May 18, 2011

Health Promotion on a Dime

Something as simple as a Post It may be the nudge one needs
to get never know.
Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at an AGM of non-profit agencies within my city.  The talk went well, I got a few laughs (always my goal) and I met some really cool people.  After the talk, I was asked if I could provide a few suggestions for a workplace health promotion program that may motivate employees to make "healthier" lifestyle choices (without spending much money).  It is so great to meet leaders who truly care about their staff.  I then offered a few hints and suggestions that wouldn't cost much and may have a positive influence on employees. In addition to that, I promised I would blog about here it is.

This is one of the coolest pictures I have seen advertising health promotion. Although, I have to admit, I'm getting sick of the rock stack thing....what the hell does it mean anyway?
The first thing a leader / manager must consider is role modeling. Are you role modeling the health behaviour you want to others to adopt? If not, get working on it. We cannot promote getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night if we are reporting our "all-nighters" the next day.  If you want to get your crew walking, walk yourself. If you want to promote eating more veggies, bring a plate of veggies to work instead of the usual donoughts for the meeting.  You get the idea.

There are many conflicting opinions on whether a health campaigns actually influence behaviour, however, you never can tell when someone is ready to make a change. The poster or information you put up may be the kicker to get them up and walking (so to speak).  A cheap and easy way to promote health is to simply place "factoids" and other posters up around the workplace. "Did you know?" boards with interesting (not the same old messages of eating well and exercising) facts about exercise or diet may also help.  For example, did you know that if you were to stop drinking that one can of Coke a day (sugared) you could lose up to 10 pounds within one year? Did you know that lack of sleep is linked to overweight and obesity? Use humour, make it funny, and they will pay attention.

This is a great example of using a
bit of imagination to market
the idea of health.
Another inexpensive option is organizating walking groups/clubs within your workplace.  Perhaps there is one person who is really passionate about physical activity and would love to be tasked with the "leader" role. I use this approach in my day job and have "heatlh promotion representatives" planted in each department I work with. Their job is to assist with the promotion of program and motivate others to get involved. They are role models of health and have a great impact on those they work with.

Perhaps you start a walking program just around your workplace to start. Chart it, gather names, use gold stars (like we did when we were in Kindergarten)...this stuff works. I used "the star" program myself when I taught an early morning spin class for three whole years. Every morning I would ask each member to place a star next to their name (participants signed up for this system at the start of the classes). We got so organized that if they had to travel and did a spin class outside of mine, they would come with a note from the instructor to say they got their gold star.  Once so many stars were accumulated, we would gather at someone's house, have a potluck, and celebrate our fabulousness. It was powerful stuff. I had approximately a 80% retention rate over three years (when the average is 60%).

This is my "star system" group. This pic was taken at a "Halloween Spin" class. We covered ourselves in glow-in-the-dark stuff and turned the lights out for the class. This, and other events like it, also created a sense of cohesion, fun, and the motivation to return to the next class.  Special events and opportunities for fun are amazing tools health promoters use to gain the neccessary "buy-in" of their crew.  Just don't be afraid to look silly!
I am hesitant to suggest contests of anykind because, although they promote activity, healthy eating, and weight loss, they also create a sense of competition and once they end most go back to old behaviours. However, if you create something that lasts over a season (for example), that allows for a few lapses and perhaps offers a meeting or two to see how everyone is, it may be enough to keep people going after it is over. Again, ask for sign up (buy in), offer education / information on various health topics (you can download this stuff for free from the Health Canada website), and create a sense of excitement and may just be the change you are looking for.  Be very careful where you get your information from. Please do not download anything that is from a site selling protein powder or the latest in fitness gimmick. Try and find sites that offer research-based information that represents best-practice. If you need suggestions, contact me.

My final suggest takes it a bit further to suggest that you schedule a monthly "health promotion" event that most can attend. Find a volunteer health and fitness professional to speak about certain topics. These people are super easy to find and are completely eager to share their knowledge in exchange for some publicity.  By calling your local fitness center, for example, asking for names of certified fitness specialists, nutritionists, yoga instructors, and other health promotion professionals you will be surprised what you can create.

I have had great success promoting health through pictures such as these. I think it is important to acknowledge that health is about balance and with balance comes chocolate, deep fried cheese, and martinis (maybe not together..but you get the point).  People do not pay attention to the usual message of health promotion fact, I get the feeling they are sick of them!
With a little attention and effort, anyone can create a health promotion program within their workplace for little to no money.  After saying this (and realizing that this is what I do for a living and would like to have your business) to create a long term health promotion program based upon sound, safe, and current research that will take into account behavioural psychology (lifestyle changes) is a little more detailed and complex.  For those with the budget in place, I high recommend hiring a consultant or facilitator...just like me (please excuse my exploitation of this opportunity....but I'm very good at what I do...if I do say so myself). 

If you are interested in learning more about what you, the leader, can do to promote a healthy workplace I recommend "googling" this topic and scrolling through the links yourself. I do this regularly just to pick up an idea or two when I'm feeling a little less inspired. 

I hope this post has given you a few ideas to try out. If you would like more information on what you can do on a dime, please do not hesistate to comment below and I will answer promptly. OR email me at  I would love to hear from you.

That's all I got!

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