Advice For Cardio-holics

article-new-thumbnail-ehow-images-a05-at-1o-warm-up-treadmill-800x800Addiction is a powerful word.  It generally conjures up the thought of a habit that has or is consuming a person’s life.  When we think of an addiction, more times than most we assume that it is a bad habit and that there has to be some level of intervention to break it off.  After all, is it necessarily a bad thing to be addicted to something that is good for you?  The answer is an astounding yes!

Exercise in all of its forms is an absolute positive in our lives.  However, even too much of a good thing can be bad for you.  Compulsive or excessive exercise, otherwise known as “exercise addiction”, is a legitimately researched and treated behavior that can be diagnosed in anyone from the casual exerciser to the professional athlete.  But before you even begin to think that you need to drastically cut back your current exercise regime, understand that most people in our society do not exercise enough!  Exercise addiction is generally associated with those that exercise too excess; believing in the notion that more is certainly better than a little.  All too often, exercise addicts are oblivious to some of the warning signs, such as increased irritability, disrupted sleeping patterns, a depressed immune system, chronic fatigue, and muscle stiffness. Exercise in any form can be performed to the extreme; especially in a society that wants results and fast. The most common type of exercise that is most abused and common in exercise addicts is cardiovascular exercise.

Cardiovascular exercise, or “cardio”, is defined as any activity that involves consistent movement of large muscle groups at low to moderate levels of intensity for extended periods of time, such as walking, jogging, running, bicycling, stair climbing, swimming, and aerobic/group exercise classes.  Cardiovascular exercise is a necessary and important component to any well developed exercise program. These exercises while ultimately designed to improve cardiovascular health (lungs, heart), have enormous benefit to aiding in weight loss, particularly because these activities burn calories and are generally less intimidating to the population than other forms of exercise. In addition, cardiovascular exercise does not require any special equipment or complex movement.  To paraphrase a famous quote, you have to “Just Do It.  It is easy to see then why someone might buy into the “more is better” mentality in regards to doing cardio.  After all, if I want to lose weight, isn’t the idea to burn as many calories as possible?  It is exactly that thought process that drives cardio-holics (those who spend endless, tireless hours doing nothing but cardiovascular exercise) to become exercise addicts.

Burning calories is not limited to time spent sweating in the gym. Our bodies burn calories all day long through daily activities, but the majority of those calories are being burned 24/7/365.  Better known as the BMR (basal metabolic rate), our BMR is dictated by the body’s metabolically active tissues, or lean body mass, which is inclusive of organ systems, bodily processes, and most notably muscle mass.  Lean body mass is essentially where calories are burned.  Think of BMR as a measure of your body’s idle speed, the amount of energy your body requires before you step on the gas. The easiest (and only way for that matter) that an individual can naturally stoke their calorie fire, or BMR, is by increasing the muscle mass in lean body mass. Thus, the more of it we have, the more calories we can potentially burn even at rest. It is impossible to increase the size of your organs and therefore their energy requirements. The bad news for cardio-holics is that cardio exercise does not improve the BMR.  Yes, cardio does burn calories but in the long run, the only thing that guarantees that your body continues to burn calories is being able to keep the fire stoked.  This is where the importance of resistance training can not be ignored

Resistance training (free weights, machines, or bands) works to increase our BMR by stimulating muscle growth, not to be confused with bulky muscles.  Even some of the cardio activities that are weight bearing (those in which you are standing on your feet such as the treadmill, elliptical, stair climber, etc) provide little to no load stimulus to the muscles. Without a sufficient weight bearing stimulus such as you would get from resistance training, muscle growth is blunted.  Furthermore, the combination of insufficient muscle growth coupled with unnecessary amounts of cardio exercise can lead to negligible or poor results.   A vicious cycle then begins where no muscle is added so BMR (calorie demand) drops. As calorie needs drop, nutritional needs decrease (not as much lean body mass to nourish).  As nutritional needs drop, the body begins to catabolize, or breakdown, proteins stored in the body.  The most readily available proteins stored in the body are found in muscle.  As a result, muscle is lost because contrary to belief, muscle, not fat, breaks down more readily and quicker for fuel.  You then have to work harder to achieve the desired goal because you simply burn fewer calories than you did before. This phenomenon is not hard to spot in the gym either.  An example is the exercisers who spend tireless minutes pounding away on the cardio machines and never physically change.  An even better example is the group fitness instructor, despite all of the hours logged in teaching aerobic classes, looks physically exactly the same.  Perhaps even you have experienced this phenomenon yourself.  Understand that cardiovascular exercise is very good for you.  If not correctly understood however, it can be very counterproductive.

