Written by Triinu Stanford, MSc
Being busy is a way of life. Many corporate professionals travel extensively, endure high levels of stress, rarely get enough sleep, and maintain unhealthy diets. These factors, according to the Rippe Health Assessment Study of Senior Executives, increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many other conditions, especially when combined with an inactive lifestyle.
Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses can offer a 30% discount on insurance premiums for participating in corporate wellness programs. Furthermore, the health behavior changes that wellness programs promote can lead to $2 trillion in health savings (Forbes, 2014). Businesses are paying 200-300% more on the indirect costs of poor health than on health benefits, and over 70% of it goes to chronic disease management – lifestyle diseases that are preventable. Overall, companies have 21% lower productivity and 22% lower profitability (Virgin Pulse, 2014). Productivity is the single most important determinant of a country's standard of living, and human capital is corporations’ most valuable asset, thus the key focus of companies should be to increase the productivity of their employees. Studies have repeatedly found that health and well-being are the strongest predictors of job performance (Gandy et al., 2014).
Historically, scientific research has mostly looked at direct costs of poor employees’ health, such as medical and pharmacological costs, and this link has been well-established (Nurmagambetov et al., 2006). However, the loss of employees’ productivity because of poor health is substantial, and research has suggested the indirect costs, such as presenteeism (i.e. being in the office but with low productivity due to illness or stress), absenteeism (i.e. missing days from work due to an illness or condition), and low levels of productivity, effectiveness, and satisfaction, are actually 2.3 times higher than direct costs (Loeppke et al., 2009). As baby boomers age beyond their 50s, health care costs will rise, creating incentives for insurers to promote preventative practices. As such, the next five years will mark a shift from disease treatment to disease prevention and health promotion by encouraging people to monitor their health.
Corporate Wellness Programs are the solution for better health and well-being of your employees.
According to the Harvard Business Review, every $1 invested in workplace wellness yields $6 in savings from reductions in healthcare costs and increases in productivity (Berry et al., 2010). In addition, a wellness program found that in only 6 months, 57% of high-risk employees (according to their body fat, blood pressure, anxiety and other measures) reached low risk status just by joining the corporate wellness program. The review also found that long-term corporate wellness programs decreased absenteeism by up to 80%, and insurance premiums declined by 50%. Additionally, wellness programs reduced the voluntary overturn rate, as employees enjoyed their work environment and did not want to leave the company. Low turnover rates are especially beneficial for companies due to improved job productivity.
Following a review of several Fortune 500 Companies, the wellness programs can be clustered into 3 main groups:
1. Free or discounted gym membership
2. Free vaccinations, biometric screening
Financial support – discounted insurance, or incentive for smoking cessation
Use of fitness trackers
1-2 day educational workshops
1. Team events
2. Community support
Personal mental and physiological analysis
1. Individual coaching
2. Personalized behavior change programs
1. Regular support from personal coach
2. Access to experts: dieticians, health psychologists, physiotherapists, Reiki etc
- Low price
- passive approach
- few long-term benefits
- anonymous approach
- active participation of clients
- anonymous approach
- personalized approach based on individual’s needs
- lasting impact
- effective approach supported by scientific research
- high price
- more time consuming
Based on our research, most companies are focusing on passive wellness solutions (Basic level), some are focused on engagement (Advanced level), and very few on personalization and long-term lifestyle redesign.
The Harvard Business Review of corporate wellness programs evaluated existing programs and identified the key values of successful wellness plans (Barry et al., 2010). Firstly, accessibility is an important issue, as corporate professionals have a busy lifestyle, and cannot afford to take part in something that is not convenient, or accessible to them. Therefore, office-based or online programs are often preferred. Secondly, relevance and quality are top priority for employees. The best programs are client-oriented and personalized, as there is no one-size-fits-all policy in wellness. Employees have different lifestyles, problems, and needs, and each of these should be examined individually. Participants were significantly more likely to stay with the regime if their program was well-suited to their needs. Additionally, employees are not motivated to partake in a program solely based on its financial benefits, or because it is beneficial to the company; they also require a high-quality program. Thus, even though some basic programs might seem like an easy and lucrative option, these programs will not benefit the company if the participation is extremely low.
