Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Employee Health and Weight Loss Tips for the New Year

This blog was written by Samantha Whiteside. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

Supersize portions. Hydrogenated and over-processed foods. Lack of activity and responsibility. Decreased nutrient-rich foods in school systems. All of these reasons and more have led America to be the most obese country in the world.

The Risks and Consequences of ObesityObese man resized 600

Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. Obesity a risk factor for not just heart disease and high blood pressure, but also for osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, high cholesterol and triglycerides, respiratory problems, cancer, sleep apnea, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and a decrease in life expectancy.

How much of a drain is this epidemic on our society? Obesity kills approximately 300,000 people in the United States every year and we spend $117 billion annually on obesity-related healthcare.

Do I have your attention yet?

Tips for Living a Healthier Life

Wonder what you can do to lead a healthier life? Here are a few tips to take you into 2011 and beyond:

  • Get more active—every day.
  • Focus your diet on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
  • Participate in corporate wellness programs.
  • Sign up for a gym; or if your company has a worksite fitness center, begin using it.
  • Take part in employee health fairs, classes, and health promotion trainings.
  • Stay educated. If your employer has onsite wellness staff, use them as your go-to resource.
  • Reduce your daily stress. Take advantage of worksite stress-management classes.

Obesity is no longer a silent epidemic. Obesity is screaming, shaking both fists, and asking everyone to step up to the plate and make a change.

After all, how much value is really in a value meal?

Topics: corporate wellness healthy workforce overweight employees

Can Smartphone Apps Help Employee Health?

SmartphoneSmartphones and related devices are pretty versatile. They can remind you where you parked your car, help you locate the nearest drugstore, and provide you with the latest gardening tips. But did you also know that they could help your employees stay committed to their health and fitness goals?

Some of the most popular smartphone applications that are available (for purchase or for free) can help you design a fitness routine or report the calorie content of the jumbo java you’re eyeing. Here are a few apps your employees might find useful for staying on track and improving their health and fitness.

Do your employees need help designing a beneficial fitness routine?  

App: iFitness
Available for: iPhone, BlackBerry, iPod Touch
Price: $1.99

Ranked the number-one paid fitness application for iPhone, this application is like a personal trainer in your pocket. iFitness enables you to view up to 100 exercises (pictures and instructions included) by muscle group or select one of the 12 predesigned workouts to follow. Once you’ve mastered the preset routines, you can create your own. You also have the ability to track your progress by making notes; recording sets, reps, and weight lifted; and other achievements like weight and inches lost.

Help overweight employees take off those unwanted pounds.

App: Lose It!
Available for: iPhone and iPod Touch
Price: Free

This app is a calorie-tracking tool that uses a predetermined equation to establish what your daily calorie intake should be based on your target weight goal. The large database allows you to enter the foods you’ve eaten, including the portion size, and track your intake each day. Lose It! hasn’t forgotten about exercise, either. Enter an activity like playing Frisbee or mowing the lawn, and it is factored into your daily caloric allowance.

Chill Out: Help employees relax and de-stress.

App: iRelax Melodies Lite and iRelax Premium
Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
Price: Lite—free; Premium—$3.99

iRelax Melodies is the self-titled “Sleep & Meditation & Yoga & Relaxation Helper.” Listen to one of four looping sounds on the Lite version designed to help you relax or sleep. Other features allow you to mix any of the sounds yourself for a personalized melody as well as a timer that ends the melody at the time you decide. Save and replay your favorite melodies anytime you need to escape. The premium edition includes 36 melodies as well as binaural beats known to help the brain reach a particular relaxation state.

Improve employee health one morsel at time.

App: Morsel
Available for: Apple devices, Android, and BlackBerry
Price: Free

Move toward a healthier lifestyle one daily, healthy suggestion at a time. This application from GE offers up simple daily tasks, or “morsels,” that everyone can do. “Morsel empowers you to take control of your well-being, one step at a time,” says the app description. Examples of the daily tasks include

  • "Drink and refill a water bottle."
  • "Don’t put extra salt on anything you eat today."
  • "Walk backwards for 10 steps."

