good news: Your benefits manager already knows that healthy employees are more productive, miss work less often and are overall happier and healthier people.  This means insurance costs are lowered. How great is that! You’re asking them for advice on something they already want you to do!

Here are some suggestions for both program admins and participants on how to incorporate wellness in the workplace:

Provide places to walk. If there is no place to walk at work it will be hard to encourage employees to do it. Management can be pro-active – build sidewalks and trails or investigate options for nearby sites where employees can walk. If there is really nowhere else to go, get creative – try measuring and marking the distance around the perimeter of a parking lot or set up a treadmill in an empty office space. One of our clients (a large hospital in Washington D.C.) set up a path inside the building using footprint stickers!

Track it. One of our favorite quotes is: “That which is measured, improves” – Pearson’s Law. We’re seeing more and more programs rewarding employees with wireless trackers so they can keep a record of their activities. If your team already has devices, set a goal that participants need to reach in order to be eligible to upgrade their device to something spiffier. If they do not have devices yet, you might want to create a mini challenge – those who complete it will be eligible to receive a new device. Get everyone on board with this one, wireless devices make it easy and fun for your employees to track their progress.

Get Paid to NOT Park it. A little extra cash at the end of the month can be a powerful motivator. Employees can be given the cash equivalent of the cost of parking if they refrain from driving to work. If parking is free at your workplace, an employer could give you extra benefits at work for not using a parking space. The other option is charging a hefty premium for the privilege of parking at work.

Build in “Walking Breaks”. In some workplace settings you’re sticking to a schedule and breaks are assigned. These companies are the perfect place to schedule “walking breaks” into the day. Your schedule may already include a lunch break and a morning and afternoon break, but let’s beef that up. Suggest that your employer schedule an additional 10 or 15 minute break for those who will walk during that time. Sure, a few minutes will be lost, but you will gain a much more attentive and effective employee.  It’s hard for upper management to miss this increase in productivity and quality.

Encourage walking, mass transit and carpools. Ask if your company will give employees a break on your health care premium if you walk to work, use public transportation, or carpool. For the folks who are carpooling, suggest they alternate days walking to one another’s house for the ride.

How’d you like to earn a day off with every 100 miles you log? At some workplaces you already can. Our admins can use the Walker Tracker program statistics to calculate when you deserve PTO or a paid lunch. Studies show that active employees get lots more done even with some extra days off.

Create friendly competitions. There’s no doubt that grouping co-workers into teams and recording steps can really get people involved. Yet, when setting up a competition it is important to be encouraging to everyone. Your ‘fit’ people will exercise with or without the program, focus on creating a competition that challenges them further. Offer a program that encourages and inspires beginners. Our points competitions are a great way to reward diligence and stick-to-it behaviors over high step counts. Want more ideas for competitions? Admins can ask their Walker Tracker program manager for ideas of how to build competitions that are inclusive to all fitness levels.



1 Church TS, Thomas DM, Tudor-Locke C, Katzmarzyk PT, Earnest CP, Rodarte RQ, et al. (2011) Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19657. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019657

Pedometer report of the day

Currently I’m wearing four pedometers  (testing, you know, wink wink). In today’s parlance, they call these nifty things ‘wearable devices’. Here’s today’s report, from an abnormally active day.

My activities:

  • One 24 minute run
  • Two ~40 minute bike rides
  • Some walking…

Pedometer readings:

  • Omron HJ-320: 7,488 (in coin pocket)
  • Fitbit One: 11,480 (in coin pocket)
  • Fitlinxx Pebble: 9,080  (worn on shoe)
  • Jawbone UP: 9,816  (worn on wrist)

Which one is right? It’s hard to know. They all have different strengths, and all of them have some difficulty with bicycling (side note: The Pebble does track bicycling, but the one I had is using an earlier firmware version).

But even when the activity is walking exclusively, these devices vary widely. The primary lesson, in my opinion, is if you’re running a corporate wellness program based around a challenge, it’s best to have everyone using the same device.

New Feature: Our Answer to the HRA

Our clients have asked for a tool to measure the attitudes and habits of their employee population without going through a full-blown Health-Risk Assessment,. We thought this was a great idea. We’ve just launched Questions. Questions gives wellness admins the ability to “see inside” their employees, to accurately map employee habits that effect health and wellness, and to craft a wellness strategy that works for each individual company. We call the Questions feature an “HRA lite” because it gives our clients the power of the HRA, without the cost or hassle.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 12.44.11 PM

More about HRAs: Many companies launch their wellness program with an HRA, or a Health Risk Assessment. But let’s face it: HRAs are typically long questionnaires that are annoying to fill out, don’t provide any real wellness value, and, at up to $40 a pop, burn through wellness dollars faster than you can say “health.”