The correct amount of cardio work: how much (frequency), how long (time), and how hard (intensity) can become very confusing.  Simply put, the amount you need to do depends on your goal.  Unless you are training for an ultra endurance event (marathon, cycling century, triathlon, etc.), hours and hours of cardio will do nothing more than in essence break you down.  Most people would see far more benefit with moderate cardio work (3-5 days per week), thirty to forty minutes at a time, with varying levels of intensity (low intensity day vs. high intensity day).  Recent government recommendations have dictated that sixty minutes a day is the required amount.  However, the key point left out of that lofty recommendation is that it should be consistent and constantly changing.  The more often that you can vary the training stimulus, the better your results will be. If you repeatedly do the same thing day in and day out, the stimulus is lost and you become a machine that just blows smoke. Any one dimensional training program is doomed to failure.  What can not be lost in this shuffle though is that resistance training must be a part of the exercise program.

Exercise is time and energy well spent. Make the most of your time by varying your routine; educate yourself to train smarter; begin resistance training; don’t be afraid to change and “break” the habit; always be sure to get rest; nourish your body properly; most of all have fun.

Featured in May/June 2005 of Philly Fit Magazine

Putting Female Weight Room Fears to Rest

iStock_000020226662XSmallThe weight room of any health club today is a far cry from the early days of bodybuilding. It generally still remains a secluded room where the sounds of iron “clacking” and grunting and groaning begin and echo throughout the building. The basics are all still there: barbells, dumbbells, benches, racks, mirrors, etc., but thanks to advances in strength training technology, strength training equipment has become more streamlined and efficient making weight rooms look more like fancy jungle gyms.  The most notable change in the weight room however has been its occupants. Until about what is almost two decades now, very few women ever gave any thought to weight training, let alone actually enter the weight room.  Today, women of all ages are hitting the weights, almost as often as their male counterparts.  Unfortunately, too many women still find the weight room daunting, intimidating, and for that reason, fail to seek the benefits that a good weight training program can do for them.  Most of them still base that decision on gym lore or myth – the myth that lifting weights will make them look manly or less feminine.

The good news for females who engage or are interested in weight training is that lifting weights will NOT make them look more masculine or bulk them up despite any preconceived fears they may have.  On the flip side, the bad news is that as a regular or novice exerciser seeking to change the shape of her body (i.e. lose body fat) and does not include some type of weight training into her routine, she will find herself very disappointed and frustrated. Rest assured, weight training will do more to slim a female down and tone her up then it will to bulk her up. Understanding why this is so will go a long way to changing a female’s attitude towards weight training.

First and foremost, physiologically, female muscle has the exact same characteristics as male muscle and therefore will respond the same way to training. Increases in muscle size, or hypertrophy, are attributed to changes at the molecular level as a result of external resistance (weights).  There are numerous factors that play a role in determining the amount of change that takes place in the muscle, such as the amount of weight lifted, the number of sets, reps, etc.  However, in regards to the differences between the sexes for muscular development, the primary factor is the hormone testosterone.  Men and women both produce the hormones testosterone and estrogen.  Men have a higher ratio of testosterone to estrogen and women have a higher ratio of estrogen to testosterone. At rest, men have as much as ten times the amount of testosterone that women do.  There are some females however that have higher than normal levels of testosterone and will show signs of increased muscular girth as a result of weight training, just as there are males who produce higher levels of estrogen than normal.  The point here is that these scenarios are very rarely the case and the majority of females can lift weights their entire lives and never look like Arnold.

