Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

New Ideas for Your Corporate Health Fair

NIFS | Health FairHealth Fairs have become a standard offering as part of corporate wellness programs and it’s common for our staff to coordinate these events. Because traditional health fairs have been around for so long, we place a lot of emphasis on being innovative when organizing experiences. Without a creative approach, you get the same old, boring fair with the same vendors, the same pamphlets, and the same cheap pedometers/stress balls/water bottles. Still, when you’re coordinating your seventh health fair, it’s tough to come up with something new. Ultimately, health Fairs are about education so here are a few ideas on how you can give your event a breath of fresh air.

Go Wild

It’s a known fact that people love their animals! So much so that many consider them part of the family. Studies show that pets can offer a sense of enjoyment, love and add companionship to a person’s life. You can see how pets go hand in hand (or paw) with health. Try working with your local pet adoption agencies to see if they are willing to bring a variety of pets for adoption. Employees will get to see/pet/love them in person and discuss the considerations of adoption. It may turn out to be a hot spot for your health fair, so plan head with ample space to draw a crowd and a bunch of smiles.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Sustainable farming is becoming an important part of our future and along with this, so is urban farming. Small gardens, bee hives and chicken coops are popping up all across the country in people’s backyards. Community gardens are also making a name for themselves so if you don’t have the space or you don't want the daily commitment, you can volunteer at a farm co-op. There’s so much to learn about sustainable living while enjoying time outside in the fresh air, getting your hands dirty. Research what urban garden contacts you have in your community to come offer information on this topic.

Socialize

We know people are less social because of all the technology available drawing us away from community. There are some perks to the tech of course, but there is also a pretty big down side. People are losing touch, staying to themselves more, and not getting the health benefits of human contact. Ask some of your local social networking companies to attend your health fair. These groups host numerous get together's for people who may like to hike, attend events as a group, get coffee on the weekends, have discussions at book clubs, and even travel the world. Meetup is a website where you can find a variety of events in your area to join. This site gives you group options like food, music, dance, hobbies, family, photography and much more. There's something for everyone! Don’t under estimate how vital socializing can be for good health.

Hit The Road

Alternative transportation is a thriving business so why not put some options in front of your employees? In Denver, the buses and light rail welcome people’s bikes aboard as they head for their destination. We also have an automated bike sharing system where you can check out one of Denver B-cycles where they offer 700 bikes, at 82 of their bikes stations throughout the city. Just return your bike to the B-cycle station or the one closest to your destination when finished. I’m sure your city has some type of alternative transportation system, so do some research and see what you can offer about this topic at your next health fair.  

The most important take away is to keep your health fairs exciting and offer the most up-to-date information with a touch of something new and exciting. Don’t get pegged in to a corner on what type of vendors you can offer either, there’s a whole world of possibilities. Click below to access more creative program ideas from our staff.

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Topics: health fair fitness program corporate wellness programs corporate fitness programming

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.

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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.


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

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

4 Ways to Find a Healthy Relationship with Exercise

We all do it. Your friend says to you, “Alright, we have three months until Jamaica! Let’s start exercising!” Both of you are on board to start an exercise regimen and are full throttle for three months straight. You are committed and neither of you have missed a sweat session since you started. You have been eating healthier, feeling great and working towards a goal. Everything is going great and then, vacation sets in.

Bam! Was all that hard work really just for week-long trip to look good in Jamaica? This is unrealistic goal setting and it can create issues with your relationship with exercise. So, how do we get into a better mind-set that exercising isn’t just getting ready for that trip to Jamaica or to have a body like Jessica Biel?

NIFS | Healthy Relationship with Exercise

#1: Change your mentality towards exercise.

Exercise shouldn’t be a chore. It should be a release; a release physically and mentally from your crummy day at work or from that test you took and think you totally bombed. Maybe, the workout doesn't have to be all "go hard or go home"; what if it was a simple walk on the treadmill or outside to clear your head? Working out as a means to an end (like prepping for a trip, or a class reunion) creates a lot of self-imposed pressure and it leads to a built in stopping point. The added pressure can also increase your risk for injury if you start out too intensely. Why add that to all of life’s other stress? Finding a positive relationship with exercise may take time, but it will be worth it in the long run.

