Simply Amazing


Wellness program puts conference on pace to better health, savings


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

One has to figure that when naming a wellness program for the Mississippi Conference, the folks at Healthbux were thinking mostly about a favorite hymn.

But then, could a better name have been chose in light of the phenomenal first year of the Amazing Pace?

While the numbers are still being examined, some truths are already known about the Mississippi Conference’s program to encourage a more active lifestyle. Those in the program have had fewer hospital visits; they have lost weight; blood pressure is down and chronic illnesses are being better managed.

“We have been able to show a significant drop in weight and blood pressure,” said Alison Earles, CEO of Healthbux, the company that manages the Amazing Pace program. “We’ve seen a reduction in health plan costs for those in Amazing Pace. In aggregate, people in Amazing Pace spent less time in the hospital, less money and time on diabetes-related incidents and had less congestive heart failure.”

These would be impressive results in a three-year program, but these results have been achieved in just one year.

Amazing Pace was started for participants in the Mississippi Conference health insurance program as an effort to move people from sedentary to active lifestyles. By becoming more active, the theory goes, people will improve health and reduce rapidly rising health-care costs.

While any type of activity has been encouraged, the linchpin of the program has been pedometers that were supplied free to participants in the conference plan. Use of pedometers matched “walks” that tied journeys in the Bible to those walking for health. Information from the pedometers can be downloaded to a Web site were statistics are kept.

The program also offers group meetings over the telephone and internet and prizes for good results.

Amazing Pace celebrated its first year with a luncheon June 10 at Annual Conference in Jackson.

So how successful was the program? Some 492 people walked 373,248 miles since June 17, 2007. That’s equal to 15 times around the world.

Of the 492, 183 started the program with a chronic health condition. Some 189 were classified as sedentary at the start. Twenty-one participants were classified as morbidly obese, 124 were obese and 92 overweight.

Earles admits a few things about Amazing Pace surprised her. “I was surprised at the amount of weight that has been lost,” she said. “It’s not really that kind of program, but by focusing on physical activity it did other things.

“I was surprised that retirees were often at the top and how involved they were. We had a lot of folks with chronic diseases. We had a lot of not fit folks involved.”

Perhaps most surprising was the spirit of competition among the conference’s 11 districts. “I was surprised at the high level of competition,” Earles said. “Pastors are not allowed to compete in so many situations. They really wanted those rankings and numbers.”

The program kept track of the districts walking the most miles for each journey. The winner got a golden sneaker, second place a silver and third a bronze. The Tupelo District has been the consistent leader, but the Starkville and West Jackson districts have made their runs.

While Amazing Pace was designed for a specific group, folks not on the conference insurance plan may participate for a fee. In addition, some congregations have taken up the cause. Eupora First United Methodist Church, where the Rev. Trey Harper is pastor, has fed off his participation. The church created its own walking program tied to Bible study and has covered 15,253 miles in eight weeks.

One of those who attended the celebration luncheon at Annual Conference was Anita Bales of the American Cancer Society. “One of the programs we do is a faith-based wellness program,” she said. “People need to be doing Amazing Pace.”

What’s next for Amazing Pace?

“We’re moving toward smaller (accountability) groups and empowering leaders to respond when health breaks out,” Earles said.