Category Archives: Corporate Fitness

The Cost of Obesity

imagesHealth care has been a hot topic for several years now, from the rising costs of health care and the hard working citizens who can’t afford it to the lack of quality of health care in this country.  As our top brass sit atop Capitol Hill and try to determine YOUR destiny in regards to health care, the unfortunate joke in all of this is that we as citizens and humans for that matter have had control over our destiny since the day we were born.  Problem is, we’ve just decided not to, and as a result, the cost of health care is growing exponentially with our waistlines.

Most of us are already aware that carrying extra weight increases the risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer.  But consider some of these staggering statistics. If Americans continue to pack on pounds, obesity will cost the United States (you and me) about $344 billion in medical-related expenses by 2018, eating up about 21% of health-care spending. These calculations are based on the projection that in 10 years 43% of American adults may be obese, which is roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight, if obesity continues to rise at the current rate.

“Obesity is going to be a leading driver in rising health-care costs,” says Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the department of health policy and management at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Thorpe did a special analysis on obesity for America’s Health Rankings, the 20th annual assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis. “There is a tsunami of chronic preventable disease about to be unleashed into our medical-care system which is increasingly unaffordable,” says Reed Tuckson of United Health Foundation, sponsor of the report with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.  Using weight data, census statistics, and medical expenditure information, Thorpe found:

•An obese person will have an average of $8,315 in medical bills a year in 2018 compared with $5,855 for an adult at a healthy weight. That’s a difference of $2,460.

•If the percentage of obese adults doesn’t change but stays at the current rate of 34%, then excess weight will cost the nation about $198 billion by 2018.

•If the obesity rate continues to rise until 2018, then Colorado may be the only state with less than 30% of residents who are obese.

•More than 50% of the population in several states could be obese by 2018.  These states are Oklahoma, Mississippi, Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio and South Dakota.

The report adds to the growing body of evidence of obesity’s impact on medical costs. A study released in July 2009 showed that obese Americans cost the country about $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008, double what it was a decade ago. It now accounts for about 9.1% of medical spending. Overall, the United States spends about $1.8 trillion a year in medical costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and all three are linked to smoking and obesity, the nation’s two largest risk factors, according to the America’s Health Rankings report.

Smoking is still the number one preventable cause of death in the country, accounting for about 440,000 deaths annually, the report says.  About one in five Americans smoke. More than 3 million people quit smoking this past year. The percentage of people who smoke varies by state, from 9.3% in Utah to more than 25% in Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia, the study says.  “This report is an urgent call to take much more aggressive action to deal with key disease risk factors such as obesity and smoking,” Tuckson says. Health economist Eric Finkelstein, co-author of The Fattening of America, says medical costs won’t go down unless Americans make a serious effort “to slim down by improving their diet and exercise patterns.”

Diet and exercise; it always seems to come down to those two things.  So what will it take for the country to realize that before we self-destruct?  Perhaps the real weapons of mass destruction are literally right beneath our noses.

Featured in February 2010 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

The Business of Failure

download (2)Why would anyone go into business if they thought they were going to fail?  Despite the statistics of new start ups that plunder in the first three to five years (2/3 in two years, 44% in four years) not one of them would say they took the leap of faith because they knew they would fail. Failure is not a goal, at least not for anyone who sets out to do something they dream about.  So why then do people try every new diet fad year after year when they know, or may be it is because they don’t, that they are doomed to failure? Is it desperation, blind faith, or the belief that “this time is going to be different”?

Consider the research that reports that 95% of those who diet are guaranteed failure, and of the 5% that do see some results, 95% of them gain it all back and then some in three years.  These statistics say it all.  Go on a diet and you will most certainly fail.  What kind of winning proposition is that? Would you invest 100% of your assets if you knew that you would lose 95%?  That’s exactly what society has done with its health, particularly its nutrition, and why the current obesity epidemic is not going to go away for quite some time. What is it about dieting that makes it so popular despite its low success rate?

The American way is that we want it fast and we want it now.  With certain aspects of life, this thought process may deliver.  However, our bodies do not work that way.  Despite all the media hoopla, all the sensationalized TV shows, and an impatient, reactive society, the body’s resistance to dieting is nature’s way of saying, “you lose – I win”.  Our bodies are designed to do one thing and that is to keep us alive.  Here’s a little history lesson to prove why diets never work.

