Nearly every day at the National Grid offices on Old Country Road in Hicksville, a group of employees power-walk "the loop" around the parking lot and surrounding neighborhood, aiming to record as many steps as possible on their pedometers.
Andres Oranges, an analyst in the energy accounting department, is usually among them. "We try to do [the] loop every day," he said of the route that ranges from 11/2 to 2 miles
Oranges, 26, of Babylon, is one of 342 employees in National Grid's Long Island offices participating in the eight-week Shape Up program, a competition between the company's employees in the United States and those in the United Kingdom. It began in May, when the Long Island employees, divided into 66 teams, began recording their progress in three categories: exercise minutes, pedometer steps and pounds lost. Team standings are recorded online.
Oranges is captain of the team that achieved the highest numbers last year in two categories - pedometer steps and exercise minutes - of all teams on both continents. He and the other seven members of the team signed up again this year, hoping to score a repeat.
The competition ends July 11. What's the prize for winning? "A pat on the back with each other," said Oranges.
They do, of course, have the reward of knowing they're doing their best to live healthy lives.
Health and wellness
National Grid, Long Island's distributor of natural gas, launched the Shape Up program last year, part of the company's commitment to employee health and wellness.
"I'm really trying to get to a point where we are being very preventative in our [workplace] culture," said Theresa Ayala, director of National Grid's wellness program. "We spend so much time at work, so it's the perfect place to run these types of programs."
Ayala, a nurse practitioner, said the wellness program focuses on smoking cessation, weight management and activity level.
Employees who participate in Shape Up receive a kit with instructions for logging their results and a pedometer. According to the log book, 12,500 steps per day is considered "highly active." But for Domenick Graziani, 52, of Babylon Village, that would be a slow day.
Graziani, a writer for employee communications, said he averages more than 19,000 steps per day, which he tracks on his pedometer. "I park my car far away, so I'm getting the steps there," he said. "I always take the stairs, I try to get in a walk or two during the day."
Last year, National Grid's U.S. employees scored higher totals: The 3,286 who competed lost a total of 7,251.8 pounds, exercised for 4,550,045 minutes and walked 1,288,444,511 steps with their pedometers. Yet, they trailed the 2,228 United Kingdom employees in average scores in two categories: pounds lost (6.4 vs. 7.4 for the U.K.) and minutes of exercise per day (38 vs. 39 for the U.K.). In steps per day, the U.S. employees scored a higher average (8,772 vs. 8,629 for U.K. employees).
Some participants, like Graziani, didn't wait for the program to become active. He begins his day by walking his two dogs, a boxer and Labrador mix. "They're big dogs, and they love to walk," said Graziani, who said he walks them twice a day, between a half-mile and a mile and a half each time - good for almost 4,000 steps on his pedometer.
Lucyna Khazanovich, 28, of Centereach participated in Shape Up last year while she was pregnant. "I wanted to stay in shape and keep active," said Khazanovich, who gave birth to a son on Jan. 4. "I didn't want to sit back and gain all the weight."
Khazanovich, an engineer, returned from maternity leave and joined the program again this year in an effort to lose the last stubborn pounds from her pregnancy.
She has consistently reached her daily goal of 7,000 to 8,000 steps. And though waking up in the middle of the night to care for her baby, Jacob, can leave her tired the next day, Shape Up motivates her to take walks after work. "I get home, I look at my pedometer and I'm like, 'Oh my god, it's only like 2-3,000 steps!' " she said. So she grabs the stroller, and "I take my son, and we go for a walk."