In February 2011, the Maine Educational Association (MEA) Benefits Trust program rolled out their PathPoints program to promote wellness for staff and spouses who participate in the district health care plan. The program included a 10-week fitness-based incentive program where staff would “trek the Himalayas.”

This unique wellness program, made available to MEA benefits trust members, and their covered spouses, offers participants reward points as cash reimbursement for participants interested in taking an active role in their health.

In Regional School Unit 13 (Rockland, Owls Head, South Thomaston, Thomaston, Cushing, St. George), 107 participants answered the call and signed on to the PathPoints program with 59 of those people joining the RSU 13 team for “the Himalayan trek.” Little did they know that 10 weeks later their team would earn the No. 1 spot in the nation with the highest number of calories burned out of 319 teams across the country.

In the 10-week period, the 59, RSU 13 team members burned more than 2.2 million calories. Yes, million. That total was 350,000 calories more than the next closest team, the Benton Bulldogs. To put that number in perspective that would equal more than 628 pounds of fat lost or prevented, or be equal to running a 10-minute mile for 15,500 miles. Yeah, you can say it …. that is crazy.

The great thing about this incentive is that participants earned money for their efforts. MEA paid participants for being physically active each week, completing health-related missions, taking a healthy life survey, finding a peer coach/workout partner, completing health-related crossword puzzles and for any preventative screenings they had.

Of the 59 team members polled after the incentive, 36 responded that the total monetary payout they will receive for their efforts by August of 2011 will surpass $5,000. Many of the RSU 13 participants will earn, or already have earned, the maximum, individual MEA payout, for the incentive, which was $150 per person.

Although you cannot deny that being paid to work out is great there were two other questions I asked participants after the incentive that seemed to illustrate the real value of this program. Of the 36 team members who responded, 23 people reported that they lost weight during the incentive totaling 194 pounds collectively. Although that number is great it would be even better to know how much of that was fat.

However, regardless of whether it was fat and or muscle, their answer to my final question took the cake. The question was, “Have you adopted an exercise routine or a behavior that will allow you to be physically active on a regular basis?” Of the 36 participants polled, an overwhelming 100 percent of them said yes.

With health care costs through the roof, and the steady rise in obesity rates, this behavior change will prove to be the real benefit of the program. In addition, we know, from the research, that these teachers will not only be healthier in their daily lives, but they’ll be more productive in the workplace and, in the end, that means better education for our students.

“The road to health is uphill … but the view is from the top.” RSU #13 teachers have raised the bar for all teachers in all schools to aspire to. Catch us if you can.

Woody Moore is school health coordinator for RSU 13. He also is the Oceanside High School football coach.