By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

After all those holiday snacks, many people resolve to eat better and exercise more in the new year. But fitness is more than just an individual goal. Company fitness programs have risen in popularity since the 1990s. They are often seen as perk for busy employees – after all, it’s difficult for many individuals to squeeze in time at the gym between work and home.

But these kind of programs can be a boon for your company as well – employee-wide programs can raise productivity, decrease healthcare costs, and serve as a team-builder for your company.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, exercise can actually be a preventative measure against sickness. Laura Landro writes, “Now, a growing body of research is showing that regular exercise—as simple as a brisk 30- to 45-minute walk five times a week—can boost the body’s immune system, increasing the circulation of natural killer cells that fight off viruses and bacteria.” As an immune system booster, company-wide fitness programs can reduce sick time and overall healthcare costs – and that is just the beginning.

It’s well known that exercise causes the body to release endorphins (or feel-good chemicals for the brain) – workplace exercise can improve moods and boost productivity, as well as improve employee health. “The yoga classes that are available during the workday at my company definitely help me be more productive. Especially if I am having a hard day, its really nice to take a time out,” explained Kristin Visaggio, Buyer for Smithsonian Enterprises.

Of course, many companies balk at the cost of installing exercise facilities. But a gym really isn’t necessary for many programs. For example, an on-site multi-purpose room can be used for group exercise classes. And some programs don’t require on-site facilities at all.

As Rachelle Dragani explains in a recent BizTimes article, a little friendly competition can help build camaraderie and strengthen internal relationships – while allowing employees to exercise on their own time. She writes, “Competition is the heart Brookdale Senior Living’s wellness program in Milwaukee. One activity is the ‘Walk to Broadway’ program, where employees are given six months to walk 880 miles, the distance from Milwaukee to New York.” She continues, “Out of the 200 participants, 40 made it to Broadway and were rewarded with the chance to win tickets to a fine arts production in Milwaukee.”

The bottom line is that workplace wellness programs boost morale and build relationships – helping employees feel that they are more than just cogs in the corporate machine. Retaining talent is the biggest perk of workplace fitness programs, creating a competitive advantage for your company, so whatever kind of program you decide to implement, make sure you do it right.

“Before promoting fitness to the rest of the company, research and plan your workplace fitness options” write Joan P. Hunt and Marilyn Shank. You may consider reaching out to employees to help plan your fitness program, but in the long run, it could be just as helpful to “hire a professional fitness consultant to help direct and counsel you in your options.”