Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Bethany Garrity

Recent Posts by Bethany Garrity:

Senior Living: How to create a win when your programs and events flounder

Programs and events don't always turn out like we plan. Sometimes we misjudge interest, and sometimes we misjudge the timing or venue. In other cases, the program is well done, but we don't meet our goals because we didn't set the right target to begin with. We're managing close to 30 client fitness programs in senior living communities, so we're bound to miss the mark on a program here and there. What's important to me is that we learn from our missteps so that the next time we offer an initiative, it's a more complete program.

If you're looking for ways to continuously improve what you're offering to residents, check out our insights on a few programs below. For more on our process of goal setting and evaluating the programs we run, check out this blog.

Membership Drive Month

Membership Drive Flier

The Program and Goals:

Last April, Tim hosted a membership campaign to attract residents who were not members of the fitness center to join. Goals for the initiative were simple, as was the overall structure of the program. 

  • Gain five new members during April
  • Inspire each new member to attend at least one group fitness class during April

The fitness program at this client community is well-established with about 67% of the eligible residents already members of the fitness center. They regularly gain about five to six new members each month, so the focus of this program was a targeted outreach to long-standing residents who had not yet joined the fitness center. Tim believed that if he could get them in the door for orientation by lowering the barriers to joining AND inspire them to attend at least one group fitness class during the month they joined, those new members might be more active/engaged in the long run.

Tim set up "open orientations" for the month to create easier opportunities for non-members to attend. Despite issuing personal membership packet invitations to each of these residents, no one attended those orientation sessions, nor were any of the membership packets returned. While they did pick up five new members in the month, they all came from a pool of newer residents who had moved to the community recently. And of those five who joined, only one attended a class during April.

What we learned:

Sending invitations by community mail to non-members didn't generate a response, so future membership programs need to enlist a different outreach approach at this community. It is worth noting that we had a strong positive response to this very approach at a different client community. So if you operate multiple venues, you may need to adjust your approach per location.

2018 Winter Olympics

The Program and Goals: 

To capitalize on the winter games, Alyssa ran her own version of the Olympics for the residents in her Minnesota community. Her goals were tied directly back to fitness center membership and participation:

  • Increase the number of total visit to 1,500 in February 2018 (the previous year, February visits had reached 1,125)
  • Increase by 10% the number of members who reach the 5+ or 8+ visit per month categories
  • Gain three new members during February 2018

Alyssa was able to achieve the total visits goal (1,705 visits in February 2018) and the membership goal (5 new members gained in February 2018). But she didn't reach the goal focused on frequent visitors (5+ or 8+ visits per month).

What we learned:

While Alyssa was quite successful at using her Olympics program to get a lot of people to use the fitness center, many of the elements of the program did not promote repeat visits. Additionally, many of the events occurred outside of the fitness center. (Click here to read Alyssa's reflection on teaching the residents new skills during her Olympics program.)

She received positive survey feedback from participants.

  • 95% rated the program as excellent
  • 75% noted the program was extremely well organized
  • 85% said the program exceeded their expectations

In reality, the program itself was strong. But the goal focused on increasing frequent fitness center visits was probably the wrong aim. Future offerings like this that aren't specifically targeted to draw members into the fitness center will be created with different program goals in mind.

Want to find out more about how NIFS can provide this kind of smart, strategic programming to your residents? 

How Outsourcing fitness center management can work for your community

Topics: senior fitness management senior fitness senior living fitness center outsourcing fitness managment fitness for seniors

Why promoting wellness is the right marketing choice for senior living

The biggest threat for occupancy in senior living appears to be the family home. And as technology advances, it gets easier for older adults to remain in the comfort of their familiar surroundings. After all, it is an enormous undertaking to move from your long time family home to a new place. The physical burden of the move (and downsizing) coupled with a strong and heavy psychological undercurrent to acknowledging that this will be your last move makes it extremely challenging.

Until there is a strong enough push (or pull) for older adults to leave their home, marketing and sales staff are left in a difficult battle with inertia, because the truth is, most of us don't make changes (in any area of life) unless the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of making the change. So you have two choices, you can wait for the push of a health crisis that forces older adults to leave their homes, or you can activate a pull message that shows the community as a place where active, engaged living is very much the norm.

