Checkup Time: Make Your Next Event Healthier for Attendees

Is your conference as healthy as it could be? A fitness or wellness challenge at your next event may be the best way to get your attendees moving, as well as competing and engaging with one another.

I’ve had fitness—well, more like running—on my mind for close to two months as I was physically training and mentally preparing to run my first 10K last weekend. The good news: I did it—and faster than the goal I had set for myself.

What are associations doing to encourage their attendees to stay active and healthy during their conferences?

While the training was intense—and there were times when I just didn’t feel like getting out of bed and heading to the track to do speed work when it was only 15 degrees outside—I soon discovered that my early-morning weekday workouts and long Saturday runs were prime thinking and de-stressing times for me. (I’d also like to think I was a little more alert in the office after those morning workouts, but you’ll have to ask my colleagues about that. [Editor’s Note: Sam is always alert, but yes!] ) Of course, work did pop up time and time again, including brainstorming ideas for this blog.

Something that kept coming up was how I could relate a blog post to my training. Luckily a question came pretty quickly: What are associations doing to encourage their attendees to stay active and healthy during their conferences?

I came up with my own list of ideas pretty quickly, including holding 5Ks [PDF] or impromptu running groups, running golf or tennis tournaments, having onsite workout classes, offering education sessions where attendees walk around the convention center while talking with one another, and providing healthy meals and snacks. (Even hotels are getting in on the act, making it easier than ever for guests to exercise when they’re on the road.)

But I was also curious to know whether associations were taking wellness initiatives to another level or thinking a little more creatively when it came to attendee fitness. It didn’t take long for me to stumble across HIMSS14, which took place back in February in Orlando. The annual conference and exhibition of the Health Information and Management Systems Society, it brings together 37,000-plus healthcare IT professionals, clinicians, executives, and vendors. To help encourage healthy habits for its attendees onsite, it offered a three-day Wellness Challenge this year.

Here’s how it worked: Attendees had to sign up through the meeting website and were required to have a fitness tracker to participate. They could either purchase a Misfit Shine activity tracker for $59 through HIMSS, which they picked up onsite, or use their own tracker.

Each of the three days featured a different challenge. On the first day, it was steps taken; on the second, it was calories burned; and on the final day, it was distance walked. Participants used their trackers to calculate these measurements and then posted their numbers online by a certain time each day to qualify for the daily prizes, which included two $300 gift cards and an iPad mini. To ramp up the competitive spirit, participants and other attendees could visit a booth in the exhibit hall to see who was in the lead each day. In addition, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provided healthy tips to participants before, during, and after the challenge.

HIMSS is not the only association trying out a wellness challenge. Last month the Society for Public Health Education did something similar at its 65th Annual Meeting in Baltimore. Attendees could pick up a free pedometer at the Eta Sigma Gamma exhibit table. If they tracked their steps during the conference, they were eligible for raffle prizes.

While the benefit of helping your attendees stay healthy during your conference is one reason to hold this type of challenge, it also presents a nondues revenue opportunity for associations. They could look for sponsors willing to donate fitness trackers or prizes.

And while both of these examples come from fitness-related organizations, which may mean their attendees are more health-conscious and sponsors easier to find, more and more people are buying fitness trackers. According to a Consumer Electronics Association study, ownership of wearable fitness devices tripled from 2012 (3 percent) to 2013 (9 percent) and will continue to grow. Additionally, CEA projects U.S. shipment revenue to surpass $1 billion in 2014, a 37 percent increase over 2013. This could make it easier for your organization to hold such a challenge in the future.

Is your association encouraging and introducing fitness and wellness initiatives at its meetings? Share in the comments how you’re getting attendees to burn some calories.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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