July Theme: Fitness

The Power of Community in Staying Active
by Paul Roberts, Director Dental Well Being Foundation


“Isolation is the worst possible counselor”. This quote from Spanish philosopher and playwright, Miguel de Unamuno was probably not written in reference to group fitness efforts but nonetheless the principle remains true. It is hard to create change and make good decisions in a vacuum by yourself. There is great benefit in the power of a positive, committed community. Here at the MDA we joined forces with our trusted partner and fellow building tenant, Missouri Dental Insurance Services, to put this axiom to the test. Since May 1, 16 of us have engaged in a six-month Fitness Challenge based primarily on moving more and counting our steps via Fitbits. The early results and responses have been overwhelmingly positive.


As you read about our program and some direct quotes from participants after two months of competition, realize all of you have a built-in community in your practice. The office team is perfect for this type of application. Think how you might create your own fitness challenge to improve health and camaraderie among your team. Then tell us how it went!


The MDA/MDIS Plan uses Fitbits for accuracy of tracking. The challenge revolves around improving awareness and performance by tracking three things: daily steps, water consumption and sleep. The minimum number of steps required each week gradually increases. Each week everyone turns in their Fitbit report and points are assigned based on activity level. Bonus activities like running a 5K and educational opportunities like a seminar on understanding food labels results in more points. Points translate into entries for monthly prizes. The more fitness activity you have, the more points you earn, the better chance you have at prizes like a $50 cash card. So you can see we have three key motivators: competition with workmates, accountability to report your activity and prize rewards. The simplicity of the plan has made engagement easy, but don’t take it from me. Here are direct quotes from the participants when asked about their motivation, what changes they have seen, lessons learned, what has been challenging and why they would recommend this to others.



  • Boy, did I not realize how much of a challenge this would be. I mean that in a good way. I am an avid exerciser (six days a week in various aerobic and strength training classes). At least I thought I was, and then with this Fitbit challenge I began to realize how sedentary my work life is when I sit behind a desk most of the day. With this challenge we can see where are teammates are at in terms of steps each week. This has motivated me to move more and more often. Some players are earning 130K or more a week in steps, that is monstrous!

  • My competitiveness has really come out, because I don’t want to be in the bottom of the pack, I don’t have to be in the front, but I don’t want to be the least active either.

  • The competition and I feel it is a team building tool also – as it is helping us to build a different relationship with our co-workers in a fun activity. The prizes are an added bonus, but I would have done it because our team is doing it!

  • It has definitely motivated me to do more on days when I really don’t feel like it. I’ve sort of set a standard for myself of at least 70,000 steps per week and I really try to meet that goal.

  • I would say the prizes are the least motivating to me. I really don’t care if I win prizes. I enjoy the friendly competition. I also like the camaraderie of knowing we are each trying to reach the individual goals we set for ourselves and checking in with each other to see if we’ve gotten our steps in today. I also think accountability is a factor, as I don’t want to be at the bottom of the pack!

  • I know everyone else is doing it and so I want to be a part of that group effort, that team spirit. It’s more about that for me, than the competition

  • It has definitely made me more aware of how inactive I am sometimes. (Thanks, Netflix)

  • It’s nice to see how many tickets I can get at the end of each month, but I definitely appreciate knowing others are checking my/our progress.

  • It is much easier doing it as a group. If they can do it, I can as well. 

  • My main motivation is becoming healthier.

  • I have always been competitive. Before the challenge, I tried my best to meet my goals every day, but no one but me knew when that didn’t happen. Since the challenge, I work even harder to meet my goals even when I’m not always up for it.

  • The prizes are always a great motivator.

  • It has been a constant reminder to get up and move.



  • I make more efforts to be active after a long day of work, running after all 3 kids and whatever they have going and they even want to join me on walks or whatever we pick to do for an activity!

  • Increased stamina without as many aches and pains. My back used to bother me a lot if I walked too much but as I’ve begun to walk on a regular basis, it seems to have eased that strain for some reason.

  • I am definitely paying more attention to how much I move each day. I didn’t know if I would like the Fitbit or if it will feel like one more gadget. But I love the tracking it does and the suggestions it gives you when you haven’t moved lately. I also love the alarm on it and some other features. I will admit, though, I did set out to lose some weight and haven’t accomplished that yet. I think you can tend to think simply “wearing” a watch is going to help tremendously. It does help, but you still have to put in the work. Getting steps isn’t enough. You may need to exercise (read – sweat) a bit and still have to think about your diet.

  • I have seen more comradery around the office, as we all like to razz each other a bit about our steps.

  • I have lost 18 pounds which motivates me to keep going.

