Generally speaking, most people know that when we are more active and eat right, we are healthier. When this same thought process is shifted to the workplace, we see the same results in our coworkers and employees. Workplace wellness programs are a growing trend in America, and that’s because they work. When wellness programs are implemented on a company-wide basis, employees are healthier, happier and more productive. Moreover, the investments companies are making in these programs are actually helping their bottom line.

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Episode Transcript

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Liz: I think it’s safe to say that people know that if you eat healthier and work out, you can be a healthier person, but what exactly does being healthier mean? Is it just that your heart rate is great, you have good blood pressure, and your cholesterol is under control? Or is there more to it? I’m Liz Mantel and on today’s episode of Life Well Learned, we’re talking the latest trend in American workplaces—it’s an investment a company can make now, and it could have long term effects in not just simply in health and company culture, but even the corporate bottom line. Bringing fitness and wellness into the workplace could be the business’ key to running, instead of walking, to success.

Liz: I think the best place to start today’s episode is at the beginning, right? That’s always a good place to start. Before we get into specifics of how fitness and wellness programs at work can help companies on multiple levels, let’s start with how fitness in general and staying active helps our bodies and our minds.

Shannon Hockwater: There are so many reasons to stay active,

Liz: This is Shannon Hockwater.

Shannon: I’m an adjunct professor at Medaille College in the Department of Math, Science, and Technology. Number one is controlling anxiety and depression, increase in overall energy level, encouraging involvement in community situations, engaging with peers.

Liz: So, it sounds like what you’re saying is being active is more than just joining a gym or running around the block—there’s more to it than that.

Shannon: Oh yeah, we have walking groups these days, we have popup fitness classes; there are so many ways to be active without actually walking into a gym.

Liz: Knowing that there are different ways to be healthy and active aside from walking into a gym is great, but are there still certain standards that you should be keeping?

Shannon: The American Heart Association says that as long as you get in about 50-70 minutes of activity in per day, in as little as 10-15 or even 20-minute blocks, as long as you total 50-70 minutes, you’re good to go.

Liz: Before we get too far into what it means to be active and best practices, let’s get back to the part where Shannon said that being active can help control anxiety and depression—the mental aspect of it; living a sedentary lifestyle is bad for both your physical and mental health.

Shannon: Unfortunately, almost 90% of the American population right now has a sedentary lifestyle, which correlates almost directly with a 90% population that has cardiac disease, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, general postural issues, low back pain—that contributes to about 90% of our population.

Liz: And what does that do mentally?

Shannon: Well mentally, a lack of concentration is number one. Oftentimes people report headaches without a cause, when they have uncontrolled high blood pressure and inactivity, so, getting up and moving around, even if it’s something as easy as gardening or taking just a walk around the block, walking your dog, walking with a friend, something like that. Any type of regular exercise, it doesn’t have to be done at a certain time of any specific day, just any regular exercise helps keep the body kind of on a regular schedule; it looks for that to kind of release the endorphins, and overall reduction in pain is also a result of that.

Liz: Okay now we know that being active doesn’t just affect you physically, but it also affects you mentally, and that’s just in everyday life. So, now let’s transfer it into the work setting, and why there’s a growing trend with fitness and wellness programs in the workplace. What are the benefits of being active at work, and taking breaks to do so?

Courtney Moskal: There are many different reasons for this,

Liz: Our next expert actually implements these fitness and wellness programs for a living.

Courtney: My name is Courtney Moskal, and I am a wellness coordinator at Walsh-Duffield.

Liz: What are some of the benefits?

Courtney: There are so many different studies that show that if you have some sort of wellness program, and of course it depends on what it is, it has to be effective, but it can lead to not only happier employees, but healthier employees, and that’s two-fold, but we’re seeing not just people are not just interested in the Return on Investment, so not just how much is your company saving by having a corporate fitness program, but it’s really the Value on Investment or VOI and we’re seeing it’s almost a cultural shift. A lot of companies and their leadership teams are interested in enhancing the overall culture of their company, or saying that really helps with retention, and in turn that helps with cost-saving, so I think they’re seeing a cost-saving at the end, but it’s not necessarily tracked as the main sole reason that they have the programs.

Liz: Courtney covered a lot of benefits to having the program, both on the employee side and the business side, and we’re going to dive into that, but let’s slow it down and talk about the most basic thing, and that is why is fitness at work going to benefit the company?

Courtney: Healthier employees really elicit happier employees. Usually if you have a fitness program at your work, you are arming the people with the resources to get healthier; if you’re healthier you’re more productive, you seem to be happier and you enhance that culture overall.