Long ago before Wawa and Starbuck’s, there was man and the land.  To survive, he had to eat. To eat, he had to hunt and gather.  When there was nothing around to hunt or gather, he relied on stored energy (bodyfat) to keep him alive. Unfortunately, there were times when this could go on for several days with little to no food and the reason they did not die (fail) was because of the body’s natural defense against starvation. Like starving, restriction of calories (aka dieting) tells the body to enter into its survival mode.  Survival mode involves slowing of the metabolism (energy conservation), increase in fat storage enzymes (storing energy), decrease in fat burning enzymes (energy utilization), and an increase in the hunger response.  Dieting, although planned, is nothing more than premeditated starvation.  The struggle begins when an attempt to drop weight is met with the body fighting to keep it.  The winner in this endless struggle is the body. By restricting calories, the body is programmed to battle and resist every effort to drop weight. The simple truth in this is that diets can not and do not work, despite all the gimmicks and tricks that are sold to us.  If it was just as easy as cutting calories back and avoiding all the food we crave, the diet statistics would paint a different picture.

Dieting is not about losing weight.  Dieting is about quick fixes and remedies to resolve lingering problems that can not be corrected overnight.  It is psychologically, physically, emotionally, and socially draining.  It is about disobeying the laws of nature and developing habits that are not conducive to most people’s lifestyles. Even the word diet says d-i-e. Healthy living and avoiding controllable failures is all about lifestyle. In 10,000 years, man may have adapted to his new surroundings but his survival mechanism has not, and when our society has come to understand that concept, we will be in the business of success.

Featured in March 2010 issue of the 422 Business Advisor

Combating Desk Work Injuries

Woman with pain in the back officeInjuries at work are common (3.7 million cases in 2008), particularly in occupations that require physical labor. But what about the white collar folks?  The desk jockeys sitting in front of their computer; the salesman driving in the car from client to client; the endless work traveler. Do these workers miss days due to occupational hazards? After all, does anyone really get hurt while sitting at a desk?  Shouldn’t you have to lift something or be performing back breaking exercises all day long to even have a chance at getting injured while on the job? It will come as a surprise to most, but sitting is actually one of the most dangerous positions to be in as it is the root cause of a multitude of work injuries.

Before you stand up and refrain from ever sitting again, understand that we were not designed to sit for extended periods of time.  The hips flex and the knees bend to allow us to sit, but the supporting musculature gets stressed to the point where it works against us, causing back stiffness, pain, and the potential for debilitating back injuries.  Back pain however, while more easily to locate and perhaps comprehend, is not the only source of work absenteeism due to injury.  Repetitive motion injuries are the other biggest cause of pain and represent the largest expense for companies in the workers compensation arena.

Repetitive motion injuries are just as the name implies – the result of overuse and generally occur from the shoulder down.  According to the National Occupation Research Agenda for Musculoskeletal Disorders, the most frequently reported upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders affect the hand and wrist region, with the most common being carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is generally characterized by numbness in the thumb, index and middle fingers. Aside from the pain and numbness associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, pain is sometimes felt where the thumb meets the wrist and is caused by a tendinitis of the muscles that pull the thumb back (as if you were hitchhiking). People who type tensely are prone to developing this tendinitis as they hold their thumbs over the keyboard with tension. Pain at the base of the thumb can also be caused by arthritis in the joint where the long palm bone meets one of the tiny wrist bones of the thumb. Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, has also been known to rear its painful head from hours and hours of computer mouse usage. And even if you have been able to avoid repetitive motion injuries (RMIs), there’s still a really good chance you may or may have suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome.

If you are working on computers or at a desk, chances are you are developing poor posture habits. We tend to round our shoulders forward and crane our head forward. These poor posture habits will gradually tighten the chest muscles and weaken the back muscles. This chronic change in posture leads to what is called thoracic outlet syndrome.  Thoracic outlet syndrome is characterized by tendinitis in the neck and shoulders; compression of the nerves effecting internal organs such as the lungs; neck pain; migraines; shoulder pain; and a sense of tiredness or heaviness in either or both arms.  Like an injury report the day after a football game, the list could go on.  The good news is that most if not all of the aforementioned conditions are preventable and treatable.   Here are some quick and easy tips to keep you in play, or work:

Prevention

Posture correction – It’s amazing the results, but simply being more aware of your posture (head up, shoulders back, chest forward) will go a long way to preventing a lot of potential work related injuries.

Protect your wrist Maintain a neutral wrist position; the wrist should be flat in relationship to the forearm; it should not be bent forward or back.

