Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Meditation for Beginner's

ThinkstockPhotos-79214896.jpgDaily stress can make you unhappy and irritated, which in turn affects your overall health. Meditation is a simple addition to your daily activities that can help improve your quality of life and put you in a more positive mindset.

How Meditating Helps You Emotionally

Although you may feel like there is no time to meditate because of everything on your plate, it actually helps you become more focused and productive to get those things done and feel more calm while doing it. You can correct your thoughts from a more negative mindset to a positive one and understand why you feel the way you do.

Your mood will fluctuate and meditation can keep things on a more even keel to prevent anxiety. You can then handle outside situations that arise without feeling out of control. Just a few minutes a day will help reduce overall anxiety, stress, and even depression.

How to Get Started

Here is a step-by-step guide to start a simple meditation practice.

  1. Take a comfortable seat with your legs crossed and ensure your posture is proper.
  2. Place your hands in your lap with both palms facing up.
  3. Let go of tension in your back and soften your jaw.
  4. Keep your eyes slightly open.
  5. Focus all your thoughts on your breath. As you breathe in, imagine it is all positive blessings that surround your life. As you exhale, blow out all negative thoughts and distractions.
  6. Continue until you feel relaxed and peaceful.

Meditation doesn’t need to take a large chunk of time. Even 10–15 minutes daily can make a big difference in your health and wellness. Try it first thing in the morning to start your day off right, at the end of the day to de-stress, or in those moments when you feel the most overwhelmed—whatever works best for you!

When a corporate fitness center isn't possible, how do you get your employees to move more?  Check out our free download for tips for adding exercise, click below!

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Topics: stress health and wellness meditation depression anxiety

Why Corporate Fitness Needs to Evolve (Like Corporate Wellness)

The elements that make up corporate fitness haven’t changed much in the almost 20 years I’ve been connected to the business. We’re still working hard to attract as many employees as possible to our programs, we’re still running fun, lighthearted games, we’re still tracking memberships, and we’re still helping employees with their exercise programs through prescription and assessment services. Group fitness is still a staple, and you still typically see corporate fitness centers with staff only in larger businesses.

Sure, equipment has changed, and there are a ton of new (albeit not necessarily better) certifications available for practitioners. Big players have more bells and whistles to win new business, but the core elements that make up a sound corporate fitness program for your employees are the same as they were years ago.

Corporate Wellness, However, Is in Flux

And yet, corporate wellness as a broader header under which corporate fitness sits has changed dramatically over the last decade. It’s still in significant flux. While the somewhat dated biometric screening and health risk assessments are still fundamental in many corporate wellness initiatives, they are losing popularity. As businesses look past the limited utility of those elements, they are turning toward opportunities to educate their employees into becoming better health care consumers as well as looking toward creative outlets for stress management along with getting back to basics by meeting basic human needs.

So why, then, is corporate fitness still doing what it’s always done? Can corporate fitness partners be part of the wellness evolution by offering solutions beyond the typical elements outlined above?

How NIFS Is Offering Evolved SolutionsThinkstockPhotos-512169680_1.jpg

We think so. Here are some of the ways we’re doing just that:

  • Personal training has a niche market; it’s the people who benefit from it and who can also afford it. We work with clients who have a lot of employees that can’t afford the luxury of a personal trainer. Rather than tell them they’re on their own, we built Personal Fitness Quest to meet that very real need. Here’s how that alternative to personal training works for us.
  • Where clients have allowed it, our staff have stocked and promoted activity centers. These simple nooks, typically carved out of high-traffic areas like the cafeteria, provide a small space were employees can take a break and focus their minds on something other than their work. They can realize the stress-relieving benefits of coloring, play their teammates in Jenga®, or listen to a relaxation meditation on an MP3 player.
  • Our staff are capital-S serious about their work; they believe completely in what they’re doing to help improve the health of the employees with whom they work. But sometimes work is a little too serious, and we understand our role is to provide a light and welcoming environment. Employees need to feel understood, and they need a place to decompress. Some days they just need a good laugh. Check out how one of our managers put a laughable spin on the benefits of being a chicken.