Liz: So, being healthy means that you’re productive, but why can’t you just be healthy at home so that you can be productive at work? Let’s head back to Shannon for that answer.

Shannon: Just like your mind needs breaks from learning, your body needs breaks from sitting in a chair in the same position, so we need to kind of get the blood moving to all of your limbs again, you’ll definitely come back with a sense of invigoration and a refocusing kind of sense.

Liz: Just like you’re battling being sedentary at home, you’re battling being sedentary at work by sitting at your desk all day.

Shannon: Our posture kind of goes out the window, so we generally tend to hunch forward, we squeeze up in our thoracic cavity which really makes it hard to breathe, so that’s really not going to be too helpful when you’re going through your day.

Liz: Real quick in case you didn’t know, the thoracic cavity *balloon inflating sound effect* is the area between your ribcage and your lungs, it inflates when you try and breathe.

Shannon: Simply walking to a water fountain, taking a lap around your building floor *footsteps sound effect* that enough to give your body a metal break and get the physical benefits of exercising.

Liz: Now you know, no matter what, get up from your desk every hour, whether it’s going to the bathroom, going to get some water, visiting a coworker if you’re allowed—get up and get moving. That is the basic, right? Get up and get moving, but it helps if your company is on board with this because if you’re worried about getting in trouble, it’s not going to work.

Courtney: That’s one of the main focuses when we go on site to help our clients to create a wellness committee,

Liz: Back to Walsh-Duffield’s Courtney Moskal.

Courtney: The number one thing we talk about is the leadership buy-in, if you don’t have the leadership buy-in and support, its not going to be successful, it’s not going to work because you could have every program under the sun, but if you don’t have the support of the leadership team and you’re not really encouraged to use the resources, then you’re not going to use them.

Liz: So, when management buys into the program and encourages participation, they’re creating an environment that is more than just sharing reports and files and emails. It sounds like they’re creating a place where these programs can bring the coworkers closer.

Courtney: I do think so, I think it adds to a sense of camaraderie, almost like a team feeling. A lot of different programs that we’ll do on sight are team oriented, so people will band together and share success stories, or maybe share something that they’re struggling with and people can kind of come together and find the resources on site to get them over those obstacles, so I do think that there is a sense of team bringing people closer together.

Liz: I think we’re starting to see the benefits beyond just your health—seeing how it’s building a culture in your workplace, a more togetherness, you’re getting to know each other on another level. Courtney says that at the end of the day it really comes down to you.

Courtney: Ultimately, the onus is on the individual to really take control of their health, but we’re here to remind them why. We try to make it convenient and easy for them to do during the work hours because we understand what is going on before work or after work, and trying to balance all of that, so yes if you don’t take advantage of the resources, you’re not going to have the outcome.

Liz: Let’s do a quick recap. We now know that it is important to be active to be healthy, but it’s not just for our physical body but also for our mental state, and that is why it can transfer into the workplace, because if you just sit at your desk all day, you are being sedentary, and that affects you. Having these fitness programs at work, they’re important, but only if the management buys into them and encourages participation, but like Courtney said, at the end of the day you also have to be the one buying into the program to see the results. Coming up on Life Well Learned, we’re going to talk about how you can implement these ideas at your work—whether you’re an employee or the business owner. Also, Shannon is going to explain just how sweaty you have to get to have a successful workout. That’s next on Life Well Learned.

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Liz: Before we get into how to implement these programs in your workplace, let’s get back to the basics of exercising and activity. Even if your workplace has a gym, are there certain things that you should be doing? We’ll head back to Shannon to ask that question, is there a best type of exercise?

Shannon: No, there is a best combination, so we always say if you’re going to exercise, do a little cardio and do a little resistance training, *person running sound effect* that is going to give you the best combination. Oftentimes, aerobics is good for maintaining weight loss, and muscular strength training is better for encouraging weight loss in the process while you’re doing it.

Liz: I think a lot of people equate a solid workout to being really sweaty, which could deter people from wanting to get involved in their fitness programs, because who has time to get sweaty, shower and look presentable and go back to the office?

Shannon: What we do is correlate time with intensity, so if you’re working out super intensely, you do not have to work out a very long time; if you’re working out at a lower intensity, you can work out a little bit longer. Chances are, the higher intensity you might sweat, but you don’t need to be drenched in sweat to get a good workout. You might not sweat at all to get your workout in, especially if you’re walking outside in the fall or winter when it’s cooler out. I would say there is not a direct correlation with the amount of sweat and the amount of benefit you get; some people sweat more, some people sweat less.