Office ergonomicsTry a negative tilt of the keyboard where the row of keys closest to you is slightly higher than the row farthest away and position keyboard so that the elbows are at a 90° angle with the shoulders.

Get up and move – Every 20 minutes, just stand up and walk around; stand up when you have to answer the phone.

Treatment 

Stretching to ease tightness in the neck muscles is very important.  It is also essential to strengthen the muscles that hold the head over the shoulders.  Here are four that you can try; 10 repetitions of each exercise should be done twice daily:

  • Corner Stretch – Stand in a corner (about 1 foot from the corner) with your hands at shoulder height, one on each wall. Lean into the corner until you feel a gentle stretch across your chest. Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Neck Stretch – Put your left hand on your head, and your right hand behind your back. Pull your head toward your left shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for 5 seconds. Switch hand positions and repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.
  • Shoulder Rolls – Shrug your shoulders up, back, and then down in a circular motion.
  • Neck Retraction – Pull your head straight back, keeping your jaw level. Hold for 5 seconds

Of course, any physical remedy could not be complete without adding some exercises, preferably away from your desk and with lots of movement. While exercise is certainly just as good a prevention tactic, it won’t hurt to take care of the matters at hand. Be sure to include resistance training to support and strengthen the skeleton and perhaps some yoga to help lengthen and stretch tight postural muscles.

Featured in December 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

No Pain, No Gain: Myth or Truth?

400_F_54184437_5HceCfzh1jgdfOipzWNlDs7oTVIGBxS6No pain, no gain.  For decades, this was the accepted mantra of those who competed in bodybuilding or power lifting events, which was then passed on to and assumed by the general population as the only way to exercise to improve health, lose weight, or change the shape of their body.  As years of research and a better understanding of the effects of exercise on the body have shown, the “no pain, no gain” theme is not really fair or accurate. Or is it? Most exercise “novices” or “naysayers” would say it is bad advice, but as a fitness professional I have another perspective to offer you.

Success, whether in life, your career, your relationships, and even your body is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone and that may require embracing some pain.  To reach high levels of physical and personal success you must approach your training, and your entire life, as an endeavor in constant growth. The ultimate truth is, you are either moving forward or moving backward; growing or dying. There’s no such thing as comfortably maintaining. To grow, you must step above past achievements; beyond your perceived boundaries and limits. That means stepping out of the known, into the unknown; out of the familiar and into the unfamiliar; out of the comfortable into the uncomfortable. You must get out of your comfort zone.

Cavett Robert, who was founder of the National Speakers Association, said, “Most people are running around their whole lives with their umbilical cords in their hands and they’re looking for some place to plug it back in.” A majority of the population is scared of the new, unknown and unfamiliar. They prefer to stay in that womb of comfort. When the going gets tough, when the effort gets painful, when the work gets hard, they always pull back into safety. But the extraordinary people do the opposite. They know they have to get out of the comfort zone, and into new territory or they’ll stagnate and die. You can’t grow or change by doing what you’ve already done. You’ve got to train just to prevent yourself from going backwards. Maintenance doesn’t occur when you do nothing. Maintenance is working to fight entropy (the tendency for things to naturally deteriorate).

Nevertheless, most people still will not leave their comfort zones. They won’t do it in business, they won’t do it in their personal lives, and they certainly won’t do it when seeking REAL change in their health and fitness. Why? Because it hurts, it’s uncomfortable, and it means more work beyond what they consider to be hard work already.  And that’s what it means to step outside the comfort zone. It is uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable, whether it’s physical mental, or emotional.  It requires discipline, sacrifice, uncertainty and fear. To say, “no pain no gain” is bad advice is admittedly accepting things for the way they are, and if you are happy with that then no one or nothing can change your mind. The fact of life is that you don’t grow unless you are constantly stepping outside the comfort zone, and outside the comfort zone requires a little discomfort and pain.

The statement “no pain, no gain” has been misinterpreted, criticized and labeled a fallacy by many. However, those doing the criticizing are almost always the pretenders, the “comfort zoners” who haven’t achieved much. My advice to you is to ignore them. Step out of your comfort zone and follow the small percentage of people who press on and achieve great things. Embrace the “good pain” of growth and when it subsides, enjoy the benefits of the change. But I forewarn you. Enjoy the view for a short while because it’s not long before that higher level becomes your new comfort zone and then its time to press on again.