[Read More: Using Wellness To Combat Someday Syndrome]

Your wellness program (life enrichment program, activities program...) is the tangible representation of how life is lived in your community and it is the best way to show prospects all the ways they can connect with opportunities FAR beyond what they could cultivate for themselves at home. Here are three opportunities to make the most of your community lifestyle in a pull message with prospective residents.

#1: Fix your fitness center.

Fitness, your fitness center, exercise classes, etc. are only one component of your overall lifestyle program. But, this aspect of living at your community is arguably one of the most visible and recognizable elements (maybe a close second behind dining). If your program consists of a gym with some equipment, classes on the calendar, and possibly fee-based personal training, then you're no different than the gym the prospect already belongs to. Nor are you likely much different from your nearest senior living competition. There is no pull in your services to stimulate the idea of change for a future resident.

Here are some blogs to help you rethink your exercise offerings:

#2: Change your calendar.

There's a good chance your calendar looks old and it's just as likely that your enrichment team is NIFS | Residents learn how to paddleboardblissfully unaware that there's room for growth in what and how they plan. If you're in a community leadership role, it may have been a while since you took a close look at the activities and events that are planned for your residents. So, maybe you're not sure if your calendar needs more life. The simple exercise below will shed some light on whether your programming represents an area of opportunity. 

  • Print the last 3 months of calendars.
  • Cross off all events that are repeats within the month: exercise classes, card games, happy hour, book club, birthday lunches, weekly shopping trips, worship services, etc.
  • If you don't see at least five to six unique events per month (and that's shooting low), then it's time to rethink how programs and events are planned in the community.

Check out this blog for a fresh perspective on putting purposeful living at the center of life enrichment programming.

[Read More: Top 5 reasons your residents don't engage in wellness]

#3: Adjust your thinking about resident engagement.

I'm intrigued by the Holleran Consulting model for the four domains of resident engagement. (Grab the whitepaper here). My early thoughts were all around how much the domains are the responsibility of a community's life enrichment director. However, the more I digested the content, the more I realized how deep the idea of resident engagement really runs. 

There are lots of ways to improve traditional activities in communities, and many of those opportunities rest squarely with your life enrichment staff doing their jobs differently. Yet, beyond the prominent role your activities department plays in facilitating opportunities for resident engagement, it is the entire community supporting those opportunities, connecting with residents, and communicating with each that is the foundation for engagement. Residents also have to be present at a fundamental level. We should not be simply filling an activities calendar and calling it done. For strong engagement, we have to invite residents into their own life story and then step back to allow them to live it.  

How you build those pathways for residents to choose the ways they want to engage is the story you sell to prospects when they ask what it's like to live in your community. And, it takes more than your fitness manager and/or your life enrichment director to pull this off. It requires a strategic approach to building a community full of life and then creating a thoughtful approach to sharing that living experience with those who aren't even aware of what they're missing while they reside in their own home. 

Simply put: You court a more vibrant consumer when you offer a message that speaks to the ways they engage with life. Stop selling health care and start focusing on how residents can live well in your community.

Find out more about a free consulting session with NIFS >

Topics: resident engagement improve your fitness center activities calendar senior living stop selling health care in senior living marketing in senior living

Corporate Fitness: Why we stopped offering weight loss challenges

NIFS | Weight loss frustrationIt's hard for me to believe that the first season of the reality show Biggest Loser aired in 2004. The popularity of that show has inspired all manner of weight loss competitions held under the banner of workplace health. Over the years, as a corporate fitness partner for businesses across the US, we've hosted our share of weight loss challenges. Sometimes the program was straight up 100% about weight loss. Other times, the challenge would have a lot of pieces and participants could choose a weight loss component or another element as their focus.

All of it was well-intentioned, but as I've come to learn, we may have done more harm than good. That said, we don't offer those kinds of programs anymore, and here's why:

Weight loss challenges are based on bad science.

Such programs are typically short term (6-8 weeks) and focus almost exclusively on calories. The idea is that if you consume fewer calories than you burn, you'll lose weight. (Or, as we fitness folks prefer: burn more calories than you take in.) On paper, the math makes perfect sense. But the reality of calories in versus calories out as it relates to body weight is far more complicated. Fitness professionals often assume that people are fat because they either aren't moving their bodies enough or they're eating too many calories. Fix one or both of those and the weight will come right off.

