MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Games like Farmville, Angry Birds and Words with Friends are fun, but they aren’t as beneficial as a new group of online games that target your health.

More and more companies have incorporated game-like features into their wellness plans and employees have gotten their game on to get healthy.

Kurt Augustine said that his job isn’t all work and no play. For him, working out is all a part of the game.

“It’s something you think of every day. You’re really fighting for bragging rights,” said Augustine.

He’s logged steps on the treadmill and each mile added up to reward points at work. Augustine and his coworkers have also earned prizes and perks for eating healthy, taking vitamins and even getting a flu shot.

“They might compete in how many fruits and vegetables they eat during a day compared to their coworkers,” said Chris Boyce, CEO of Virgin Health Miles.

A growing number of employers have incorporated games into their health plans.

“This is not your HR department telling you to eat less and move more. This is a game,” said National Business Group on Health’s Vice President Luann Heinen. “It’s fun, it’s social, it’s got employees talking in the break room.”

In addition to bragging rights, employees have won real life awards. They have won T-Shirts, gift cards and even discounts on their health insurance premiums.

“Some will give larger gifts at the end where the winning team will get a day off or they’ll get a catered lunch or they get their name put in a drawing for a gaming system or for a tablet,” said Julie Stich, Director of Research at International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans.

Companies benefit from the health games as well.

“Healthier employees who are more productive, they’re happier, they’re more engaged, they’re at work instead of absent,” said Stich. “All this can have a positive impact on a company’s bottom line.”

Jarden Corporation Human Resources Vice President Tonya Jarvis said the game has made a huge difference in participation at her company while 60 percent of her employees played the wellness plan game.

“It’s fun and competitive and it keeps people involved because there’s always the next objective to get to,” said Jarvis.

Stich advises bosses that every employee won’t join in on the games.

“Not everyone embraces the competition,” said Stich.

So what happens if a worker decides to opt out?

Experts said companies can penalize those who don’t participate with higher premiums or deductibles, but they still have to carefully follow privacy, disability and anti-discrimination laws, or they may end up facing penalties of their own.

Augustine said in his case, the pressure came from his work.

“I think there’s a peer pressure to be in this program,” said Augustine. “But I think it’s a good pressure. It’s not like another thing I have to do for work.”

Kurt said that he has already won since he lost five pounds and gained the competitive edge over his coworkers.

“You get to have a little moment where you pass by their office and go ‘I made it, where are you?’” said Augustine.

There are health games available that people can play on their own as well. Phone apps such as Runkeeper or Weight Watchers have game-like aspects with badges and rewards for staying active and losing weight.


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