In 2014, the Harvard Business Review found that the most successful corporate wellness plans are less clinical and more lifestyle-oriented; they do not focus on controlling the illnesses and going to the doctor’s annually, but rather taking responsibility for your own health and preventing any illnesses with behavior (Rowan & Harishanker, 2014). Therefore, the proactive, client-focused programs seem to be more effective as they offer long-term effects for the individual and the corporation.
Furthermore, only 10% of disease is related to DNA; 90% are a direct result of lifestyle. The focus of corporate wellness needs to be on addressing the lifestyle, the root cause, not just treating the symptoms. The underlying issue with lifestyle is high levels of stress among corporate employees.
Stress is the anxious or threatening feeling we experience when we interpret a situation to be more challenging than our mental and psychological resources can handle (Lazarus, 1993). There are two types of stress, acute stress that has a specific cause, for example there is an important presentation coming up, one is going through divorce, or moving to a new city. This type of stress is short-lasting and can help you handle the situation better as the body produces more adrenaline that helps you to focus and concentrate. On the other hand, there is chronic stress that does not serve a purpose and is often caused by long-lasting life events, such as having a high demand job, prioritizing the job as one’s life purpose while not having control over the outcome, or taking care of a chronically ill relative. This type of stress is more common among educated successful individuals with high socioeconomic status, as they have higher job strain and demands. Chronic stress leads to high cortisol levels that, in turn, can reduce sleep, increase cravings for sugary and fatty snacks, and lead people to higher alcohol and cigarette intake.
Here are 6 areas and 22 secrets to implement into your daily schedule to control your stress levels, improve your health, well-being, and performance at work.
- Sleep well!
Calm your mind by doing something relaxing, such as meditation, reading a good book, or drinking a cup of herbal tea before going to bed, and you will enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Sleep deprivation costs the US $63 billion annually. There are direct costs, such as the higher risk of accidents, using hospital services, and requiring prescriptions. But there are also indirect costs: fatigue-related productivity losses cost the companies about $2000 per employee annually (Rosekind et al., 2010). Employees who suffer from sleep deprivation have less energy, poorer cognitive and interpersonal functioning, less productivity at work and home, and a decreased ability to cope with stress (Turgiss, 2014). Furthermore, insufficient sleep is associated with significantly poorer judgment, performance, and safety outcomes (Rosekind et al., 2010).
Sleep deprivation also decreases immune functioning, and thus the body is weaker and more prone to viruses, leading to more days of absenteeism (Christian & Ellis, 2011). In addition, people who sleep fewer than six hours each night are more likely to be overweight, and to suffer from chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and cancer (Lockley et al., 2007; Mulgrew et al., 2007). Sleep also significantly affects mental health, as sleeplessness is associated with increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression (Morin et al., 2003; Neckelmann et al., 2007).
The most searched phrase on Google is “Why am I so tired?” and eight out of ten people say they are either tired or stressed. Seventy-five to ninety percent of all doctor visits are stress-related. There is a strong relationship between sleep and stress, as a lack of sleep increases stress hormones, like cortisol. Sleep is a hormone-dependent process, and our hormonal balance is affected by our dietary choices, exercise routine, and stress levels, to name a few, thus it is understandable that many people struggle with sleep. Our hyperactive minds are strongly linked to sleeplessness. If you have been struggling with falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night, talk to a health coach, and we will come up with ways to improve your sleeping patterns.
- Learn to “switch off” to offset stress.
Listen to yourself to know when enough is enough. Take the time to switch off for maximum benefits.
We often rush through our days, making us anxious and stressed. We need to learn how to “switch off” every once in a while. In order to calm our emotions, we need to calm our mind. The only way to do this is to do something relaxing, whether it is a walk in the park, deep breathing, playing with your dog, meditation, a bubble bath, or anything else you find relaxing. In addition, deep, slow full breaths can have a profound effect on resetting the stress response. Only ten minutes of calmness a day can keep us focused and prime our energy so we can accomplish more.
With the help of health coaching, you start noticing the symptoms of stress as they are appearing. Listen to your body and have three or four “switching off” sessions a day when needed during stressful times. Love yourself and your body, and trust that you are doing it right, even when you are unsure of what you are doing. It is your body and your mind, and you know it the best and can give it exactly what it needs.
- Learn to take breaks!