Help your employees stop smoking.

App: No Smoking
Available for: BlackBerry
Price: $9.99

Thinking about quitting smoking? This app may be for you. No Smoking is designed to slowly wean you off cigarettes by first learning your smoking pattern. The app records your smoking frequency and severity. Then, when you’re ready to quit, it really goes to work. The app uses the information it learns and tailors a smoking schedule that slowly decreases your smoking frequency, lowering your nicotine level over time until you’ve completely quit.

App: iQuit
Available for: Apple devices
Price: $1.99

Not only does this app keep track of the number of days it’s been since you quit smoking, it displays the extra life you’ve gained and the amount of money you’ve saved by not buying cigarettes. When you download this app to your iPhone, you’ll be able to see how your health has improved with stats like, “After 2-12 weeks, your circulation improves, making walking and running a lot easier.”

Does your company offer Weight Watchers for Employees?

App: Weight Watchers Mobile
Available for: Apple devices and BlackBerry
Price: Included with Weight Watchers fee

Weight Watchers Mobile makes searching and tracking point values (the units associated with the Weight Watchers weight-loss program) simple and convenient. This app can help you make selections that fit within your point budget when you’re eating out at a restaurant or picking up some groceries on your way home from work. Don’t forget about those activity points, either. When you’ve completed your two-mile walk, enter it in your activity log for easing tracking.

Other health-related apps your employees could use:

Topics: employee health healthy workforce overweight employees technology

Is Employee Wellness an All-or-Nothing Strategy?

If you follow employee wellness, you may have heard recently that wellness programs at worst are largely ineffective and tend not to be worth the investment, and at best take years to produce results. That commentary found in a Wall Street Journal Health Blog was the assessment on a report produced by the National Institute for Health Care Reform (NIHCR), which was based on research conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

The basic premise was this: If you can’t do wellness right, you should probably stay out of the game. It’s expensive, it’s confusing, and ROI is questionable. It’s true that the best and most robust programs cost money and require a well-developed strategy along with clear and vocal leadership support. These things are not easily gained. It’s also true that ROI is extremely hard to capture in wellness programs. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted.

Zero TrendsThere is, however, another way to look at employee health and wellness: Something really is better than nothing. In his book Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy, Dr. Dee Edington outlines the “Five Pillars of Health Management Strategy,” which are consistent with the NIHCR report. But he also points clearly and repeatedly to the value of stopping the current unhealthy trends—of not letting things get any worse.

Under the “don’t get any worse” banner, consider the potential value of a simple regular blood-pressure screening at the worksite. If one employee is flagged for high blood pressure during that screening, and he follows up accordingly with his doctor, your organization will bear some of the medical expense associated with his ongoing treatment of high blood pressure. You may have also just saved your organization a lot of money in catastrophic health care costs associated with chronically unmanaged high blood pressure. You’ve also created awareness for that employee that may lead to self-management efforts to improve his health.

Small businesses can enter the employee wellness program arena, and they don’t have to do it with the all the bells and whistles that the big businesses bring in, as evidenced by this Business News Daily report.

Where will you begin with employee wellness?

Topics: corporate wellness healthy workforce corporate fitness control healthcare costs

Nutritious Choices at Work Play Important Role in Wellness Programs

Your employees probably eat at least one meal at work every weekday. Unfortunately, there's a good chance that their break-time meal isn't geared for optimal employee health or productivity. You can help your employees keep that afternoon crash at bay by providing them wellness education and easily accessible healthy food selections. Consider these suggestions as part of a well-rounded employee health and wellness program.

Healthy Vending Machines


Chances are, your worksite already offers vending machines so your employees can grab a quick snack. However, did you know there are vending companies that specialize in healthy vending products? These specialized machines offer a variety of snacks that are low in sugar and fat such as pita chips, fruit bars, energy bars, dried fruit, and organic crackers and pretzels. Additionally, there are also specialty vending machines that offer refrigerated snacks. These machines offer products such as milk, fresh fruit, yogurt, and pre-cut veggies to employees looking for that afternoon pick-me-up.

