On Happiness and being Selfish

The photo below is what one looks like when it’s only Tuesday but it feels like Friday and you’ve had the craziest few weeks and you try and leave the office before 6:00pm and you go to the bathroom down the hall and then come back and then realize that your badge isn’t working to let you in to your office and all of your stuff is there and you feel like crying but instead you find a random phone and call security and you wait 5 minutes and they finally show up to then tell you that their badge doesn’t work either and they’ll be right back and you wait another 10 minutes and then they come back with a master key only the master key doesn’t work so they tell you they’ll be back in a bit again, so you wait and then they return and tell you that they are doing a security upgrade on the 12th floor and for some reason out of all the badge scanners in the building the badge scanner to your office on the 15th floor is connected to all the scanners on the 12th floor so they have to call some people and halt the upgrade the technicians are working on so they disappear again and then return and someone on their cell phone opens the door and then you finally get in to your office and get your stuff and it’s almost 7:00pm and you head outside to walk home and realize it’s POURING ice cold freezing rain and you don’t have a hood, an umbrella or even a hat, so you just step out in the rain and put your music on and start walking home and burst out in explosive laughter in the middle of Front Street in downtown Toronto and you look like a crazy person but you don’t even care because for some reason you’re ridiculously happy and all the crap that happened is just funny and not really that important and at the end of the day you have a choice to make light of it all and enjoy these random moments instead of taking the easy route and deciding to be miserable and cold and tired.
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My older brother has always had a way with words. He is able to perfectly express even the deepest and most intense emotions by just writing them down in a way that I am not able. Without a doubt, he always nails it. It wasn’t long ago that he said to someone in our family, “happiness is something that you seek out with a vengeance, not something that is given” and I keep returning to those words again and again when I feel like giving in to a rough day and feeling sorry for myself.

I recently found myself in a huge rut where I was truly unhappy for quite some time. I woke up dreading the day, and then would spend the entire day looking forward to going to bed that night. When bed time came around, I would then panic as I tried to fall asleep as I knew I would soon have to wake up and face a new day, going through it all again.

Before I go on and bore you with the details of the rut I was in, I will start this off by saying that I don’t think being selfish is something to aspire to or necessary take pride in. However, being selfish is something that we all have to and SHOULD do at certain points in our lives. I’m not talking take-the-last seat-on-the-bus-when-there-is-a-pregnant-woman-waiting-for-a-seat-because-your-feet-hurt selfish, but more along the lines of look-out-for-you-in situations-where-the-outcome-impacts-your-well-being selfish.

During my little rut and depressive state, I decided I had to make some sort of change and I found myself in a position where I had to make a very difficult decision. I agonized over it, and I mean agonized, lost-sleep-didn’t-eat-had-near panic attacks-drove-my-husband-crazy agonized. After seeking advice from my closest confidants (best friends, family, my pets, the barista in the coffee shop down the street, etc.) they all helped me see that it was pretty obvious I had already made up my mind.

It took me a while to admit that I wanted the outcome that I did. I needed others to say it for me, to justify it, to validate that I was doing the right thing. It was so hard for me to admit what I wanted because making the decision I did was purely, pretty selfish. The only person my chosen outcome would benefit, was me,  even if that meant leaving others a little less-than-impressed, scrambling and over-loaded.

I don’t like to villainize the word selfish because sometimes in situations like this, I think being selfish is exactly what we need. Even though I like to consider myself confident, assertive and not afraid to go after what I want, as a female in our society I also always unfortunately am always worried about being “nice” and not letting others down. Of course no one wants to let people down, and being nice is certainly a desirable trait. But for the purpose of this post, and for others who may be going through something similar, I will say one thing: f**k being nice and just be selfish.

I realized that my agonizing came from the fact that I was so worried about what other people would think, how they would react and how it would make me look instead of the actual decision itself. When I took that out of the equation, it was a no-brainer. Why was I worrying so much about how other people felt when I knew that the decision I wanted to make would make me so happy?