In fact, the weight may come off for the duration of the challenge. Sustained weight loss is also a possible outcome (there are success stories out there), but it's not a likely one.  

[Read More: The Long Strange History of Fad Diets]

Weight loss challenges motivate the wrong health behaviors.

Early in my career one of my most memorable encounters with a fitness center member occurred when she came in for her appointment to talk about an exercise plan tailored to her goals. Weight loss was her primary goal so we started talking about what might be a reasonable initial target. Quickly into the appointment, she dissolved into tears and through the rest of our conversation, we didn't talk about exercise, we talked about her body image and how deeply connected that was to her self worth.

That kind of desperation lends to poor health behavior choices when we're talking about weight; it's not a stretch to go from a weight loss challenge at work to dysfunctional eating habits. The restrictive nature of the challenges often leaves participants grumbling about when they can eat their next cheeseburger. I'd cringe when I heard something like that. I'm not anti-cheeseburger, cheesecake, or cheese for that matter. I am against the idea of labeling foods into good/bad categories as a strategy for eating better, and I am against the idea of restriction as a tactic for improving health.

Weight loss challenges perpetuate a negative body image narrative.

The story I shared above about the member crying in my office because of her weight wasn't an isolated incident. It happened regularly. And while I was honored that people would feel comfortable getting real with me, I also felt horribly ill-equipped to counsel, recommend, or even respond. (There was no training for this in my bachelor's or master's programs). So I practiced empathetic listening because it was the only tool I had in my toolbox. After several consults like this, I adopted a mantra: "Your weight on the scale is not related to your value as a human being" in the hopes that my members would internalize a tiny piece of that to understand that regardless of their weight, body fat, jean size, or relationship to food they had immense value to me and others in their lives.

When we focus on excess weight as something that MUST be addressed, we imply that individuals who aren't at a "healthy body weight" must need fixing. That's a pretty rich message coming from a group of professionals who love exercise so much, we choose to do it for a living.

So what do we do when someone comes to us with weight loss questions?

We will still work with individuals on reasonable weight loss goals if they come to us 1:1 for that kind of support. But, we do it from the foundation message that good health is primary. If weight loss occurs as a natural outcome of healthy choices, then so be it.

We do still get asked by businesses if we'll help them run their weight loss challenge. The answer is no. Sometimes they'll respond to other creative health-related programming and other times, they're committed to their Biggest Loser-style weight loss competition and we have to bow out.

* * *

If you're looking for a corporate fitness partner who is committed to helping your employees live well and work well, click below to find out how we can help.


We make corporate fitness easy.  Find out how.

Topics: corporate fitness program weight loss healthy living corporate fitness programming wellness programs weight loss challenges at work Biggest Loser-style program

How one senior living community made major improvements in their fitness program

NIFS Fitness Center Management | DataIf you DIY the fitness program in your senior living community, you probably think your offerings are market-standard and don't need to be reconsidered. Even with strong staff running your fitness program, that in-house team has limits on what they can build for the community, and it's likely that you're missing out on opportunities for substantial improvement. The problem with those missed opportunities is that even with something as basic as exercise, it's tough to know what you don't know.

Here's one example of a client we're working with who already had in-house staff in place when we were brought on board to take over management of their fitness programming. In this case, the existing staff was well-credentialed and they were doing a good job of teaching group fitness classes and providing 1:1 exercise prescription and orientation-type services for the members. They were also running periodic programs and partnering across their communities with wellness initiatives. It was all good stuff, and yet, there was a lot of room for improvement. As part of the contract, we hired the existing staff and worked collaboratively to capitalize on what they were doing well, while also bringing in core services that provide tremendous value to program participants and the client. Here's a list of key data from our first full year at this community:
  • Annual fitness center visits increased 44% despite there being no change in total eligible residents during this time.
  • Appointment volume increased 68% which means that residents got a lot more high touch interaction with our fitness experts.
  • The average number of fitness center visits per day increased 43% and the number of residents who visited the fitness center at least once per month jumped 20%.
  • In a community where the group fitness program was already strong, we made a few tweaks and overall class participation increased 9%.

