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Affordable fitness programs can mean happier, healthier staff

Work Fitness

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We’ve all heard it before: a healthy worker is a happy worker.

According to the Public health Agency of Canada, a fit workforce leads to lower health-care costs and turnover rates, reduced absenteeism and medical claims, and higher productivity and employee moral.

But in the small business world, there are rarely extra funds kicking around to provide workers with an elaborate, in-house fitness program.

But entrepreneurs need fear not, because according to fitness experts from across the country, keeping your workplace fit doesn’t require a lot of cash.

It does, however, require you, the boss, to lead by example, says Nathalie Lacombe, membership and certification director for CanFitPro, a organization the represents Canadian fitness professionals.

“It’s actually easier to customize a program for fewer employees,” said Lacombe. “You can start by organizing a healthy lunch pot-luck, where everyone brings a dish, and takes the opportunity to discuss their goals, needs and likes and dislikes.  The buy-in will be much greater if they came up with the activities themselves.”

So if the perks that come with healthy workers—reduced absenteeism, higher efficiency, and a generally happier work environment— appeal to you, follow these tips from Canadian fitness professionals.

Start small

It doesn’t take an in-house fitness facility to kick start an office program. It can all start with the placement of simple items like garbage cans or fax machines, says Melissa Millar, owner of Halifax-based MOTIVA Well being and Fitness. It doesn’t require an hour of exercise, just an emphasis on making people active.

“For example, make sure the printer is on the other side of the room, away from where you sit, so you have to stand up and get out of your chair,” she says. “Things like that, that you don’t think about as being exercise, actually make a difference.”

The human touch

If the financials allow it, have a fitness professional come in one or two days a week to run a boot camp or a yoga class. If you can’t commit to paying the cost yourself, ask the employees to contribute half. Chances are, if they’re serious about getting healthy, they won’t mind forking over the dough for a discounted workout. And having a professional take control of exercise can make all the difference, says Curtis Christopherson, general manager with Vancouver personal training firm Innovative Fitness.

“From a cost saving perspective, it’s really good,” he says. “Some sort of on-site accountability is important, and much better than a tech, computer based program.”

Find a theme and create a timeline

Habits are hard to instill, says Christopherson. A way to get people on board with an in-house fitness program is to set it up in three month, theme-based increments.

“Have a healthy heart month, then a walk month, and a learn to run month,” he says. “A small organization can manage a health initiative like this themselves, and people are more receptive to themes.”

Take the lead

Fitness projects require strong leadership. Try creating a weekly health bulletin or newsletter, says Lacombe, or do lunch and learn workshops. Coffee break stretches will work too. And it’s important bosses stay consistent—they don’t always have to run at the front of the pack, but should miss as few fitness activities as possible, even if they’re bringing up the rear.

Give incentives

Workers have to want to be healthy to improve their fitness levels, but rewards can help motivate them. If they need an extra 15 minutes at lunch to eat and go for a walk,they should get it, says Christopherson. He adds that it’s important to set specific program goals, and give employees their just desserts when they’re achieved.

“Offering incentives for people to continue to commit to your workplace health strategy will go a long way,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be much—a spa trip, a day off, or a gift certificate to sports shop. Just don’t give them vouchers (to) a bar.”

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