Featured in October 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Going Green With Health and Fitness?

getting-your-friends-to-go-greenGoing Green” appears to be one of, if not the mantra of the new century.  Companies worldwide are claiming to cut back on waste production, energy costs, and finding newer Earth friendly solutions for conducting business in today’s eco-conscious world.  “Going Green” initiatives began in response to the growing concern for the health of the Earth and its environment as a result of the adverse changes occurring to the planet, whether caused by man, natural causes, or some combination of both.  But what about a growing concern for the health of the population? Is it just not that important to us? Do we care more about the environment we live in as opposed to being around to actually enjoy it? Or is it we just don’t understand enough the actual long term cost of an unhealthy life and its impact on us and the Earth? I believe the latter to be the truest.

Fitness is defined as a state of health, characteristics, symptoms and behaviors enabling a person to have the highest quality of lifeThe amazing thing about fitness is that the majority of people can obtain it.  Fitness is within everyone’s reach. All that is required is a desire to reach out, learn about it and just get started – and not for just getting ready for that vacation or reunion.

Here are some alarming statistics from the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) on what being unfit has caused in the U.S.: 13.5 million people have heart disease; 8 million people have diabetes (type II); 50 million people have high blood pressure; 121 million (2/3 of U.S. Pop.) are overweight; 60 million people (1/3 of U.S. Pop.) are obese; 250,000 hip fractures occur each year; 95,000 new cases of colon cancer each year.  The numbers are staggering, and studies provide evidence that obesity is in position to take over heart disease as the number one killer of Americans within the next few years.  The costs associated with unhealthiness however are what are even more impressive.

According to a recent study done by the CDC and the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), the health cost of obesity in the U.S. is as high as $147 billion annually. These costs include payments by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. Obese people spend on average $1,429 a year on medical care – 42% more then normal weight people.  Some other astounding numbers:

  • Sedentary lifestyles account for 15% of all healthcare costs and only 20-25% of the population achieves the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity.
  • The total healthcare costs associated with a 24 year old male tobacco user are $220,000 which breaks down to a healthcare cost of $40 per pack of cigarettes of paid for by someone besides the smoker. 23% of Americans use tobacco.
  • Obesity accounts for 12% of healthcare costs and 67% of the US population is either overweight or obese.
  • Factoring in preventable health conditions aside from smoking you have an additional 40% of healthcare costs.
  • 70% of healthcare costs are tied directly to lifestyle decisions: physical inactivity, diet, tobacco use and preventable disease.
  • 70% of deaths in America are attributable to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and cancer, all of which are influenced very significantly by diet.

As is clearly evident, not being fit and healthy is a heavy financial burden. The majority of the population simply does not eat well, exercise, or live healthy lives because they don’t have time, or it’s too expensive, or whatever other excuses they can come up with.  The truth is that it is not that expensive, it’s a choice, and in the long run, it’ll cost you more to not accept that truth. Consider, you’ll pay more in doctor bills and health care costs because all kinds of things can go wrong when you’re not fit, such as high blood pressure, depression, etc., become more likely the less physically fit you are. Along with actual health care costs you’ll dump more cash into medicine and treatment costs because things like cold medicine and sleeping pills are more common among non-fit people. You’ll pay more for clothes that look just as good, but in a larger size. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Health care is expensive.  Premiums for medical coverage are at an all time high.  The cost of medications, treatments, hospitalization, therapies, etc, is rising because of the outrageous numbers of unhealthy people in this country.  They are putting an overload and demand on the system resulting in higher costs for everyone.   Healthy and fit individuals are not the cause of expensive health care.   Common sense tells us that if this country were more health conscious, more concerned with the foods we eat, more concerned with our fitness level, more concerned with the quality of our lives, we would all benefit.  Health care costs would begin to decrease, there would less demand on emergency rooms and hospitals, less prescription drugs prescribed for illness and disease, and much more.

What can “going green” with fitness do for you? Fitness keeps muscles strong and joints moving; increases energy levels and helps control weight; improves self image and psychological well-being; boosts your mood, decreases stress and depression; slows down the aging process and “adds life to your years, and years to your life”; reduces coronary risk and cholesterol; increases metabolic function, bone density and improves posture and spinal health; improves cardiovascular conditioning and endurance, aerobic capacity, flexibility and improved body composition; helps prevent injuries and back problems; enhances work, recreation and sports performance; promotes restful sleep and overall quality of life.

The bottom line is that the majority of health related illness and disease is preventable by taking control of your life.  By taking responsibility for your health, wellness and quality of life before it is too late.   Adding exercise of any kind into your daily routine can begin to change your health right away.  You can change your health, fitness level and life – It is a decision.   You can decide to be unfit, unhealthy and eventually ill, or you can decide to take charge of your own destiny and become fit and healthy.