What to do during your break to boost your performance? Take a walk, daydream, have a healthy snack, listen to music, take a nap, meditate, exercise, get some fresh air, drink a glass of water – your options are endless.
Research has shown that the human mind can only focus for up to 45 minutes at a time (Lim & Kwok, 2015). Regular 10-15 minute breaks actually improve your performance, and are not “lost time”. How? It has been found that breaks keep us from getting bored and thus unfocused. The human brain has a limited attention span and cannot focus for extended periods of time. Furthermore, breaks help us re-evaluate our goals. With our busy schedules, we get too carried away in tasks that might not matter in the end. These breaks can draw your attention to your priorities and away from distractors. In 2014, Staples carried out a study with their office workers and managers, and found that 28% of employees take just one break while spending over 8 hours at work at a desk. Employees admitted that they would be more productive if they had more breaks but they felt too guilty to step away from their desk. However, 90% of the managers said they encourage taking breaks as they want to improve the well-being of their employees and the overall job productivity.
Have you heard of the Pomodoro Method? This is incredibly helpful for implementing a break schedule. Set a timer for 25 minutes, and when it goes off, take a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoro sessions, take a 30-minute break. Or have you heard of HIIT (high intensity interval training)? You can apply this popular exercise technique to work as well – studies have found that working for 52 minutes with intense purpose, and then resting for 17 minutes to recover and prepare for the next burst has shown the best results among white-collar employees (Evans, 2014).
Even if you haven’t worked out before in your life, it is not too late - start today and will see the results soon.
Even during the busiest days, you can find a few minutes to do some desk exercises. The small efforts (five to ten minutes at a time) will add up in the end. Have you asked for a standing desk to burn more calories hourly? What about using a yoga ball instead of a chair to improve your posture? Try standing up every 45 minutes and doing a few stretches or squats, or go and walk up to the fifth floor and back.
Virgin Atlantic has suggested a few exercises you could do while sitting, whether it’s because you are on a transatlantic flight, or taking part in a Skype conference at your desk (Virgin Atlantic, 2016). For example, you can lift your feet off the floor and rotate them in circles, or lift your knees up and hold them for 15 seconds. You can also give yourself a hug to stretch your arms and shoulders, and then stretch your neck as the sedentary position is unnatural to the body and might lead to chronic pain. It has been found that a sedentary lifestyle can be harmful for the body, and therefore for the best functioning, the human body needs more physical activity (Levine et al., 2005).
According to a Harvard University’s 2009 study, moderate exercise at work activates hormonal changes in the body, resulting in lower levels of cortisol (i.e. stress levels) and higher levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (i.e. better attention and a more positive mood). Corporate wellness was introduced in 1984, when a study asked employees to take part in a fitness program for six months and found a strong correlation between exercise adherence and job performance (Bernacki et al., 1984). The study had long-lasting effects on job performance, even when they controlled for previous exercise experiences.
- Enjoy a regular massage!
Full body massages improve the quality of your sleep, release stress, and improve your productivity. Make your own body a priority and you will reap the benefits in both personal and professional life!
High demand and sedentary lifestyle employees are at high risk of musculoskeletal problems (Moyer et al., 2004). In order to reduce the risk for chronic pain, or any musculoskeletal injuries, massages need to be introduced to organizational settings. Massage sessions aim to promote relaxation and wellness, address clinical concerns, enhance posture and movement, and balance your energy (Ernst, 1999). Even a single session of massage therapy can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate (Back et al., 2009). Furthermore, multiple massage sessions have shown reduced levels of chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.
- Find 30 minutes a day to be physically active!
In order to gain the long-term benefits of exercise, you need to find a physical activity you enjoy, as only then will you regularly engage in the activity, instead of quitting after the first few weeks.
Regular exercise improves overall mental sharpness, learning, attention, reasoning, and memory (Hogan et al., 2013). It also positively influences job performance, improves concentration skills, and has a positive effect on the relationships between colleagues (Guszkowska, 2004). One study found that 85% of CEOs exercise daily, in order to gain the professional benefits of exercise for better performance.
