Friday, July 30, 2010

Our First Frisbee Golf Tournament

We held our first Frisbee Golf Tournament after work on June 23, 2010 as part of our Biggest Mover Campaign. 25 staff members participated.  It was hot and humid, but there was lots of laughing and even a little singing. We worked with TrueFT to plan the event. They came up with an ingenious, cost-effective design for the baskets and laid out a challenging yet approachable course.

We plan to play again in the fall. This time we'll order some pizzas and plan a tailgate for after the event.

(The handsome, young man in the white shirt at the beginning of the video is my son, Ian.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Pricing Structure for Fitness Classes -- Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad

We've been offering exercise classes as part of our wellness program since the beginning of 2008. We typically have three classes per day -- 7:30 a.m., 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Staff members have been signing up for 8 week sessions and paying $5.00 per class. The $5.00 covers a significant portion of the cost of offering the classes and it helps to make people feel committed to attending. Twenty-five percent of our staff have been taking at least one exercise class per week. Ten staff members take three or more classes per week.

We recently sat down and brain stormed various pricing models with goals to (1) encouarge people to make a long term commitment to exercising, (2) make our classes more affordable, and (3) increase enrollment. We also thought it would be nice to ease the administrative burden if we could do so without compromising any of our other stated goals.

We decided to try a 12 week session instead of the 8 week session we had been offering. This flier describes what we came up with.
This new 12 week session starts today, July 26, and runs through October 10th. Our enrollment actually decreased by three people (5%) which is disappointing. We lost our step instructor for the month of August and a couple of these folks are waiting for the next session of our step class to start in September. In the meantime, we plan to offer a kettlebell class for the month of August. Hopefully that will attract a few more people. Sign-ups for that start tomorrow.

The average number of classes taken increased from 1.8 to 2.02 -- 12%, so we met this goal. The feedback from people on the new pricing structure has been positive with only one exception, so I think we also succeeded in making the classes more affordable. So, we met two of our three goals. Enrolling people for 12 weeks and eliminating credits for the first canceled class definitely eases the administrative, so we accomplished that too. 

We are always listening to the feedback we get from the staff and making adjustments, so we'll see how this goes and decide how to proceed for our next session in October. If you have any suggestions, please share them.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Get Fit with Fitbit

I had coffee with Jennifer Benz of Benz Communications in April and she showed me her Fitbit. I ordered one the minute I got back to my office. The Fitbit was developed by a San Francisco based startup by the same name. It does much more than a traditional pedometer. It tracks calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled, and even your sleep quality if you wear it on a wristband at night. The Fitbit uses a 3D motion sensor similar to what’s used in the Nintendo Wii, so it tracks your motion pretty accurately and can distinguish when you are sedentary, lightly active, fairly active and very active. It automatically uploads data from your Fitbit to the Fitbit website every time you get within 15 feet of your computer via a wireless base station that you plug into your USB drive.

The Fitbit is a small plastic clip that attaches easily to your waist band. You can also keep it in your pocket and I’ve heard that women often wear it on their bras. This is somewhat appealing because it should keep it out of sight and minimize the risk of losing it (at $99 I don’t want to lose it.) 

I wore mine religiously for a month. I even committed to logging all my activities, the food I consumed and my weight on the Fitbit site. The home screen on the Fitbit website is a dashboard that shows your calories burned with a graph of how active you are throughout the day. Below that is an activity chart that shows your steps taken, miles traveled and an activity score. It displays a pie chart of your level of activity that looks like this: 

This could be a very useful tool for people that want to be more active, but don’t want to exercise or go to the gym. You could easily set a goal to reduce the amount of time you are sedentary and then just make a conscious effort to move around more.

I think the impact of sleep on health is undervalued, so I love that Fitbit incorporated the sleep tracker. I don’t know how exactly it works, but it seems pretty accurate. Yes, I usually fall asleep in less than 10 minutes and wake up a few times during the night. If you saw a pattern that was troublesome, it would be easy enough to use Snag It to capture the graphs and put them in a document that you could print out and take to your doctor. Unfortunately, there are currently no print options available on the Fitbit website. I contacted the folks at Fitbit with a number of questions. A lot of what I was looking for was in development, but it seems a print feature has been overlooked.

I’ve been logging all of my workouts in the activity section. Once you enter the data, it adjusts your calories burned and active score accordingly. The choices of activities that you can enter are frustratingly limited at this time. For example, Pilates is not included. We’re using the President’s Challenge site to track our activities as part of our Biggest Mover Campaign at work right now and their list is far more exhaustive. I understand that the folks at Fitbit are working on adding more options though.

I’ve also been logging what I eat. Keeping a food journal when you assign calories to everything you eat is always a pain in the rear. It’s not different using the Fitbit website. You can add foods and enter the nutritional information for them and there are a lot already included. It’s a little clunky though. When I add a food, I have to go in and edit it to enter the nutritional information. Then, the nutritional information I entered doesn’t show up in my log unless I delete the original entry and select it again. You can easily view your calories, fat, fiber, carbs, sodium and protein. I haven’t found a way to view your calcium intake even though it’s something you enter when you put in the nutritional information. Like I said, keeping a food diary is always inconvenient, but I do believe it’s extremely helpful when you are trying to lose weight and it’s just good to do from time to time to inform your decision making. I saw quickly that I’m not always eating enough protein and I was reminded that there are 620 calories in a serving of Five Guys fries which quickly undoes an hour of kickboxing.

