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5 ways to help your workers maintain — not gain — during the holidays

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The end of the year is often a joyous time, filled with holidays, travel, family gatherings, and more.

But there is, of course, a flip-side. When 31% of Americans describe the holiday season as “frantic,” and 74% say they cope with holiday-related stress by overindulging on unhealthy snacks, it’s clear many Americans need support. Fortunately, employers can play a valuable role in helping their workers stay on track with their wellness goals during the holidays.

Keep office snacks healthy. Holiday cookies and other baked goods are a common sight (and smell) in offices this time of year. Consider that nearly one-quarter of American employees receive free food from work at least once a week year-round, adding an average of 1,300 calories to their daily food intake. Now factor in holiday potlucks and other office celebrations and you can see how sampling free food can quickly add up to unwanted pounds. Help employees keep their holiday goals in sight by changing the snacks that are available in the office. Rather than chocolate or cookies, offer fruits and vegetables. Put a calorie limit on potluck contributions. Or, even better, offer employees ideas for how to be more thoughtful about food intake, rather than simply grabbing the most convenient snack during the holiday rush.

Take it outside. When the seasons change and holiday planning looms large, our natural tendency is to hunker down and stay inside. But that can be a mistake, not only because there are great options for exercise outside, but because people are just plain happier when they get fresh air. Encourage employees to get outside and be active by offering information about walking trails, local fun runs and walks or (if you live in a snowy climate) local ski or snowshoe trails or festive sleigh rides. By keeping outdoor walking trails around the office clear, or by establishing an indoor walking route, employers can allow their team to maintain exercise breaks during the day.

Take a fitness break. The health hazards of sitting at work have been well documented. And, aside from the occasional family football game, holiday travel and family gatherings usually mean a lot more sitting this time of year. Unfortunately, nearly 20% of North American workers worry their boss will disapprove if they take an exercise break during work, and 13% worry about judgment from co-workers. Another 38% don’t feel encouraged to work out. But working out during the day can have a number of benefits, from boosting productivity to reducing stress to amping up creativity. Employers can encourage physical activity by introducing quick fitness breaks that can be done at a desk or workspace or offering workday workout sessions using on-demand, virtual fitness in a conference room, common space or gym.

Engage the family. The holidays are all about family, and sometimes the best way to get your employees to take their fitness more seriously is to encourage the rest of their family to get active, too. Consider expanding well-being offerings to include the entire family. Employees are more likely to live a healthy lifestyle if their spouse does. And spouses typically account for one-third of health care costs, despite making up only about one-fifth of covered members. Look for opportunities that appeal to all ages and levels of ability — maybe a fun training program meant to help families gear up for the local turkey trot or holiday fun run. Doing so could help boost activity and reduce costs.

Cut the stress. Between gift-buying, travel, visits with family members, added to the challenges of wrapping up business for the year, employee stress is inevitable for most. Exercise can help reduce that stress, but employers can also help by offering guidance and tools to manage anxiety or to help employees practice mindfulness. Yoga classes and meditation sessions in the office are a welcome holiday perk and providing employees with travel tips might make family gathering just a bit less stressful.

There’s a reason fitness-related goals are so popular among people making New Year’s resolutions. Maintaining routines is a challenge this time of year, and it’s easy to give in to unhealthy habits. But with a little planning, a little discipline and a little help at work, it’s possible to maintain, not gain, during the holidays.

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