Here in the U.S., the upcoming Memorial Day weekend unofficially kicks off summer, which means barbecues, graduation parties, picnics, and other summer celebrations. If we’re not careful, it can be all too easy for these celebrations to become calorie fests. Try these tips for a healthy, and fun, summer barbecue:
· Get cozy with vegetables. When it comes to nutrition advice, it seems that we’re always hearing about what we can’t eat. Fortunately, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with vegetables. Try grilling asparagus or zucchini, mix a fresh summer salad, or hit the farmer’s market to stock up on seasonal veggies (which are generally cheaper there compared to the grocery store).
· Bored with burgers? Grill kabobs instead. These are one of my favorite summer foods. I recently treated my family to the kabobs pictured above with chicken, zucchini, red onion, and bell peppers.
· Grill fruit. Drizzle pineapple slices with honey and a dash of brown sugar and place on the grill for a fun and sweet dessert.
· Pass on the pasta salad and try a quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) salad instead. Cook quinoa in vegetable broth and mix with chopped sweet potatoes, peppers, and maybe even some dried cranberries if you’re feeling creative. Bonus? Quinoa is gluten free.
· Get up and move. Don’t let the food be the main focus of your summer celebration. Propose a group activity like volleyball, a game of H-O-R-S-E (which uses a basketball), badminton, volleyball, Frisbee, or bean bag toss.
Kicking off summer with a healthy barbecue will keep your guest
s—and your waistline—happy.
When it comes to health and wellness, nutrition and exercise seem to get all the attention. But, as we're trying our best to eat more fruits and veggies and move more, we should also be placing better sleep at the top of our health priority list. According to the Institute of Medicine, people running on poor sleep are more likely to suffer from hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity. All of these conditions prove costly to the workplace.
Healthy habits take a conscious effort to establish, and sleeping better is no exception. To help you and your employees develop good sleep habits and get more quality zzz's, try these tips from the National Sleep Foundation:
· Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning (even on the weekends).
· Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime.
· Establish a relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a bath or reading a book.
· Create a sleep-friendly environment free of television, laptops, or cell phones. These items keep our brains buzzing instead of relaxed and ready for sleep.
· Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and free of distracting noise. For some added assistance, consider using a sleep mask for darkness, or even a fan for white noise.
If sleep problems persist, consider talking to your doctor to see if there could be an underlying problem. After all, it’s estimated that we spend one-third of our lives sleeping; let’s make the most of this time so we can have the energy and vigor needed to take on the other two-thirds.
Sarah Lange, the newest member of TOPS’ Outreach team, lends her voice to the Wellness Wednesday blog this week. Sarah has a passion for writing and wellness and is currently studying to become a certified yoga instructor.
Did you know that April is National Humor Month? While experts disagree about whether laughter can boost your energy or give your body a workout, they acknowledge that a good sense of humor and frequent laughter improve your quality of life—and that certainly extends to the workplace.
Why should we laugh more with our colleagues?
Laughter reduces stress and relaxes us. We probably can’t do our best work when we are worried and stressed out. Think about it: At a brainstorming meeting, will you feel comfortable contributing if you’re too concerned about how your ideas will be perceived? Injecting humor into a staff meeting can put everyone at ease and create an atmosphere where our creativity can flourish. And laughing is a much healthier way to cope with stress than, say, hitting the vending machine for a snack.
Laughter improves our mood. Do you notice that your co-workers become crankier as a deadline approaches? Do you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list and find yourself stuck in a cycle of constant complaining? Seeing the humor in a situation or laughing at yourself can give you a different, more positive perspective—and help you move on and get things done.
Laughter connects us to others. While you can laugh to yourself, laughter is primarily a social behavior—and laughter is contagious. So we can build a solid team and a supportive work environment if we share laughs. Try this as an icebreaker at your next meeting: Tell a brief story about a time you felt embarrassed at work—in your current position or at a previous job. Then invite your colleagues to tell their own embarrassing work stories. These tales will have you bonding over chuckles and serve as a reminder that even the most put-together and conscientious of us are only human.
Charlie Chaplin is credited with saying “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Don’t waste another opportunity to trade laughs with your co-workers to establish a more positive, more productive workplace!
Are you thinking about starting a weight-loss program at your workplace? Or, perhaps you just wrapped up a weight-loss challenge and you’re wondering what to do next. Before you take the next step, check out these tips for running a successful weight-loss program at work:
Designate a wellness/weight-management champion. This does not necessarily have to be someone in HR and could simply be a passionate and motivated employee. It’s important to have someone who can oversee smooth operation of the program and provide encouragement and support for employees.
Have employees pay something. It’s wonderful when employers are able to foot the bill for wellness offerings. However, keep in mind that a monetary commitment by the participant may make him or her more likely to…well…participate. One option is to offer reimbursement for sticking to a program for a set amount of time.
