NAPLES — The fit is on.
What started as a 30 person fitness challenge at the Naples Police and Fire Departments last year has gone citywide, with 108 city employees — including City Manager Bill Moss — taking part in a 12-week contest to improve their health.
And those participating are taking it to heart.
“I’m nearly 50 years old. I was a little overweight and not feeling too well,” said Naples Utilities Director Bob Middleton, who sees the competition as a good way to get fit. “I said ‘The older I get, the harder it’s going to be to lose the weight.’”
On Thursday night, he was one of 10 city employees hitting the grass, sand and bleachers at Fleischman Park with West Coast Boot Camp instructor Stacey Sargood.
“We don’t feel the burn, we feel the love,” said Lori Parsons, with Naples’ Risk Management department, after the hour-long class.
Twenty-seven four-person teams are participating in the contest — 24 percent of the city’s staff.
“Which is unheard off,” said Parsons, 46, who helped organize the citywide version of the challenge on Friday. “Usually with programs like this you are lucky to get 10 percent.”
Naples Police Lt. Robb Bock said with 108 people involved, competitors ages range from 21 to 65, their weights range from 114 to 330 pounds and their body fat percentages range from 7 percent to 37 percent.
“You have people that have never done this before and really don’t have too much information about nutrition,” Bock said. “And then you have people at the other end that have exercised before and are strict with their diets.”
Half-way through the challenge, many are seeing results, with challenge members having lost a total of 300 pounds and 60 body fat percentage points.
And with some opting out of the weigh-in, there could be some big upsets during final weigh in, Bock said.
“I’ve seen people around here that have lost more than 22 pounds,” Bock said with a mischievous grin. “I think some people didn’t want to tip their hats. Their competitive streaks have kicked in.”
Bock said some city staff members are even starting to plan for what they hope is the next fitness contest — challenging Collier County.
Last year, CIGNA, the city’s health insurance provider, set aside $15,000 in a “wellness fund” which is being used to sponsor the challenge.
In addition to hosting “Lunch & Learn” seminars, giving each contestant a T-shirt and providing twice a week Boot Camp classes with West Coast Boot Camp, the city opened the River Park Community Center’s fitness room for participants.
The fund is slated to cover the challenge’s prizes, including $500 each for the top male and female competitor. In the four person team competition, the first place squad will get $250 each ($1,000 total), second will get $150 each ($600) and third will get $100 ($400).
However, the winners won’t be determined by weight loss alone.
“This is not just based on pounds lost, it’s a combination of weight loss, body fat loss and muscle gain,” said Parsons.
Parsons said the city doesn’t expect any immediate claim changes, but that the city would see health improvements over a period of time.
“Our whole goal was to get people to start taking better care of themselves,” she said
The fact that the city has implemented a 12-week program is key, said Collier County health Department’s Healthy Communities Coordinator Stacy Revay on Friday.
“Any kind of behavior change takes 12-weeks,” said Revay, adding that the time span allows participants to understand the purpose of the lifestyle changes and allows their body time to accept them. “If you do something for 12-weeks you are more likely to stick to it. In 12-weeks they could loose up to 20 pounds.”
Health benefits include lower blood pressure, as well as lowering the possibility that a person will develop Type II diabetes.
Work places have recognized that having workers with healthier lifestyles lowers absenteeism and benefits the workforce as far as stress management goes, Revay said.
For his part Middleton, who has lost between 12 and 15 pounds, said he’s taking it one step and one pound at a time.
“I feel a lot better. I sleep a lot better and my wife said snoring has been reduced,” said Middleton, 49, with a laugh.
More energy and the friendly rivalries that have cropped up across the city are just an added bonus, he said.
Connect with Elysa Batista at www.naplesnews.com/staff/elysa_batista