Research has established a strong link between increased levels of physical activity and decreased risk for chronic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Lindström et al., 2013, Warburton et al., 2006). Exercise also helps to control your weight, strengthen your bones and muscles, and reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels (Welton et al., 2002). Furthermore, studies show that just 30 minutes of walking every day is all that’s required to reap big benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes (Manson et al., 1999). Exercise is also incredibly beneficial for your mind by reducing stress, and the risk factors for mood disorders. Law enforcement officers were asked to do weight training for four months, and they found that regular weight training increased cardiovascular fitness, improved mood and job satisfaction, and decreased depression and anxiety (Norvell & Belles, 1993).
Many of us might aim to go to the gym more often or to work out regularly, but say we cannot find the time to do so. Health coaches can help you find the time for it. Instead of seeing exercise as part of your leisure activities, you should see that as part of your work itself, a method to improve your productivity and reach your goals faster and more effectively. Make sure you also enjoy your workout because our perception of exercise actually affects its outcome (Werle et al., 2015). If you see exercise as a chore, you are more likely to indulge in pizza and brownies afterwards. On the other hand, if you enjoy your workout and believe it’s fun, you are more likely to resist unhealthy foods afterwards.
There are countless types of exercises available - one of those will certainly suit your needs! Early morning jog before work! Take advantage of a quick spin class during your lunch break! Head to the gym to lift some weights right after work! Find a local yoga class! Aim to get 10,000 steps each day – your phone is most likely counting your steps for you already. Buy an activity tracker that reminds you to stay active throughout the day. Instead of a team meeting at an office space, do it while walking in the park. Or take the stairs whenever possible.
- Stay away from refined sugars!
Enjoy natural sugars and unprocessed food, and your mind and body will thank you for it.
Nearly 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese, and the cost of obesity globally is an estimated $2 trillion. Medical costs, absenteeism, and lost productivity alone amount to a staggering $73.1 billion (CDC, 2015). Diets high in sugar, carbohydrates, and fat can lead to cognitive impairment, and unhealthy employees cost $153 billion in productivity annually (Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 2011). One study found that the Western diet (a diet high in refined sugars and saturated fats) has a negative impact on the hippocampus, an area responsible for learning and memory functioning (Kanoski & Davidson, 2011). On the other hand, healthy eating during working hours increased productivity at work by 25%, and reduced absenteeism by 27% (Merrill et al., 2013).
Corporate wellness looks at well-being as a whole to learn about employees’ productivity, as it has been found that well-being is the strongest predictor of job productivity (Gandy et al., 2014). The status of chronic conditions was the most important determinant of poor job performance, and corporate wellness can help control factors that lead to the development of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and anxiety (Collins et al., 2009).
A diet high in sugar and fats combined with high stress levels leads to abdominal obesity, inflammation, glucose intolerance, and hypertension (Kuo et al., 2008). Sugar intake can also cause liver disease, metabolic dysfunction, and heart disease (Johnson et al., 2009). Furthermore, sugar is an addictive substance, causing your body to crave more and larger quantities after your “sugar high” wears off. This requires more insulin activation in the body, since insulin regulates blood glucose levels. However, if the body has too high of a sugar intake, it will develop insulin resistance, known as Type 2 Diabetes (Dandona et al., 2004). This is a chronic condition that with proper lifestyle changes, could be avoided in 90% of cases. Type 2 Diabetes needs to be controlled daily, and can lead to premature mortality, blindness, and heart disease (Hu, 2011). Furthermore, a high intake of simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugars, is linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, anxiety, dementia, and depression (Kanoski & Davidson, 2011; Stephan et al., 2010; Westover & Marangell, 2002).
We all know that chocolate bars, cookies, ice cream, and donuts have high levels of sugar, however, you need to look out for the hidden sugars in ketchup, cereal, or in the protein bar advertised as an healthy alternative. When in doubt, always go for the unprocessed options – if you buy sliced fruit or a bag of nuts instead of processed bars, you know the ingredients and can avoid added sugars.
- “Good” fats are your friends!
Boost your health by increasing your intake of healthy fats.
Healthy unsaturated fats, such as the ones from avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and salmon, should not be feared but rather be welcomed into your diet. According to Harvard Medical School, unsaturated fats actually help your body to digest nutrients from other foods, and keep you full for longer periods. Harvard researchers also suggested that eating good fats reduces risk for heart disease, stroke, dementia, and certain types of cancer. Additionally, unsaturated fats can reduce your blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Studies have found that eating unsaturated fats, such as a handful of nuts and seeds each day, does not increase your weight over a six months period (Mattes et al., 2008). It can be explained through the fact that fats offer satiety, and thus you don’t reach for another sugary snack soon after.
