Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

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

Healthy Living with Essential Oils

NIFS | Essential OilsEvery time I turn on the TV my eyes are flooded with commercials promoting new remedies for aches, pains, and disorders. They often include an overjoyed person dancing or baking a cake while a soothing voice reads off the endless side effects of the drug.  “Upset stomach, wild dreams, or nosebleeds may occur," says the soothing voice, “However, your affliction will be controlled for 12 hours.” Geesh! But we have a whole cabinet full of them- a pill for inflammation, a pill for blood sugar control, a pill for the nausea we get from taking the blood sugar pill and on and on. Thinking back to my grandmother’s house- she had many pills but she also had other mixtures, oils, and potions for curing ailments. Sometimes an onion in a sock, sometimes horseradish with olive oil… whatever discomfort you had- Grandma knew a cure!  Which old wives’ tale rang true for you?

I’m not suggesting that traditional medicine should be thrown out the window. But I do want to explore how to incorporate oils into daily routines for enhanced well-being. Essential oils have been around for hundreds of years with documented uses dating back to around 1500 BC. Essential oils are a concentrated liquid that contains a plant’s chemical properties. Each oil has a unique property and potential effect depending on the plant from which it’s derived.  They are extracted through steam distillation and cold pressing, making the extracts full of potent antioxidants.

Essential oils can be used topically. They can also be inhaled or ingested. When used topically be sure to dilute a few drops of the essential oil with a carrier oil. Carrier oils include grapeseed, olive, coconut, and jojoba oils. They act as a base oil and do not affect the effectiveness of the essential oil. They absorb easily into the body due to their tiny molecular structure. Oils can be applied behind the ear, on temples, soles of the feet, or directly to the area of concern.

The technique of inhaling the oils for relief is called Aromatherapy. Simply sniff the oil scent directly from the bottle (1 to 2 inhales is all you need), or a diffuser can also be used. Only consume essential oils which are labeled safe to do so. One drop of cinnamon oil is all you need to elevate that Saturday morning French toast recipe! Or, you can add a few drops to water or yogurt. Some oils can be dropped into a capsule to swallow.

Here are a few ailments and the essential oil that may help to eradicate common aches and pains. Please note the information in this blog is meant to serve as a guide. It is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Interactions between oils and other over the counter or prescription medication can occur; always consult your physician before altering your medication plan.

  1. Inflamed joints can be soothed with the help of the frankincense oil. In a hot bath it works to nourish the skin and stimulate the body’s immune function.
  2. Remember where you left your keys with the help of rosemary. One study from Northumbria University found that being in a rosemary scented room could improve memory by 15% in older people.
  3. Dealing with an itchy scalp and or acne is no fun. A few drops of tea tree oil works to clear it in a hurry. Add to your conditioner or mix with Aloe Vera gel and apply.
  4. Battling infections? Oregano and thyme oil have supreme antibacterial properties. If taken orally, ingest in smaller doses with food over 10-14 days.
  5. If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep, lavender oil may send you off to dreamland. Spray the oil around the room before bed, diffuse, or place a few drops in your body lotion and massage into your hands and feet.
  6. Support healthy joints and ease away pain with a blend of wintergreenpeppermint or black pepper oils. Dilute and massage it into the skin.
  7. Create an uplifting beverage to combat those gloomy days by combining ylang ylang (pronounced yah-lang yah-lang) and orange oil with water, honey and ice
  8. Tummy troubles? Give cool, bright peppermint oil a go. Add a few drops to herbal tea. Many brands may be ingestible but that’s not always the case, so read the labels carefully.

The effects of essential oils on the human body are still being researched. But the claims of those who use them are astounding. Call it an old wives’ tale or a miracle but some of these remedies may be worth a try if you’re open to alternative health methods.  

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Topics: essential oils alternative living natural living healthy living home remedies

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

Should We Still Use BMI and Body Composition in Corporate Fitness?

GettyImages-844045822.jpgFor years, fitness professionals have been trained to use Body Mass Index (BMI) as a prescreening tool when individuals join a fitness program. It was part of the recommendations by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for evaluating health risks; tobacco use, cholesterol profile, and family history for cardiovascular disease were also part of that process. In 2015, the ACSM updated their guidelines, and guess what? No BMI screening was included.

(Find out more about the changes to exercise prescreening in this FAQ.)

Why Is BMI No Longer a Screening Tool?