These preconceived fears have lead many women to shy away from weight training and those that regularly engage to sell themselves short. A perfect example of this is the woman who stands in front of the mirror spending endless hours curling three pound dumbbells or sets the leg press to fifty pounds. She is under the misguided assumption that the lighter weights accompanied by higher reps is going to tone up and tighten her muscles.  Well, if time is not an issue and quick change is not a priority, then at least there will be an extremely low incidence of injury.  The truth is, a muscle will only change (i.e. tone, strengthen, etc.) if the stimulus (the amount of weight, or resistance lifted) is varied and yes, even increased.  Research has shown that increases in female muscle strength is generally accompanied by only small increases in muscle mass and either decreases in or constant total body weight. Furthermore, since muscle is metabolic living tissue, building quality, lean muscle is the only any of us can naturally increase our metabolism. If a woman is trying to change the shape of her body, then that should be music to her ears.  Adding quality, strong, and functional muscle to a female body not only looks good, but also turns her into a perennial fat furnace. The calorie burning effect that weight training has on muscle is sustained three to four times longer than an equivalent amount of time spent performing cardiovascular exercise.

There are some other factors that women beginning a weight training program should also be aware of if they have not already experienced it first hand.  The first is that females generally store more intramuscular fat (fat stored within the muscle itself) than males do.  This phenomenon is common among those who think the StairMaster increased the size of their buttocks or will not participate in a Spin class because they are afraid it will make their legs bigger.  Lifting weights can have that same affect but it is not so much that the girth of the muscles is increasing but that the fat within the muscle is expanding due to the training effect of the muscle itself.  Solution to the problem: do not stop performing those exercises and be serious about dietary intake.  The second is that the weight training program should be built around compound, multi joint movements (such as a squat) and not isolatory movements (such as bicep curls).  While both can be a part of a solid program, the real benefit from weight training for women comes from being able to load the entire skeleton and stimulate not only the large calorie burning muscle groups, but the larger bones of the body as well to protect against osteoporosis.

Always seek the help of a certified fitness professional to set up a program, demonstrate the exercises, or have around specifically for the weight training exercises only.  The body will give back exactly what is put into and the results will be absolutely stunning.

Featured in November/December 2005 of Philly Fit Magazine

Employers Incentivizing For Health and Wellness

images (3)It has always been amazing to me to think that people need to be incentivized to be healthy.  Despite all the studies on the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle; the number of preventable diseases prevalent in today’s society; the growing evidence that we are a civilization in physical peril, and people still don’t feel that the investment in themselves is not important or valuable enough. That is unless of course, there is an incentive for them to do so. Worse yet, they blame their poor health and poor choices on other circumstances, some of which they claim to be beyond their control. Get real and take responsibility. What has happened? When did we lose sight that are life, our health, is the most precious thing we have in this life?

We all get one and one shot only. If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? That is just one of the questions a lot of big U.S. corporations are starting to take on themselves. If their employees aren’t motivated enough to invest and take care of themselves (which in turn protects their bottom line), might as well give them a little push. According to a recent survey by the ERISA Industry Committee, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and IncentOne, the number of major US employers using incentives to promote employer-sponsored health and wellness programs rose from 62 percent to 71 percent between 2007 and 2008.  Responses revealed a wide range in the value of incentives offered for a host of programs. For example, incentives for weight management programs ranged in cash prizes from $5 to $500, and incentives for smoking cessation programs ranged from a low of $5 to a high of $600.  The average value of incentives per person per year ranged between $100 and $300, with an overall average of $192 per person per year. But are cash prizes really the trick and do they seem to work the best?

“Trinkets and t-shirts aren’t enough to motivate employees for the long term,” said John Engler, president and CEO of NAM.  “Employers are keenly interested in innovative ways to lower costs and enhance productivity.  Incentives are proving to be an effective tool to engage employees and keep them interested in these programs.” Employers are continuing to experiment with the types of incentives they offer, sometimes offering different incentives and amounts for different types of programs. “Three out of four major employers are using health and wellness programs in an effort to rein in costs that continue to soar year after year,” says Engler. Results of last year’s survey showed a skew towards offering premium reductions over other types of incentives. Gift cards came out on top in 2008 as the most popular incentives employers offer, with premium discounts and cash incentives following close behind.

The survey, which included 225 major U.S. companies employing 7.6 million employees, delved into employer expectation for ROI for health and wellness programs, finding that 83 percent of those who have measured returns are seeking program returns of better than break even.  The findings – the percentage of employers who have successfully measured ROI for their health and wellness programs almost doubled since last year, but still remains less than 30 percent. Employers are using other measures to evaluate program success, such as completion of health risk assessments and program participation.  When it comes to incentives, employers are much more likely to reward program participation and completion than to reward employees for meeting specific program goals, such as smoking cessation or losing weight.