The true value of HRAs lie in their ability to accurately map a population. If your employee population tends toward obesity, which is a leading predictor of diabetes and heart disease, you need to know that. If your population, on the other hand, is young and active, you need to know that, too. The real value of the HRA is to help the wellness administrator craft a wellness strategy that works for her population.

How the Questions feature works: It’s easy. From the admin pane of your Walker Tracker account, just type the question you want to ask. You can make the question “required” before users continue to their account, or you can set the question as part of account registration. You can even assign points for answering it, if you use our points system. Questions and answers are logged into the account information download, so you can measure a baseline, progress, and program-end status.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 12.27.27 PM

Questions is our answer to the HRA. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Are wellness programs effective?

A new study indicates: Yes!

You’re here, and so you already know this!

In a study of 7,804 employees, findings indicated that there were significant drops in health risks among  high-risk employees. And that risk alleviation is going to have a direct impact on an employer’s bottom line:

“The current sick care model in the U.S. is not designed to meet real health and wellness needs. Employers fund the majority of the economic burden of this broken system. They pay increasing costs of medical care while the health care system spends less than $.05 of every health care dollar on prevention.”

— Dr. Ronald Loeppke, president and vice chairman of U.S. Preventive Medicine and lead author of the study


Read the full article at: Benefits Pro‘s Study underscores effectiveness of wellness programs



US Embassy Walking Challenge

Sometimes a client truly delights us with their programs. Today, during our all program’s meeting, we were all tickled by the competition currently running between the US Embassy in Katmandu and the US Embassy in Warsaw. The two embassies are competing against each other in a walk from Poland to Tibet. As an embassy brat myself—my stepfather served in Mexico, in Colombia, and in Croatia—I love the idea of embassy friends and colleagues competing and collaborating in a walking challenge. Go Warsaw! Go Katmandu! You think we can get other Embassies to pile on, and do a world-wide challenge?


Health Gadgets and Goodies at Consumer Electronics Show

Can tech help health? Yes! There’s a groundswell of gadgets and goodies coming to the market, showing how quickly this segment is developing. I particularly love the companies focused on helping kids develop healthy habits, though I think I prefer my own childhood running after balls and jumping rope and whatnot, over playing dance dance revolution in the classroom. Perhaps it’s a matter of generational taste…

Go here for the low down:


You asked for better weekly stats

Our programing elves have been hard at work… We’re always improving the Walker Tracker program, and we always love to hear ways that we can make Walker Tracker better for you. Over the last year, many of our clients have requested regular status emails sent to their walkers to both increase engagement in their company wellness initiative, and to provide real-time feedback on walking performance.

We thought this was a great idea!

Based on your input, we’ve built a  (rather handsome) weekly status email (see screen shot below). The email shows your walkers what they’ve done in the last week—total steps taken, miles covered, and calories burned, plus it gives an update on how they’re doing in the competition and how they’re performing compared to their friends. We also have an area for health and wellness tips, and we’re collaborating with a certified fitness coach to help us build great, relevant, and useful content, every week. Employees can easily turn this off in their settings (each email contains instructions how), or you can turn it off program-wide in your Admin Features area.

Thanks for all your great feedback, and keep the requests coming. This is your tool, and we want to hear from you.

Wellness Programs provide big ROI – says Harvard Business Review study

A 2010 Harvard Business Review Article had some astounding things to say about  the ‘hard return’ of wellness programs. Their conclusion? Wellness program provide a terrific return on investment.

“…a comprehensive, strategically designed investment in employees’ social, mental, and physical health pays off. J&J’s leaders estimate that wellness programs have cumulatively saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade; from 2002 to 2008, the return was $2.71 for every dollar spent.”

The article goes on to refer to a number of studies touting the benefits of wellness programs for your company. In a separate study, 57% of high-risk employees were converted to low-risk status, with significant financial benefits for the company:

“…medical claim costs had declined by $1,421 per participant, compared with those from the previous year. A control group showed no such improvements. The bottom line: Every dollar invested in the intervention yielded $6 in health care savings.”

But the companies surveyed saw a number of other improvements as well — not just on financial return.  Lost work days, in one example, dropped by an astounding 80%. Another study found that a well-implemented wellness program caused a dramatic reduction in employee attrition. Clearly, taking an active stake in your employees’ wellness makes a difference in their health and happiness — and to your bottom line as well.

Find out what works and what doesn’t by reading the whole study. Then head over to our walking programs for corporations to learn more about adding an engaging, effective walking challenge to your wellness program.

How Subtle Changes (and a little patience) Can Bring Dramatic Results

When I first started working for Walker Tracker, I have to admit, I thought it was a little silly that people actually used the site as a means to motivate themselves to walk more. Then I started to do research. I realized that the use of corporate walking programs is huge these days. I had no idea.  Then it clicked. Just like people have different learning methods, they also have different exercise methods. Mine happens to be the solitary way, but there is nothing wrong with creating community to help motivate a more healthy and active lifestyle.

