Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

A Corporate Fitness Program Manager Evaluates the Shake Weight

You might have seen, or at least heard about, the Shake Weight commercial. It's that somewhat (and by "somewhat," I mean "very") suggestive ad with a woman (and now a man) shaking a spring-loaded dumbbell at chest level.

As a corporate fitness professional, when I see a new fitness Shake Weightproduct, my first instinct is to investigate further. Did I miss out on inventing yet another ingenious fitness product? Am I going to think "Why didn't I think of that?" There are a plethora of fitness products that I should have invented, including the Gliding disks, the BOSU, and the Bender Ball. Will the Shake Weight be the next product on my list?

The Claims: Strong, Toned, Ripped Arms and Chest

During my initial investigation, I found the product's claim on its website: “In just 6 minutes a day, you'll get strong, toned, ripped arms and chest.” The 2.5-pound (5 pounds for men) product has a spring on either end and is powered by your movement. It comes with an upper-body-toning DVD and an unconditional money-back guarantee.

The product promises to meet its claims through a “completely new workout technology called dynamic inertia.” According to the manufacturer of the Shake Weight, dynamic inertia (the vibration of the muscles) results in a 300 percent increase in muscle.

The Verdict: Not So Fast

A recent simulation study by LifeMOD concluded that vibration training can give us the body we have been waiting for. Keep in mind, though, that this study was not done on humans.

Although the product may have one supporting study, I still have my doubts. The arms and chest may be the most glamorous-looking muscles, but in order to have a well-functioning body, all the major muscle groups should be worked. More importantly, six minutes a day of upper-body work does not meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations of 150 minutes of aerobic activity and two or more days of strength training for all the major muscle groups.

If getting the “ripped arms and chest” that you see advertised in the commercials is the primary goal of your workout, it will take a lot more work than just shaking a weight for six minutes a day to get them. Without a balanced diet, a regular exercise program, and some hard work, it is nearly impossible to build those “ripped” muscles.

A Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On

If the Shake Weight claims are true, be on the lookout for exercisers everywhere shaking things in the gym. Gone will be the days of shoulder presses, lunges, and pushups. In will be the days of shaking to create results.

In hindsight, I won't be adding the Shake Weight to my list of fitness products that I should have invented. I will stick with traditional weightlifting for now. If I feel the need to shake something for some muscle activation, I'll grab a bottle of all-natural fruit juice and shake it for six minutes before I take a drink. But hey, if the New York Jets think it's amusing enough to try out in training camp, my conclusion may be way off! 

Topics: exercise at work corporate fitness program corporate fitness technology

Can Smartphone Apps Help Employee Health?

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

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

Do your employees need help designing a beneficial fitness routine?  

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

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

Help overweight employees take off those unwanted pounds.

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

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

Chill Out: Help employees relax and de-stress.

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

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

Improve employee health one morsel at time.

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

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

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

Help your employees stop smoking.

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

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

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

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

Does your company offer Weight Watchers for Employees?

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

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

Other health-related apps your employees could use:

Topics: employee health healthy workforce overweight employees technology

BMI vs. Body Fat Percent: Which Is a Better Employee Health Measure?

BodPodCorporate wellness program members hear terms like BMI, body fat percentage, girth measurements, and waist-to-hip ratio floating around on a daily basis. There is more to a person's body composition than just the number on the scale, but what number matters the most? Let's compare body mass index (BMI) to body fat percentage.

Using BMI (Body Mass Index) to Measure Employee Health

BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight. Think of it as a chart where you would find your height on one side and your weight on the other. Connect the two dots, and boom: That number you landed on is your BMI. (Here's an online BMI calculator.)

As you can see just from that description, BMI is a very general assessment of overall body makeup. It tends to be more abstract. Tell someone that his or her BMI is 23.7 and, chances are, that won't mean much to the individual. People are classified as either underweight, normal, overweight, or obese, with no breakdown within those broad categories.

Body Fat Percentage for Determining Employee Health

Percent body fat, on the other hand, requires a more involved process for testing (including bioelectric impedance, skinfolds, underwater weighing and BodPod (air displacement) technology) to determine how much of a person's total body weight is comprised of fat versus fat-free mass (muscles, bones, organs, tissue, etc.). Body fat percentage is more telling of a person's fitness level. Two people may look the same as far as appearances go, and quite possibly have the same BMI. But they could have very different body fat amounts.

The application of percent body fat is simple. If a person weighs 160 pounds and is told his body fat is 15%, he can do the math and know that he is carrying 24 pounds of fat and 136 pounds of fat-free mass. If this person loses 10 pounds over the course of a few months and retests his percent body fat, he will have specific data to compare, whereas his BMI rating may be in the same category as it was before.

Why Percent Body Fat Is a Better Emloyee Heath Measurement

Over the years I have seen articles surface claiming things such as that BMI may not be an accurate measurement for different ethnicities, neck measurements are just as valid as BMI, etc. But percent body fat cannot be as easily argued against.

The big commonly known fault with BMI, and the reason behind its generality, is that the number does not take muscle mass into account. This makes BMI misleading in two ways:

  • Firstly, a person who is underweight or normal on the BMI scale may still have a high percentage of body fat, meaning a lower level of fitness.
  • On the flip side, a person with a large amount of muscle mass, for example a football player or bodybuilder, could be told by the BMI ranking that he or she is morbidly overweight, when the individual in fact has a low percent body fat and high fitness level.