Liz: Well that’s good news, you don’t have to sweat to be active at work, and we’re going to get into some interesting and creative ways that your business can have you being active while doing your work. Before we do that, let’s start with companies that maybe might not have a budget. Let’s head back to Courtney.

Courtney: First step would be, you need a wellness champion–someone that’s passionate about wellness. It doesn’t have to be a marathon runner, it can be a person who wants to change the culture in their organization, but they can recruit other people throughout the agency or the organization. It doesn’t have to be a big group, maybe 5 or 6 people in even a walking program that’s free and meets at lunch to take a 30-minute walk on Wednesdays. Other things you can find–community resources–it really is just getting the education out there, we have a wellness board downstairs so it’s different pieces of information that might pertain to a specific month, but letting them know what’s going on throughout the community, that could be another free thing. Even volunteer opportunities, you know volunteerism is something that people have been doing for ages but it’s really been tied to increasing your own self-awareness and your own happiness. You feel like it gives you a moment to appreciate what you have going on in your life and helping others, so even just looking up volunteer opportunities and letting other people know within the company, and maybe you can do them together—that’s another free way that you can do something in terms of wellness.

Liz: I think it’s really important to point out that both Courtney and Shannon have been giving examples of being “active” that are not traditional exercise. Shannon gave examples of getting out and gardening or walking in groups, and Courtney just recommended volunteer opportunities to bring you closer as a team. It is important to point out that fitness programs are important, but so are wellness programs, because being well and being fit kind of go hand-in-hand, and this is a big deal when it comes to company culture.

Courtney: I don’t think a person can fully move into the physical health unless they’re in a good place mentally. For the most part people probably won’t be interested in how they should be exercising or in what foods they should or should not be eating if they’re struggling in a behavioral health or a mental health case, so I think it is important to really tie all of those components together. I don’t think you’re going to reach the results or be able to reach someone if they’re struggling from a mental health standpoint.

Liz: Courtney’s point also reinforces what Shannon said at the beginning of the episode. When you’re active it helps decrease anxiety and keep your depression under control–these are important things to remember. Okay, let’s get back to “where do I start?” We heard some cost-effective solutions from Courtney on what businesses can do to get started with fitness and wellness programs. Now, let’s hear a few of Shannon’s suggestions.

Shannon:  Allotment of time, *stopwatch ticking sound effect* or allowing employees to choose their own breaks, so maybe they want to take 15 minutes, 15 minutes, 15 minutes, 15 minutes, let them eat at their desk, so their off the clock time maybe they’re taking a walk around the building—something similar to that. I’ve also seen some companies that have just cleaned out an empty office and allowed it to be an empty space, so some employees bring their own weights so they can work out on their own lunch period, or something as simple as just walking in there with their iPad, iPod, iPhone, something like that and pulling up a fitness app. That just gives them an open space to work; you don’t really have to dump money into the location, you just gotta clear the space.

Liz: Those seem simple enough, but let’s get real—that still gives you plenty of leeway to say that your employer just doesn’t provide what you need to get your fitness in during the work day, so come on Shannon, let’s really get it. What can people do if employers just don’t offer anything?

Shannon: Make use of the stairs, they’re there and they’re free—run up and down them a couple times. Set up a workout program for yourself, some days maybe tell yourself you’re going to do ten flights of stairs, then another day say I’m only going to climb for three minutes, so switch some things up—it’ll keep things fresh for you and whomever you’re working out with. So, you do stairs, maybe at the bottom of the stairs you do some triceps dips, and then you run up and down the stairs and maybe do some pushups and then you run up and down the stairs and maybe you do some sit-ups. When I say run, I literally don’t mean you have to run up the stairs, take it at your own intensity; if you need to walk up, take a rest, and walk back down—that’s fine. However, if you’re into running up and down those stairs go ahead, it will be a great workout for you. Also, if you’re in an area where space is a limited factor, as long as you’ve got the stairs, you can do the workout because you’re not really venturing far from the stairs, everything is done on the stairs.

Liz: So now we have you cornered into there are no excuses, you can always be active at work– but the point of this is to show that having fitness and wellness programs are beneficial in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stop down and workout, there are creative solutions. One of the things that Walsh-Duffield does is have standup desks.

Courtney: Everyone gets a standup workstation, whether you need it or not, so set your alarm for every hour and pop your desk—you don’t have to walk, just pop it up, and even that is a huge change in itself.