I had forgotten how scary and frustrating it can be while taking those first steps (yes, pun intended) towards getting active. Getting your body to do things it’s not used to doing is never easy. And there is nothing more frustrating than not seeing the results you want right away. It’s easy to forget that noticeable results take time. I think one reason a lot of people give up on attaining a more active way of life is because we live in a culture of immediate gratification. When pounds aren’t shed and fat isn’t lost fast enough for us, we just assume it’s not working.

I could make a laundry list of the health benefits of walking regularly. There’s been study after study documenting them. But I won’t insult your intelligence. If you want to know the benefits of walking (or of any means of exercise), I’m absolutely sure you can do a Google search and find that information yourself. I prefer a personal approach. Walker Tracker is by no means a diet site. We’re not here to help you lose weight. We’re here to help you stay active. So this is not a before and after story. Consider this a few motivational anecdotes from the life of your friendly Walker Track tech support guy.

Shortly after I started working at Walker Tracker, I received a text message from a good friend back home in Kansas. She had finally gone out and bought new pants, pants that fit. You see, a few months prior to my exodus from Lawrence, KS to Portland, OR, she had had a blood pressure scare. Her doctor told her she needed to lower her blood pressure and lose weight otherwise her health would continue to decline. She isn’t even 30 years old yet.

So she started to make changes. They were small at first, very subtle things like eating a couple more salads a week, walking to work, and mowing her yard. I recall at first how frustrated she was. More exertion made her more exhausted than she was at first. Then things started to change. The first thing she noticed was that she wasn’t quite so tired. After about four weeks, I began to notice her clothes were fitting her differently. She never really documented how much weight she lost. All she cared about was how she was actually feeling better than she had in years. About three weeks after I had left Lawrence, she posted pictures online of all the work she’d done in the yard of her new house. There was one of her cutting tree limbs with a chainsaw. I couldn’t believe how great she looked. Since I’d left her arms had gained some muscle tone, and she was practically swimming in her clothes.

Her results were absolutely noticeable to me, but my jaw still dropped when she told me how many inches she had lost of her waist when she finally went out to get new jeans. She had lost four whole inches in a matter of months. And to think if she had given up after a couple of weeks because she wasn’t noticing any difference, she would be exactly where she was four months ago.

Another friend of mine in Lawrence recently posted a split photo of himself online. One half was him two months prior, the other was a current photo of him. I wouldn’t say he lost weight (he wasn’t really overweight to begin with). But the muscle tone in the pictures was completely different. He just looked healthier in the more recent one. I asked him what he was doing to bring about such great changes. Two months ago he finally decided that he didn’t want to feel awful all the time. Apparently he has a wheat allergy, but wasn’t taking any steps to cut it out of his diet. So he started eating gluten free, drinking two liters of water every day, and practicing yoga regularly. He was saying the same thing my other Lawrence friend said: “I just feel better. I wasn’t even concerned about looking better. That’s just a bonus!”

I was inspired by my friends’ progress, so I decided to challenge myself as well. I already do quite a bit of walking and cycling, so I had to find a new activity with which to push myself. I chose yoga. I’m in the midst of my fourth week practicing. I won’t lie. I was completely frustrated at first – I still am, actually. I thought I was in fairly good health, but yoga forced me to realize how completely inflexible my muscles are. I assumed yoga would be less intense than taking on something like weight lifting, but boy, was I wrong! I was sore every day for the first two weeks. And I felt like I wasn’t improving at all.

It’s only been in the last week that I’ve started to notice positive differences. My body doesn’t hurt as much as it used to. My balance is improving, and I’m a bit more flexible than I was when I started. But the biggest change is in my presence, in the way I carry myself. Just last week a friend of mine told me I looked bigger. I immediately took offense, assuming she meant I looked like I had gained weight. Then she clarified: it’s not that I looked physically bigger, but that I looked as though I was taking up more space. After she told me this, I started to pay attention to the way I carry myself. Sure enough, I stand straighter with my shoulders pulled back instead of hunched forward. When I’m sitting, I notice that my spine stays straight rather than curling forward into a slouch as it used to. My difference in posture doesn’t feel any different to me yet, but I’m sure with a few more weeks of regular practice, I’ll feel all these changes in my body.

I’m glad my friends started sharing their stories. They inspired me to physically challenge myself again, rather than remain complacent in my current level of physical fitness. Hearing how other people have gone about getting and staying healthy is far more beneficial than reading about the supposed benefits of exercise. It’s too easy to forget that change, any change, takes time. With a little patience (or maybe a lot!) and some subtle lifestyle changes, anyone can start to feel better. We just can’t give up when things get hard!

I’d like to invite you to share your stories with us. Comment here. Tell us what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, how you cope with frustration, etc. We want to hear about your trials, your failures, your successes. Maybe your story will inspire someone else to make more positive changes!