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So, I did it. I took that leap of faith and went after what I wanted. It was really scary, but not any scarier than feeling stuck and miserable every day. And you know what? People weren’t as upset about it as I thought they would be, in fact, most people understood. Making that change was worth it, it felt good and it was empowering to truly just look out for me. Now, from the other side of it all, I remind myself constantly that I chose happiness and I will continue to choose it, even on the days where it feels out of reach, because I can, and because I have the power to choose it over and over again.

Admitting you’re unhappy can be scary but it is something only you can do. Once you admit it, you are that much closer to being happy. To actually realize that you have the power to take the steps and action that lead to happiness is even scarier.  But the true, shake-in-your-boots fear comes when you actually take that action. When you face the fear and take a leap of faith. Trust that faith you have in your decision. The view from the other side is worth it. Just like you are the only one who can admit that you are unhappy, you are also the only one who can decide to be happy and take the steps to get there. No one else can do that for you. Happiness isn’t given, or even something the universe owes to you, so be selfish and seek it out with a vengeance. 

 

Living in Lyme “hell”

Almost 3 years ago now, Zach and I worked one last summer at our beloved Summer Camp. That summer was supposed to be the best yet; we were both on senior staff, all of our closest friends would be there and as soon as camp was over we would be taking the California road trip of our dreams. Halfway through the summer, right around the time of our anniversary, Zach became ill. His symptoms were very much meningitis-like, but when he went to the camp doctor he was told if he was vaccinated then it wasn’t meningitis and probably just the flu. He was sent on his way with some tylenol for the extreme back and neck pain (he worked in climbing so he “could have pulled something”) and orders to rest. After over a week of this I vividly remember we were sitting in my car and I was looking up his symptoms online. One thing kept coming up: Lyme Disease. It made sense. Zach worked in a wooded area, we were in North-East Pennsylvania, and he spent his days outside. After quite a few warmer winters, the deer population was out of control (I had never seen so many deer before!) so vector borne viruses like Lyme, were at an all time high. I kept reading words like “epidemic” yet no one even thought to test Zach for Lyme. He did not think it was Lyme because he never had a rash or found a tick on his body. If you read up on Lyme, the literature almost makes it seem that you have to present the classic bullseye rash if you have Lyme. This went on for two months, and it was really scary to see such a fit and active young man literally just start to melt away. Zach is not a big guy to begin with, but all of his clothes started falling off of him, he was constantly tired, battling stomach issues and dizziness and he was also impossible to be around. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt knowing that something was going on but I also seriously considered leaving him because it was so bad and he kept brushing off how awful he felt. When we were in California, he almost fainted 3 minutes into a hike- this is a guy who can get up any random day and run 20+ km with no complaints. It just wasn’t right.

When Zach returned home, he went to another doctor. He was prescribed beta blockers (a bandaid solution) for his irregular heart beat. It was only after he insisted (or I insisted while on the phone with him) that they test him for Lyme.

Not surprisingly, all of the tests came back positive.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and this post is really all about that, to make you aware of what Lyme can look like. Lyme carrying ticks have been confirmed in Toronto (not surprising considering how many cases have been reported by our neighbours directly to the south and our warm winter) so it is inevitable that if you spend time outdoors, you will come in contact with ticks.

Today, Zach is here to tell his story about his experience with the disease. Please read on and share.


Facial Palsy- one of the many symptoms

Facial Palsy- one of the many symptoms

So this is a story about Lyme disease. This is a story about the often misdiagnosed tick-borne disease that’s quietly causing disarray in the medical community. I’m not going to speak in absolute medical terms here (I’m not a doctor); I’d rather speak about this from a personal side. So here we go.