As I said, the staff leadership at this client location was strong before we came on board; they were doing a nice job tracking and using available data as well as providing good variety in programming. But, there are limits to what a small team can do in an environment like that without additional job-specific support. And that's the value of outsourcing your fitness center program to an organization that specializes in building and sustaining strong resident fitness programs. We were quickly able to help this team: 

  • Identify new ways to attract residents into appointments and structure documented follow-up practices to keep residents engaged in their exercise programs.
  • Adopt a program evaluation framework that allowed them to focus in on a few goals and truly evaluate what was/wasn't working in their community.
  • Provide comprehensive balance training/fall prevention programming with a depth that far exceed previous efforts, and served to draw in new participants to the fitness center and group fitness classes.

If you're ready to start moving your community fitness program to the next level, click below to download our eBook: How to Transform Your Fitness Center From Vacant to Vibrant.

Take your fitness center from vacant to vibrant > 

Topics: senior living fitness center fitness center for seniors outsourcing fitness managment resident fitness DIY staffing

Is Exercise Getting Left Behind in the Evolution of Corporate Wellness?

NIFS | Exercise ReminderThere is more and more discussion in corporate wellness today about doing wellness for (with?) employees, creating thriving workplace environments, shifting toward programmatic choices that allow for volunteerism and financial literacy, engaging employees with more purposeful work, and using job crafting to create more meaningful work.

It's an interesting time to engage in discussion about what these paradigm shifts really mean when it comes to practical, on-the-ground-application for employees. I agree with much of the dialog; I think it's past time to consider a shift and to take action on it. And yet, I'm concerned that we may be packing away some key elements for "old school" corporate wellness that should not be left out of the mix. One of those program options that is on the fringe is physical activity.

If the basis of your corporate wellness initiative is to help employees live well so that they can bring their best to work each day, then you cannot leave exercise behind. While you consider things like living wage, job crafting and other areas that impact individual well-being, you also need to keep the idea of making the healthy choice the easy choice at the top of mind. Here's how exercise maintains relevance in corporate wellness even as the concept of such offerings continue to evolve. 

The workplace is a prime place for making exercise easy

The research about the benefits of regular activity are clear. What remains elusive are effective strategies to nudge employees toward a more active lifestyle. But, that doesn't mean we should stop creating easy ways for the workers to move their bodies. Time and money (access) remain the two biggest barriers for adults when asked why they don't engage in regular exercise. Like it or not, the workplace becomes a prime location for employees to fit in some activity.  

Exercise doesn't require as much guess work as other initiatives

I know a lot of organizations have taken on wearables as the hallmark of their wellness program's physical activity component. It may be tempting to go that route - it seems relatively easy, and if the cost to implementation isn't a barrier for the organization, you can simply give everyone a Fitbit and get on with it. There are however, many reasons to exercise caution with the use of wearables in your wellness program, not the least of which is privacy.

[Read more: Why Wearable Fitness Trackers Aren't Your Wellness Program]

Outside of the wearable marketplace, there a host of ways you can make physical activity an easy choice in your work environments. We're partial to a corporate fitness center, but that's not the right fit in every business. While you need variety, you don't have to spend a ton of money to execute this well. Group fitness classes can be run with modest cost (or no cost - employees can fund this if you simply make the opportunity available). Painting out safe walking zones in your parking lot, providing resources for stretch breaks, and offering solid education on opportunities for exercise in the community are examples of low-cost initiatives that can easily be developed.  

Leading the way is required

Sometimes, the best way to communicate that movement is important for your workforce has less to do with programmatic offerings, but instead is focused on shifting your culture so that walking breaks are repeatedly encouraged and modeled.

[Read more: 5 Tips To Help Your Employees Move More]

Leaders in the organization have to adopt a mindset where taking a break for physical activity during the day is not just accepted, it's encouraged. One of the best ways to do that is by modeling (yes, that means you need to take your own breaks!). You also have to be mindful of workplace policies (clock in/out policies, productivity quotas, etc.) that may send a different message than the supportive communications you've issued. If words and actions don't match up, employees aren't likely to adopt new practices. 

At the end of the day, you can't really legislate that employees exercise. The motivation to move has to be an inner drive in order for it to be a sustained choice. But, you can make it easier for your workforce to have access to physical activity by creating both spaces and support for regular exercise. 

