By Susan Davis Gryder 2015-12-30 17:36:19
Find the time, support and resources for fitness in the most unlikely of places— where you work every day. With the best of intentions, you penciled in a post-work exercise session. Then you came home from an exhausting day, made dinner, checked the kids’ homework, caught up with your spouse, went through the mail, threw in a load of laundry— and then remembered you were supposed to hit the gym for an hour. It was a tiring day, so you give yourself a pass and make a mental note to get up 45 minutes early to squeeze in a power walk in the cold, dark morning hours before heading back to work. When that alarm goes off, though, your warm, comfortable bed is just too snuggly to get up. So much for that sweat session! For many of us, once we’ve accounted for work, family time, social obligations and other responsibilities, making time for fitness can be a real challenge. Perhaps, though, you should think about work and fitness in a new way—after all, work takes up a large chunk of the day, and it’s likely that your co-workers all face similar challenges in finding time for exercise. What if, instead of another obstacle, work was a place to get and stay fit? Whether you work in a central office or report to the school kitchen, there are ways to move more during the workday, as well as benefit from the support of like-minded coworkers. Desk Jockeying For those of you who work in an office and are looking for ways to squeeze some exercise into the workday, the answer might be taking up space right in the middle of the office: your desk. After all, research from reliable authorities continues to show that sitting at a desk all day is risky behavior, boosting chances of obesity and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that includes high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and excess body fat around the waist). All that sitting also increases risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, it’s possible to alter your workday in small ways that lead to big fitness rewards; simply incorporate movement into your schedule at regular intervals. If you are chained to a desk in a central office, sitting all day in a professional development class or even standing on the production or serving line without much movement, why not try a little desk-ercise? Punny name aside, you can turn your desk (or the entire office or kitchen) into your own private fitness center. Here are some ideas to get you started: • Set your phone’s or wristwatch’s timer to remind you to get up from your desk every hour and take a lap—around the kitchen, the office, the school or even the block outside. • Stand up as often as you can, such as when you’re on the phone, reading paperwork or doing other tasks that don’t require the computer screen. Need to consult a principal, teacher or colleague about an upcoming promotional activity? Instead of sending an email or picking up the phone, take a walk to their office or classroom and have a face-to-face discussion. • Sit on a stability ball instead of a chair. (Make sure you learn the proper way to sit to help strengthen your core without injuring your back.) This engages your core muscles in ways that your standard office chair doesn’t. • Get your heart rate up—jog in place, do squats against the wall and keep some small free weights at your desk for bicep curls or shoulder presses. If your coworkers look at you funny, just explain that you’re maintaining a commitment to your health, and invite them to join in! (Or, if you have an office door—close it!) Even if you work in an open area or feel self-conscious doing workout moves at the office, there are ways to get in some exercise at work without anyone being the wiser. Some examples: • Take the stairs to visit colleagues on a different floor or cross the campus on foot to see someone in another building. • Channel your inner West Wing staffer and hold “walk-and-talk” meetings instead of sitting at a conference table. • Turn your commute into workout time. Running or biking to work might not be practical, but you can walk at least part of the way. Get off the bus at an earlier stop or, if you need to drive, park in the farthest corner of the lot. • Try a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit, to record all of this extra activity and provide some internal motivation. (To learn more about fitness trackers on the market, read “Fashion Where It Counts” on pages 60-64.) A fitness tracker doesn’t care if you are walking on a track or walking from school building to school building—every step counts! Buddy Up! Would you stick to your workout schedule if you knew someone was counting on your company? If so, consider finding a workout buddy in your place of employment. Whether you walk together during breaks or make a regular date at the gym pre-or post-work, you can offer each other inspiration, encouragement and a little accountability. Linette Dodson, PhD, RD, SNS, director of School Food and Nutrition at Carrollton County (Ga.) School District, says her district has supported employee fitness for more than a decade, starting with a superintendent-led fitness effort. “The superintendent’s office sends out a log every spring,” she says. “Staff track either their mileage for walking or running or time for exercising. Staff who reach certain goals are awarded a Trojan Wellness T-shirt.” Dodson says her school nutrition staff like to take part and show their commitment. “The staff wear their Trojan Wellness T-shirts on certain days while serving,” she says. “It is a cool way to show students that they are participating!” Additionally, Dodson points out that the log is a great way to keep people on task and motivated. “In December, we do a Jingle Bell Jog 5K,” Dodson recalls. “It’s a hugely attended community event, and the biggest fundraiser of the year for our elementary school’s parent teacher booster organization. The event includes a kids’ fun run, with Santa Claus waiting at the end!” For the Alabama School Nutrition Association (ASNA), fitness has become a statewide priority, says Kelley Wassermann, Child Nutrition program director for Sylacauga City (Ala.) Schools and an ASNA board member. When association leadership discovered that the Montgomery, Ala., marathon was happening the same weekend as their annual conference, ASNA decided to tie in an association wellness activity. “The Saturday morning of the conference, almost half of our members—200 in all!