Wellness Incentives in the Cafeteria

Drive home your support for employee wellness by subsidizing healthier choices in your cafeteria. Spotlight items such as salads, bottled water, baked chips, grilled chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers, fruit, and whole-grain wraps.

Healthy Prep Areas

Consider creating a lunch-prep area at work that encourages employees to eat well by bringing healthy foods to work. Provide a refrigerator so that employees can store fresh fruit and vegetables, leftovers, low-fat salad dressings, and deli meats to enjoy at mealtime.

Local and Healthy Food

Worksite wellness can be good for your community. Invite local vendors to provide a farmers' market at your worksite for a few hours once a week or once a month. This enables employees to purchase seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables on their lunch break. Not only does this show your company's support for eating a healthy diet; it also contributes to your local economy (not to mention the environmental benefits of eating locally produced food).

Encouraging a healthy diet is just one part of a well-rounded worksite wellness program; however, it can make a major contribution to employee health and productivity.

Topics: corporate wellness healthy workforce nutrition

Employee Health: The Sweatier, the Better

Here’s some good news: You do not have to meet your sales Sweatquota to be considered among the elite at your worksite wellness center. All you have to do is start breaking a sweat.

According to a study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers analyzed the American Time Use survey and concluded that only 1 in 20 Americans engages in vigorous exercise on any given day. That’s right, a paltry 5% of us are working hard enough to actually sweat when we work out.

Why is this important to employee health as well as corporate health?

The way to sustained weight loss is through a healthy diet and prolonged cardiovascular exercise (45 to 60 minutes) at least five days per week. If you want members of your workforce to reach healthier body weights, you have to (among other things) create an environment that supports and provides opportunities for your employees to work out hard enough to sweat. You need to build a corporate health culture that supports breaking a sweat in your worksite fitness center.

What if businesses publicly rewarded the sweaty elite alongside the sales leaders? After all, employees who can help you control healthcare costs do as much for the bottom line as those who meet their sales quotas.

Topics: exercise at work employee health corporate fitness program healthy workforce control healthcare costs

Three Tips for Keeping Worksite Wellness Resolutions

Your employees will soon be considering their New Year’s resolutions. And there’s a good chance that, shortly after they make those resolutions, they’ll break them. The failure rate for resolutions—75% or higher, according to a Wall Street Journal report—is startling.

Don’t miss this chance to maximize the New Year as an avenue toward a healthy workforce. Consider the following tips to create easy healthful opportunities for your employees:

  1. Create ways for your employees to exercise. Bring group exercise onsite. Make a worksite fitness center out of unused meeting-room space. Establish a walking program or partner with a local commercial fitness center for reduced-rate memberships.
  2. Get creative with signage at work. Fran Melmed of Free Range Communications offers an intriguing blog on ways to maximize signage at work to help employees make better choices. My favorite idea is to post notes on vending machines indicating how many minutes on a treadmill will be required to burn off the choice candy bar that costs more than $1.describe the image
  3. Encourage healthy food choices. Speaking of food, a study just came out indicating that when people use cash to pay for food, they tend to make healthier choices. Apparently those in the study were less likely to make impulse buys on unhealthy foods when they were paying cash for their groceries. Perhaps worksite cafeterias should initiate a cash-only payment policy.

How will your worksite leverage New Year’s resolutions to create a healthier workforce?

Topics: exercise at work corporate fitness program healthy workforce nutrition worksite wellness

Employee Health: Do You Check Your Prescriptions?

PrescriptionsWith our busy lifestyles, running to the pharmacy is just that: racing in and out as quickly as possible. Is this placing employee health in danger? Well, it could be. It's ultimately up to each of us to filter what substances go into our bodies.

