The research is clear. Employees need simple recommendations and easy-to-use tools for improving their health habits at work. Providing opportunities for improving health to enhance an employee’s quality of life is a win-win situation for employees, employers, and employees’ families and communities. This series of articles is designed to provide a roadmap for creating wellness in the workplace and will focus on key areas related to wellness: nutrition, physical activity, stress management, complementary and alternative medicine, and strategies for creating and maintaining new habits. Each article will focus on one topic area and will provide an overview, suggestions for change, and an activity to assist in the implementation and maintenance of new habits.
An average full-time employee spends at least 40 hours or more at work and eats at least one meal away from home. Meals are most likely eaten at the desk or at a fast food outlet and consist of food choices that are high in fat and salt and low in fruits and vegetables. You might be reading this thinking “it is too expensive to eat healthy” or “I don’t have time to pack my lunch.” Eating healthier doesn’t mean you have to completely overhaul your diet. Just a few small changes can add up and make a difference.
Many Americans also work sedentary jobs so the opportunities for physical activity may be few. Our bodies weren’t designed to sit at a desk 8 hours or more per day, and while technology has improved our lives in many ways, one of those is not in our health or our waistlines. The primary complaint of those trying to get active is time constraints. You might be surprised at how many ways there are to incorporate short bouts of physical activity into your workday.
And stress? Yes, we all have it and most of us may lack strategies to diffuse it. Actively managing daily stress levels can help to create a more balanced, positive outlook on life as well as reduce the harmful effects it can have on your health. Many of us spend a significant period of time at the computer. Why not use it to take short-guided meditation breaks? Meditation doesn’t have to be long or complicated, and in the stress management article you can read how to let your PC help you find inner peace.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) encompasses a broad area of practices that can be used in conjunction with Western medicine to increase overall wellness and health. Some examples include massage, yoga, meditation, taking a multivitamin or other supplements, and the use of acupuncture and Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. You might be surprised how easy it is to incorporate one or two CAM practices into your wellness routine.
If you are ready to make a commitment to your health and well-being, and to creating a workplace or workspace that promotes good habits, then a good place to start is by taking stock of where you are now, what you want to achieve, and what you are willing to do.
There are three tasks that you can do today as you start planning to improve your worksite health:
- Assess your readiness for change
- Draft some S.M.A.R.T. goals in each category
- Find a partner or support group
Decide if you are ready to make one or two small changes, then read through the descriptions of each of the stages in the change model (Prochaska, ref 2) below and assess your readiness for change. If you find you are already in the action or maintenance phase that is fantastic! Read on to think about setting some new goals to push you further. If you are in the precontemplation or contemplation phase, the information presented in each of the articles may be what you need to move forward.
- Precontemplation: You have no interest in any sort of behavior change or you have tried to make changes before and have failed.
- Contemplation: In this stage you are considering making a change sometime in the near future, which is usually defined as within the next 6 months. You are aware of the pros of making a change but also of the costs. This stage is characteristic of ambivalence.
- Preparation: In this stage you are ready to make a change in the immediate future, usually defined as 1 month, and you may have already taken some steps in that direction.
- Action: In this stage you have already started to take actions to engage in the new behavior or practice.
- Maintenance: In this phase you have been practicing a new behavior for at least 6 months and are comfortable with incorporating it into your way of life.
Now that you have an idea of how ready you are to make a change in each of the areas, it is time to learn how to set S.M.A.R.T goals.
Setting goals that are tied to a specific plan is necessary for any type of behavior change and when written wisely can lay the foundation for success. Paul J. Meyer described the characteristics of S.M.A.R.T. goals in his book Attitude is Everything (1).
pecific: A specific goal is very specific and usually answers the 5 Ws: what, why, who, where, and when.
easureable: This term stresses the need for a way to track progress in some concrete fashion. Some questions to ponder include: How much? How many? How will I know when I have reached my goal?
ttainable: You want your goal to stretch and challenge you but you also want it to be realistic. How will you accomplish your goal?
elevant/Realistic: Choose a goal that is important to you and not someone else. Think about what you are willing and able to do. You need to believe you can accomplish it.
ime bound: Each goal must have a target date. A deadline too far off won’t be motivating while one set too close may not be realistic and may be discouraging.
The last step is finding a buddy or group to support you as you embark on your journey to increase your workplace wellness. Email or call a coworker today and make a commitment to one another. Having a support network is one way to ensure success.
The benefits of improving your workplace health are endless. Each lifestyle change begins with that first step.
Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD, CSSD, CPT
Jennifer Koslo is a full time professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches courses such as Vitamins, Herbs, and Nutritional Supplements, Sports Nutrition, and Contemporary Diet and Nutrition. Ms. Koslo is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and one of the few Certified Specialists in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) in the country. In addition to teaching online, Ms. Koslo is a sports nutrition consultant on a private consultation basis.
Ms. Koslo received her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Juniata College, and earned a dual Master of Science in Human Nutrition and Exercise Science from Colorado State University. She earned her Registered Dietitian certification from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and Colorado State University, and is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics certification from the ADA. She also holds a PhD in Education with an emphasis in instructional design for online learning from Capella University.
In addition to serving in the US Peace Corps in Sierra Leone, West Africa, for 2-1/2 years, Ms. Koslo also worked as a cardiac rehabilitation dietitian, and at the Arizona Department of Health Services as the chronic disease nutritionist. She is also an American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer.