Corporate America is on the move -- in track shorts

Corporations are changing with the times. No longer are company executives confined to large desks or limited to wearing business suits. More and more of them are also showing up these days on the athletic field, sporting track shorts and company shirts.

Physical fitness seems to have entered every phase of life, and businesses have not been left behind. Programs for employees in various companies range from workshops in exercise to fully-equipped and supervised fitness facilities, like those at Xerox and Mobil.

And now, corporations all over the country have come together in national and regional competitions, for showdowns of corporate superiority - and for a chance to get out of the office and have a good time.

An organization which sets up competitions for businesses is the Corporate Cup Association, now in its fifth year.

According to Laura DuDell, public relations manager of the CCA, the organization's purpose is to ''build productivity through employee fitness.''

''The employee health aspect is important, but there is a competitive spirit as well,'' says DuDell. ''From a competitive standpoint, these competitions encourage teamwork and a sense of team spirit. These are feelings you can take from the field and carry back into the working environment.''

The CCA sponsors the annual Corporate Cup Relays, both at the regional and national levels. The competitions emphasize the team, rather than the individual accomplishment. This past July, the finals were held at Stanford University. There were 14 running relays in all. This year, Bell Systems outlasted the two-time defending champion, Texas Instruments, and took home the trophy.

According to David Hans, executive director of the CCA, the number of teams that participate has jumped from 160 companies to 400 since 1979.

''One reason why we've been successful is that individuals in a company enjoy forming a team outside the workplace,'' says Hans. ''It breaks down barriers within the companies. That may be the primary reason why these competitions have caught on.''

The CCA, which holds regional events in eight cities around the United States , hopes to increase the number to 16 in the near future.

''A lot of people while in college were involved in track or other sports,'' says DuDell. ''Then they begin to work, only to find that they have very little time to continue running. Corporate fitness programs give people a chance to become actively involved once again.''

Fitness centers are also springing up all over the country. The Boston Fitness Group is one company that designs them.

As Dr. Bruce Buckbee, director of The Boston Fitness Group, explains, ''Physical fitness is extremely popular these days, and many businesses are getting involved. Corporate fitness programs are a very positive and active expression on a company's part.''

The Corporate Cup may be the largest organization of its kind, but on a smaller scale, other corporate competitions are going strong throughout the country.

A smaller event, which drew the praises of the many participants, was the second annual New England Corporate Cup Road Race. This five-mile event was held in downtown Boston, and the three best times per team (either two men and one woman or two women and one man) figured in the calculations.

John McGrath, race director, said the purpose of the race was to ''promote and draw attention to the importance of corporate health and fitness.'' Almost 600 teams and 3,000 individuals entered the race this year.

The purpose of these contests is not only to declare a winning company, but to benefit corporations through increased employee fitness.

In a study conducted by Prudential Insurance Co., of Houston, employees who participated in fitness programs were found to be absent less often, rated themselves as more productive than nonparticipants, and had a higher self-image. Of their 1,300 employees, those who participated for at least one year in the organized programs had an average of 3.5 days absenteeism, versus 8.6 days per year for nonparticipants.The impact of this data means money saved for companies.

Although corporate fitness programs have proven to be successful, they are just beginning to open the door for other programs.

''Companies are learning that they do have some degree of responsibility for their employees,'' says Dr. Buckbee. ''But they need to realize that an interest in fitness is only the first step in getting people to take care of themselves in other ways as well.''

''Companies that do have programs have someone pushing for them,'' says Dr. Buckbee. ''When someone in a company takes responsibility for the employees by organizing fitness groups, people tend to participate. And the results often benefit both the companies and the individuals.''

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