Bottom line: whether you are an employee or an employer, take responsibility and protect your bottom line.  Even in a time of economic despair, there’s one guarantee and that is that you have complete control of your health.  And that’s one investment that you can never lose, despite what happens on Wall St.

Featured in November 2008 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Politically Correct Fitness?

man holding hand over his mouthAs long as man has been alive, there has been physical fitness.  Centuries ago, physical fitness was a way of life. It was how we lived and more importantly, it was how we survived.  Fast forward to 2007, and physical fitness hasn’t changed.  At least it shouldn’t have changed.  It is and should still be a way of life and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, it is definitely something that will help you survive.  But study after study only shows that as a society we move less and less and physical fitness is diminishing as quickly as the national budget.  Is it that fitness is so misunderstood or is our idea of fitness completely off kilter?

Most people would certainly agree that exercise is something that they need to do and more often.  It is no secret that the number one New Year’s resolution people make is to exercise, be it to lose weight or just get moving.  Yet when it comes to making the decision whether or not to exercise, more times than not an alternative or excuse to do something other than exercise usually wins out. Has exercise become so high tech, advanced, and intimidating that even the intelligent person can’t make heads from tails?  Or is it something else? As a society, I like to think we suffer from what I call politically correct fitness.

Political correctness is a term used to describe any language, ideas, policies, or behaviors seen as seeking to minimize offense to racial, cultural, or other identity groups.  In a broader sense, it is also used to describe adherence to any political or cultural belief.  While it’s unlikely that anyone would say they find exercise offensive, it is the cultural belief of exercise that is in question.  That cultural belief is that exercise is time consuming; cumbersome; painful; sweat inducing; only for the already fit; not fun; too much work; etc. But where did these ideas originate? Past experiences from high school gym class; the aerobics/spandex boom of the eighties; the dark, cold steel days of the early weight lifters? Perhaps it is the media’s attempt to make fitness seem more glamorous and easy, thus creating a false sense of what it really means to exercise.

While watching a popular morning news show the other day,  I witnessed the anchor “attempt” to do a rather easy exercise and gasped as she did everything in her power to make it look like it was something only Houdini could perform.  Her message to the audience: “We need more exercise but I’m just going to stay home and watch my TiVo”.  In a popular magazine, an article written by a fellow fitness professional says how all one needs to do to stay in shape is clean their windows and wash the floors once a week.  That may be true if your house was the Sears Tower!  The sensationalism of fitness as it relates to our health has only added to the confusion and reluctance of more people making an active choice to live a healthier life.  There are no guarantees in life and contrary to what some think, we are not entitled to an existence free of injury and sickness.  When you can appreciate the fact that over 70% of the diseases and illnesses listed with the AMA (American Medical Association) are preventable through healthier lifestyles, it makes you wonder why we just don’t carry around our own shovels.

Bottom line – there is no politically correct way to go about fitness.  Fitness requires work.  It requires time.  It requires dedication.  It requires commitment.  And most of all, it requires a willingness to not accept things as they are, but to work towards something perhaps once thought as unachievable. Fitness, specifically physical fitness, is a part of a healthy lifestyle.  It is not the solution, but a piece of the solution. It is part of a healthy lifestyle that includes sensible nutrition habits, good emotional health, and sound spiritual health. To that end, it is a big part of a solution to a problem that is only going to keep getting worse the longer it is ignored. And that is damn near offensive.

Featured in November 2007 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Do What You Love

520157-apple_logo_dec07Do you remember your high school or college graduation commencement address? Most likely, it was given by a prestigious alumnus, a local politician, a motivational speaker, or perhaps even a Hollywood celebrity.  The content of a commencement address generally consists of knowledge and life experiences that the speaker would like to impart on the graduating class as they begin their journey into life.  Yet it is seldom that you find someone who truly remembers or can say they were deeply moved by their commencement address.  For the Stanford University graduating class of 2005, they had the honor of having their commencement address given by the man whose company most likely was a huge part of their college experience – Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios.