—filled the streets of Montgomery for a 5K,” Wassermann recalls. “We got great media coverage for our participation, and it was wonderful to see us—child nutrition professionals of all shapes and sizes—as a unified group!” They were even joined by then-SNA President-Elect Jean Ronnei! For Wassermann herself, the experience was life-changing. “For most, it was their first time to do a 5K, and they walked the route. Many people never imagined that they could do something like this, but the camaraderie encouraged them.” It encouraged Wassermann, too. “I enjoyed it so much that I was inspired to stay with it. I slowly started running, and on my 55th birthday this year, I ran every step of a 5K!” Frugal Fitness A healthy employee brings down insurance costs for everyone, as well as reduces absenteeism, so your employer has an interest in your wellness. Therefore, employers—including school districts— often team up with local health care providers to encourage their employees to get fit. In Avon Lake, Ohio, the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic joined Avon Lake City Schools to sponsor a “Walk on Wednesdays” program, which encourages district staff and students to walk together for 20 minutes every Wednesday before school. Cleveland Clinic provides health experts to help with warm up and inspiration. They even host themed walks, including Halloween, Crazy Hat Day and Invite a Friend Day. If you prefer exercising in the comfort of a gym, ask your human resources director if school district employees get any discounts on memberships at local centers, whether through an arrangement with the gym or via health insurance. (Many health insurance companies offer financial assistance or discounts for fitness center memberships.) These memberships may require you to visit the gym a certain number of times to get the benefit; check with your district HR department to see what’s available to you. For example, Dodson’s Atlanta-area district has multiple ways to support employees of various levels of fitness: The district offers a reduced rate membership to a local gym for both employees and their families. Principals are in on the effort, supporting teachers who want to participate in heart rate-boosting activities during recess, and a special education teacher, who is also a certified fitness instructor, offers a variety of classes at the district’s middle school, including Zumba, ballet barre, boot camp cardio and weight training. Are there any fitness experts in your school who might want to offer a class or two for staff members to boost their fitness? Parker McKenna, chief human resources officer for Springfield (Mo.) Public Schools, says his own district is trying to build wellness into the daily lives of employees and make it part of the culture. In addition to paying for a fitness center membership when employees reach a certain level of participation, the district is looking for ways to create on-the-job fitness opportunities. “We’re putting yoga balls in break rooms and lounges instead of traditional chairs, and piloting peddle desks in the teachers’ lounges of our elementary school,” he notes. “Staff appreciate something new and different, and [the equipment] also speaks to our commitment to our employees.” The Future of Workplace Fitness In the districts where employee wellness is a priority, the efforts seem to be paying off. “I can see a change in the staff,” Dodson notes. “Folks have become a lot healthier. Our superintendent did an Ironman Triathlon a few years ago, and the high school principal runs miles before school. Some of the assistant principals are trainers outside of work. I think this definitely filters out to all the staff; the encouragement and the support is out there overall.” McKenna hopes that employees will continue to support staff fitness in innovative ways, as it’s truly in the best interest of the organization. “As we talk about implementation of new programs, it’s really important to have a clear connection to the business,” he explains. “We need to make the business case for why wellness is important and why we should do this as an employer. We also need to know how we will measure the program, with clear metrics that define what to measure, when to measure and how to determine that the program has been successful.” So, where should you begin your workplace wellness journey? “At schools, there’s usually access to a track, a playground or a gym, and walking clubs are a great place to start,” says Wassermann. “There can be great walking access around buildings and parking lots; measure off distances for the walkers to have markers to achieve.” With all these fitness choices, maybe you’re inspired to hop off the bus two stops early, to grab a coworker and get walking or to try a few sit-ups behind your desk. Whatever appeals to you, don’t wait—get to work and get moving! Planning a Staff Fitness Activity When planning a group wellness activity, such as a 5K or a fitness challenge, it’s crucial to take into account the needs of all participants. Parker McKenna, chief human resources officer for Springfield (Mo.) Public Schools, provides some guidelines for setting up a group fitness event: “It’s key that the organization has a wellness plan that’s more comprehensive, and that these fitness events may be a part of that plan. If someone can’t or doesn’t want to participate in one single activity, they can review the wellness plan as a whole and decide where to participate, taking into account their interests and physical limitations.” During the event itself, McKenna says there are ways to avoid creating an atmosphere that makes some participants uncomfortable. “Appoint someone who’s responsible for keeping everyone engaged, acting as a cheerleader to encourage everyone to take part and foster team spirit. Often this offsets embarrassment for anyone who might be near the back of the pack. Make it fun!” If you’re thinking about planning a staff fitness activity, don’t forget to think about some commonsense details—you could even borrow