Corporate fitness would benefit from the lessons that old-school corporate wellness is feeling by evolving into a service that promotes holistic well-being, perhaps with an emphasis on fitness. How are you promoting more than just exercise in your corporate fitness program?

Looking for more on what can make your fitness program tick? Use the button below to download our quick read with three tips for a successful corporate fitness center.

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Topics: corporate wellness corporate fitness stress NIFS corporate fitness centers group fitness personal training

Change Your Commuting Habits for Improved Employee Health

Depending on where you live, if you drive yourself to work, your daily commute could be up to 90 minutes each way. The average American will spend 25 minutes commuting to work according to U.S. census data. Unfortunately, this is taking its toll on your overall health in more ways than the obvious: accumulating even more minutes of sitting throughout your day.

Let’s talk about what is really happening to your health as you are driving yourself to and from work each day, and what you can do about minimizing those negative effects by replacing them with positive habits you can incorporate into your commute.

Traffic Jams, Weather Delays, Road Rage = Another Opportunity for Stress!

ThinkstockPhotos-178516386.jpgThere are things that happen on our commute that we did not plan on that put us behind on our already hectic schedules or just annoy us. It is easy to become anxious when these things happen and start or end the day with added stress from the experience. The truth is these things are typically 100% out of your control, so this should not be a source of stress.

Next time you find yourself in this situation, simply take a few deep breaths. According to the American Institute of Stress, to decrease the damaging effects of stress on the body you should take focused and intentional deep breaths. This will allow you to truly relax by decreasing your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, thus decreasing your overall response to the added stress.

Commuting Can Be a Pain…Seriously

When you have to sit for long periods of time, make sure you are sitting correctly. This comes back to ergonomics, but setting up your car to meet your needs has many elements to consider. The USDA APHIS Ergonomics Program does an excellent job of teaching you how to set up your driver’s seat properly as well as the risks associated with not setting it up correctly: increasing your risks for low back pain, neck strains, and many other common musculoskeletal injuries. Take a few minutes to properly adjust your vehicle to prevent these issues from occurring.

The Link Between Longer Commutes and Increased Prevalence of Obesity, High Blood Pressure, and Low Cardiovascular Fitness

Research from Washington University has shown a high correlation between longer commutes and increased prevalence of various health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, and high blood pressure. An obvious way to combat this is to ride your bike or walk to work, but realistically this is not always possible for many adults. Sometimes the commute is simply too long, or the city you are working in does not have the infrastructure to support this.

When commuting by foot or bike is not possible, it is even more important to find time for physical activity at some point during the day to help minimize these risks. One way that you can do this is to use a fitness facility on your way to or from work. This is a great option because not only will it allow you to access activity, but it will break up the time you are spending in your vehicle. 

Take This as an Opportunity to Make Time for Your Well-Being

If you have the option of using public transportation, your options here can be endless! One study has shown that people who use active travel (walking, public transportation, and biking) compared to those who drive themselves to work report higher levels of positive well-being. If active travel is not an option, maybe you enjoy listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, or just being alone with your thoughts. The commute can provide a great opportunity to do these things. Many take this time as an opportunity to learn more in an area that they are interested in but just can’t seem to find the time to do, or to simply just unwind from their hectic schedules.

Although the commute is likely not your favorite part of your day, it does not have to completely derail your employee health if you take these things into consideration. Take a few minutes this week and reflect on your commute and think about where you may be able to incorporate some of these healthy habits to improve upon and maintain your good health.

Consider how you can provide better wellness and fitness services to your employee, click below for ideas from NIFS.