The message in his commencement address was one that those in attendance that day and all of us could reflect on everyday.  Very simply put, the message of Mr. Jobs’ speech was “to find what you love” and that alone will lead to a life of happiness and fulfillment.  In his speech, Mr. Jobs related three personal stories from his life and how each one was driven by his desire to do what he loved.

The first story was about “connecting the dots” and how sometimes when chasing your passion, it’s not always easy to see how your actions today will lead to better things down the road  when pursuing what you love.  “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.  So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.  You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.  This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

The second story was about how Mr. Jobs started Apple and then in a matter of years was fired by the very company that he created.  But the same determination that led him to form Apple in the first place was exactly how he got back to Apple – by doing what he loved.  “I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.  You’ve got to find what you love.  And that is as true for work as it is for your lovers.  Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

The third story was about death and how it is the only thing that all of us are guaranteed.  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life…And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

For many of today’s workforce, work is just a place to spend eight to ten hours a day and collect a paycheck.  Ask yourself this question.  How meaningful is your work and how personally fulfilling and satisfying is your work? Sure, if you were Steve Jobs who sits atop a 2 billion dollar a year company, you might say that your job would be extremely meaningful and fulfilling.  But even if you find your work to be meaningful and fulfilling, do you really love what you do?  Do you find yourself dreading getting up everyday to head to work?  At the end of the day, do you look forward to another day on the grind or do you live only for the weekend?

As Mr. Jobs said in his address, a good deal of our life is spent at work.  Does it make sense to continue doing something you’re not exactly excited about?  Of course not, yet most would rather stay where they are simply because they take the approach of working to live, rather than living to work.   Do yourself a favor.  Think about what you love, find what you love, and do what you love.  A commencement address does not necessarily need to be a creed for life, but something that even those of us already immersed in our respective careers could take a point or two. Commencement after all is not an end, but a beginning.

Featured in November 2006 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Time Management

time-managementTime.  It seems that there is never enough and what time we do have appears to be just washing away.  If only we could have more time.  Question is, would more time really matter?  Would we really get more accomplished? Or would it just be more time to waste wishing we had more time? No matter how you look at it, time is the same year after year, month after month, day after day.  So if time remains constant, why does it always seem to be moving away from us at break neck speeds? The answer is that we simply fail at time management.

Time management is often associated with being organized, yet being organized does not necessarily mean that you have a grasp of time management.  For example, how many times have you started your day with a “to do list” and still did not get everything accomplished.  Some would say that there are unforeseeable events that occur and get in the way of completing that day’s tasks.  While that may sometimes be the case, it generally is more the result of poor time management than being disorganized. Advances in technology can help keep us organized but they can not hold us accountable for time.  The solution therefore is to not only be organized, but to purposely and constructively plan that organization.  Some of these tips may be something you have already heard, already knew, or perhaps even currently employ.  My feeling however is that if you have read this far, time management is something you are struggling with.

Step #1 – If you do not already have a method of keeping track of your everyday tasks (PDAs, desk calendars, schedule books, etc.) start using one today.  Research has consistently shown that those who write down their daily tasks and goals are more than 90% likely to accomplish them.  Even a simple piece of paper and pen will work.  Whatever is easiest, most convenient, and most comfortable for you to use is what is most important.

Step #2 – PRIORITIZE.  It may sound very cache’, but most people spend inordinate amounts of time working on tasks that are really not that important or that are not in sync with their desired outcomes.  The tasks or goals that are most important should take precedence over all others first.  From there, determine the things that are not as equally important, but have to get done or accomplished to fill in the gaps.

Step #3 – In addition to prioritizing, you should also work through tasks one at a time.  Skipping around or completing tasks half way and you will quickly find yourself losing time and getting nothing accomplished.  Keep the focus shifted on doing the necessary and not on the “what ifs”.

Step #4 – Account for time wisely.  In our present day and age, it is very common to spread ourselves thin, trying to do too many things, be too many places, see too many people, to the point where we can drive ourselves insane.  Build time into your daily schedule for things such as travel to and from appointments, meal breaks (can not properly manage time on an empty stomach), phone calls, etc.  Avoid over scheduling and give yourself a chance to attack your tasks with the same vigor and energy as the one before.