from the STEPS Challenge! See page 48-49 for more on this SNA program. • Start simple. If you’re already a fitness nut, understand that some of your peers might be new to fitness. Challenging your office staff to take a walk twice a week or to stretch 15 minutes a day is realistic; asking them to participate in a half-marathon (for most) is not. • Once you’ve determined the activity, make sure it’s communicated sufficiently to your colleagues. Part of that is letting them know appropriate clothing to wear during activities (including shoes!) and whether they need to bring their own bottle of water to stay hydrated and snacks for energy. • Keep an eye out for anyone who’s in over their head. If you see a coworker struggling, either work closely to offer motivation or, if necessary, help them give themself permission to step out of the activity for their safety. • Keep things positive. Folks get busy, they run out of steam and they lose motivation in fitness challenges. While you can and should rally everyone to continue to participate, avoid shaming or guilting anyone who chooses to put their fitness journey on hold. steps TM challenge • personal wellness program from SNA • Taking Baby STEPS Stay in shape and become more active in SNA by participating in the monthly STEPS Challenges, championed by Jennie-O Turkey Store. By completing each month’s activity, you not only challenge your self to take baby steps toward a healthier lifestyle, but you will also be entered for a chance to win special health-and wellness-themed prizes, or the Grand Prize of an all-expenses-paid trip to ANC 2016 in San Antonio, Texas! Don’t go it alone. Encourage your coworkers to join you in completing each one of these monthly challenges, perhaps by making it an in-house contest to see who can get the most points! For more information on STEPS challenges, tracking sheets, prizes and success stories visit www.schoolnutirtion.org/STEPS. For now, read on to learn about the upcoming monthly challenges, as well as tips you can use to complete each one! January 2016: Set a Goal This one’s easy—just pick a healthy habit and embrace it! • Be Realistic. Choose a habit that you can see yourself sticking to for more than a month. No sugary foods or dessert seems like a good idea, but who wants to go more than a week without something sweet? • Break Up the Goal. Losing 20 pounds by February might be the dream, but we’re not always the super humans our students envision us to be. It’s easier to start off with a small, easy-to-accomplish goal that allows you to work up to the big stuff. • Choose Your Motives Wisely. If you’re getting active to impress others, it may not have a lasting effect. Make sure you’re embracing a healthy lifestyle for your own benefit, whether it’s to be able to out-play your grandkids, lower your cholesterol or slow the aging process. Keep your happiness top of mind when choosing a goal. February 2016: Spread Some Love Being a do-gooder does wonders for your health by increasing your levels of happiness, which, in turn, lowers your stress levels. • Do Something Nice. Hold the door for a coworker or make a goal to compliment five different people a day. • Reach Out. Do you have an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while or a family member that could use someone to talk to? Pick up the phone and reconnect with your long-distance loved ones. • Pick Up a Pen. Write a nice letter or card to a co-worker. Whether someone is a director, manager, line worker or cashier, everyone has ups and downs at work. A simple “You’re doing a great job” note can do wonders for the self-esteem of those around you. March 2016: Wake Up With Breakfast All you have to do is eat the most important meal of the day! • Buy Fresh Produce. This challenge requires you to eat fruit with your breakfast every morning, so the easiest thing to do is simply buy a bag of Red Delicious apples or a banana bunch. These can be taken on the go and eaten on the way to work, mess-free! • Juice It Up. Not a fan of whole fruit? Not a problem! Buy a fruit juice blend that includes a serving of fruit in each glass or add some fruit with yogurt to a blender for a smoothie. • Be Creative. On days you have a little extra time, mix strawberries and blueberries with yogurt and granola for a simple and substantial breakfast. Or take a page from some of the yummy fruit creations you feed your students! April 2016: Strive for More Sleep Aim for extra ZZZs this month. Earn points for every time you get at least 6 hours of shuteye. • Turn Off the TV. It can be easy to fall asleep while unwinding with a show at the end of the day, but doing so doesn’t promote deep sleep. Make a point to turn off the television or laptop and snuggle up in bed to fall asleep soundly. • Leave the Electronics at the Door. Keep your tablet or phone out of reach when turning in for the night. The light from electronics can lead to sleep-hindering stimulation or a social media wormhole that causes you to stay awake way longer than anticipated. • Unwind for Bedtime. Maintain a relaxing ritual before bed, such as five minutes of silent alone time or journaling to reflect on the day’s challenges and blessings. Having this time to breathe can relieve extra tension, making it easier to fall asleep. May 2016: Explore the Great Outdoors • Stow Away All Technology. Put down your tablet. Who needs the whole wide web when you have the whole wide world at your fingertips? • Give Your Car a Break. You need 30 minutes of activity to get daily points for this challenge. Use your lunch break to walk the parking lot or the school grounds and breathe in the fresh air before taking on the rest of the day. • Quality Time. Try to spend at least 30 minutes walking with your significant other or one of your friends after work or on the weekends. This allows you to practice fitness while getting in quality bonding time. • Sight-See at Home. Take a day to walk around town, visit a popular park or hike a local trail. Familiar settings make for comfortable, stress-free places to work out while reconnecting with the place you call home. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md. Photography by Thinkstock.com and istockphoto.com.
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