Check Your Medicine

Even before paying for the medication, you should check the name, medication, and dose to ensure that the prescription has been correctly filled and belongs to you. Pharmacies require personal information such as name, date of birth, Social Security number (for insurance), or driver’s license number to guarantee that the medication is dispensed to the right individual. But it doesn't hurt to check.

Prescription Questions

Be aware of what you are putting into your system. Ask questions. The pharmacist is there not only to fill prescriptions, but also to answer questions. Know the answers to these questions before taking the medication:

  • What is the name of the medicine?
  • What is it supposed to do?
  • How and when do I take it and for how long?
  • What do I do if I forget to take the medicine?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • What should I do if I experience any side effects?
  • Is there an information sheet about this medication?
  • Are there any interactions with other drugs you are taking? (Check here to find out.)

Next time you head to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, don’t rush. Take the time to check the prescription and ask questions for your own safety.

Topics: employee health healthy workforce

Functional Capacity in Corporate Fitness Programs, Senior Fitness

Increasing functional capacity through exerciseIn my last post, I explained that functional capacity is exercising in a way that improves the ability to perform activities of daily living. In this post I look at how this concept is being used in senior fitness classes and corporate fitness programs--in place of more traditional but less efficient training.

Senior Fitness Management Now Emphasizing Functional Training

One arena that has begun to understand this dilemma and has sought to eliminate it is senior fitness management. Some of the problems affecting older adults are poor balance, loss of strength, and a decrease in flexibility. As a fitness professional who frequently teaches senior fitness classes at retirement home fitness centers, I’ve noticed a trend in moving away from the typical chair exercise class, which was the norm years ago, to more functional training (training the body in the way in which it typically works).

Entire classes are now designed with the goal of improving balance. Many movements designed to improve strength are now done out of a chair and on the feet because this is how we typically function in everyday life. Along with this, retirement community fitness center management heavily pursues improving residents' flexibility. Since balance, strength while on the feet, and flexibility are all major needs of older adults, fitness professionals have made a move to more directly train in ways that improve these aspects specifically. This move is a perfect example of training to improve functional capacity.

Improving Employee Health Through Functional Training

Functional capacity can also be a synonym for aerobic health or power. Aerobic health or functional capacity is often the main measure used to determine one’s overall health. Numerous diseases that afflict many Americans today can be prevented or even reversed through improving aerobic health.

Many businesses have caught on to this and are pushing to improve their employees' physical health through exercise. This leads to less employee absenteeism, less fatigue on the job, and more productive employees. Since a company’s employees are one of its most valuable assets, many organizations have developed corporate wellness programs to help protect this asset. Because this can improve an employer’s bottom line, many companies are going one step further and building corporate fitness centers for their employees to utilize.

Through group fitness classes at these centers, personal training with staff, or even simply working out on their own, employees are improving the strength and endurance needed for their job as well as their aerobic health, leading to a lower risk of disease and less time lost from work. It is easy to see how this increase in functional capacity benefits both the employee and the employer over the long haul, despite the initial cost of building such centers.

Next: How everyday people can adjust their workouts to improve functional capacity.

Topics: exercise at work employee health healthy workforce muscle toning senior center solutions productivity improve absenteeism

Managing Stress Increases Productivity, Employee Health

manage employee stressAlthough each day may technically be a new day, today brings the stresses of yesterday and the preparations of tomorrow. Nowadays a 40-hour work week is hard to come by, and going home without work is even harder to swing. With all of this added work comes added stress.

Untreated Employee Stress Is Bad for Business

Stress that is not dealt with properly can lead to negative outcomes. The outcome you will be least excited about is loss of productivity. Along with loss of productivity comes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, headaches, upset stomach, and chest pain, and it can even worsen certain ailments employees already have.

According to an annual Harris Interactive Attitudes in the American Workplace survey, 83% of Americans reported they are at least a little stressed at work, and nearly half said they need help in learning how to manage stress.

Consider the following tips to keep your stress at bay.