Featured in September 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Fit

tftTimes are tough, financially speaking of course. Our greed has now become the very cause of the enemy we now face. But even in a troubled economy, there is a glimmer of hope; that things can only get better.  While no one can accurately predict or guarantee when that will happen, one assurance we can all and should grasp is the one asset we have 100% control over – our health.  Without our health, there is nothing but illness, decline, and darkness; much worse than any bad news that could ever come from Wall Street. That’s why even on Wall Street, they’ve taken matters into their own hands, physically speaking of course.

Exercise has numerous benefits, from improved cardiovascular health, to decreased body fat…the list simply goes on and on.  But if there was one benefit of exercise that could prove to be priceless in today’s financial climate, it is to reduce stress.  Amid layoffs and stumbling stock prices, concerns about staying fit could seem trivial to most. Yet, businesspeople wonder how a terrifying financial climate will affect their physical fitness and if exercise could help them weather hard times. A New York Times article published in October of 2008 reported on how business professionals in the financial district were leaning to exercise to be their beacon in a dark time.  Popularity in so-called mind-body disciplines such as yoga, Pilates, and meditation have risen in response to recent economic uncertainties.  Since the number one excuse for skipping exercise is lack of time, several health clubs in the financial district are even offering shorter, cheaper personal training sessions to not only entice more business professionals, but encourage them that they can ill afford to miss out on taking care of themselves.   There are those however, like Amy Sturtevant, an investment director for Oppenheimer & Company in Washington, who find themselves doubling down on conditioning for relief.

“Professionals are doing their best not to panic, but I know a lot of professionals who are panicking” about the markets, she said. “The only way to get away from it is to have some kind of outlet.”  Ms. Sturtevant, a mother of four, is training for her fourth marathon. With brokerage clients needing more hand-holding, she said, she stints on sleep rather than skip her 5 a.m. daily boot camp and 20-mile weekend runs.  Fitness matters more than ever if you’re laid off, career counselors advise, not just for health, but to network and stay positive. “The last thing you want is to gain 20 pounds during a job search,” said Dr. Jan Cannon, author of “Finding a Job in a Slow Economy.” “That just compounds that sense of, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ” Exercise, she added, can also spur creativity. “You know how we always have those ‘aha’ moments in the shower?” Dr. Cannon said. In the same way, “a good brisk walk can be very helpful.”

For a motivated few, extra time for conditioning actually proves a rare upside of unemployment. “A lot of people who are between jobs are using this downtime to go after a goal,” like a triathlon, said Mr. Hanson of Cadence Cycling. Dr. Cannon recalled a client whose workouts last spring “got more frequent as time went on” — to block out the disappointment, and to give her something to get up and do every day.  “She lost 40 pounds.”

No matter how the state of our economy unfolds, the importance of taking care and managing our health never decreases.  Some will see fitness as an opportunity to do something positive; others will see it as something that just doesn’t take much priority or is where they’re going to cut their spending.  And for those who still want to make excuses for themselves, here’s a favorite quote from Edward Stanley to help reinforce the message: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”  Financially speaking, that is a deadly cost.

Featured in February 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Defeating Back Pain at the Office

back painIt’s only Monday and you’re already wishing it was Friday. Sound too familiar? Is work really that bad or is it that you just don’t enjoy what you’re doing? Or is it perhaps that the cause of your anguish really has nothing to do with your job, your career, or your colleagues? Chances are, the one thing that can make any work seem a lot worse than it actually is the one thing you take to work and even take it back home with you. I’m talking of course about your back.

Most of us take our back health for granted until the day that it causes great discomfort.  To this day, back pain is the number one reason why people make appointments to see their doctors, and in most cases, not until the pain has become unbearable.  Identifying back pain is easy and can range from dull, nagging aches, to stiffness, to unexpected sudden twinges or spasms. The more difficult part, but most critical, is being able to identify how you developed the back pain in the first place.

Some common presumed causes of back pain would be picking up a heavy object improperly, bending over awkwardly to pick up something that was dropped, or sleeping in a goofy position.  While all of those causes could certainly lead to back pain, they were more the proverbial “stick that broke the camel’s back” of poor body mechanics and muscle imbalances. After a while, something has to give.  The real culprit in the imbalances we experience is not just from all the sitting, standing, or lifting we may do at work, but how our bodies have to adapt to all of the sitting, standing, or lifting.

