Creating a Wellness Challenge

Posted on May 12th, 2015 by Seth Nickinson

One perennially popular workplace wellness activity is a fitness, movement, or weight loss challenge. This type of activity has several things going for it: it’s time-bound, it’s exciting, it’s a way to engage people not typically involved, it’s highly visible, and it requires participants to do something healthy.


One thing we at Project ACT really like about wellness challenges is that they combine individual action with collective effort. It takes the focus off a single person being solely responsible for their own health and helps the organization build a culture of health. For that reason, we are sharing our specific recommendations if you plan to launch a wellness challenge.

10 Tips for a Wellness Challenge

1) Teams: don’t make it only about individual achievement. Find a way to group people into teams, whether those are four people or an entire division of 400. We have used funny team names like:
    • Run Around Sue
    • Christopher Walkins
    • Sole Train
    • Walking Disasters
    • Between a Walk and a Hard Place
    • Fit to Be Tied
    • Camino Real
2) Variety: it’s best if people don’t have to do just one thing. For that reason, we like “Movement Challenges,” where people get credit for any kind of physical activity, or “Healthy Habits” challenges, where there are 4 or 5 activities that can earn you a “point.” Our Walking and Activity Challenge Sample Tracker in Excel and online in Google Forms gives you a tool to track and convert.
3) Incentives: for better or worse, people love stuff. We believe in participation incentives, where everyone who actively takes part gets a small prize, like a lunch sack or water bottle. You can then have a larger prize for the winning team, or a drawing for a grand prize.
lunch sack
4) Family and Friends: Find a way to incorporate bonus points for participants who do their activity alongside others. We want to give them credit for the ripple effect. In one challenge, we gave a 25% bonus for activity done alongside someone else.

5) Time: keep it under eight weeks; we recommend 4-6 weeks. That way you can keep interest up.

6) Champions: recruit a group of Champions / team leaders to rally people at their building/site/department to participate. We are always pushing for distributed champions for wellness programs.
7) Big Group Event: create a way for people to participate en masse in the Challenge, like a weekend charity walk right in the middle, or a big healthy picnic, or a 5 minute morning stretch.
heart walk team
8) Tracking: you’ve got to make movement tracking easy. Consider what will work for your people. You will likely need a combination of an e-tracker and paper. Champions can help compile results. We have found simple formats like Google Forms or Excel sheets to work really well.
9) Turnkey Solutions: if your organization has the budget, there are some professional services that will set up and operate the challenge tracking for you. They can be very colorful and easy to run. Be careful to make sure their solution will work for you. Our experience is that the challenges from most health insurers are pretty cumbersome and boring. So far, we haven’t worked with anyone who opts for this.

External Wellness Challenge Vendors

10) Promote, Promote, Promote: you’ve got to be persistent in promoting your challenge, via posters, email, and personal conversations. Get your organization’s senior leadership to commit to take part, to talk about it at key meetings in the weeks leading up, and to send an email tooting the horn of the challenge.

A word about participation

No challenge will capture everyone, but we have seen challenges with above 50% participation level. There seems to be a “tipping point” where everyone starts talking about it and laggards decide to join in. So stay positive, and work to get that first 20% on board.

Downloadable Movement Challenge Tools