Develop a Wellness and Fitness Program or add Stress Management to Your Offerings

If your company doesn't offer a worksite wellness program, get busy creating one! Worksite wellness programs offer great resources for employees to better their health, including stress management. A healthy and stress-free employee equals more productivity for the company, so it's a win for both! (See the Wellness Council of America's site for tips.)

Encourage Employees To Use Deep Breathing Techniques

Deep breathing counteracts the increased heart rate and blood pressure that happen when the body is under stress. It is one of the best ways to stay calm when the body wants to do the opposite, and it can be done anywhere. When you breathe deeply, you are sending a message to your brain and body to relax. Next time your employees feel stressed on the job, have them try these steps:

  1. Sit up straight and exhale completely through your mouth.  
  2. Place your hands on your stomach and slowly inhale through your mouth, pushing your hands out with your stomach.
  3. Hold the inhale for two to five seconds and slowly exhale.
  4. Repeat until you feel relaxed.

Encourage Exercise As A Lifestyle, Including at Work!

We've all heard about how exercise can help you maintain heart health and manage a healthy weight, but exercise can also be a great form of stress relief. Physical activity not only boosts the release of those feel-good endorphins (and in turn boosting your mood); it can also improve sleep that can so often be disrupted by stress.

If you or your employees aren't currently exercising, start slow. Choose an activity that you enjoy and maybe even consider including your friends. Making it a social activity can give you a stress-relieving social network and make you more likely to stick with the program.

The Results Are Worth the Effort

Learning to manage stress in healthy ways will keep your employees producing the work your want to see as well as keep them sane during the process. You are only as good as your body allows, and it needs to be healthy in order to perform at the top. Make every day a new day by dealing with the stresses of yesterday and breathing through the thoughts of tomorrow.  

Topics: corporate wellness exercise at work employee health healthy workforce corporate fitness worksite wellness exercise at home productivity

Increase Workplace Health by Prescribing Exercise for Depression

Employee Health and DepressionBetween inflation, the rise and fall of the stock market, never-ending projects at work, and screaming kids, there are plenty of things in a employee’s life that can lead them to feel overwhelmed. While we all feel this way from time to time, feelings of anxiety and depression that don’t subside within a few days must be dealt with.

With the use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications at an all-time high, most Americans seem to be taking the pharmaceutical route to deal with their mental-health issues. As effective as this might be, however, it makes one wonder whether there are other options. Is medication the only hope for your employee's health and depression issues?

Evidence Points to Exercise as Another Answer to Employee Depression and Anxiety

One tried-and-true method of improving mental health is regular exercise. Some evidence suggests it can be as effective as traditional psychotherapy and can even eliminate the need for medication in mild to moderate cases of depression. This is encouraging news for your company wellness initiatives.

If your employees are like me, though, the last thing they probably want to do is get their body moving when they’re feeling a little blue. Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic for getting started.

Once the initial discomfort of beginning to exercise wears off, I find my mind is a little more at ease and I can finally start to relax. I’m more upbeat, I can think more clearly, and I even leave feeling more energized than before. It’s not entirely clear how or why exercise can help improve mood, but it is known to do so regardless.

The Best Employee Exercises for Beating the Blues

Some employees will find aerobic exercise like walking or running to most improve their mood, whereas others find strength training more beneficial. I most enjoy running or playing basketball to get my mind off things; however, strength training has its place in my stress-relief program as well.

What Health Initiative Your Company Can Make to Assist with Employee Depression and Anxiety

As important as medication can be in a person’s life for a variety of ailments, never underestimate the body’s ability to heal itself. Whether it’s the release of endorphins that leads to the famous “runner’s high,” or the psychological benefits of setting an exercise goal and accomplishing it, performing regular physical activity can help employees deal with depression and anxiety.

So improve employee awareness through educating them on the benefits of exercise for depression and anxiety. Encourage them to grab a friend, get moving, and leave their worries behind. They might even lose a few pounds, too. And that alone can perk them up a little (as well as lower your companies health costs)!

Topics: employee health healthy workforce motivation control healthcare costs