Office Health Hero

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stretching-officeMost of us spend more time in the office than at home so it’s no surprise that the workplace environment can play a big role in your health. For many this time is spent in sedentary hours sitting in a chair at your computer or in meetings. But it’s possible to turn your workplace into a resource that improves your health. You and your colleagues already work together to make your organization a success, why not work together for wellness too?

Even if your employer doesn’t have an active wellness program, one active person—and why not you?—can create great impact by forming a group that supports such goals as healthier lunches and snacks, more exercise, and stress reduction. The connection between health and support from those around us, be they family, friends or co-workers, is well documented. In a study recently published in Health Psychology, people who work with friendly and supportive people live longer than people who don’t.

Office Hero

diet-exerise-planYou don’t have to be a fitness expert or in perfect health yourself to help others be healthy. This is about teamwork, something you’re probably pretty good at already. Think about what you want for your health and how you could meet your goal. Healthier lunches? Break time walks? Desk stretches? Meditation minutes? Do other workmates have similar goals?

1) Brainstorm ideas and poll people in the office and pick one or two goals that most people have in common. Be inclusive and open it up to co-workers you don’t already socialize with.

2) Set goal(s) and organize. While individuals will have their own goals, i.e. lose 5 lbs, cut out lattes, walk 10,000 steps a day, etc., group goals can be more general. For example, for an “eat healthier” goal, a potluck schedule can be set where people take turns bringing food from home. If you’re organizing a walk-at-work challenge, read “Walking on the Job” for an in-depth primer.

3) Work with your manager or supervisor and let her know your goals and plan. Your employers will most likely be supportive, just be mindful about how your group might affect work.

4) Use technology. Free apps, such as Map My Fitness, can be used to track your activities, form teams, and share progress. Most fitness tracking devices, such as FitBit, also offer apps to compare results with others. Desktop apps such as FitBolt can remind you to stand and stretch (for more, read “Breaking Good, Apps to Remind you to Step Away from the Screen”).

5) Celebrate. Find low-cost ways to celebrate individual and group goal achievements each week, month, or quarter to keep people motivated.

Organizing a fitness or weight loss challenge can be a fun way to get your colleagues working towards healthier habits. A little friendly competition can make losing weight or exercising more enjoyable. If you decide to start a fitness challenge at work, keep in mind that you may need your managers’ approval and buy-in. Be inclusive and sensitive to co-workers by allowing each person to set her own goals based on their fitness level or desire to change. For some, just walking 5 minutes a day every day could be a huge accomplishment. For someone who’s already at a healthy weight, encourage participation and weight maintenance.

If competition isn’t your thing, organizing a group to participate in a charity walk or fun run might be. After-work athletic groups can be a great substitute for   hitting happyhour.. Encourage increased physical activity by helping co-workers pair up with commute buddies for biking, busing, or walking to work.

Change Your Environment

office-fruitAs a workplace wellness advocate, you can be a catalyst for change, for yourself and others. Take a close look at your workplace food options, opportunities for increasing physical activity, and office policies that might be getting in the way of your health goals. Come up with suggestions to improve them and then work with management to make it happen. You may not be able to change some things, like workplace location, but you can ask for healthier vending machine options or suggest walking meetings when possible. Your employer may want to offer supportive wellness policies and activities but is unaware that you are interested in being a leader. Speak up! Ask to help share any existing wellness resources with other employees. Most employers want to keep their employees healthy and happy. They may even offer company sponsored on-site programs, such as Weight Watchers at work or fitness challenges, if they know there is employee interest.

Being a workplace wellness advocate might sound like a bit of extra work, but the changes you can bring in your own health and wellbeing and that of your co-workers will more than repay your efforts.

Sandra Smit, MPH, CHES is a worksite wellness professional and health educator living in Portland, OR.


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