- Limit your coffee intake!
Caffeine is an addictive drug and its long-term use is associated with high cholesterol and heart disease.
With long office days, insufficient sleeping hours, and early wake up calls many of us rely on early morning caffeine to get the day started. While a fresh, high-quality, and organic cup of coffee every once in a while might do you some good, then generally speaking, coffee damages our body and actually wears us down. Coffee is often the first thing people have in the morning on an empty stomach, and that can lead to ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, or even bowel cancer (Health Ambition, 2015). Furthermore, caffeine can lead to insomnia, breathing problems, gastrointestinal issues, dizziness, and increased thirst. As an addictive substance, caffeine has severe withdrawal effects, such as headaches, nausea, lack of focus, and fatigue. These symptoms can reduce your job productivity and negatively affect your mood. Try replacing coffee with green tea, and with an additional hour of sleep every night, you might soon not need a cup of coffee anymore.
- Limit your alcohol intake!
One small alcoholic beverage on occasion can be beneficial, but limit your alcohol intake as much as possible for maximum health and organizational benefits.
True, a glass of red wine on a Friday night can be good for your iron levels and help you to lower your risk of heart disease. In general, however, the harms of alcohol use vastly outweigh the benefits. Even low levels of alcohol consumption can lead to “hangover” effects the next day – headache, reduced concentration skills, fatigue, poor decision making, and increased irritability are all effects of alcohol. These symptoms can affect job performance, work attendance, and your interpersonal skills with co-workers and clients. Furthermore, when you are stressed and have high cortisol levels, you are more likely to crave a drink after a busy workday. However, your body is already struggling with hormonal imbalance, and cannot filter alcohol as effectively, thereby giving you a higher risk for a hangover and a potential alcohol addiction (Brady & Sonne, 1999).
According to the World Health Organization, alcohol intake significantly increases risks for morbidity and mortality rates. This is due to increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, stroke, liver diseases, and several types of cancer, for example bowel, and liver cancer (Chiva-Blanch et al., 2013). Alcohol use also leads to increased infertility rates among both males and females (Grodstein et al., 1994; Pasqualotto et al., 2004). Furthermore, alcohol has a negative impact on your mental health – there is a strong correlation between depression, anxiety, stress, and alcohol intake (Caetano et al., 2016).
- Bring your own food with you to work!
A sack lunch can be your fast-track to success.
Your office might have vending machines that only have chocolate bars and chips, and you certainly may struggle to find a natural nutritious snack there. And the corner buffet might only offer fried foods and sandwiches, so it might seem challenging to stay healthy throughout the workday. However, most offices have kitchen space where you can heat up your lunch, or put your mid-afternoon carrots and hummus in the fridge.
Home-cooked meals are always more nutritious as they have fewer calories, less added sugar, and lower saturated fats than their restaurant alternatives, thus making it easier to shed off a few pounds without even noticing it. Even if you crave pasta for lunch, instead of grabbing it from the café around the corner, make it yourself, and you are probably saving more calories than you’d think. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that the less you cook, the more weight you gain. A study in Canada found that obesity significantly impacted job performance, as employees who were obese had much higher rates of absenteeism, reduced work abilities, and higher risk for injuries.
That leads us back to perceived behavioral control – if you think you can eat healthily, you will find the opportunities at work. Maybe even go and ask if they could replace the chocolate in the vending machines with dried fruit and nut bars? We all work long hours and might struggle to find the time to prepare food to take with us. However, finding a few hours over the weekend to prepare lunches, and why not dinners as well, for the week, might actually save you some time during the day. Rather than going out for lunch, you will have your prepared lunch with you.
- Take daily supplements!
While supplements and vitamins do not replace a healthy and nutritious diet, they can help you to perform better while filling the nutrition gaps.
The standard American diet (also appropriately known as SAD) does not give you your daily need of calcium, potassium, fiber, vitamin A, C, D or B12 (WebMD, 2009). Most Americans eat processed food and have a sedentary lifestyle, thus it is hard to reach the daily norms for all of the vitamins and minerals.
