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Businesses accept challenge of survival of the fittest Healthy workers goal of chamber, company


Conventional wisdom says that in the business world, it's survival of the fittest. Fitness Concepts and the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce (GSPCC) want to drive that point home Saturday, when they sponsor the first Fitness Challenge for Severna Park businesses.

Fitness Concepts will sponsor the event in its showroom, using the store's equipment. The day will kick off at 1 p.m.

Scheduled are a short presentation on the importance of healthy employees, a display of healthy and unhealthy foods and the main event -- the challenge.

Each participating business will send a "designated stepper," or champion, who will take a three-minute jaunt on a state-of-the-art stair-stepping machine, entering their pulse rate at the end of the three minutes.

The machine will use a computer program to determine the challenger's fitness and issue a score.

Each sponsoring business will donate money equal to its champion's score.

The company with the highest score wins half the pot, with the other half going into the chamber's coffers. So far, Liston has eight contestants signed up.

The event is being scheduled to highlight National Fitness Month.

Fitness Concepts, which sells a variety of stair-steppers, rowing machines and weight-lifting products, joined the GSPCC recently after operating for more than five years in Severna Park.

The challenge will serve to educate area employers on fitness, raise funds for the GSPCC and promote Fitness Concepts.

"I wanted to target the event to businesses because of how important it is to have healthy workers," said Patty Liston, store manager at Fitness Concepts.

Liston approached the Greater Severna Park Chamber with the idea for the challenge after hearing of similar successful promotions around the country.

The effect of fitness in the workplace cannot be overstated, according to the Association for Fitness in Business. The international organization, which educates workers and employers on the importance of a fit worker, says businesses could save a bundle on health insurance and increase productivity by investing in fitness programs, equipment and preventive health.

"I think that it directly relates to your health and your ability to work," said Linda Zahn, executive director of the GSPCC.

Patty Liston agreed, saying, "Employers don't realize how much money they lose when an employee is out sick, and a lot of that has to do with how generally unhealthy someone is."

Fitness in business could be a bigger problem than most assume. The National Center for Health Statistics has reported that health-care costs for businesses in America have risen 10 percent to 20 percent each year for the past few years. By 1993, that figure may leap to 40 percent.

A brochure by the Association for Fitness in Business goes so far as to say this burden is the single most important reason for America's decline in the international marketplace.

Across the country, entrepreneurs aren't taking these statistics lying down. Liston says she has witnessed an increase in businesses purchasing workout equipment and establishing in-house health clubs. Other employers have begun reimbursing their workers for fitness club memberships.

"About 50 percent of our business goes to the corporate side," she says, pointing out that on-premises health clubs could be the perk that gives a company the edge in hiring qualified employees.

Liston thinks the event will be a success, and hopes it will evolve into an annual happening -- sort of a Severna Park business Olympics.

Looking forward to Saturday's contest, Alex Brown, 23, the "designated stepper" and store manager for Mail Boxes, Etc. in Severna Park, was far from overconfident.

"I'm about as average as any other person -- which is below average, unfortunately," he said, laughing.

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