Let’s take sitting for example. Due to the amount of time most people spend sitting, the body must gradually adapt itself to that position. This happens in a number of ways. The first thing it must adapt to is how the weight goes through the hips and pelvis. Then, there is the way in which you sit – upright, slouching, or something in between. But what’s most important and often overlooked is what happens to the postural, core, and support muscles while you’re sitting. For example, the hip flexors (crease where the thighs and hips meet) will get tight from being in a shortened position, and the opposing muscles, the gluteus maximus (a.k.a. the butt) will get weak and atrophy from being in a relaxed state. The simple combination of tight hip flexors and weak glutes is what ultimately becomes a “muscle imbalance.” The result of these muscle imbalances will be postural dysfunctions of the pelvis and spine. These imbalances send both the spine and pelvis into abnormal positions, the combination of which can be devastating to a person with a healthy back (the back that goes out from bending over to pick up a simple paper clip) and catastrophic for a person suffering from any form of back pain (i.e. bulged disc). What you must understand is that these imbalances are the direct result of what you do in your everyday life – sitting, the activities of your job, and your own personal habits. What can you do about it?

The good news.  Back pain is highly preventable and even if back pain already exists, can be treated and remedied without any without medications or drugs.  To prevent back pain from occurring, here are some action steps to take:

Sitting

If your job requires you to sit, get up and move around every 20 minutes, even if not just to stand up. While sitting, sit with your legs in different positions and try to keep the legs moving. Stand up when the phone rings or when you have to read something.  Bottom line – stay off of your bottom as much as possible

Standing

If your job requires you to stand all day long, be sure you have quality footwear and a neutral shoe insert. Body mechanics start when our feet hit the ground. It is best if your feet are in the most neutral position possible. One negative body pattern that many people fall into is to continually shift their weight from one foot to the other. The problem with this is that most people eventually find that one leg will be more comfortable than the other, and then that leg will get most of the weight most of the time. This will wreak havoc on the pelvis and spine. Better to put equal pressure on each foot as much as you can, and learn to correct when you catch yourself shifting your weight or leaning on one leg too much.

Lifting

A third obstacle on the job can be situations where you have to lift anything over 10 pounds repeatedly. Again, it’s not the activity itself that puts you in jeopardy; it’s your body’s inability to tolerate the stress of the weight. In other words, you should be able to lift anything you want to and not have any difficulty doing it. The problem occurs when your body is suffering from the muscle imbalances and postural dysfunctions discussed earlier. So, when you lift that object and get injured, the body was already in a compromised state, and it just needed that last bit of stress to send you in to a painful situation.

Stress

It’s an unavoidable fact of life at work, and it can also play a role by causing your muscles to tense up, which makes you more prone to injury. Stress also lowers your tolerance for pain. In some cases, minimizing stress on the job can be a daunting task, but deep-breathing exercises, walking around the block, or even talking about your frustrations with a trusted friend can help.

The best and most reliable ways to prevent and treat back pain is good old fashioned exercise (specifically designed to address muscular imbalances), flexibility training, yoga, regular massage treatments, and proper rest (a good bed is worth its weight in gold). You only get one body…take good care of it.

Featured in March 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Of Course You Realize……This Means War

0Those were the famous words of a certain long eared, bushy tailed Warner Bros cartoon character aimed at one Elmer Fudd numerous times.  In cartoons, a lot of humor can be found in that phrase.  But when it comes to battling the obesity epidemic, particularly in today’s workforce and the ever rising associated health care costs, war has been declared and it is no laughing matter. According to a study published in the January issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, overweight employees are slower and less efficient than their less portly colleagues – costing an average of $1800 a year in lost productivity.  It is no longer a secret or surprise that obesity in the workplace has negative effects on both work productivity and ultimately, the health care costs to employers. As a result, some of America’s largest and most recognizable corporations have declared war on this epidemic and set an example of how and what is needed to get the job done.

As seen in the April 28th 2008 issue of Businessweek, big corporations such as Google, Caterpillar, Yamaha Corp of America and others are putting health food in their corporate break rooms, cafeterias, and vending machines; dumping donuts in favor of organic fresh fruit deliveries; and slapping “calorie taxes’ on fatty foods.  At Yamaha, the “wellness police” as they are affectionately known, are the folks obsessed with bringing down exploding health insurance costs.  Their focus had only been confined to targeting chubby cubicle dwellers with subsidized cholesterol drugs, free gym memberships, and health coaches.  But none of that was doing any good if all the company’s vending machines are loaded with candy, cola, chips, and cookies and cakes are served at every meeting. ‘I didn’t think we were being aggressive enough”, says Carol Baker, the HR boss at Yamaha.  Simply eliminating food isn’t as easy as it sounds either, for according to Baker, “People aren’t ready to give up everything.”

