Well-Rounded Wellness Guides Strong Performance

Normandale Community College was a force to be reckoned with during the Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge. Two of its four teams placed in the top five of the Colleges and Universities Division, including one team that won third place in exercise and another that captured third place in nutrition. Along the way, employees got inspired to exercise more, eat healthier, and lose weight.

“We are all glad we did it. We developed some good habits that we are endeavoring to maintain,” says Michael Berndt, captain of team ASPIRE, which won the Division’s third place in nutrition and fifth place in exercise. Tracking exercise, nutrition, and weight during the competition “made us more conscious of the choices we were making, so when those decisions came up we were less likely to choose poorly.”

Jim Sutton, captain of Normandale’s team Focused on Ability, which placed third in exercise, notes that his team members gained fresh inspiration after finding out mid-competition that they ranked near the top of the standings. “We were motivated to stay there,” he says. In addition, several aspects of the competition helped the five-member team lose 30 pounds: Tracking their individual actions and having a morale- and team-building activity to get through the long winter.

In the 2011 Biggest Loser Minnesota Challenge, 22,000 Minnesotans lost 76,048 pounds during the twelve-week wellness competition. Minnesotans also earned 27,749,925 nutrition points and exercised 383,807 hours — the time it would take to walk around the earth 46 times.

The Challenge’s overall goal is to create a fun community activity that encourages Minnesotans to eat better and move more. They could accomplish that goal by participating in one, two or three of the Challenge’s categories: nutrition, exercise and weight loss.

“This isn’t about rapid or sudden weight loss,” says Tom Mason, co-founder of the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota. “It’s about workplaces and communities establishing a culture that encourages people to take charge of their own health, choosing healthier lifestyle behaviors that can be maintained long-term.”

Open to all Minnesotans, this free statewide competition featured 14 divisions each made up of tens —or even hundreds — of smaller teams. Most participants teamed up with family, friends and coworkers, and some dedicated challengers competed as individuals.

While all Minnesota Challenge participants made progress towards healthier exercise and nutrition habits, some of them dropped as much as 20 percent of their body weight. And the top 100 performers in the weight loss category lost an average of 37 pounds each.

For Berndt, he saw success by making incremental changes to his nutrition and exercising more. Then when he got used to those adjustments, such as eating more vegetarian meals, he would make new changes.

Today, Normandale team members still feel the impact of the competition, keeping them inspired to maintain their new habits. “After the challenge, several of us commented that we were going to continue challenging ourselves,” says Berndt. “I learned that by committing myself publicly to a goal, I was more likely to do the work in between. To maintain my commitment I registered for a big run in August. It keeps me out there exercising.”

In addition to teams from the Colleges and Universities Division, nearly one-third of Minnesota Challenge participants came from small- and medium-sized businesses and chambers of commerce from across the state. This Business/Chamber division, made up of 7,500 participants on hundreds of small business teams, placed in the top three in the final rankings of all three competition categories. Research has shown that when businesses support their employees’ wellness, they employ healthier workers and see a big impact on their bottom line. The CDC reports that more than 75 percent of employer health care costs and productivity losses are related to employee lifestyle choices.

Participants logged their last round of activities Friday, April 15. One winner received a trip for two to the Biggest Loser season finale in sunny Los Angeles and four others received a free one-year membership at Snap Fitness.

The Minnesota Challenge is the second wellness competition offered by the Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota. During summer 2010, with the help of General Mills, the Alliance developed a relationship with NBC’s Biggest Loser. A pilot wellness competition called the Biggest Loser Summer Challenge brought 10,000 employees of Alliance member companies together to shed more than 37,000 pounds, exercise 16 million minutes and earn millions of nutrition points by making healthy food choices. The Alliance for a Healthier Minnesota’s Biggest Loser Challenge competitions are web-based and powered by RedBrick Health.

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