Offer incentives. It would be great if better health was a gift in and of itself. Realistically, this is not always the case. Items such as gift cards, sporting event tickets, or even paid time off are a great way to keep the program fun and keep employees enthused and engaged.
Do not base incentives on weight loss. This may sound a bit strange, but incentivizing based on weight loss can discourage employees from the start. Instead, offer incentives based on participation or achieving goals, such as exercising x number of times in a week. Hopefully, weight loss will be a wonderful byproduct.
Focus on sustainability. The trouble with weight-loss challenges is that they have an endpoint. This leaves employees wondering “Okay, that was fun. Now what?” This may even encourage employees to take unhealthy measures, such as drastically cutting calories, to achieve weight loss in a short amount of time. All too often weight that is lost during a challenge is found again shortly thereafter, making these challenges a temporary fix to a long-term problem. A generally accepted safe rate of weight loss is one-half to two pounds a week. Introduce programs and activities that support this healthy and sustainable rate of weight loss such as lunch and learns on portion control, cooking demonstrations, and brief physical activity breaks employees can do right at their desk or work station.
As one of the biggest drivers of healthcare costs, obesity cannot be ignored at the workplace. In the same way that the average dieter cannot maintain weight loss with quick fixes, companies cannot manage obesity—and its associated costs—in the workplace with short-term solutions. Beyond cost savings, it’s important to also think about the less-quantifiable benefits of a successful weight-management program—employees who are healthier and enjoying a better quality of life.
March is National Nutrition Month® and the perfect time to remind employees about the importance of nutrition. So many packaged foods boast that they’re “high fiber!” or “all-natural!” but some of these claims can be misleading and it’s hard to know what’s actually healthy and what’s simply clever marketing. I’m not a dietitian but I do know that it’s pretty hard to go wrong with the unpackaged foods that don’t need fancy ads or boastful claims—fruits and vegetables.
One of our TOPS employee chapter’s favorite contests was the TOPS Fruit and Veggie Contest. All participants were given a Fruit and Vegetable card that included spaces for the letters “A” through “Z.” The challenge was to eat a fruit or vegetable that begins with a different letter of the alphabet—for example apples for “A” and beets for “B”—and then write the name of the fruit or vegetable on the card. Participants completed the challenge once they had eaten a fruit or vegetable from every letter of the alphabet.
The contest ran for a month and we kicked it off with a tasting where each of us brought in an exotic or less-common fruit or vegetable. We had fun broadening our fruit and veggie horizons with quince, kohlrabi, beets, and white peaches.
This spring, head for the produce aisle and encourage your employees to do the same by running a fresh and fun contest.
Do you have the pre-spring “blahs”? Technically, spring is only one week away but if you live in a chillier climate, winter can sometimes feel like it drags on for months. Help employees beat their blues with some workday indoor cardio! For me, nothing beats a nice midday walk outside, but, when the weather has other plans for you, it’s nice to know that you can still get moving indoors…and you don’t even need a treadmill. For all businesses (especially smaller businesses) inexpensive wellness options are a must. Here is a list of indoor cardio options, all of which are more affordable than a treadmill.
Agility ladder (Price: about $20.00).This portable piece of equipment, pictured below, is not just for professional athletes. Help employees get their feet moving and hearts pumping while working on balance and coordination. An agility ladder is available at most sporting goods stores. Plus, it’s fun!
Step box (Price: $15.00-$30.00 per box). This may bring to mind images of ‘90s workout videos, but the step box is still a great way to sneak in a midday cardio workout. You may even be able to find a more affordable step box at a second-hand store.
Jump rope (Price: $6.00+). You can pick up a jump rope in the sporting goods section of just about any store. This is one of the most effective cardio workouts you can do. You might want to check on the floor acoustics so you don’t bother coworkers on the floor below.
Battle ropes (Price: $60.00+). These are on the pricier end of indoor cardio equipment, but they offer a low-impact alternative to more traditional forms of cardiovascular exercise. In other words, they are easier on the knees than jogging or climbing stairs. Again, check on the floor soundproofing.
You may combine any of the above options to create your very own workplace workout circuit. For example, employees could spend thirty seconds on the agility ladder, rest for thirty seconds, spend thirty seconds on the step box, rest, and so on.
Encourage your employees to keep moving this spring and those “blahs” won’t know what hit them.
Workplace wellness activities don’t have to be limited to “Eat less. Move more. Repeat.” In fact, one way to help employees realize why they should want to make healthier choices in the first place is to have them create a vision board. A vision board represents what you want to achieve or who you want to be, typically using photos, magazine cut-outs, and inspirational quotes or sayings.
During one of our recent weekly TOPS chapter meetings for employees, we all created our own vision boards for 2013. Since the focus of our meetings is wellness and weight management, all of our boards included pictures of healthy foods, active living, and motivational phrases. Creating your own vision board is as easy as one, two, three…
Step One: Gather poster board, glue sticks, magazines, and scissors.