Step #5 – Always allow time for your personal agenda.  It is sad but we will spend more time on things that in the general scheme of life are not really important and less time on the things that should really matter most to us – ourselves, family, and friends.  Personal time is vital not only to your mental well being, but to your long term health and prosperity. My personal favorite is exercise.  Everybody says that they just do not have the time.  I say to them that you can not afford NOT to exercise. It has to be built into your schedule and it should not be something that gets fit in if time allows.  There is always time when it is a priority (see Step #2) and it SHOULD be a priority.

Step #6 – Take a deep breath and relax.  We worry so much about time that we probably spend too much worrying about where it is going.  If you continue to find yourself struggling with time management, perhaps you need to sit back and take a good look at where you are, where you are going, and where you want to be.  Grinding it out day in and day out can and will get in the way of your goals and dreams if you allow it.  We can all be found guilty of complacency and sticking to our routine on a daily basis even if it is not where we really want to be.  It is just what we do and that can be a complete waste of time.

Featured in November 2005 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Personal Strategic Planning

TriangleSuccess can be measured in many different ways.  A successful career may include prominence in an industry supplemented with a high level of income.  A successful day may be a day in which the “to do” list was finished before noon.  There are many ways to define and measure success and everyone has their own views and opinions. But no matter which way it is looked at, success can best be defined as the result of a series of positive changes and influences that led to an achievement of a particular goal.  The unfortunate mistake that most people make is that they look for success to come to them, rather than making success happen for them.  That process can begin with personal strategic planning.

Corporations big and small get involved in strategic planning. Their goal through strategic planning is to find ways to maximize the organization of the business to increase their ROE, or return on equity.  ROE simply refers to the return on the capital invested in the enterprise. By reorganizing, prioritizing, and shifting resources from areas of lower value to areas of higher potential value, the ROE in the business can be increased. That very same approach can be used in your own personal strategic planning. The ultimate goal of achievement, or success, is the same.  How you go about it is dependent on what areas of your life need improvement (areas of low value) and which ones are going well (areas of higher potential value).

Behaviorists and life coaches have identified that our goals and achievements (our ROE) can be divided into four basic categories. The four basic categories are: a desire for happy relationships; a desire for interesting and challenging work; a desire for financial independence; a desire for good health. Everything that we do in life is an attempt to enhance one or more of these areas and improve our overall quality of life. The common denominator of these four goals, and the essential requirement for achieving each of them is that they require you to take charge.  Happy relationships do not happen, they are built.  If work is dull and boring, change jobs.  Financial independence is earned (unless you are lucky enough to win the lottery), not given.  Good health is a choice, not a right.  In fact, good health is the one that most of us take for granted until something happens to it.

In the business world, companies have financial capital.  Think of yourself as possessing human capital (mental, emotional, and physical). Just as a company works to increase their ROE, so should you individually work on your ROE.  Without getting into too much information on how to improve your life in all four categories, the best step forward is to look no further than a mirror.  There are so many little things you can do right now that will lay a foundation for success.  Since good health is often overlooked, I can think of no place better to start.

Time and time again, you will hear how proper exercise, diet, and rest are essential to health and prosperity, yet as a society we do not focus on any one of them 100%.  That is where a proper attitude also comes into play.  The right frame of mind can open doors once thought to be never opened.  Everything that you do counts in some way. It is either going to help you or its going to hurt you.  It will either propel you towards your goal or move you farther away from it.  The only one who can make that is assessment is you.  Good, bad, wrong, or right – our decisions are what they are.  How we learn from them and move forward will ensure greater success than the one who never tries.

As mentioned before, success is the result of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of tiny efforts that nobody may ever see or appreciate except yourself. These
tiny efforts, sacrifices, and disciplines accumulate to make you an extraordinary and successful person.  In every area of life, it is the quality of the time, not quantity, that you put into your actions and decisions that determines the rewards life can give. No one is going to understand or appreciate better than you – and that is worth the investment.

Featured in November 2004 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Wellness in the Workplace. Can Your Company Afford to Ignore It?

shutterstock_63994297Affordability.  In today’s economic state, it is a term that has become more common place in business than growth and prosperity. Businesses today are asking themselves: “Can we afford advertising?; Can we afford to hire more staff?; Can we afford to keep operating at the same costs and still turn a profit?”  In a time when things may be grim for a lot of businesses, the only ones that are going to survive are the ones who make an effort now to turn things around.  And to turn things around they need to focus on what’s most important instead of focusing on the negative.  Often, one of those overlooked items is the wellness, both financial and physical, of their business.

