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Coworkers can help motivate one another to stay healthy

Dec. 3, 2014

It’s Monday morning, the first day of a “new you.”

You’ve spent the weekend prepping healthy lunches to take to work. You finally got that gym membership you’ve been putting off.

Just in time for the new year, you are ready to turn over a new leaf.

But as you enter your morning meeting, there they are: a dozen chocolate-covered doughnuts your boss picked up for a treat.

Sticking to a healthy diet or exercise routine can be difficult without the right support. But co-workers can serve as a strong motivation for each other.

While it is OK occasionally to indulge in holiday treats, it's also important to have alternative choices, such as fruit.

“I think support of co-workers is extremely important,” said Gina Plummer, diabetes prevention program facilitator at IUPUI. “It is easier to ‘walk the walk’ if you see others around you doing it as well. Plus, they add the benefit of helping to hold us accountable. I feel the motivation and desire has to come from within, but our work environments -- and our colleagues -- can be crucially important to our success.”

Smart choices

When it comes to avoiding those sugary treats at morning meetings, Plummer suggests taking matters into your own hands.

While it’s OK to indulge occassionally in a doughnut or holiday treat, it's also important to have alternative choices. For example, Plummer said, choose healthier food options the rest of the day and make sure to get in exercise.

And never hesitate to ask your supervisor to bring in healthier snacks for those meetings.

“If you know there is a good chance doughnuts will be at a meeting, plan to take a healthy snack with you,” Plummer said. “I tell myself I can have the doughnuts after I eat an apple and have a big glass of water. Or take a Kind bar or fiber bar that will still fulfill the sweet tooth but be a better choice than the doughnut. Another strategy is to have a bigger breakfast on doughnut day so you are less tempted.”

As the holiday season approaches, many people find themselves inundated with sweet treats and get-togethers that revolve around food. But parties can still be fun, Plummer said, without all the sugary confections. 

A list of healthy holidays recipes, such as low-fat turkey gravy and Greek yogurt ranch dip, are available on Healthy IU’s website.

“One of my favorite recipe tips for the office party is to be the person to bring the fruit, veggie tray or salad," Plummer said. "That way you know there will be a ‘safe food’ that you can enjoy more of and have smaller portions of the high-sugar and high-fat treats.

“I generally advise my diabetes prevention program participants not to focus on losing weight over the holidays but rather to focus on not gaining. It's a more realistic approach. Every food choice is a brand new opportunity to start fresh, so if you had a doughnut, don’t beat yourself up but get back to those healthy choices ASAP.”

Keep moving

Cold weather can make it difficult to stay motivated when it comes to exercise.

But just as with choosing the right food, co-workers can help encourage each other to keep moving.

“Behaviors such as healthy eating and daily physical activity are much easier to start and maintain when you are surrounded by supportive peers who have similar goals and interests,” Healthy IU manager Jaclyn Braspenninx said.

She said some of the ways IU employees can motivate each other to move include:

  • Plan walking meetings on the indoor walking tracks or campus walking trails.
  • Walk to lunch together or make the lunch hour an activity break.
  • Hold a friendly contest to encourage employees to exercise.
  • Create a department team and register for a local charity fun run/walk or 5K.
  • Attend a group exercise class together before work, at lunch or after work.
  • Promote the use of stairwells in your building.
  • Send motivational e-mails and health tips.
  • Encourage stretch and/or physical activity breaks during meetings.
  • Encourage the use of pedometers to measure daily movement. 
  • Promote active transportation to work.
  • Provide co-workers with information on the benefits of physical activity and tips on how to be more active.

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