Conditioning program targets deer hunters

Goal: Prevention, recognition of heart attacks

Many wellness professionals have come to recognize the value of targeting discreet at-risk employee populations to improve program effectiveness. But few have elevated targeting to a level achieved by a program for employees at UAW-GM plants in Flint and Anderson, MI.

Since 1997, Health Solutions Inc., a Baltimore-based wellness consulting and management firm, has been offering a program called Deer Hunting Conditioning. It’s one of several "leisure-based" programs being offered as part of the UAW-GM LifeSteps program for employees, retirees, and family members.

"As part of our responsibility to the 100,000 eligible participants, we particularly wanted to go after the low-readiness people," explains Charlie Estey, MS, the Health Solutions professional responsible for coordinating the UAW-GM LifeSteps pilot program. "There are individuals who perhaps have not exercised since sixth-grade gym class. Looking at our particular population, we have a great number of deer hunters, so that gave us a focal point. We felt we could build a program around that theme."

A series of recent articles in local papers about hunters suffering heart attacks in the woods also helped increase awareness about the need for hunters to be more fit. All that was needed now was a program.

The goal of the program was clear: To increase awareness of the risk of heart attack and injury associated with an unfit deer-hunting body. The approach was highly creative: Employees were drawn to the program, not initially to learn about fitness, but to learn about deer hunting. The plant newspaper ran an article, posters, and fliers were placed around the plant, and an ad was placed in a local paper for deer hunters.

Promotional materials advertised such themes as "Where to get your deer," touting expert speakers who would provide employees with tips on improving their deer-hunting performance. The ads also noted that the LifeSteps staff would provide "easy tips to get you in shape for this year." Here are the basic components of the program:

• Guest speaker (a writer from Field & Stream magazine) gives tips on deer density population in Michigan, and other hunting strategies.

• Information and skills on dressing your deer.

• Healthy venison recipes.

• Tips on food for fuel and dressing for success.

"The key to the program, however, was that we had a captive audience to also review how to start a walking program to increase your stamina; warm-up and cool-down exercises; proper lifting techniques to prevent back injury [how to place your deer on your truck without throwing your back out]; and warning signs of heart attack and what to do," explains Estey.

Free prizes were also raffled off, such as hunting hats, samples of healthy snacks were offered, and cholesterol and blood pressure screenings were also part of the events.

A positive response

Employees responded positively, says Estey, because they received information they felt was valuable.

"We told them that you may want to start a walking program two months before you go into the woods, and that it is important to learn how to warm up and cool down," he notes. "They take a 150-pound deer and lift it onto a truck, and they can throw their back out. We talked about the warning signs of a heart attack, and what to do. We discussed food and fuel’; that they might be more alert for the hunt if they didn’t have a heavy breakfast of eggs and bacon. They valued that." (See examples on p 128.)

Estey guesses there are well over 5,000 employees who spend much of their time in the woods. "A lot of them historically will not be the first ones to go to wellness," he notes. "If we could get any number of them, we’d have success."

On the average, he reports, the dear hunter conditioning program drew over 200 participants each year. "We had an opportunity to develop relationships with these people, and some have since joined other wellness programs."

The leisure-based programs at UAW-GM "have been extremely successful, because we take fitness and incorporate components of leisure and recreation. We have fun, social events that also provide some health and fitness skills," Estey explains. "What we’re doing are addressing employees’ wants and needs while removing barriers to conditioning."

Other leisure-based programs include golf conditioning for executives, gardening conditioning, and ski conditioning. "An employee may not show up for a Tae Kwan-Do class, but he will for ski conditioning," Estey notes.

And, he adds, there are any number of free or reasonably priced experts available as guest speakers for those programs.

"Wellness professionals should take advantage of these resources," he advises. "In Indiana, we had a speaker from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources [for the deer hunting conditioning program]. He was free; we just made a small donation. The speaker from Field & Stream was free. There are experts out there who are knowledgeable and want to participate."

[For more information, contact: Charlie Estey, UAW-GM LifeSteps Center, G-3490 Miller Road, Suite 9, Flint, MI 48507. Telephone: (810) 225-3401. E-mail]