Google, the company famously committed to doing no evil is not safe from the dangers of boardroom flabbiness either.  New employees are prone to suffer what is known as the so-called Google 15 – the number of pounds they say is typically gained after joining the company and partaking in its wealth of available food.  Google’s “micro kitchens” as they are known, are snack stations within 200 feet of every worker’s desk and more like mini 7-Elevens.  “We kept adding things and adding things and adding things, says Google’s food service chief John Dickman. The cafeteria had an offering known as the Luther Burger, a bacon and cheese number with Krispy Kreme donuts as a bun!  “There were certain things that they couldn’t live without”, Dickman says.  The junk-healthy ration of the “micro-kitchens” is now 50-50, with agave-sweetened beverages, roasted nuts, sulfate-free dried fruit, and platters of organic, crudités.

At Yamaha, Baker has done away with the “zillions” of pies in favor of regular shipments of organic fruit from San Francisco Fruit Guys, whose business is providing workplaces across the U.S. with pesticide-free, locally grown fruit.  Ultimately turns out that fruit is cheaper than pies.  And for lunch time, despite the proximity of numerous fast food joints, Baker brought in a catering company offering healthy salads and sandwiches. “We’re trying to change people’s behaviors,” she says. She soon found out that employees are not the only resisters. “The vending machine people are not very supportive.”  At first she said, “They grudgingly tossed in some trail mix and stuck a little heart sticker next to those orange crackers with peanut butter.  But within weeks, the potato chips and candy bars were back”.

That’s why some companies are getting to employees’ stomachs through their wallets.  After Caterpillar offered garden burgers in its cafeteria for a buck, last year’s sales soared five fold to 2500 a month! At mortgage giant Freddie Mac, workers who order six healthy meals in the cafeteria get the 7th free.  Florida Power and Light, Dow Corning, and Sprint Nextel all charge more for unhealthy food, or what’s known as a “calorie tax”, and less for healthier fare.  At Pitney Bowes, they moved the dessert away from the cash registers to curb impulse buys. Some companies have even taken the approach of re-educating their employees.  Microsoft’s food honcho, Mark Freeman, created a color-coded system of icons to help make the healthy stuff as recognizable as a Snickers bar.  In each of Microsoft’s 31 cafeterias, there are icons for vegan, gluten free, organic, sustainable, sugar-free, carb-control, and non-dairy.  Freeman has also made the company’s headquarters a trans-fat free zone.  At first, “Everybody was yelling and screaming about the healthy food”, says Freeman.  “But they’ve come full circle.”

For those who don’t, there is always tough love. As one executive from a major software company quipped, “We’re waging a war on fat people.” Cubicle dwellers beware.  The war is headed to a town near you! (Cartoons characters not included)

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Featured in October 2008 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Sitting on the Job

images (1)It wasn’t long ago when the workplace involved serious physical labor (at least 12-14 hours); most of the work day was spent standing and moving; and the only climate control was that the seasons changed every three months. Today, while some may still experience long work days and physical labor, a larger percentage of the working population is seated while on the job. Aside from the physical problems that sitting causes (tightening of the hamstrings, stiff lower backs, weakening of the posture muscles, etc.), sedentary labor is taking an equally large toll on our health.  A new study suggests that a major reason so many people are overweight is because they simply just sit too much.

In the study, published in the November 2007 issue of Diabetes, scientists at the University of Missouri made a startling discovery.  When we sit, not only are there biomechanical stressors at work, but the enzymes that are responsible for burning fat actually shut down. And unfortunately, not even a regular dose of exercise can combat the resultant weight gain.  Dr. Marc Hamilton, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia and leader of the research team says, “(The medical community) has always had a general sense of how bad sitting is for you, that it elevated the risks for many illnesses,  but we weren’t sure why.  In this study, we focused on a variety of cellular mechanisms affected by inactivity, one of which was an enzyme (lipase) in muscles – the only enzyme that gets fat out of the blood stream and which is critical for cholesterol regulation.” Dr. Hamilton further reported that the second major revelation from the study was “that the body reacts physiologically different from sitting than the way it responds to exercise.”  Basically, our bodies treat sitting almost like a form of hibernation – storing calories and conserving energy – as opposed to exercise which has the opposite, positive effect. The net result: the body’s ability to burn calories through exercise is inversely proportional to the amount of time spent sitting. Thus, the more you sit, the less you burn, regardless of the amount of exercise performed. When you consider the sobering fact that only 15 percent of Americans have memberships to a health club, and only a small percentage of those members are regular users, the cost of sitting is even more profound.