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Topics: biking walking stress health staying active sitting high blood pressure

Three Ways to Improve Corporate Fitness Programming on a Small Budget

staff001.jpgSometimes employers go all in on their investment in a corporate fitness center. Thousands of square feet are dedicated to treadmill upon treadmill, thoughtful changing facilities, ample group exercise space, creative equipment solutions, and around-the-clock dedicated fitness staff.

But that’s not the reality for most employers. It’s important to remember that corporate fitness doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You can provide programs, services, and (probably most importantly) an environment that’s conducive to movement. So if you’re trying to improve the exercise options you provide onsite for your employees, but you’re on a tight budget, consider these ideas.

1. If you have dedicated staff for an exercise program, invite them to be a Jack (or Jill) of all trades.

Most exercise professionals with a college degree have a background in more than just exercise. It’s common for an exercise science curriculum to fold in public health, nutrition basics, stress resilience, and other health-related disciplines. We work with one client who has a small fitness center and no additional budget for fitness programming, and rather than lock our staff down to the four walls of the fitness center, they are out and about providing healthy lectures, offering stretch breaks at key shift-change intervals, and coordinating extra workplace wellness services like onsite chair massage.

2. Consider group fitness classes.

Sure, dancing to music isn’t for everyone, but group fitness has come a long way. You don’t have to be coordinated or be able to keep the beat to enjoy a great class. And if your office includes meeting space with tables and chairs that can be pushed to the walls, you probably have everything you need to run a class. Instructor costs can be paid for by employees, subsidized by the employer, or paid in full by the employer. Check out our quick read: Three Keys to Adding Group Exercise at Work.

3. Think long and hard about your environment.

How are your employees encouraged to work, and how are your leaders and managers incentivized to run their teams? Are employees expected to sit glued to their screens all day to make a quota? Do your managers have substantial pressure to meet the same quota? These kinds of unwritten cultural norms make it almost impossible for an employee to take a 10-minute walking break. Can that mindset be shifted over time? This article suggests that employers have to start taking a look at creative ways to address employee stress.

What about your physical space? Maybe you can’t have a dedicated space for employee exercise, and even group exercise classes in an unused meeting room seems out of bounds. Perhaps simple signage encouraging the use of stairs instead of elevators would be a starting point to encouraging employees to move more.

Think about incentives for exercise differently. Good, old-fashioned behavioral economics around loss aversion could help you build an inexpensive incentive model for encouraging more frequent exercise in a sedentary workforce.

Don’t let a lack of physical space or dedicated staff derail your brainstorming about ways to inject more opportunities for activity at the office. The options are only limited by your creativity (not your budget).

  Tips for adding exercise


Topics: corporate fitness stress corporate fitness centers fitness programming exercise in the workplace group fitness workplace wellness

Resolve to Do Corporate Wellness Better in 2016

The debate in corporate wellness:

Last year I spent a lot of time reading about current debates in corporate wellness. There are two vocal camps (albeit vocal in very different ways):

  • The camp that publicly proclaims we must soldier on with the health risk assessments, the biometric screenings, the weight-loss challenges, and the “cost sharing” of health insurance with employees. That camp is mostly plugging their ears at (and not responding to) the questions from the other camp.
  • The camp that keeps asking that pesky “why” question. But they’re not asking “why” like a toddler who presses on, and on, an on without purpose. Those in that second camp are asking why we must persist with corporate wellness practices that don’t work.

Some in the industry rise above the fighting to offer their long-held positions that are alternatives to more traditional corporate wellness. Check out the work being done by Rosie Ward and Jon Robinson at Salveo Partners, or Bob Merberg’s Health Shifting blog for some insights.

An alternative view:

I admire their work and their passion. I offer my own considerations here based on a blog I read focused on well-being for caregivers of the elderly. (Half of my work life is spent focused on health and fitness services in senior living communities.) The blog is about how The Eden Alternative assesses well-being, the dimensions they use, and how they apply them to their employees and those they serve.

