Educate on health and fitness by example

Partner with organizations for best use of funds

Every year across the United States, hundreds of sporting events invite people to cycle a century, run a 10K or marathon, compete in an open-water swim, or paddle a waterway. Such events can set an example for health and fitness.

As a preventive care organization, with a goal to keep its members healthy, Group Health Cooperative, headquartered in Seattle, has focused on cycling.

People can cycle their entire life from early childhood into their senior years. Cycling can be a healthy lifestyle activity for the entire family, says Damien King, community relations manager for Group Health.

On its web site, the company explains that it sponsors cycling events and programs to raise public awareness about the health benefits of an active lifestyle. It provides details of some of those benefits as well, such as promoting heart health and decreasing the risk of acquiring Type 2 diabetes.

To determine its health and fitness focus, Group Health did some community research and found a good opportunity in cycling. The web site states: "One out of three residents in Washington State owns a bicycle, so cycling is a way for many of us to have an active, healthy lifestyle."

King explains that cycling allows the health care organization to use its marketing and community relations dollars more effectively. Cycling not only provides focus for funding, but also for activities. In this way money, time, and staff are not spread out over a variety of events.

There are several benefits, according to King. Cycling is a health and wellness event that helps people develop an active lifestyle or provides a hands-on educational opportunity.

"As a health care company health, wellness, and being active is our number one goal," explains King.

Cycling helps Group Health showcase its physicians. Wearing special cycling jerseys and carrying first aid kits, the physicians participate in events as medical riders. Also they go out into the community to speak about cycling and health and wellness.

Almost everyone can participate in cycling, so it is a good health and wellness outreach. King says most people can remember learning to ride a bike, it's an activity they are familiar with, and it is fairly accessible.

The cycling events provide opportunities for employee health and fitness, and they are encouraged to get involved. Also, cycling initially provided a way to gain high visibility that was affordable or allowed the company to use its marketing dollars wisely.

To gain credibility among the cycling community, Group Health spent the first couple of years focused on the "hardcore" riders, or those that knew cycling. It partnered with the Cascade Bicycle Club and sponsored its double century ride from Seattle to Portland, OR. The Group Health Seattle to Portland ride has about 10,000 riders.

Also, it sponsored a women's cycling team, called Team Group Health, and built a velodrome, or cycling track, in King County called Group Health Velodrome.

"The reason we did these things is to show the community we are serious about cycling. We had to build credibility by going where the cyclists were," says King.

Making cycling available to all

With credibility established, Group Health began to explore ways to help people see cycling as a good avenue to health and fitness. Therefore, it sponsored an event with the City of Seattle called "Bicycle Saturday/Sunday." In this event, the city closed a main roadway next to the waterfront, so families could safely cycle on the weekends.

Members of Group Health are encouraged to get involved in cycling events. They are alerted to cycling activities through postings at the medical centers, and events are listed in the member magazine.

Group Health also partnered with Cascade Bicycle Club to teach bicycle safety in schools. Part of the program included a bicycle giveaway.

In addition, the health care organization became more proactive about promoting commuting to work via bicycle. This is done by getting the word out about the health benefits of cycling to and from work, fitting a good workout into the day. People are also given information about the environmental benefits of cycling to work vs. driving a vehicle.

One reason people don't want to commute to work on a bicycle is fear for their safety; therefore, Group Health worked with Cascade Bicycle Club on a campaign to educate motorists on sharing the road, says King. It promoted the message "give cyclists three feet" on billboards and signage on the side of buses.

A web site (cyclingforhealth.org) provides some education about health and safety. Booths at events provide an opportunity to hand out literature.

In addition to presentations about the health benefits of cycling provided by Group Health physicians, physical therapists attend cycling events to show people how to adjust their bicycle for a good fit.

"It is important for people who choose cycling as a healthy lifestyle activity, and ride more than a couple of miles on the weekend, to have a bike that fits correctly. Our physical therapists do this for our members and go to community events," explains King.

He adds that leadership, including the company CEO, participates in community cycling events with employees wearing a Group Health jersey. In this way, they lead by example.

"Practicing what you preach is a form of education," says King.

It is important to note that Group Health does not create cycling events, programs, or forums. It finds organizations that do these things and supports their efforts, says King.

While Group Health uses all its tools and resources to promote cycling as a healthy lifestyle activity, the company has found that it is more cost-effective to partner with organizations than try to develop tools and resources it does not already possess. For example, at one time, it offered a program where people could purchase low-cost helmets and have them properly fitted. However, the Cascade Bicycle Foundation had a similar program, so Group Health now refers people to this organization rather than trying to move a large inventory of helmets around and set up special helmet fitting events. "There are others that do it better," says King.

In 2010, Group Health will have been sponsoring cycling events for seven years. Therefore, it will evaluate the program to determine what direction to take. It has changed over the years and will continue to evolve.

Source

For more information about using sporting events for community outreach, contact:

• Damien King, Community Relations Manager, Group health Cooperative, 320 Westlake Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98109-5233. Telephone: (206) 448-6143. E-mail: king.df@ghc.org.