Sunday, April 6, 2008

Establishing a Corporate Fitness Culture

Time magazine ran a story a couple of weeks ago on "Mandatory Fitness" programs being implemented at various organizations around the world. According to the article, “… eighty four percent of Americans said that they’d get healthier … if (only) the boss insisted.” So, at a few leading companies, the boss is now insisting: Verizon, Microsoft, and Dow Chemical, among others are now actually offering cash bonuses for loosing weight.

The Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) lab at Mayo Clinic developed a computer station atop a treadmill few years ago to get office workers more active within otherwise sedentary office roles. Office furniture maker Steelcasetm is manufacturing and marketing it commercially. As Upsize reported in March, Salo, LLC has a few of them onsite here in Minneapolis.

These seemingly far reaching efforts are in response to an increasingly troubling obesity epidemic that isn’t going to be easy to fix. I personally very strongly favor a Fat Tax on high fat content foods, and passionately contend that Fitness Related Discrimination has long been practiced in hiring and promoting.

The Center for Disease Control reports that nearly 60% of all adult Americans are either overweight (BMI > 25) or obese (BMI > 30). With health care costs increasing 15% annually, something has to give.

While cash based incentives for loosing weight, and office worker gerbil wheels could be great options for some organizations, I’m here to offer a few more options on how small businesses can get their organizations more fit.

Not unexpectedly, corporate fitness is actually more culture than programming. As with all corporate cultures, it all starts from the top. If your leadership buys in and behaves accordingly, culture is created and nourished.

Indeed, the data is overwhelming in favor of exercise programs. Employees are more productive, more energetic, use less sick time, look better, feel better, have improved self esteem, have reduced stress, reduce the risk of many diseases, reduce anxiety, have reduced blood pressure, avoid depression, and, by being healthier, will help directly improve your bottom line by utilizing ‘health care’ services less frequently, thereby reducing your usage rating and health care premium costs. In short, everyone is more productive and more valuable to an organization when they exercise regularly.

Fit people walk more quickly to meetings, can take a flight of stairs to avoid elevator congestion, and spend less time in the restroom. They’re also more likable, and make better sales people (Cialdini, Robert B., Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion).

One of the more frequent excuses we get from clients is that they "don't have time" to regularly exercise 3 or 4 days per week. Ladies and gentlemen, if you're serious about your career, your business, your family, or your spouse, you simply CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO exercise regularly.

So, since the 1st step is getting the boss moving in the right direction, here are my Top 5 tips for Corporate Executives:

1. Schedule exercise into your calendar, and don’t move it unless there’s a death in the family. Make your exercise appointment the most immutable appointment of the day.
2. Be accountable to someone. It helps if you have a personal trainer waiting on (and charging) you for the appointment whether you show up or not, but it is also helpful to have a training buddy/partner. You’re much more likely to show up when you know someone is waiting for you.
3. Establish, write down, and publish a very specific health lifestyle goal for the next 3 months. These are things like: exercise for 90 minutes 3 times per week; or walk for 60 minutes 6 days per week; or make every scheduled exercise appointment. Lifestyle Changes.
4. Establish, write down, and public a very specific, Non-Appearance related fitness goals for the next 6 weeks. While the body will certainly undergo composition changes with regular exercise, the initial 6 weeks should focus entirely on strength or endurance measurements: doubling your pushups; or completing 40 sit-ups within one minute; or completing a mile run in under 8 minutes. Don’t worry about the bodyweight or body fat at all just yet.
5. Update your Corporate Values, Behaviors, and Ethics document to include the statement: Regular Exercise is a fundamental and necessary element of heath and happiness, and improves professional productivity.

10 More things that corporate leadership can do to encourage a better health and fitness culture within their organizations:

1. Encourage and allow a 10-minute walking break every two hours. Not only will this burn a few calories, but it will energize and refresh the body and mind.
2. Stock Fresh Fruit in your break room and lobby (Kwik Trip bananas just 29 cents/lb.).
3. Strongly discourage staff from bringing in cookies and candies. They’ll just clog your heart and/or stick to your rear anyway.
4. Grant allowances for exercise. Corporations won’t hesitate much when a parent dashes off to rescue their child from daycare at the end of the day. Neither should they question employees who dash off to keep their exercise appointments.
5. Install a shower and changing room at your office bike commuters, and midday runners & walkers .
6. Make sure bike commuters have a safe, indoor place to store their equipment (bikes, helmets, gear); (See my June 21, 2007 Blog entry for more ways to get employees started with bicycle commuting)
7. Offer cash compensation to employees who commute by bike and save you parking expenses
8. Stage regular, monthly Health and Fitness Seminars with key expertise on getting more fit and healthy
9. Sponsor a Get Fit Month twice annually, complete with awards and recognition for people who most effectively change their lives in positive ways
10. Do it now! Having helped thousands of individuals improve their health and fitness over the decades, I can honestly tell you that the hardest part is just getting started!

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