Sitting is largely a consequence of our sedentary work environment. While it would be very easy for some to blame work for the rise in the workforce waistline, the number of progressive companies taking positive action is rising.  Many companies provide in-house fitness centers, health club subsidies, lower insurance premiums for fit employees, and other incentives, despite the exercise aversion of many employees and the contradictory pressures to stay at their desks and work. In fact, one particular company took that thought process into account when they went to work to find a solution to that problem.

In November 2007, US based furniture manufacturer Steelcase, Inc.  in conjunction with obesity specialist  Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, launched the Walkstation – a complete workstation equipped with a computer and low-speed treadmill that theoretically enables employees to burn calories while on the job (preliminary research saw an average weight loss of approx. 40 lbs per year).  One thing’s for sure; it eliminates the excuse of not having time to workout by combining work with exercise.  The question is: is this a feasible substitute for getting more of the workforce standing and moving, thus burning more calories? Or is just yet another “glamorous” way of giving people the false impression that they are getting an effective workout while working?

Bottom line, sitting is not good for us.  We were not designed to sit for prolonged periods of time and gravity will continue to have its way with our physiques.  With new research indicating there’s more of a concern to sitting from a biochemical stand point, it couldn’t be any clearer as to what is the best solution whether your workstation turns into a small gym or not – GET UP AND MOVE!!!

Featured in May 2008 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

The Cost of Being Inactive or Overweight

r-OBESITY-AMERICA-COST-hugeThe state of our nation’s health is a hot topic at the debates held during this election year.  As a nation, our health and subsequent health care is diminishing and with no real plan of action to turn it around.  But health is only one of the factors that should be considered when determining the full impact of carrying around a few extra pounds and/or choosing to sit in front of the TV instead of engaging in physical activity.  There is an economic cost to all of this, too, one that hits your pockets, health care providers and employers alike.  A recent study shed some light on the subject and the resulting analyses are quite staggering.

In a recent study by Chenowith and Leutzinger, data was evaluated related to medical conditions commonly associated with being overweight or inactive.  From this data, they computed estimated costs for medical care, worker’s compensation, and lost productivity associated with these conditions.  Just to give you an idea of what we are looking at, a recent study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute estimated that as many as 113 million Americans (that’s 61% of the U.S. adult population) are either overweight or obese.  The associated costs for this condition alone climb to more than $200 billion.

Information in this analysis was collected from 7 states (California, Texas, Massachusetts, Washington, New York, North Carolina, and Michigan) in 2003.  The data represents roughly 77 million adults, or approximately one third of the adult population in the United States.  Geographically, the states that were analyzed are spread across the country, and, demographically their make-up reflects that of the United States as a whole.  For each injury or illness that was associated with being overweight or inactive, the authors computed a monetary cost for estimated medical expenses and /or lost productivity at work.  When these analyses were performed, the results showed the following:

  • In 2003, the costs associated with physical inactivity were estimated at $92.3 billion dollars in the states that were analyzed.  When scaled to reflect the entire U.S. population, this represents a cost of more than $250 billion.
  • For the same period, the costs associated with excessive weight were estimated at $94.3 billion in the 7 states analyzed, or approximately $257 billion for the country as a whole
  • If the current trends related to increased health care costs and increased weight gain continue, the projected costs related to inactivity and being overweight will increase by more than 40%, to more than $700 billion in 2008.
  • If the number of physically inactive and overweight Americans could be reduced by 5%, the cost savings would be in excess of $151 billion over the next 5 years.

In any case, the costs associated with obesity and inactivity are immense.  These costs affect all Americans through increased health care costs, lost productivity, or both.  Even a small reduction in the number of people who are inactive or overweight would bring down the number of medical and workmen’s compensation claims considerably.  The question then begs, so what do we have to do?

We need to be more personally responsible for our health.  We need to be more personally accountable for our nutritional choices and getting regular physical activity.  We need to stop making excuses and start coming up with solutions.  We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and see that we have had the power all along.  We need to start taking better care of the only thing no one else can – ourselves!

Featured in April 2008 Issue of 422 Business Advisor