Late summer 2013 – I had just finished working my last of 3 summers at Island Lake, where I met my amazing wife Ali. This summer at camp was unlike any of the other 2 summers though. It will always be remembered, for me, as one of the worst summers of my life, and now how I wanted my last summer to go. However, camp wasn’t ruined for me because of the usual reasons – a relationship gone wrong or an insufferable boss. That honour belongs to Lyme disease. I’ll remember the sequence of events forever, like they happened just the day before. It started with back pain and progressed through various other types of symptoms until I literally hated everything and everyone in my life. Hate is a strong word, but the irritability associated with Lyme disease is the real deal. For example, on our post-camp vacation in California, Ali stepped on a wasp, barefoot while walking along the beach. In a Lyme-induced rage, I told her off and made sure she kn ew that she was inconveniencing me by being a human that feels pain. Lyme-me was a truly dickish guy. So this leads me to the bulk of the story.

What exactly was I feeling? There’s no good answer here for what I was feeling throughout this whole experience. With Lyme disease, it really seems like the Universe throws the kitchen sink at you. I mentioned back pain (which made me double over) and I wish that was the worst of it. They say that Lyme starts off like meningitis and then it’s everybody’s guess, what’s next. Well, that’s true. I had:

•Fevers

•Irritability/hatred towards everything

•Diabetes-like bladder control

•Hot flashes and dizzy spells that ended with me blacking out at really inopportune times

•Night sweats

•Facial palsy

•Heart palpitations caused by fluid and swelling around my heart

•Constant light-headedness

•No appetite (and resulting weight loss)

•Depression

•Insomnia

•Nausea

•Fatigue

•Slight alcohol intolerance

•Etc. Etc. Etc., the list goes on

But forget about the symptoms. They’re scary as a whole and all, but the scariest thing about Lyme is that there are no standard symptoms. This disease is f*****g scary; absolutely scary. And it breeds a sense of hopelessness in most of its prisoners. My treatment was gruelling (I’m not trying to compare this to chemotherapy, etc.), with a 3 week oral antibiotic regimen followed by a 3 week IV antibiotic regimen with twice-a-day infusions, after my EKG and echo revealed worsening heart irregularities. To this day, I assume that treatment completely worked, and mostly, I do live a normal life. It wasn’t an easy recovery process and it did take some time to feel normal again. However, I notice tiny things that are different about this “new” normal life – I’m more generally fatigued, I struggle with my alcohol tolerance, my digestion has never quite been the same and every so often I feel my heart pumping abnormally.

But in classic Lyme fashion, that was the treatment specific to me. Even the treatment is completely different depending on the individual and how early it’s caught. I caught mine early on, at the beginning of the second stage (Lyme has 3 stages) thanks to Ali’s persistence (she knew this was Lyme from day one somehow), even though I didn’t have the “bullseye rash”, which actually only appears in about 25% of reported cases.

So I somehow caught this mysterious disease, which has mysterious symptoms and doesn’t have a standardized treatment. Fun right? Ali and I struggled through this process. She was understandably worried, which led to all of our long distance phone calls being hijacked by conversation about the best Lyme-literate doctors in Chicago and the most recent research. It was so hard to go through all of this and not be in the same place. There was so much that was unknown and neither of us had any sort of answer as to what was going to happen. It just seemed like it was one piece of bad news after another and everyone was dancing in circles not sure how to proceed. I’m so thankful to have Ali in my life, and I’m especially lucky to have had her throughout that whole process. Who knows how long it could have gone on had she not insisted that it was Lyme.  It was also unbelievably difficult to go through this while battling with insurance companies (something that is still going on to this day- Canadians, never take your health care for granted).

Once I started working with an infectious disease doctor things got a lot easier. Finally someone had some answers and was able to help me through the healing process. I was grateful for my doctors who helped get me better, but I know that a lot of people often feel failed by the medical community when it comes to Lyme. This is definitely a problem in Canada, where there are not as many confirmed cases and the health care system lacks knowledge.

Nearly November and starting to feel better

Nearly November and starting to feel better

Since there is so much unknown about Lyme, it seems that Doctors don’t really test for it unless you say “test me for Lyme disease”. The biggest thing that I want everyone to take from this is to always remember to be an advocate for yourself and your own health. There are thousands and thousands of cases that are not diagnosed every single year due to the ambiguous symptoms. This can go on for years and only gets worse over time. The number of reported cases is shockingly high but it is estimated that the actual number of cases is probably double those reported.