What exactly is wellness?  Websters defines wellness as: 1) the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, esp. as the result of deliberate effort, and 2) an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases. Most people look at wellness simply as the absence of any apparent or disabling illness. And companies generally look at the wellness of their business from the financial side of things.  How “well” is the business doing?  The reality is, there is a very direct correlation between a company’s financial wellness and its physical wellness, namely the wellness of its employees. Why is wellness so important to a company and why should employers be concerned about their employees’ wellness?  Here are a few statistics that put it in perspective:

  • American employers lose over 300 billion dollars of productivity annually due to illness, sick days, absenteeism and sub-par performance or “presenteeism” (showing up to work but not actually doing anything productive).
  • The average employee misses 8.4 days annually due to illness or injury, totaling over $63 billion nationwide.
  • The employee with a serious or chronic condition (diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, cancer, etc.) misses 72 days annually, and works at diminished capacity when present.
  • Nationwide, over 2.5 billion work days are reduced or lost completely. Can your business afford this reduction in productivity?
  • Between the times employees spend at the doctor’s office, the time they spend out sick, and the time they are working at less than full speed, employers are losing an average of $2,000 to $2,800 per employee per year due to illnesses. These numbers do not include the healthcare costs or workers compensation costs incurred due to illness.
  • For every dollar an employer spends on salaries and wages, they spend a minimum of an additional 10 cents on health insurance and workers compensation costs.
  • Those who suffer from GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) suffer decreased productivity so severely that a recent study by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders has calculated that over $2 billion is lost in productivity each week due to the disease.

Everyone gets sick from time to time, but which would you rather have? A workforce of vital, energetic hard-working individuals focused on results and available to work when and where you need them? Or a workforce of average individuals who use up most of their sick leave, and come to work dragging their heads and underperforming? Wellness in the workplace has many benefits, and employers who have tracked their employees’ wellness, as well as those who have contributed to their employees’ wellness, have enjoyed increases in productivity, decreased healthcare costs, decreased workers compensation costs, and increased employee loyalty and higher morale.

Although good health and vitality benefit an employee in every aspect of his or her life, they also specifically benefit the employer as well. Just as investing in an employees’ training provides a better, more valuable resource, investing in their health will provide an employer with a more effective and consistently available resource. The costs of unhealthy employees can be staggering. “Soft costs” such as absenteeism and reduced productivity are calculated as costing four to seven times the amount that employers pay in health insurance premiums and workers compensation premiums combined.

The American population as a whole is sadly unhealthy. So if your employees are average, in terms of their health, they are most likely overweight, 30% of them are obese, many are at risk for or already have diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory compromise, and/or heart disease.

If you look at the life insurance weight tables, you’ll see numbers that reflect the average of what people actually weigh, which is not the same as the weights recommended as healthy. The casual observer believes that if their weight falls within those on the table, he or she must be “okay.” That is not the case. It just means that he or she is within the statistical norm. The same disconnect exists in our perception of the health of those around us (and ourselves!). We become used to what’s the norm, not what’s actually healthy, and we use “normal” as the benchmark for “healthy.” It’s not. Vitality, energy, stamina, and systemic strength are what’s healthy. Chronic disease, even low-level, missed work, repeated colds, sore throats, sinus infections, headaches, etc. are all signs of an unhealthy body and life. And they will all respond to wellness intervention if the employee is willing to participate.

Many think that other illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke are just bad luck, and it’s a shame when they happen to someone, but they can be prevented. For those who wish to take the steps, the incidence of such diseases can be radically minimized by living a fit and healthy life. Of the top six causes of death, (heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, diabetes, accidents), five are what we call “lifestyle diseases”. This means that they are caused by a person’s lifestyle choices, at least in part, if not in whole.

From a humanitarian viewpoint, of course you would want the best for your employees, and you would want to see them free of illness and disease. However, there is also the very practical matter of your business’s bottom line that gives you a vital interest in your employees being free of disease and a wellness program quickly becomes something your company can afford not to avoid.

Featured in November 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Train Smart. Eat Well. Be Better.