There are food supplements available to improve your mental and physical health, and to prevent deficiencies that can lead to chronic conditions. For example, omega-3 deficiency causes 96,000 deaths in America according to a study by Harvard University (Danaei et al., 2009). Fish oils are the supplement for getting omega-3 fatty acids, and these can lower your blood pressure, reduce the likelihood of developing a heart disease or having a stroke. Fish oil can further improve cognition and concentration skills, and decrease your risk for depression (Muldoon et al., 2007; Raeder et al., 2006). You can talk to your health coach or doctor, find out which vitamins you might be missing, and consider taking supplements to support your immune system and brain functioning.
- Control your portion sizes!
American College of Cardiology found that 90% of weight loss is due to decreasing food intake, thus portion control is the key to lose weight.
The calorie intake affects your weight loss processes, and thus it is also possible to overeat on healthy foods, such as nuts, or whole grains. It has been found that people clean their plates 91% of the time, therefore to control your food intake you need to pay attention to how much you serve yourself at a dinner table (Fay et al., 2011). Therefore, small tricks such as eating from a smaller plate can significantly reduce your portion sizes, and thus make it easier for you to lose the extra weight. Also, restaurant portions are unnecessarily large and still increasing, and thus to avoid overeating, you could ask for a “to-go” box when the meal arrives and pack half of it up before you start eating. That way you will have lunch ready for the next day, and you haven’t consumed your daily calories during one meal.
- Quit smoking!
Think twice before lighting up; get help to stop smoking TODAY. Corporate wellness plans can offer their support to overcome your addiction.
While smoking is commonly believed to be a coping mechanism during stressful times, research has actually found that smoking increases stress, anxiety, and tension in the long term (Mental Health Foundation, 2014). Nicotine offers a short-term release, but then creates cravings and withdrawal symptoms, thereby increasing anxiety (Huges et al., 1984). Therefore, smoking can actually lead to poorer concentration skills and productivity. Studies have also found that smoking affects your performance on complex tasks that require skills and thinking, such as professional-level jobs (Spilich et al., 1992). Furthermore, smoking can take up a lot of valuable time that could be better spent taking healthy breaks to improve your well-being.
Smoking also affects your hormonal levels, stimulating the release of dopamine that triggers positive feelings (Mental Health Foundation, 2014). Therefore, smokers typically associate smoking with positive outcomes. However, smoking actually stops the body’s independent production of dopamine, creating a cycle of reliance on cigarettes to feel good. This can help explain why there is a strong correlation between smoking and depression.
It is also well documented that smoking can lead to various types of cancer and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and asthma (CDC, 2015; WHO, 2014). Overall, smoking has a significant negative impact on your physical and mental health, while negatively affecting your work performance. Health coaches can help you quit smoking for good, and you will reap the benefits both personally and professionally.
- Believe you have control over your own behavior!
When we accept that our thoughts can have an effect on our body, believe we can control our own mind, and make a conscious effort to control our cognitions and behaviors, we see an immediate change. It’s amazing how our mind has the power to change everything.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” The same applies when it comes to making health-oriented decisions; this is called perceived behavioral control. Corporate wellness programs aim to increase your control over your behavior. One review found that self-esteem and perceived behavioral control are the strongest predictors of job performance and satisfaction (Judge & Bono, 2001). You are significantly more likely to lose weight, exercise regularly, and take care of your own body if you believe that you have the power (Rhodes & Courneya, 2003). However, if you believe that you are overweight because it is genetic, or that you have high cholesterol as you have a familial disposition to hypercholesterolemia, then you probably will not make the effort to be more health conscious. Only a minority of diabetic and high cholesterol conditions are actually due to genetic factors; most cases are a result of poor lifestyle choices (Hu, 2011). Furthermore, even genetic conditions can be prevented or postponed with high awareness and healthy choices.
Managing stress starts with your mind. Our perspective is our reality, so it is up to us how we choose to view our stressors. Whether they are real or perceived, they create the same response in the body. A study published in The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine reports that perceived stress is more destructive to your immune system response than actual stress. If perceived stress is harmful, can you imagine what happens to your body when you experience on-going perceived stress?
Meditation helps you to work better, sleep better, eat better, and exercise better. Give it a try for at least 28 days, even if just five to ten minutes a day. We are confident that you will start seeing the results soon!