I wish the site allowed you to record your body fat along with your weight. I’ve been particularly interested in looking at essential fat, reserve fat and excess fat lately. These are all formula driven calculations after you have height, weight and percent of body fat, so it seems it would be an easy feature to add. The Fitbit representative I corresponded with said he would forward this request to the Fitbit technical team for assessment.

You can view your data over a 30 day period of time. I understand that Fitbit is working on allowing the user to select a date range and view data over shorter or longer periods. The graphs often disappear on me. I can’t figure out why. It’s annoying, but eventually they reappear.

Fitbit is in desperate need of an iPhone app. I asked if they’re working on developing one, but that is the one question that Fitbit didn’t answer. It would make it much easier to keep the food and activity log up-to-date when you are on the go.

The Fitbit is still new. The first ones were available in September 2009 and demand immediately exceeded supply. People waited six months for their orders to be fulfilled. I waited two months. The website says a Fitbit ordered today will ship in four weeks. There is no monthly fee for using the Fitbit website so the $99 cost of the device is all inclusive. I think it’s perfect for data junkies and people that want to be more active without “exercising.”

Update 10/4/2011: The new Fitbit Ultra was introduced yesterday. Here is a thorough review published by engadget.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Magic of Hula Hooping -- Guest Post by Maddy Thom

When we kicked off our Biggest Mover campaign, I decided to look for someone who could do a hooping demonstration for us. (I got the idea a year ago when Matt Hirn from TrueAP posted a link on Twitter to a video of Fatboy Slim's That Old Pair of Jeans. I watched and thought, I wish I could do that.) Ten minutes on Google and I'd found Maddy Thom and connected with her on LinkedIn. This is Maddy and she's amazing.

Maddy did a hooping class for us at ASHA on June 8th and it was great fun. We looked nothing like Maddy, but we learned a few tricks and laughed. Incidently, we've had a few hula hoops in the HR area for a month or so now and I have yet to see someone pick one up and not smile.

We wanted to schedule some more lessons, but Maddy just accepted a job as a Production Coordinator. I am happy for Maddy, but disappointed that she doesn't have her days free to teach here. Maddy does still teach evenings and weekends and I plan to have her do some lessons for me and my friends. She also makes and sells hula hoops. I am fascinated by Maddy's talent and story, so I asked her to write a guest blog post. I hope she inspires you to pick up a hula hoop.

After ten years devoted to basketball, I first picked up a hula hoop two years ago, when I *sigh* finally accepted that at 5’5” tall, playing in the WNBA was just not in my future.

I was first exposed to hoop dance in March of 2008 during my spring break. I attended Langerado—an annual music festival that was held in South Florida. I was, as always, enchanted by the scene, though particularly with my hula hooper extraordinaire friend, Allie. Throughout the weekend I found myself often staring her direction instead of toward the music that I paid well over $200 to see, mesmerized both by her hoop skills and the joy hooping seemed to generate in her and among onlookers. I’m telling you, it was MAGICAL. [Insert shower of fairy dust here.] I promised myself standing there, bubbles in hand that I too would learn to hoop.

While technically my hoop journey started that day, it wasn’t for a few more months that I actually gave it a whirl. It was May 2008 and I was suffering through a miserable mess of exams. Lacking the time for a full-fledged trip to the gym, I was questing some physical activity when a colorful, glittery, fabulous idea floated through my overworked brain.

I had spent the time since Langerado debating how teaching myself hoop dance would go, wondering if I had mentally committed to undertake this challenge when I was in a particularly euphoric mood…the sunshine, music, and beer all providing a burst of confidence. I’ve never been a dancer, unless you consider the year of tap/ballet/tumbling in Kindergarten. What I mean to say is that my forte has always been in team sports—basketball, field hockey, and lacrosse. I worried that while I was certainly coordinated, I had also spent the past ten years developing skills that involved throwing elbows using my body as an instrument to knock people around, skills that I feared might shadow any graceful movements that I might have hidden somewhere inside of me.

So there I was, standing in my cleared out living room, holding my 40” diameter, 1” 160 psi tubing, water-filled hoop, ready to go. (These specs probably mean nothing to you right now, but should you choose to pursue hooping you will realize what a monster of a hoop I was using.) During my first practice, I think I figured out waist hooping (a big step for me, who as a child stuck to the Skip-It), but I only got better from there. Being unfamiliar with “hoop communities”, particularly my Charlottesville hoop community, I relied on YouTube for instruction, seeking out random tutorials on beginning moves that looked impressive.

I quickly became addicted—there is a feeling associated with being inside a hoop that is really difficult to explain; it’s something you have to experience. It made me truly and wonderfully happy. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s nearly impossible to be unhappy when you have a hoop swinging around your waist while your dancing to your favorite band with one of your friends. I was able to laugh at myself trying to learn new tricks and combinations while also developing an awesome new sense of self-confidence. The more that I hooped, the more I decided I liked—dare I say LOVED?—my body.

Part of why hooping is so fabulous is because it’s so versatile—it’s a great workout, a form of dance, a high-energy performance art, and a Saturday afternoon activity you can share with your kids. (Not to mention, it’s inexpensive and accessible—no costly gym memberships required!)

While everyone’s hooping takes on a different form, some graceful and dramatic, others resembling break-dancing or hip-hop, rest assured that you will quickly discover what works for you as you “find your flow” (as we hoopers call it) inside the hoop. So give it a try next time you see some hoopers at the park or at your town’s summer fair. Hula hooping will leave you inspired, revitalized, and with a smile on your face—take it from a self-proclaimed hoopaholic.

If you're interested in hula hooping as a form of exercise, check out these articles.