The changes to the ACSM guidelines were positioned largely around decreasing barriers for individuals to start an exercise program. After years of research, what they found was that BMI was not a driver of cardiovascular events during exercise. Anecdotally, I can say from experience that I had a lot of (sometimes angry) individuals wanting to join the corporate fitness center who needed a medical release because their BMI was "too high" and they had one other risk factor, such as not knowing their cholesterol or current tobacco use. So for our staff and their members in corporate fitness environments across the country, I thought this was a positive change.

But it leaves me wondering if we should be looking at BMI at all. There's a lot of back and forth in the wellness community about the "value" of BMI. The screening tool was always meant to be a field test to determine appropriateness of weight for a given height. And truly, it's an easy measure to determine; there are BMI calculators all over the internet. But that may be the end of its utility as a screening tool. There are a lot of questions about how meaningful the information really is to either the individual being assessed or the practitioner with whom they're working.

If We Don't Use BMI, What Should We Use?

This is something of a loaded question and points to our cultural obsession with "healthy" body weight. Do we need to screen for fatness? What's the value in those figures? Certainly measuring percent body fat or circumference might provide more meaningful ways to track an individual's desire to lose weight. But there are caveats on providing that information, too. Our staff members are providing those measures as field tests in our clients' corporate fitness centers, and the accuracy can be questionable, particularly for body fat assessed by skinfold testing.

We have a responsibility in our clients' fitness center environments to help the members live well in the ways that are meaningful to each individual. That might mean helping someone work on gradual, healthy weight loss. It might also mean working with someone to help them learn to appreciate the difference between feeling good when they move their body and feeling bad when they step on the scale.

The goal for our staff is to help the members they serve improve their health in all the ways that are articulated. When tools like BMI are so limiting (and potentially harmful to the psyche), we have to take a hard look at whether those tools are helping us achieve that goal. With so many other fantastic programs in our books to help people move more, try new areas of healthy living, and even remember what it felt like to play at recess, I think we have just what we need to create positive, successful, healthy environments for our corporate and senior living clients.

Check out our creative and effective programming to help keep your members active.

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Topics: BMI corporate fitness center body composition prescreening tools risk factors weight loss healthy living senior fitness

It's National Dog Day, Show Your Pet Some Healthy Love!

It’s National Dog Day!  There has been an outpouring of pet love on social media today.  Clearly people love their four legged friends.  Not only are dogs (and cats) wonderful companions, but owning a pet provides more than just sloppy kisses and mounds of fur.  It’s time to bring that relationship full circle and get active with your pet!  Here are just a few benefits of exercise in animals:Family_walk_ThinkstockPhotos-466988813

  • Helps reduce behavior problems such as chewing and excessive barking
  • Improves agility and keeps them limber
  • Reduces digestive problems
  • Improves sleep and decreases restlessness
  • Weight Management

Now that you see your pet’s health benefits from exercise just as your own.  Here are my top 5 things for you to consider and remember when you commit to get fit with your dog!

  1. Exercise Partner – Just like humans, dogs can also become obese.  Not only does walking your pet help to wear them out and burn off some energy, but it will help them maintain their weight as well as your own.  It might even end up that your dog pushes you more than you know.  Fido might keep you more accountable than your coworker does at your corporate fitness center.
  2. Establish a Smart Routine – Whatever type of activity you and your pet enjoy, fit it in at some point throughout the day. Start with short burst of exercise and work your way up.  Just as you should check with a physician prior to starting a workout regimen, your dog should have a check up to.  It’s important for you to know the needs of your dog. 
  3. Swimming – You may have felt a great workout from swimming, less impact on your joints and still gets your heart pumping.  The same goes for dogs.  Consider taking your dog for a swim, whether it’s to fetch a ball or just take a dip.  Larger dogs who may feel the impact of their weight will feel the same relief as you when they get in the water.
  4. Dog Park – Visit your local dog park and make some friends, both you and your pet.  Social wellness is just as important as your physical well-being.  We all know dogs need social interaction for behavior reasons, what about you?
  5. Hydrate – Water is just as important in animals as it is for you.  Make sure your pet is hydrated when increasing activity levels or when it’s hot outside.  What for signs of dehydration such as excessive panting, weakness, and confusion. 

Now get out and get moving after dinner and show your four legged pal some healthy love! 

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Topics: employee health benefits exercise at home healthy living

Active Aging: Make no bones about it

walking_seniorsHow healthy are your bones? This may not be a question you can answer quickly. Many seniors already have weak bones and don’t know it, but the good news is you’re never too old to take steps towards keeping your bones strong. Strong bones support us and allow us to move well. They protect our heart, lungs, and brain from injury. Our bones are also a storehouse for vital minerals that we need to live.