Mindfulness has the power to reduce stress, and anxiety, and to improve your concentration skills (Klatt et al., 2008). According to NeuroImage Journal, people who regularly meditate have brains that appear, on average, seven years younger than non-meditators. Furthermore, meditating can increase your brain volume to improve your effectiveness, productivity, and concentration skills (Chan & Woollacott, 2007; Cranson et al., 1991). Meditation has also shown significant effects in pain management, reducing depressive and anxious thoughts and behaviors, and improving quality of life (Shonin et al., 2014).
Why don’t you try meditating in the moment when possible? How about an adult coloring book? (Yes, it’s not just for kids!) You might start seeing results very soon with improved focus and better concentration skills, and in the future might even notice details about yourself you didn’t know were there before.
Furthermore, corporate wellness aims to reduce stress at work, and there are mindfulness-based stress reduction programs available individually or for the whole office. These programs have shown significant results on working adults with reduced perceived stress levels, and improved sleep in six weeks (Klatt et al., 2011).
- Keep a journal!
Set aside 20-30 minutes each day to write about anything and everything. The only rule is there are no rules.
Journaling is seen as an alternative to mindfulness – another way to listen to and recognize your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. When you are already struggling with your busy schedule, then finding time to write about your thoughts and emotions probably sounds like the last thing you should do. However, repeated studies have found that keeping a regular journal will improve your mental state as you start to understand your own thought processes and emotions better, and thus have a clearer mind for the rest of the day (Hiemstra, 2001). Why don’t you list the things you are grateful for each night? Arianna Huffington and Oprah both practice daily gratitude journals and have found that it helps them to control their stress and anxiety levels.
There are no rules – write about your goals, or your emotions, or your worries, or your dreams, or your shortcomings. The aim is to get you thinking and to focus on the task in hand. With practice, you will notice a new ability to focus on one thing at a time, and start noticing the little signs about yourself you might have missed in the middle of a busy day. Furthermore, in the long term you might start recognizing thought patterns that negatively impact your well-being and health. You can talk to a health coach about these thoughts, and together you can find a way to improve your well-being.
- Donate to charity!
There are a lot of people and causes out there that need all the help and support they can get. Besides helping the cause, it also improves your quality of life.
The act of helping others, whether it’s donating your time, finances, or property, improves your own well-being and happiness. Charitable behavior can benefit you economically as the donations are tax deductible, or socially as it signals others about your status and introduces you to new social circles, or psychologically as you experience higher satisfaction and well-being from helping others (Clotfelter, 1985; Dunn et al., 2008; Griskevicius et al., 2007). Dalai Lama has suggested donating as compassionate acts remove the negative feelings in your life and replace them by positive thoughts and feelings.
The donation does not have to be expensive or time-consuming, whether you want to donate money to local orphanages, or help out in a soup kitchen, or offer a location for the next global warming conference, you would be doing a huge favor to the ones in need, and improving your own quality of life as a result.
- Find hobbies and make them a regular part of your week!
Finding a fulfilling hobby can provide a whole host of benefits. If you can’t think of something that interests you, contact a health coach, and they can help you figure out what you’d enjoy doing.
Hobbies improve your mood, and produce hormones called endorphins. These are the “happy hormones” that improve your productivity levels, and concentration skills at work (Bolton et al., 2009). Hobbies can also make you seem more appealing to potential employers, give you new networking opportunities, and increase your confidence and interpersonal skills (Fraser & Dutta, 2010). Corporate wellness programs and coaching can help you find your strengths, and introduce you to the hobbies that might interest you – and, more importantly, help you make them a regular part of your week.
San Francisco State University carried out a study that found a strong correlation between hobbies and job performance. Hobbies were shown to give employees a new sense of mastery and it helped them to develop new skills and thought processes that can enhance self-esteem and job performance. Furthermore, the researchers found that the less relevant the activity is to the profession, the greater impact it has on workplace performance. Also, hobbies are good for your mental health, as they reduce your risk of developing anxiety or depression (Warr et al., 1988).
Where do you start looking for new hobbies? There is a good chance that there is something you’ve wanted to pick up for a while now but never seemed to find time for it. Maybe volunteer at animal shelters and walk the dogs a few nights a week? Or join the new yoga club in your neighborhood? Have you missed music in your life? Choirs are always looking for new members, and playing an instrument provides a wide variety of skills and values that can increase job performance. How about joining a team sport? It is a great way to meet new people, and besides improving your fitness levels, it also improves your sense of resilience, work ethics, time management, and teamwork skills.