Liz: Another creative solution Walsh-Duffield has is a walking meeting room.

Courtney: So, we have a room, there’s four treadmills with desks over each one, and it doesn’t go over 4.0 MPH. We also have a TV; it’s connected to the internet so you can do your continued education but really it just provides a space to walk while you’re talking, and you find a half hour to hour meeting, you’re walking two to three miles and you’re not even thinking about it, so it’s again just using your workday and trying to get to those ten thousand recommended steps a day without even having to carve out extra time.

Liz: These are just a couple of examples to show how businesses can be creative and still emphasize that fitness in the workplace mentality without having to actually stop down to do these activities. It also goes to help with longevity of fitness in the workplace; a lot of companies will bring in instructors and do a really big push for a month and a half on getting fit and being healthy, but as Shannon will point out, it’s really about longevity.

Shannon: When you have a program that is run for four, six, or eight weeks, that’s great, you’re gonna get some benefit, but in order to see continued benefit, continued weight loss, continued increase in muscle strength, those types of things—you really need to be able to have your employees carry this on for a long period of time, so I always get a little nervous when I see a company advertising a biggest loser or biggest winner type thing and it lasts for four weeks, because then what do people do for the other weeks of the year? We gotta create a company culture that is very friendly to working out, or to exercise, or just general fitness and wellness in order for that employee to be able to carry out something all year long—that’s really where we’re gonna see the most benefit.

Liz: Another suggestion Courtney has for longevity is a rewards program, so you reach a certain goal, you get a half-day or a day off. They actually use this at Walsh-Duffield.

Courtney: We’re actually in our eighth year of what is called an “outcome-based wellness program,” so the outcome on each individual’s biometric screening is tied to a premium differential, and what this is, is it can actually help lower the healthcare costs for the employer, but also for the employee, and we added an important component to our wellness program this year which actually adds an additional incentive with an extra half day off if people keep on track with their preventative appointments. We’ve seen an increase in the number of employees going to see their doctors on an annual basis.

Liz: You know, Courtney makes a good point about preventative appointments and measures. Fitness in general, how you look at it is also preventative. We’ll go back to Shannon for this one.

Shannon: Two of the major things that fitness, or wellness in general prevents, through a reduction of stress and an increase in activity is cancer and diabetes. The reduction and stress, we all know cancer kind of relates to pH, so the more stressed you are, the lower your pH goes, which means your body gets more acidic, and cancer kind of loves that environment to grow in. So, the more you reduce that or neutralize that, the more you reduce your chances of developing cancer from a stress related type of situation. The other thing is diabetes, so if you happen to be pre-diabetic or maybe you’re approaching pre-diabetic, and it’s not something like Juvenile Diabetes Type One, it’s more of a Type Two case, you can definitely prevent that from furthering into full-blown diabetes. Nobody wants to be living on Metformin–which is basically lab-made insulin–the rest of their lives, so if you can prevent that, you’re going to be doing a great thing for your body.

Liz: So, let’s really get down to the bottom of this. If you’re a business owner listening, you’re still wondering how this is really going to help your bottom line. For that, we go back to Courtney will some impressive stats.

Courtney: Based on a report from the Healthcare Utilization Project, there are potential cost-shifts if an individual were to be in a high-risk in various categories such as glucose, blood pressure, or cholesterol, and they’re able to make behavior changes that would shift them to a lower-risk health stratification. So, if an individual shifted from a high to a low-risk for blood pressure, it would be around $5300 cost savings, about $4300 for glucose, and almost $8000 for high-cholesterol. Keep in mind that these chronic conditions don’t exists in silos, for people that have diabetes, about 70% of those individuals also have hypertension, or high blood pressure, so, its time and money were spent helping your employees mitigate and prevent these conditions.

Liz: Now we’ve really seen the benefits of what a fitness and wellness program can do in the workplace from a personal standpoint, to a coworker’s standpoint, company culture, all-around productivity, AND the bottom line. So, if you’re not yet, hop on the trend right now and try to incorporate some fitness and wellness programs in the workplace. I want to thank our two experts for being on the show today, Shannon Hockwater and Courtney Moskal. You can learn more about wellness programs like the ones Walsh-Duffield offers, and even get some exercises that you can do at your desk at LifeWellLearned.org. Make sure you’re subscribing to Life Well Learned on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, and rate and review us as well—it will only help Life Well Learned grow, and we’ll be able to bring you more content like the one you just heard. I’m Liz Mantel and Life Well Learned is presented by the Medaille Alumni Association, we’ll see you next time.

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