Traditional wellness uses areas like physical, intellectual, and occupational wellness to map out how an individual is experiencing well-being in their lives. The Eden Alternative instead looks at identity, connectedness, autonomy, security, meaning, growth, and joy.

How does the worksite look if we build a corporate wellness strategy around optimizing those elements for employees? Here are three areas to consider.

What are the ways we cultivate and sustain connectedness for staff?dv1180018.jpg

This is about more than your break room, or your subsidized healthy foods in the company cafeteria. This isn’t really related to your corporate IT policies for use of social media. But the answer(s) to this question could be about establishing policies that allow employees to provide family support in caregiving roles under reasonable circumstances. Or it could be about establishing a well-thought-out mentoring program at your company.

How are we communicating and following through on areas of autonomy for employees?

No one really likes to feel like they don’t have control over a particular area of their lives, and studies show that lacking autonomy at work can increase stress. If your micromanaging, timekeeping structure has employees taking bathroom breaks in shifts and feeling chained to their desks, it might be time to rethink how you can improve this area of your workplace culture. In a call-center environment, highly scheduled time on the phones is central to business success, and while you can’t change that paradigm, you can invite your team into building the schedule. They’re smart (or you wouldn’t have hired them, right?), so they might have productivity-increasing, autonomy-boosting ideas that you can actually put into practice.

Do we provide opportunities for our crew to engage in work that’s meaningful?

Not everyone has the good fortune to work day in, and day out, in a job they love. And there’s a decent chance that some of the people on your team are in that tough spot. Maybe you can restore a little meaning in their career by providing opportunities for them to engage in a passion through their work. The catch here is that you have to know your employees well enough to know what they’re passionate about. Start with that discussion and see where the ideas lead you. Establishing a day of service might spark enough enthusiasm for some (“I don’t LOVE my job, but the company I work for is solid”). Others might benefit from a mentoring experience to move into a new role with the organization.

You may have noticed that a lot of this alternative approach boils down to building relationships with colleagues. It’s a scary thing—getting to know your staff. But the rewards for individual well-being are far greater than we could get from any health assessment report or biometric screening. When we’re struggling (so much) with true employee engagement in corporate wellness, we need to step back and look at what we’re inviting them into. If it’s not meaningful, if it doesn’t add value (and I don’t mean money) to an employee’s life, why would they engage?

Change is hard—no one really likes change. But this might be a change your employees can get behind. So what do you think? Are you resolved to do better in 2016?

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Topics: corporate wellness stress productivity

Do office pets decrease stress in the workplace?

office_petThis recent article we shared on Twitter explained the positive effects that a pet can have in a work place, and based on how much traffic we saw from that single posting, it would seem that many of you are pet lovers like me.  What do you think about pets in the workplace?

Most employed people are on a constant search for methods to reduce stress in the workplace, improve their personal health, or maybe even increase productivity at the same time. I mean who has ever heard of not being stressed while getting loads of work done, what??! The article mentioned that employers actually notice a benefit from the having pets around, bringing energy, fun, and companionship. I see pets as great company and comfort. A great example given was the case that pet owners may work longer hours if they are able to bring their pet into work. This would save them from the rush to get home at the end of every day to let their pet out. I know that letting my dog was always a constant thought in the back of my mind. I noticed a higher stress level, worrying about her and how she is holding up at home. Does anyone else have that constant worry?

Randolph Barker, a professor of management in Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, performed a study in 2013 of dogs in the workplace. The results showed an actual decline in stress among workers, while those who didn’t have pets in workplace showed an increase in stress as the day continued. Among other studies, interaction with pets can lower blood pressure and improve a person’s mood. It is crazy to think the littlest things, like pets (sometimes they are little), can be so beneficial!

