Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Surgeon General's tips for Minnesota's Business Leaders

Regina M. Benjamin, MD, the United States Surgeon General, is on a mission! She's calling on all Americans to live and be healthier through better nutrition and exercise in the 2010 Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation Report!

Within the very readable 13 page report are REQUIREMENTS for individuals, schools,the medical community, and business leaders to living healthier and put an end to the obesity epidemic.

I regularly rant on about what individuals can do for themselves to live longer and stronger, and mostly like what Dr. Benjamin says around that. It's all good stuff.

Additionally, as a parent of two high school boys, influencing what schools do for fitness ... or what schools do anything for that matter ... is like shoveling your driveway with a pair of chop sticks! I forfeit there.

And, thankfully, the medical community is figuring it out all by themselves! Most physicians now realize that they really don't want to be drug dealers for the large pharmaceutical corporations. These days, they prescribe more than ever, EXERCISE as a 1st step in treading many diseases.

So, Minnesota Business Leaders, this Blog's for you!

In May of 2008 Time magazine ran a story on "Mandatory Fitness." Apparently, various organizations around the world have a new sheriff in town. And she's wearing spandex with a bad attitude. 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 insisted. Verizon, Microsoft, and Dow Chemical, among others were actually offering cash bonuses for loosing weight.

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, and avoid depression with regular exercise.

Further, by being healthier, they help to 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.

Time report on Mandatory Fitness was almost 2 years ago. I'd be very interested in a follow up story on how well that's working out, though judging by the Surgeon General's report, it doesn't look like it's been a game changer.

The Surgeon General reports, in fact, that nearly 60% of all adult Americans are still either overweight (BMI > 25) or obese (BMI > 30). Wow.

So, what can possibly be done about that in the workplace?

Well, as it turns out, plenty!

For one, 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 Steelcase is manufacturing and marketing it commercially. Upsize Magazine reported in 2008 that Salo, LLC has a few of them on site here in Minneapolis.

Whether tossing worker bees onto the gerbil spinwheel, or offering cash incentives for weight loss, these types of programs require a significant change in corporate culture. And every corporate culture shift starts with executive management.

Here then, 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 push ups; or completing 40 sit-ups within one minute; or completing a mile run in under 8 minutes. Don’t worry about the body weight 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.
Once the boss is engaged, all sorts of things are possible and things get easier.

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 49 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 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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