  • I don’t know what I don’t know before the Fitbit … but I assume that I am taking way more steps than before I had it. Realizing how having a desk job really affects my steps most days, makes me get up and do more.



  • Long days on the road and traveling. I find myself stopping a little more often and then walking around the car as I pump gas, little things to get in the steps!

  • With a sedentary job, it’s difficult to get the recommended 10,000 steps daily. You really have to learn to set aside time for exercise every day and that’s something I’ve never done before. There are days that I simply cannot spare the time, so I have to make up for it on other days. That’s a definite challenge

  • We have a goal as a team to get 7 hours of sleep each night. And I know how important this is and how much better I feel when I do. My season of life (and 2-year-old daughter) seems to prevent getting enough sleep. Also, to get the 10,000 steps per day the AHA recommends, I definitely have to do some kind of exercise during the weekdays. I don’t have this problem on the weekends when I am actively chasing kids or cleaning house, etc., but during the week, I can see how much more sedentary I am.

  • Travelling and deskwork are not good ways to get your steps in but before and after work are ok.



  • I am more conscious of my level of activity throughout the day, not so much what the team is doing or where they are at, but where I am at. So I set little goals for myself through the day

  • After the previous few years of MOMOMs, I’ve been so tired and my body really hurt. This year, after having walked consistently for a month or so, I felt it was easier on my body. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve noticed. I also used to weigh myself daily, and I can’t tell you the last time I weighed myself. I just feel better overall and am not too concerned about what number is on the scale.

  • I always have been interested in health, fitness, eating well. But sometimes life runs over you and you fall off track. So this is a good way of keeping this “topic” front and center – or at least on my wrist! I think the accountability of the team is great too. We have done some great things to encourage each other and have fun – we did a salad day, we had a wellness coach come and speak to us and encourage the book “It Starts With Food” (which I think we may do a “book club” style reading of as a team) and I know we have some other things planned.

  • Stairs are our friends! I used to make as few trips as possible up/down stairs out of pure laziness.

  • I’ve come to believe that I owe it to myself and family and actually look forward to it. You can get your steps in with almost anything you do.

  • I really haven’t changed my habits but the challenge has made me more accountable.



  • The best part of the challenge is the camaraderie the team shares about exercise, healthy eating habits, healthy activities and more. I have thoroughly enjoyed the many efforts of both the MDA and MDIS teams. It is exciting to witness healthy lifestyle change.

  • Do it, not only will you find ways to make yourself more active, but it will better your health and create a new environment for your staff to team build in!

  • I would say, give it a try. An investment in your employees’ health will have a positive outcome for employees and employers alike. It also shows your employees that you care about them and their wellness. To me personally, it means a lot that MDA invested in our health by hosting this challenge.

  • Don’t think that just because you are a small office you can’t do something similar. My husband works in a small office and they don’t typically do things like this. He gets excited and interested when I tell him about it … I think we all need things to inspire us, to build up that feeling of team, and to make work fun and inviting. Striving for excellence in this way can help us to strive for excellence in others areas – work, too! I am very loyal to the MDA after 16 years – it’s a great place to work – but especially when we do things like this, it feels like a great family that cares about one another.

  • DO IT! Not only for your health and well-being, but for the comradery and friendly competition that evolves because of it.

  • Great decision. Customize your plan to make it work for you.

  • It is a great way to bring fitness into the workplace. I highly recommend it and applaud those employers that have the insight to implement such a program.



  • I have loved seeing my co-workers move! Not too long ago I saw two of them on the fitness trail over the lunch hour. I don’t think in my time here at the MDA I have seen them exercising together intentionally. We all were out there that day “getting steps in.” I have seen some walking around the office or even in the parking lot. I think this is AWESOME! It’s like having this challenge has given us a license to say, “I’m going to get up from my desk and go walk for 5 minutes and not feel guilty about it.” We shouldn’t feel guilty, especially when in the long run, it is hopefully making us healthier and more productive – both great things for the office.


Bottom line is life and work and family are more enjoyable when we feel fit. How this looks for each person ranges widely from gym memberships to home workouts. There is no singular path. Our hope is to encourage awareness and engagement through the built in community of your office team. Give it a go and let us know what you learn!

Paul Roberts is the Foundation and Outreach Director for the
Missouri Dental Association. Contact him at paul@modentalmail.org.

Related Resources

How to Organize a Fitness Challenge

Workplace Wellness Challenges – Fun, Effective, and Free!

101 Low-cost ideas for worksite wellness

How Long Does It Take for Fitness Benefits to Show?



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Just the FACTS ...

80% of Americans work in jobs that require little or no physical activity.


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