Before everyone gets all antsy and starts bringing their pet to work, it is suggested that a written policy be enforced. This can prevent liability and keep a clear policy with all things considered - allergies, cleaning up after pets, and the possibility of aggressive behavior. If this option is not considered, there is always The Take Your Dog to Work Day event sponsored by Pet Sitters International, who set aside a day in June to allow those with pets celebrate pet ownership and bring their pets into the work place. This would be a fun day to see so many pets in the work place! Personally, I know my day would brighten up pretty quick! Think about suggesting this to your employer. Who knows, they might consider the day or year round event!

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Topics: employee health stress

Yoga in the Workplace for Employee Health and Productivity

workplace yogaTwenty years ago, would you have ever thought you would be checking out the break-room bulletin board and coming across a yoga class being offered in the office or onsite gym? Chances are it would have been highly unlikely, not to mention overlooked because it did not have the buzz or trendy reputation it does now.

Hopefully, most of us now know that the benefits of yoga practice in a chair, studio, or corporate fitness center go beyond meditation, headstands, flameless candles, thin sticky mats, and soothing music. I have seen yoga become an increasingly positive influence in workplaces all over the country with a melting pot of populations. You might even see children and pets taking advantage of the yoga inspiration.

The interest in increasing productivity and improving employee health has weighed heavily on corporate America. Long hours at a desk, aching back, neck pain, burnout, and emotional discontent are all repetitive stressors corporate employees face each day. Did you know that this, in turn, amounts to less productivity? What is your company doing about it?

Think about this, as an employee: What would you do with an extra 15-minute mandatory stress break built into your day?

Offering free stress-relief options such as yoga is a simple and convenient way to help employees find stress relief in the office. True, it’s up to each individual to start their practice, but I promise once you start you won’t stop. The great thing about yoga at work is that it’s a time to take a break from your desk and relieve stress. It’s convenient, and it feels good!

Chair yoga is becoming popular among executives as a boardroom break; this is a great alternative to unit meetings or exercising at your own desk. That’s the greatest benefit of yoga: it can be done anywhere and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time!

Yoga won’t cure all, nor will it be chosen by all. But it sure has shown to be a great addition to corporate wellness offerings. Many of the yogis tell me they love doing yoga at work because they can practice in a noncompetitive and nonjudgmental atmosphere and experience it with coworkers. Many of the participants enjoy the multiple benefits. After final relaxation, it helps guide them to a calmer state of being as they return to work. It also helps improve core stability and balance, and helps increase total body strength. We try to make sure all energy is left at the door. Each person is focused on their own practice of the day.

Get your groove on with NIFS group fitness classes

Topics: corporate wellness exercise at work employee health stress productivity yoga stress relief

Corporate Fitness: FREE Workout Friday

Free Workout FridayIt’s been a long week, it is cold outside and you don’t feel like doing much of anything, right?  Join the club.  You don’t have to stress about your workout. At the end of the week maybe you just need a good stretch!

Stretching Tips:

  • Improved flexibility occurs when the muscles are warm, never stretch a cold muscle.  March in place and step side to side to get your blood pumping to warm the muscles.
  • Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds.  Only stretch until you feel mild tension, you don’t want to over stretch.
  • Breathe while stretching.  Taking deep breaths will assist in relaxation.
  • You should stretch 2-3 times per week.

group stretchingComplete the following stretches to de-stress and relax your muscles.  Worksite wellness can be easy by simply taking a moment to stretch at your desk!

Chin to Chest: Seated or standing, look straight ahead and slowly drop chin to chest.  Hold, and return to starting position.

Ear to Shoulder: Seated or standing, look straight ahead and slowly drop your head to one side toward the shoulder.  Hold and slowly move to the other side.

Upper Back and Rotator Cuff: Raise arms out in front of the body at shoulder height, place hands together.  With your palms out, push away from your body until you feel the stretch across your shoulder blades.

Tricep and Shoulder:  Stand with arms overhead.  Bend one arm at the elbow reaching behind your head toward the middle of your back.  With the opposite hand, gently pull the elbow to the point of tension.  Switch arms.