I perform body composition tests in my corporate fitness center, using the Jackson-Pollock 7-site skinfold protocol, and I see these scenarios often. I have to explain the huge discrepancy when a person's BMI is in a healthy range but the body fat percentage is high, or vice versa.

The bottom line is that BMI is a general overview and can be an introductory assessment of a person's body composition. It's perhaps useful when more involved testing is not available. For more truth behind the matter, look at percent body fat.

(Further reading: See this article, which discusses the validity of both numbers.)

Topics: employee health corporate fitness worksite wellness technology

Exercising at work - use music to move more


Working Out with MusicI have always wondered how people can exercise without music. Music is one of the main reasons I exercise! When I get a break at work or on a Saturday morning, I look forward to listening to my music while I burn a few calories.

Working in onsite corporate fitness management, I see a lot of different types of people on a daily basis. While some members want only the TV on for noise, most have their own iPods and headphones so they can hear whatever type of music motivates them. Sometimes, while I’m looking out the window in my office watching people work out, I try to imagine what type of music they are listening to. I think it’s entertaining because I’m sure most of the time I’m way off.

Music Can Help Your Workout

I personally find music very motivating. It helps to take my mind off the sweat running in my eyes and my lower-body muscles fatiguing out. I can also play mind games with myself using my music as motivation. For example, I will speed up the treadmill or increase the resistance on the elliptical for the length of the song. This helps me to work harder and in turn burn more calories.

Music Tempo Can Affect Your Workout

I have discovered that I need to have mostly upbeat music because I move to the tempo of the song. For example, on the stair climber I find myself slowing down or speeding up according to the beat of the music. That’s why most group fitness CDs have warm-up and cool-down songs. This helps to get the body and brain in the mode to exercise and then to relax afterward.

Your Music Challenge

Discover tunes that motivate you and make a playlist that includes slower tempos for warm up and cool down and faster tempos for working hard and burning calories. (Add links to some sample playlists).

Topics: exercise at work Be inspired exercise at home technology personal interest

Are Treadmill Walkstations a Valid Workplace Wellness Solution?

corporate exercise workstationAs a health and fitness specialist in a corporate wellness center, it's not very often that I venture out into other buildings on our company's campus. However, a few months ago on one such trip, I saw a treadmill in the middle of a cubicle area. I did a double-take and realized this was a walkstation, a treadmill with attached desk space and a laptop dock.

Now, personally, I find it difficult to read a magazine while exercising, let alone plug away at data or send thoughtful, grammatically correct e-mails, so my gut instinct was that this was a case where multitasking yields fewer benefits than performing both things separately.

What the Employees Think About Walkstations as a Work Exercise Option

I decided to ask employees for first-hand comments. Here is a synopsis from one regular user:

  • Pros: It provides a change of pace to work routine; allows an employee to stretch his or her legs and get some activity while continuing to be productive; provides an energy boost when things begin to drag during the day.
  • Cons: It is difficult to do tasks that require a lot of computer mouse movement; once the treadmill reaches a speed of 1.5 mph, it is hard to do much besides read e-mail; there is often a self-conscious feeling of being on display, as this is a relatively new concept; the walkstation can be noisy for others working nearby.

This particular employee commented that he experiences more energizing and stretching effects simply by periodically standing up from his desk.

Another employee made remarks that were quite contrary to my assumptions about the walkstation. She said it forces her to focus on the task at hand and eliminates the distractions of the phone and people stopping by her office. She also said, rather shockingly, that her only complaint was the treadmill was too slow—the speed is capped at 2 mph.

One Professional Opinion on The Matter

I am concerned about safety and ergonomics. To my knowledge, this particular walkstation did not have the capability to adjust the computer screen to eye level, thus increasing the chance for neck strain and shoulder discomfort. In fact, the second employee also stated that after an hour of use, her lower back began to hurt.

I'm sure much of the walkstation debate depends on how coordinated and focused the user is, on or off a treadmill. If anything, these are best for very short periods of use. However, I'm not convinced that this invention increases workplace productivity or employee wellness.

Topics: exercise at work corporate fitness business fitness solutions technology

Gadgets That Help Manage Employee Health One Step at a Time

employee health tracking deviceA good way for employees to measure their fitness progress is with portable tracking devices. These can range from the traditional pedometer to more advanced equipment.

Pedometers To Track Employee Health Progress

Pedometers come in all shapes and sizes. Enter "pedometer" into the Amazon search bar and you'll pull up 1,711 different options. Some measure only steps, whereas others have additional bells and whistles. Pedometers range in price from $4 to around $60.

Other High-Tech Employee Health Tracking Tools

In the last year, a new fitness-tracking tool has come on the market. Fitbit is a handy little gadget that clips onto your waistband like a pedometer. However, this high-tech tool tracks more than a typical pedometer by measuring calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled, and sleep quality. You can link the unit to your computer and store your data on Fitbit's robust tracking site. You can also join Fitbit's communities, follow its blog, and track other health markers.

At $99 per unit, the gadget is less expensive than the popular iPod nano and provides significant personal logging capabilities to track progress.

How Small Companies Can Use High-Tech Tools In Workplace Wellness Campaigns

Small employers: The Fitbit might provide a unique tool for your workforce to start moving more. Using the website tools connected with the device, you could easily build a workplace fitness program on which to base company wellness rewards.

Topics: exercise at work corporate fitness program corporate rewards technology