Tips for adding exercise

Topics: exercise at work corporate fitness corporate wellness success corporate wellness programs corporate fitness programming wellness programming

What's Missing From Your Resident Fitness Program and How To Fix It

NIFS | Senior Group Fitness

I hear from a lot of leadership in senior living communities who know that there's more that could be done with their resident exercise program, but they aren't sure how to get their staff to ramp things up. If you find yourself in this situation, check out the list below for common challenges and opportunities to do better for your residents.

Our participation is lower than it should be.

There are a few reasons that participation in your fitness program might run lower than it should.  The first thing to determine is whether you have reliable data about who is participating. When we  start working with a community, we often learn that they may have total (or estimated) counts for group fitness class participation and that's the end of their program data.  

  • Start by tracking participation per resident. You'll have more reliable information about who is participating, how frequently they attend, and what they participate in. You'll also gain knowledge about who isn't coming to the fitness center and/or classes.
  • If your staff can deliver on individual services for residents, add fitness and balance testing along with exercise prescriptions to provide residents who aren't participating with the support they need to feel safe and inspired to begin an exercise program.

[Read More: 4 Strategies to Engage More Residents in Your Exercise Program]

Our group fitness class calendar needs a do-over.

It's common for the group fitness class calendar to get set on autopilot without critical evaluation of what needs to be updated.

  • Start by using the participation data to figure out which classes really deserve a spot on your calendar.
  • The balance classes our staff teach in our client communities are by far the most popular format. If you don't have dedicated balance training classes on the calendar, add them now. It's not enough to have balance training mixed in with a strength class or another blended format.
  • Carefully consider class descriptions; how you word group fitness opportunities for residents can make a big difference in what resonates with a previously inactive audience.

We need to be offering more fun programs.

Creating fun and inspiring programs to invite more participation in the fitness center is one of the best parts of the job! It's really central to how our staff are supporting residents in the client fitness centers we manage. Consider that engaging programs should be more than just fun; they should be built strategically to meet a specific goal. For example, NIFS Fitness Freeze program was a solid solution to combat the traditional fitness center visit decline we see in December each year. Or, think more holistically about Active Aging Week and use National Senior Health and Fitness Day to offer non-traditional options for physical activity.

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If you're committed to keeping your fitness staff in house, then they need some support to start improving what they're offering your residents. Our eBook on how to turn your fitness center from vacant to vibrant is a great next step.

Take your fitness center from vacant to vibrant >

Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness group fitness for seniors fitness for seniors

Corporate Wellness or Employee Well-being? Or Does it Matter?

NIFS | Corporate Wellness vs Well-beingI wrote a post a while ago about changing the name vs changing the notion of "activities" in senior livingAt the time, the industry was working through a naming brainstorm (“name-storming”) to determine if continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) should be renamed. For the record, the industry has moved toward life plan community as an alternative to CCRC. The whole “name-storming” thing got me thinking about the value of words. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that words matter. Words are indeed powerful, and we must choose them carefully to thoughtfully convey what we mean. Otherwise, we have this situation, or this oneAnd yet, getting the words right doesn’t mean we can slack on our actions behind the words. Which brings me to a debate going on in corporate wellness…or is it corporate well-being? This article says well-being is the future of wellnessThe Global Wellness Institute’s Chairman also thinks well-being is where the industry needs to move because wellness isn’t as holistic. (Interestingly, she also notes that wellness apparently isn’t associated with happiness.)

If you point your web browser to a search of well-being versus wellness, you’ll get a host of articles that are part of the current conversation. And it seems that there is a movement in favor of the more holistic “well-being” as the appropriate, inclusive, aspirational name for the corporate programming we have traditionally called employee wellness.

So let’s make that switch. Let’s all link arms and agree to change our vocabulary and put wellness where it belongs…in 2017. Wellness vendors become well-being vendors, and wellness programs become well-being programs. Employees earn well-being points instead of wellness points and wellness directors sign new job descriptions that dub them well-being directors.

Except here’s the thing. We will still have corporate wellness programs that focus primarily on physical health without taking a hard look at how the workplace environment nurtures or neglects employees. Businesses will still have program directors who come from fully clinical backgrounds and who myopically build sterile programs that lack a more human element. Practitioners will still be talking about how important stress resilience is to helping human beings thrive with very little concrete employer-provided action to truly help the workforce get a handle on the pressures of work and life.

