How to squeeze more exercise into your day

At least once a week, I take my son to the lacrosse field. At first, I was sitting around for two hours, watching him practice and sometimes working on my computer. I saw a few other parents out there doing the same. So, I asked a few of them if they wanted to walk.

Now, a group of us come prepared in exercise clothes and take a brisk walk around the field. I get to watch my son, do some exercise, chat with other parents and use my time productively.

While that's my way of squeezing exercise into my work life balancing act, I found others who take another route — they exercise right where they work. Sticking to a fitness routine seems to be a lot easier to do with co-worker encouragement.

Today, my column in The Miami Herald reveals some of the progressive ways that employers and employees are working together to improve health.

Companies promote programs to keep employees fit, well

With exercise and wellness programs, some companies are making it easier for employees to stay fit and healthy.

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Sylvia Davis examines City Furniture employee Sara Valderrama at the Wellnes Center room at City Furniture in Tamarac, September 18, 2012. City Furniture is opening a health and wellness center for its employes. It will be staffed by Holy Cross Hospital, and  employees get free medical services.

It’s lunchtime, and Gayle Goodman heads to the gym in her office tower where she and co-workers at AutoNation spend a half hour sweating through a jam-packed workout with a personal trainer. Then, it’s a shower and back to work. “It’s a quick and effective way of getting in exercise,” she says.

Finding time to exercise is one of the biggest challenges American workers struggle with today. While we know the health benefits, making fitness part of our routine just doesn’t happen for many of us — unless we do it on a job.

Around the country and in South Florida, businesses are stepping in to help employees who lack motivation to exercise on their own. They’re opening on-site fitness centers, creating walk trails and swimming pools, encouraging gym membership, offering lunchtime workouts and even bringing in at-the-desk exercise equipment.      

      Companies are beginning to realize their employees need help managing stress if they’re going to avoid burnout and stay productive, says Jennifer Owens, editorial director for Working Mother and Working Mother Research Institute. For the first time, the magazine has just published a list of 10 Best Companies for Health and Wellness. At these top companies around the nation, seven feature fitness centers, all offer fitness classes and many have on-site medical clinics. General Mills’ on-site fitness center offers personal training and massages, while Goldman Sachs holds a weeklong program on resilience and health. At Discovery, 65 percent of the workforce participated in a four-month fitness challenge.

“The companies that are successful are getting people to work together to get well,” Owens says. “The hours we’re at work are inching upward. If we can carve out time at work to exercise, that may the answer.”

Even as the economy struggles, corporate gyms are gaining in popularity, with 27 percent of companies in the South either having an exercise facility or giving discounts for employees to join a gym, according to an annual survey of health benefits by Kaiser. That was up from 21 percent in 2008.

For Goodman, an information technology director at AutoNation in Fort Lauderdale, it’s the convenience factor and the enticement of a mid-day stress reliever that lures her to the company’s gym: “Exercise is only an elevator ride away.”

Still, for most office workers, it takes the nudge of a co-worker to get past the psychological barrier that there is no time for exercise.

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The Work/Life Balancing Act

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