Inner Thigh:  Sit on the floor with soles of feet together.  Sitting straight up, keep your shoulders back with chest and chin up.  Press knees towards the floor to the point of tension.

Hips and Glutes:  Lie on your back with both knees bent.  Cross one leg over the opposite thigh, grasp the back the thigh and gently pull the leg towards you.  The stretch should be felt on the outside of your hip and glute.  Switch legs.

Lying Quadricep:  Lie face down on the floor and bring your right foot up towards your glute. Grasp the foot with the right hand and gently push your foot into your hand to feel the stretch in the back of your leg.  Slowly release and repeat on the left side.

When it comes to relaxation and stretching, what do you prefer... simple stretches or an organized class such as Yoga?

Topics: exercise at work healthy workforce stress employee wellness Free Workout Friday fitness exercies at your desk stretching

When Upper Management Exercises in the Corporate Fitness Center

This blog was written by Mechelle Meadows. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

workplace fitnessWe’ve all learned that exercise can play an enormous role in lowering one’s stress level and boosting a person’s mood. Supervisors in the workforce are no different—regular exercise has been shown to help those in management roles more effectively cope with their stressors.

This article writes that, unfortunately, when supervisors become overwhelmed with workplace pressures, their direct subordinates are the ones who become victims of the supervisors’ venting, hostile behavior, or negative comments. Therefore, regular exercise routines can not only enhance the physical and mental health of the supervisors, but also the wellbeing of the employees working for them.

Another reason why supervisors, especially those in a company’s upper management, should exercise is to lead by example. When you talk to an average new employee about exercising at the worksite, one of their fears is that their boss might view them as slacking off or just looking for ways to get out of work. When supervisors make exercising in their corporate fitness centers a priority, it shows to their subordinates that taking time for one’s own health is important and acceptable, provided that work duties and deadlines are still being met.

On a larger scale, when upper management, including CEOs and vice presidents, make fitness a priority, it sets a healthy climate for the entire company.

If you are a supervisor of even one individual, consider how your healthy—or unhealthy—choices can impact those around you. Set the standard in your work environment by becoming a leader in health.

Topics: stress corporate fitness centers productivity businesses corporate rewards Fitness Center health culture

Corporate Wellness: Bail Your Body Out of Sleep Debt

This blog was written by Mara Winters. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

tired, headache, sleep debtYou know the feeling. The alarm clock is ringing and you're thinking, “If only I had one more hour to sleep.” Americans tend to lose about an hour of sleep per night (about two full weeks of slumber per year), pushing our bodies into sleep debt.

The side-effects of sleep deprivation are not fun to experience: impaired memory, foggy brain, worsened vision, and impaired driving. Long-term effects of lack of sleep can include obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease.

Work Out Wisely to Improve Sleep

If you’re like many people, you are looking to get out of sleep debt. Exercise can help you sleep more soundly. Consider the following when exercising:

  • Morning exercise can relieve stress and improve your mood. Coupling exercise with the natural morning light reinforces your body’s sleep-wake cycle, improving your night’s rest.
  • The most beneficial exercise time is mid-afternoon to early evening. Vigorous exercise during this time raises your body temperature a few hours before bed. Then as you get ready for bed, your body temperature is falling, allowing a natural wind-down for the night.
  • Vigorous exercise before bed is not good for sleep. It raises your temperature and stimulates your brain and muscles, making winding down more difficult.

Understand the Importance of Sleep to Your Health

With some practice you can repay your sleep debt. Just like with exercise, the amount of time and intensity you sleep is important. Add an extra hour or two of sleep a night to ensure that you spend more time in deep sleep. Go to bed when you are tired and allow yourself to wake up naturally.

Sleep is vital to restorative health, so bail your body out of sleep debt by being active and catching up on your Zs!

Topics: exercise heart disease sleep worksite wellness stress obesity memory