[Read More: Why wearable fitness trackers aren’t your wellness program]

Of course, the above descriptions don’t fit every situation. There are some fabulously compassionate, effective, and well-loved wellness programs out there in corporate settings. But for those programs, it doesn’t really matter if we call it wellness or well-being. Because the focus is on helping employees be their best selves in work and life.

I do realize this is pretty rich commentary coming from an organization whose primary focus in on fitness. To be fair, we have a lot to gain by the industry holding still on the current model where “wellness” equals physical health. But I’ve been around long enough to see that having your physical self in good shape isn’t the only way to be well; we’re only part of the picture. And, the more our staff are tasked with work beyond managing the corporate fitness center, the more value I see in using our relationships with employees to help them discover how they want to live well (which may or may not include a regular workout).

That’s the change we’re making, one connection at a time. What do you want to change: the scope of your program or what you call it?

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Topics: employee wellness wellness programs employee wellbeing well-being

Does Your Senior Living Community Wellness Program Foster Ageism?

Several months ago, I listened to an interview on NPR with Ron Christie. He talked about working with President George W. Bush, who pressed the idea of combating the soft bigotry of low expectations when it came to the achievement gap for kids in schools. Turns out, the soft bigotry of low expectations is alive and well in all sorts of domains in this country, including how we view the abilities of older adults.

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

NIFS | Playing FrisbeeOne of the challenges that wellness program leaders in senior living communities must overcome is making sweeping assumptions about the abilities of their audience. And it's no easy task. I am in communities across the country on a regular basis where I'm routinely surprised by the stories I hear from residents about how enthusiastically they're living their lives right now. Shame on me. After more than a decade of doing this work, I am still amazed at how vibrant my elders can be. That amazement, though positive and delighting, is rooted in my ageist assumptions that older adults somehow cannot or should not live with the same enthusiasm that I choose for myself. It is representative of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Whether or not you can see these ageist assumptions in your own beliefs, you can see it very tangibly in the activity calendars, which are the visible display of how residents are invited to live well in your community. It shows up on senior living activity calendars in these (and other) ways:

  • Unique activities? Does your calendar have fewer than 5% of activities each month that are truly unique to the month, quarter, or year? If you're not sure, try this: pull up three months of calendars and cross off every item that is routine, including standing card games, meetings, birthday celebrations, group fitness classes, etc. See what's left and consider how empty your calendar might be if it highlighted only the unique events.
  • Passive vs. active? Does your calendar have a substantial percentage of the programming designed to be passive (sit-and-listen) rather than activating residents' minds and bodies? How many events are truly resident-led where the staff are only providing assistance with room reservation and possible event communication? Which programs can you point to that facilitate meaningful social interaction for your residents?
  • Serving just the vocal minority? Are your calendar events built largely on the vocal minority requests, where the activity director serves as an order-taker instead of pulling from a broader base of residents, community connections, etc.?

[Read More: 3 Keys To Improving Resident Engagement In Wellness]

Those are not the hallmarks of programming that communicate the capability, energy, and desires of the seniors we serve. Those are very much representative of offerings for those who are retiring from life. They tend to be narrow in scope, limiting in new experiences, and focused on probably 20–30% of your population. They demonstrate our lowered expectations for what will inspire seniors to engage.

Fortunately, it seems the senior living industry as a whole is moving toward educating on ageist stereotyping and uncovering systemic challenges that make it hard to overcome the generalized belief that increasing age means decreasing value to society. LeadingAge offered this "beginning conversation" in the magazine late in 2016, and the International Council on Active Aging has been beating the drum against ageism as well.

At the community level, using a fresh lens to see what's possible from an activities standpoint is a good start. That means dropping (as best you can) any perceptions you have about the audience you serve. You can take a stab at revealing your assumptions by giving a colleague your elevator speech about what you do.

  • Do you include assumptions about what programs residents will and will not participate in?
  • Do you have an underlying assumption of frailty in your residents?
  • Does your message speak to how resistant your residents are to change?