- Quality over quantity!
You need to take control over your work responsibilities. If you wish to reduce your working hours and stress load, learn to say “No”, and you will have improved the quality of your work.
There are only so many cognitive resources available to us, and trying to split your attention span between multiple things will reduce the quality of each task at hand, all while increasing the risk of burnout (Bakker et al., 2004). Furthermore, research has suggested that being able to stand up for yourself and say “No” can increase your confidence and self-esteem, and thus leading to enhanced focus and higher productivity (Rosenthal et al., 1991). The Harvard Business Review found that saying “No” does not necessarily put you in a bad position; on the contrary, you might gain some points from your manager for standing up for yourself, and being self-aware, and being able to manage your tasks at work. Furthermore, the ability to control your workload also decreases your stress, and increases your perceived behavioral control – you will feel better and more in control once you’ve taken a stand.
- Setting goals!
If you wish to succeed, then setting goals is a must in both personal and professional life.
Goal setting is important in all aspects of life, whether it comes to reaching your professional aims, losing weight, getting sufficient sleep, or working towards finishing your first marathon. It has been found that 70% of the participants who wrote down their goals and shared them with their friend or colleague reported successful goal achievement compared to 35% of participants who did not write their goals down and kept the goals to themselves (Matthews, 2015).
Furthermore, visualizing your goals also enhances goal pursuit, as visualization increases effort and commitment to reaching your goal (Cheema & Bagchi, 2011). Similarly, tracking and measuring your success helps to keep you on track and motivated in all aspects of life. Whether you are trying to reach a new sales maximum, or lose 10 pounds by the end of the winter, keeping regular track of where you are, significantly improves your chances of reaching the target (Lambert, 2010). In corporate wellness, there are tracking devices and apps that are already doing most of the work for you – just let them count your steps, measure your heart rate, and analyze the quality of your sleep each night.
- Lead by example!
Proactive wellness programs will improve the health and well-being of each employee while increasing the productivity of your company, and reducing monthly insurance payments. The best way to motivate your team and employees is to lead by example. Follow a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, sleep well – and your colleagues will look up to you and want to follow you. It increases the productivity in the whole office, and gives you much better health with accountability – you can’t quit when everyone is looking up to you! Furthermore, it will boost your confidence and self-esteem, and that will, in turn, improve your effectiveness and job performance. The Harvard Business Review found that when a CEO makes time for exercise, then employees feel less self-conscious about taking a fitness break. In addition, the best wellness programs are done with the employees, rather than to the employees.
Corporate wellness aims to improve the quality of life among employees while increasing productivity within the company. To reduce health insurance costs for the companies, it would be beneficial to get as many people involved as possible. Why don’t you take the lead and start a running club with your co-workers? Or all join an app where you can compare your daily steps - who’s in the lead this week?
Overall, even though a nutritious diet and regular physical activity are necessary for your well-being, the wellness starts from within, with your spiritual wellness. Remember to take care of your mental health as much as physical health, as one significantly affects the other in the long term. Our body is a printout of our mind, as every thought will have an effect on our hormones, emotions, hunger, and behavior. Wellness coaching includes not just guidance on physical health, but also the support and needed attention on your mental health. For example, the Harvard Business Review found that good wellness programs also include a support service for people with serious illness, divorce, death and grief recovery, professional burnout, and the need of caregiving for a partner or parent. These support services can be through religious sources, or psychologists, or just a sympathetic ear to listen when it gets hard.
Arianna Huffington equates insatiable drive to attain money and power as two legs on a three-legged stool. While you may balance on two legs for a while, a fall is inevitable. The third leg of success, Huffington argues, is our well-being. When you make the aforementioned shifts, you will reach your goal weight, have all the energy you need to perform at your best, and achieve all your goals. Take care of the most valuable assets to your business and your people. Health and well-being give your top performers more energy and drive, allowing them to stay sharp and focused for longer. Increases in leadership and performance lead to exponential gains on investment. When you take care of your people, they take care of you. Be selective about the corporate wellness offerings and choose the one that delivers true long-term results.
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