When you think of bones, you might imagine a hard, brittle skeleton. In reality, your bones are living organs. They are alive with cells and flowing body fluids. Bones are constantly renewed and grow stronger with a good diet and adequate physical activity. The amount of calcium that makes up your bones is the measure of how strong they are. Your muscles and other systems in your body must also have calcium to work. Therefore if it is in short supply from what you get in the foods you eat, your body will simply take the calcium from the storage in your bones.

Falls are a common thing you hear about when discussing senior bone health. It is a major reason for trips to the emergency room and for hospital stays among older adults. You can help prevent fractures by maintaining the strength of your bones. If you fall, having healthy bones can prevent hip or other fractures that may lead to a potential severe disability. If bones are fragile, even a minor fall can be detrimental.  

Some things that weaken bones are out of your control. For example, if your family member has a bone problem, you could also be at risk. Also, some medical conditions can make you prone to bone disease. But there are also several things you can do to maintain your bone health as you age. 

Each day, calcium is deposited and withdrawn from your bones. If you don’t get enough calcium, you could be withdrawing more than you’re depositing. Be sure to get an adequate amount, this can be done by eating calcium-rich foods and taking supplements. It can be found in dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. You can also get it from orange juice, nuts such as almonds, soybeans, fortified cereals, and dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli and collard greens.

Vitamin D is necessary to help your body absorb the calcium. As you get older, your bodies need for vitamin D also increases. It is made by your skin when you are in the sun but many older people don’t get enough vitamin D this way. Eating foods with vitamin D, such as salmon, mushrooms, and fortified cereals and milk will greatly benefit your body. You can have a blood test done to check for a vitamin D deficiency or abnormal calcium levels. Taking supplements can help as well, talk to your doctor about how much vitamin D you need.

Physical activity is another way to keep your bones strong. Try to get a total of at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, even if it’s broken up into 10 minutes three times a day. Participate in activities like walking, dancing, stair climbing, gardening, or strength training. When you jump, run, or lift a weight, it puts stress on your bones which sends a signal to your body that your bones need to be made stronger. New cells are then added which strengthens your bones.

Talk to your doctor about your bone health questions and concerns; together you can evaluate your risks. The doctor might recommend a bone density test. This is a safe and painless test that will assess your overall bone health and determine your risk for fractures. It is recommended that women over 65 and men over 70 should all have a bone density test.

By 2020 half of all Americans over 50 will have weak bones unless we make changes to our diet and lifestyle. As discussed, a diet that includes enough calcium and vitamin D and physical activity can help prevent bone loss and fractures. Take initiative today to keep your bones healthy and strong!

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Topics: active aging bone density senior living community healthy living

NIFS: Women, Take Charge of Your Health

happy womenIt’s about that time of year where the weather is getting warmer and the flowers are blooming. May is a wonderful introduction into the summer months and is also a time we celebrate women. Mother’s Day is not the only day to celebrate women, but there is a whole week dedicated to women’s health. For this year, National Women’s Health Week for the US is May 11 – 17. Women can celebrate the generations of women before them that have pioneered the way and take charge of their health to make it a priority. This week focuses on preventive measures to take to improve their health and avoid disease.

Within this week, there is a day designated that women encouraged to visit their health care provider while getting recommended check-ups, vaccinations, and screenings. The National Women’s Health Check-up Day is May 12, 2014. Maintaining annual screenings and check-ups is one important way women can take control of their health and create a healthy lifestyle. Other healthy habits include getting regular physical activity, adapting a healthy nutrition routine, avoiding smoking, and following other general safety rules.

Sometimes it can seem like a lot to take in regarding our health. It’s do this, don’t do that. Follow this guideline, avoid this. Even though our health can be challenging, it’s important to know what we can control and what we can’t. One part of taking charge of your health involves understanding your risk factors. Some risk factors are beyond your control which includes family history of disease, your sex, age, or having an existing health problem. Ones you can control are diet, fitness, use of tobacco and drugs, alcohol intake, and even wearing your seatbelt to name a few. In the US, there are about 35% of early deaths that could be avoided by quitting smoking, having healthy diet and increasing physical activity. Make yourself more aware of how you can prevent early death.

To celebrate women’s health week, make time for yourself to schedule your appointments to take care of you.  I encourage you to take time this week to try the following activities:

  • Schedule your annual appointments: physical/dental/eye exam
  • Sign up for a 5K walk/run
  • Try a new healthy recipe
  • Attend a group fitness class, try something new like Zumba© or yoga
  • Get outside and do some yard work
  • Read a book or do a puzzle for brain health
Topics: active aging exercise and wellness women's health healthy living