If your focus is on keeping residents busy and entertaining them, you may be building your enrichment program on ageist stereotypes. Perhaps it's time to do better. Check out these concrete ideas for truly honoring the passions and interests of your lively and very much alive residentsOr, if you're ready to get busy evaluating what you have as a starting point for making improvements, check out our quick read on how to evaluate the quality of your wellness program.

Find out how to evaluate your program

Topics: senior wellness active aging senior living senior living community activities ageism

How I manage my stress with a 5:00am workout

NIFS | Managing Stress | Early WorkoutI know I'm not the ONLY one who exercises early in the morning.  While I don't have stats on the percent of exercising adults who workout before 7:00am, I know there are quite a lot of us; I see my tribe at the gym when I'm there at o'dark thirty.  (Seriously, why would commercial gyms open at 5:00am if there wasn't a demand for it?)  Still, whenever I get into a conversation with a friend about exercise and it comes out that I'm on the treadmill at 5:00am, I get the "are you out of your bleeping mind" look. 

The thing is, adulting is hard. There are a lot of pressures flying in (and sometimes sticking around) from different directions. We're wearing so many hats - wife, mom, friend, volunteer, employee - that without fail, when one of those important elements in life is out of whack with high stress, the other areas suffer too. 

I know it sounds cliche, but exercise is my fix.  When I'm not moving my body regularly, the carefully-laid house of cards I've built that has the appearance of everything going smoothly in my life is going to get blown over by the slightest of stressors.  Enter the 5AM workout.  I don't mean to sound dramatic, but I've tried other times of the day and it just doesn't fit for my life.  I have to be at work by 7:30am so I can leave by 4:30pm for kid pick up and once I'm in mom-mode, forget the afternoon/evening for "me" time. I suppose I could try the lunch-time thing if I thought my coworkers would be okay with me sweating in the office (even after a shower...yes, I'm one of THOSE people).

To be clear, when my alarm goes off at 4:30am it's not like I'm all bright eyed and perky.  I stumble to the kitchen, turn on the coffee pot and then sit on the couch to go through some basic seated stretches while I wipe the sleep from my eyes. I am never happy about the 5:00am workout, and I don't hit it every day, but I'm always glad when it's done and my whole day is better for it.  

I've done the early morning workout since I started adulting after college, and I've learned over the years to listen to my body so each early meet up with the treadmill, the weights, or the pool isn't always a time trial to beat yesterdays effort. I'm more forgiving for a light day and for skipping a day which has its own benefits for my psyche. 

When I managed corporate fitness centers for NIFS years ago, I used to get asked what was the best time of day to workout, and my answer was always the same: it's whatever time you actually will workout.  That's still my answer; 5:00am isn't for everyone. But there are a lot of hours in the day to choose to move your body.  Even a short 10 minute stint can be powerful for your health.  Carve out the time, no matter the hour and no matter how brief. Your body, your family, and your friends will be glad you did. 

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Topics: stress workouts exercise habit making time to exercise morning workout

4 Myths That Are Limiting The Success of Your Corporate Fitness Center 

Including a corporate fitness center in your menu of employee wellness benefits is worth considering. It takes away a few common excuses people use for not exercising by being convenient and low or no cost for employees to use. But if you think that simply putting a fitness center into your office space is a key answer to lowering your health care costs, you’re mistaken. And, if lowering your health care costs is your primary motivator for funding a corporate fitness center, you may want to reconsider that position because generating ROI figures specific to your onsite fitness program is almost impossible.

If you're still with me because you think a corporate fitness center is on the list of the right things to do to help your employees be well, then consider the myths below that may hold back the success of your worksite fitness initiatives.  

#1: If we build it, they will come.

Corporate fitness center ghost town

No, friends, “they” won’t. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that just under 22% of adults age 18 and older self-report meeting the physical activity guidelines. Because that data is self-reported, it’s probably inflated. If this snapshot is representative of your workforce (and it probably is), then your employees aren’t as active as they should be for optimal health. But simply putting a fitness center in your building won't automatically make inactive employees start exercising. Solely dedicating a space and putting some equipment in, is no guarantee that it won't quickly become a ghost town.