Step Two: Summon creative energy from within. (Okay…this is optional; but it does help!)
Step Three: Cut out pictures and phrases of whatever will inspire you to make healthy choices like bright and colorful photos of fruits and vegetables, running shoes, or adventure races, and inspirational headlines.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Well the opposite is true, too. I leave you with a nice quote about vision (feel free to, ahem, use this quote and get started with your very own vision board today!)
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
- Carl Jung
Valentine’s Day is a sweet holiday. No, I’m not talking about the nice things your significant other does for you (and vice versa). I’m talking, of course, about the candy, heart-shaped cookies, and all things chocolate-covered. Doesn’t it seem that with most holidays, sweets get to steal the show? This Valentine’s Day, think about giving healthier foods some love with these tips.
· Wake up to heart-shaped eggs and toast. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out the center of a piece of bread. Crack an egg into the center of the bread and cook in a skillet.
· Make heart kabobs. Use a small heart-shaped cookie cutter on cantaloupe and watermelon and spear with wooden skewers. Serve with low-fat vanilla yogurt. If you’re feeling especially creative, you can use pineapple instead of melons, drizzle with honey, and place on the grill.
· Impress your dinner guest. Cut bell peppers and zucchini into heart shapes, sauté with olive oil, top with your favorite seasoning, and serve as a healthy side dish.
· Bring chocolate-covered strawberries to the office. Okay, so chocolate doesn’t necessarily fall under the health food category, but it’s okay to be a little sweet on Valentine’s Day. Use dark chocolate and try to cover just the tips of the berries.
· Serve heart-shaped cucumbers and dip. Save the unused portions of cucumbers for a green smoothie.
With an open mind and a little creativity, this Valentine’s Day can be sweeter than ever—without all of the sugar.
It’s time to end this. You’re sweet and all, but I just don’t think this relationship is healthy. I feel good for a little while and then I feel guilty. Plus, my jeans aren’t fitting anymore. It’s not me, it’s you.
Think of this as your “Dear John” letter to…the office vending machine. If 2013 is your year to “break-up” with bad habits, then it just might be time to send the vending machine packing. Unless your office is fortunate enough to have a vending machine with fresh produce and other nutritious snacks, most machines are filled with sugar, sodium, and ingredients lists that go on for days.
This doesn’t mean that you have to give up the foods you love—not even the occasional candy bar or bag of chips. After all, here at TOPS, we believe that all foods fit…in moderation. This just means that you have take time to plan ahead, so that you’re not stuck with a sugar high. Packing your own snacks in reusable containers is a great way to manage portions and ignore the call of the vending machine. Here are a few of my favorites:
· Cocoa-roasted almonds and dried cranberries: This satisfies your sweet tooth without the side of guilt.
· Ants-on-a log: Not just for kids anymore. All you need is celery, almond or peanut butter, and dried cranberries or raisins.
· Low-fat string cheese and crisp-bread crackers: This is perfect for when you’re in the mood for salt. Plus, the crackers add fiber to your day.
· Turkey jerky, almonds, and dried fruit: This is a filling snack and gives you a sweet/salty fix.
· An apple with a tablespoon of light, whipped cream cheese: A fiber-friendly snack with a twist.
Finally, if you really, really have a craving for something in the vending machine, split it with a coworker and don’t beat yourself up for it. After all, you’re human, and if all you truly want is a piece of chocolate, all of the almonds and dried fruit in the world probably won’t make up for it. Over the next month, experiment with your own nutritious snack combinations to help you find what you like best. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to making 2013 the healthiest year yet…and the vending machine will be a distant memory.
I tried a kale smoothie over the weekend. I’m guessing your first reaction might be “…why?” or “blech!” But it’s all a part of my New Year’s resolution to try one new thing every month. This “thing” will be anything from signing up for a race I’ve never run to experimenting with a new recipe.
New Year’s resolutions tend to get a bum rap or be seen as cliché, but I think they can be useful as long as they’re attainable and you’re clear about what you want to achieve. Resolutions like “I want to exercise more” tend to fade into distant memories by March because they are too vague. Be specific. Instead of using the word “more,” set a number of times you plan on working out during the week or a certain number of miles you want to walk or jog—and make sure your goal is attainable. Can you really hit the gym five times a week? If this seems iffy, aim for three times as a starting point.
The American Psychological Association (as one of their tips for making New Year’s resolutions stick) suggests that you change one behavior at a time. In the same vein, you may want to consider what you can add instead of what you feel you should take away. For example, if you feel you should give up fast food try, instead, to add one new healthy food every time you hit the grocery store. Trying new things seems a lot more palatable than giving up what you enjoy, doesn’t it?
As TOPS’ "Real People. Real Weight Loss.®" philosophy suggests, better health doesn’t have to involve depriving yourself, slogging away at the gym, or even kale smoothies. It just has to involve a willingness to try new things and a solid commitment to the most important person in your life—you.