#2: Find the workout that makes YOU happy.

One of your friends swears by hot yoga, but you have another social circle who only workout at their CrossFit® gym. You try both avenues and totally hate them, but stick with them because, hey, that’s what buddies do, right? WRONG. You need to find what makes you tick. If hot yoga isn’t your thing, don’t do it because it’s your BFF's favorite thing to do. Maybe, you like to just take leisure walk/jogs through the park or you enjoy power lifting. You won’t know until you try. (And this leads me into the next item on the list.)

#3: Get out of your comfort zone.

I know it’s scary, but staying in a comfortable zone doesn’t create change. It also doesn’t help us figure out what we like and it certainly doesn't help us get better. Maybe you can find a buddy to go with you to your first spin class so it isn’t so daunting. Whatever it takes, get out of your comfort zone, try something new, re-evaluate and figure out what works best for you! If you have access to a gym or a corporate fitness center, talk to staff you trust to broaden your perspective on ways to move that might be fun.

#4: Get a handle on YOUR Relationship with Exercise.

We know now that “getting the perfect body” or “getting ripped for vacay” is NOT a healthy relationship with exercise. A healthy relationship with exercise is using it as a tool to relax, to feel well, and/or to use as a life-long hobby. Trust me, you won’t stick with it if you decide three months before Jamaica you want to look like Jennifer Aniston. Your goals need to be attainable and healthy; they also need to be unique to you. 

Exercise shouldn’t be a quick fix to a problem and it shouldn't be complete drudgery each time you strap on your gym shoes. If you hate moving your body, then try another approach.  It should be a life-style choice that you find gratifying and enjoyable.

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Topics: making time to exercise exercising motivation healthy living corporate fitness programming setting exercise goals healthy relationship with exercise

Unexpected Results with Corporate Fitness Incentive Programs

money_gift_ThinkstockPhotos-179330649.jpgDuring the holiday season, making consistent visits to the Fitness Center can be a challenge. Most gyms see a drop in attendance as members take time off for vacation or travel to visit family. They are consumed with Christmas shopping, baking, and entertaining. 

As with most corporate fitness incentive programs, we naturally gravitate towards rewarding members with prizes for attendance and participation in particular programs. Gift cards, t-shirts, trinkets all come to mind. But this year, I opted for a different strategy to motivate our corporate Fitness Center members.  

For November, we implemented a program where each visit to the Fitness Center earned money towards a donation to charity. Each new member who signed up earned more money towards charity.  We used our budget money that would typically go towards prizes for members and applied it toward a charity chosen by those who visited the Fitness Center at least 15 times during the month. 

When giving to the community is challenging due to personal budgets and money spent for family Christmas presents, this program provided an opportunity for members give without opening their wallets. Bonus for them - they also improved their health!

This program spoke to my heart and love of giving, so I was hopeful that it would attract the attention of members who enjoy doing the same. I must say, it worked well beyond my expectation… but in a way I wasn’t anticipating.

Even though it was November, we maintained a slightly higher visit rate than October. October had 22 business days; November only had 19.  Not to mention, most people take off the whole week of Thanksgiving. One would anticipate a significant drop of 100 – 300 visits. Instead we had a small increase!  We were able to raise $320 that would be sent to the Angel Tree Program through the Salvation Army.  

But here’s the unexpected BONUS! The moment I sent out the email with the results, I received an email from a member requesting to meet with me. Sure thing! I went to meet her only to have a check handed to me?! What?! It was a check for the same amount - $320. The member wanted to match the amount we had raised. I stared at her dumbfounded. She explained that she had made the decision to match our donation when the program was advertised. On top of that, she has a special place in her heart for the Angel Tree Program. So when I notified every one of the chosen charity, she said it was more confirmation of her want of giving. 

WOW. Warm fuzzy feelings. Heart swelling. People do care!

These results with corporate fitness incentive programs encourage programs like this  tostick around for a while. Even if we have no matching donation, it has proved positive for the Angel Tree Program, holiday Fitness Center visits and my heart! 

Want to do wellness better for your employees in 2016?  Click below to download our whitepaper: 4 Reasons Fitness Initiatives Fail in Corporate Wellness Programs and plan for success next year.

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Topics: corporate fitness programming wellness programming