One key to making your fitness center more effective is providing engaging and qualified staff to both manage the center, AND provide key services/support for employees. Without fitness center staff, you are building a corporate fitness center for the 15-20% of your workforce who are already regular exercisers. That said, if you built your corporate fitness center to be a nice amenity and you don’t really care if it’s being used, then carry on. But, if you’re truly interested in helping people adopt physical activity into their lives, consider getting the right staff in there to pull your fence sitters (“Maybe I’ll try it Monday”) off the fence and into the fitness center.

#2: If we can find the right carrot, more employees will participate.

One manager’s “carrot” is another employee’s “stick”. A lack of employee engagement can’t be fixed with HSA money or t-shirts. It’s likely that your employees aren’t participating for reasons much deeper than the extrinsic rewards you’re willing to lay at their feet. 

An individual’s ability to be well goes WAY beyond biometric screenings and an HRA. Research tells us that zip code does more to determine our health than our genes. Employers have zero control over both of those. So, while you’re designing the perfect incentive strategy to get your employees to participate in the annual wellness program, they’re wondering how to keep food on the table and how pay their bills. They're worrying about junior's performance at school and they pray daily that he gets to and from school safely. If that isn't enough to have on their plate, they’re suffering the weight of serious stress brought on by working more than one job. 

In the midst of all of the stress of their personal lives, there isn't a consideration of using your corporate fitness center. Worse yet, every Fall, when you tell them the money that’s at stake if they don’t successfully complete elements X, Y, and Z of your wellness program, they only feel more burden and frankly a necessity to participate in the drudgery that is your wellness program. They NEED those HSA dollars so they’ll scrape by figuring out a way to complete all of the wellness program components. And they’ll resent you all the way. There’s nothing healthy about any of that.

#3: If we ask employees what they need, they’ll put forward ridiculous suggestions we can’t use (so we don’t’ ask).

I can’t say this is 100% false. Case in point, we have one client who has a few employees who annually ask for a pool at work via our satisfaction survey. The client is never going to act on that request. But, it would be equally ridiculous to assume that all feedback is as myopic as this. 

If you subscribe to the ideology that healthy and happy employees are the core of your successful business, then you value what your teams have to say. Sometimes, their needs for improved health shows up in their data, so you don't even have to ask. In other cases, they have fabulous ideas for elevating your organization that would never otherwise have made it to the surface if you didn’t ask.

We make it a habit to solicit feedback from fitness center members, and in many cases, they've asked for services that we were able to implement to the benefit of all of the members. For example, in response to a member request, we now routinely have a large bottle of sunscreen available for members who want to run/walk outside. We also started building a library of grab-n-go workouts on laminated cards that members could use to get through a quick session without a scheduled appointment with a trainer. Eventually, we built those into on-the-road kits for employees who traveled; they could check out a travel kit before their trip and return it when they got back to the office. You could argue that these ideas should have been on our radar, but they weren't and we never would have met these needs if we hadn't asked for feedback. 

#4: If our fitness center isn’t being used we need to change our management partner.

Maybe your fitness center is struggling because of the management company, or maybe it's the right management partner but the wrong staff for your culture. But, before you assume that low participation in your fitness center could be fixed by swapping out the vendor, take a holistic view of what's happening in your work environment.  

Here's why: if your employees have very little autonomy in their jobs, then the corporate fitness center isn’t even on the employee’s radar. They punch in and punch in without looking back. It doesn’t matter how engaging and inviting the fitness center staff is, how great the services are, how fun the group fitness classes are, and how easy it is to join the fitness center. If their work environment offers no flexibiliy, they will not use your fitness center. 

Your fitness management vendor cannot rise above your organization's cultural barriers to magically draw employees into the fitness center, and a vendor switch is a major ordeal. So, exercise caution and take a hard look in the mirror before you fix a vendor relationship that may not be broken.  

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Your employees lives are complicated and their work environment is part of that sticky picture.  Some of them are likely fighting to make it each day, in ways that you may have never considered. If you’re committed to a strategy for employee well-being that is truly about lifting your employees up, then you have to bust through these myths to get to the real barriers that make it hard for people to make a healthy choice. For more on addressing social determinants of health in your wellness program, try this article. If you're looking for a few quick tips to infuse a little more movement into the workday for your employees, grab our quick read below.

 Quick tips to help your employees move more

Topics: employee health and wellness workplace wellness corporate fitness management