Be Active Your Way Blog
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Tom is the Senior Manager of Public Policy for IHRSA, a nonprofit trade/advocacy group for fitness centers. As IHRSA’s Washington staff member, Tom coordinates IHRSA’s outreach to leading organizations and government agencies - such as HHS and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, Exercise is Medicine, the Campaign to End Obesity, the National Physical Activity Plan and others - to highlight the importance of physical activity to America’s health. In 2009 and beyond, Tom looks forward to advancing IHRSA’s support for policies and programs that increase the number of physically active Americans.
Last week’s entry, “Healthy Choices Require Healthy Options,” articulated well the “need to make the healthy choice the easy choice by ensuring that our communities have adequate opportunities for children, families and adults to engage in healthy behaviors in all of the places where they live, work, learn, and play.” Those opportunities include pedestrian/biker friendly streets, safe parks and playgrounds, and paths for walking and biking. At workplaces, employers may provide a cardio break room, a health club membership subsidy, or safe walking paths.
But providing healthy options is only part of the solution for changing behavior.
Once you’ve provided a healthy option, you then have to convince folks to actually choose the healthy option.
There are “nudges,” of course, that make the healthy choice the more likely choice, such as making the healthy option the default option or making the healthy option less expensive than the alternative. Nudges work well when a choice between two or more similar actions is required (e.g. what to buy for lunch at a work cafeteria). But nudges aren’t as effective for a problem like physical activity where an individual typically chooses between moving and not moving, rather than choosing between two or more types of activity.
There is emerging evidence, however, that social networks and cultural norms play a powerful role in our decision to be physically active. For example, when the people around us are trying to lose weight, we may be more likely to try to lose weight. And, conversely, research suggests that obesity can also spread through social circles.
In the fitness industry, this social phenomenon is evidenced by the growing popularity of “small group” personal training, which ranks #5 on IHRSA’s Top Health Club Trends for 2012. The small group sessions create supportive networks of people who motivate one another and keep each other accountable. Perhaps, more importantly, the small groups create micro-cultures of health that encourage individuals to be physically active as a means to conform to the social norm of the culture.
A similar dynamic can play out at worksites that embrace the benefits of physical activity. A recent study of a physical activity-based wellness program implemented at New Balance corporate offices found that “53 percent [of survey respondents] said they increased their level of physical activity and movement at work.” As explained by New Balance, "[the] program enhanced our workplace environment by engaging our associates to collaborate in new ways to increase their energy and focus levels."
On an even larger scale, the Oklahoma City mayor, Mick Cornett, has built a healthier community by changing the city’s social norms with his “This City is Going on a Diet” initiative, which reached its goal of losing, collectively, 1 million lbs.
Once a community has created healthy options, what are some ways that community leaders can harness the power of social networks and cultural norms to entice folks to make the healthy choice?
Tags: Obesity, Employee Wellness, Social Networks
The obesity epidemic is a well-known crisis. Polling indicates that overwhelming majorities of the public are aware of the crisis, particularly as it relates to children. Obesity may be a resilient and notoriously complex issue to address, but it's no longer developing in the shadows of the public health landscape.
In contrast, the American inactivity crisis seems to swell beneath the public's consciousness. Of course, physical activity is often cited as a treatment or secondary preventive option for a range of chronic diseases, including obesity, but rarely is inactivity presented in popular media as a serious, widespread condition unto itself. Too often, the message received by the public seems to be that physical activity is something you do to "get better" from another condition.
The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) is committed to engaging communities with a new message: a sedentary body is a sick body. Physical activity is not just something you do to "get better," it's something you do to avoid getting worse, even without any other underlying condition. Indeed, physical inactivity alone is a harmful disease, not just another risk factor.
We are certainly not the only organization intent on raising the volume of calls to fully address the inactivity crisis, but we aim to be one of the loudest.
We hope that our new message resonates with a broader cross-section of community members than existing anti-obesity campaigns, which may be overlooked by individuals of healthy weight. We want the public to understand that physical activity is important for everybody, regardless of BMI. Healthy weight does not necessarily equate to "healthy."
As a trade association for health clubs, we engage with thousands of communities through our member clubs. All across America, IHRSA clubs are serving their communities as true wellness providers, providing safe, fun and effective opportunities for physical activity. In many ways, these clubs are amplifying the dangers of inactivity at a very local level while teaching communities about the joys of an active lifestyle.
IHRSA has been a long-standing ally in the fight against obesity and our support for that effort remains steadfast and true. But we are looking forward to engaging communties with an urgent call for more physical activity for the sake of it. Just as the obesity and inactivity crises developed in tandem, so too may they be eradicated.
How do you think our message would resonate with your community?
Tags: inactivity, physical activity, sedentary, policy, preventing obesity
Corporate America agrees that employee wellness programs are good for business. According to the 2011 Employee Benefits report by SHRM, 60% of firms surveyed currently offer some type of employee wellness programming. Fitness center reimbursements are offered by 30% of the organizations surveyed, while 24% provide an onsite fitness center.
The case for employee wellness programming includes favorable data on reduced health care costs and increased worker productivity, among other metrics.
The usual data, however, may be failing to capture two of the most profound benefits of physical activity based employee wellness programs: improved mental health and increased mental performance.
As a result, many firms may be missing an opportunity to implement physical activity-based worksite programming that could lead to greater innovation and execution.
Two recent articles illuminate this opportunity.
A McClatchy commentary by IHRSA’s Executive VP of Public Policy notes: “The benefits that exercise brings to mental health are just one more reason why we need to implement public policies and community strategies that facilitate physical activity…When an individual is both physically and mentally well, he or she is more productive, more innovative, takes fewer sick days, contributes more to the gross domestic product, and collects fewer employer and government-paid disability and unemployment claims. In short, investing today in America’s physical and mental health is investing in our country’s future prosperity.”
A paper by Jack Groppel and Ben Wiegand of Wellness & Prevention, Inc. dives deeper into the biology of business performance and the relation to physical activity. “Remaining sedentary for extended periods (e.g. sitting at a workstation or in meetings for long periods of time) impairs the flow of blood and oxygen — particularly to muscles — which can often lead to fatigue,” write Groppel and Wiegand. “Engaging in physical activity can create brief periods of hyperoxygenation in the brain and increasing oxygen intake has been shown to enhance energy, mental performance and memory recall.”
In fact, Groppel and Weigand cite data suggesting that mental performance-enhancing biochemical changes in the brain may be spurred by as few as three hours/week of brisk walking.
As the health club trade association, we know there is a great opportunity for fitness centers to position their programs and facilities as evidence-based outlets for improving the mental health and performance of employees. But there are, of course, other practices that an employer can adopt, such as conducting walking meetings and encouraging employees to take fitness breaks throughout the day. Maybe even a little Instant Recess?
We’d love to hear from any organization that has had success marketing physical activity as a valuable tool to increase employee mental health…
Marketing Physical Activity | Physical Activity and Employers
This page last updated on: 11/04/2009
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