Doctors are amazing people, but it is so important to speak up and trust your gut, not just taking what someone else tells you for the truth. If you have meningitis or even mono like symptoms that will not go away, please talk to your doctor about Lyme. Tests can also come back as false negatives with Lyme as well, and there isn’t a gold standard for testing. There are a lot of unknown and scary factors surrounding Lyme.

Remember, most people won’t present a bullseye rash, this is something that a lot of doctors don’t always seem to know. This may be especially true in a place like Toronto where a lot of cases have not popped up yet. If you spend time outdoors and have been in a grassy or wooded area, check yourself for ticks, this is what a tick looks like. Have your partner check you for ticks. Double check even. If you find one, this is how you remove it. Take it to your doctor. Wear long pants if you are out hiking, or clothes that are light in colour so you can see a tick. Check your pets for ticks too. Also remember that sometimes they are incredibly small, the size of a grain of sand, a pin point or a poppy seed. If you have a lot of dark hair like I do, you may never find a tick. This is why it is so important to always listen to your body.

For more information please visit these sites:

Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

 

A Healthy Mother’s Day

Often times any sort of Holiday or celebration can side track our healthy lifestyle goals. Of course, a Holiday is definitely a good reason to indulge a little bit, but that doesn’t mean going all out. With mother’s day coming up this weekend, I know a lot of people (myself included) like to head out for a huge meal, or spoil mum with a feast of chocolate and cake (and wine!) at home. This year, I tried to keep it a little healthier as we planned what we were going to do. By no means was this my way of saying to my lovely mum that she needs to be healthier, but more so, she is just very much like me; health-conscious and tries hard to stay on track. I thought I would share it all with you here and perhaps inspire you to plan activities that are a little healthier but still centred around our superheroes, our Mums!

Take a trip to a Flower Market! On Saturday mum and I will be heading to the Blossom and Bloom Flower market here in Toronto at Union station. This will be a nice way to get in a bit of movement (walking there and back, and around the market), get outside, and allows us to spend some quality time together with nature, a proven way to reduce stress. Sure, mani pedis are fun, but that involves sitting down and inhaling nasty chemicals.

Photo from blossomandbloom.com

Photo from blossomandbloomshow.com

Brunch at Home: Instead of heading out to a restaurant where we will be likely to indulge in less-than healthy brunch food, I will be hosting a home made brunch right here for mum and grandma! On the menu; lemon ricotta coconut flour pancakes, egg and veggies frittata, fresh fruit salad and grapefruit juice (maybe with some champagne in it hehe). Making a brunch at home is a guaranteed way to have a healthier day, you know exactly what is going into everything you make and have more control over portion size as well.

Photo from healthyrecipeblog.com

Photo from healthyrecipeblog.com

Treats: instead of spoiling mum with tons of chocolate (she would kill me), I’m going to make these delicious looking vanilla macaroons made with genuine health fermented vegan protein + powder. These treats are loaded with healthy fats and protein and are sure to satisfy. I love this protein powder because mum, like me, often has a hard time digesting whey and soy. This powder is made from all veggie protein (no soy!) and fermented so you won’t be left feeling bloated after consuming. All the leftovers for mum obviously. I’ll also cut up and serve some of their amazing protein bars – these things are seriously delicious and taste like Candy. They also make a great alternative gift to chocolate for this health conscious mums out there 😉 Though, if you do want to spoil mum with chocolate I always recommend ChocoSol, of course!

Photo from meghantelpner.com

Photo from meghantelpner.com

Another great way to spoil mum without all the junk is buying her a gift that she can use instead of eat. I’ve had my eyes on these Rosefield watches and I think a lot of mums out there would love one!

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What are you doing to spoil your mum this Sunday?

P.S. Since I’m a foster mum to two puppies, do I get spoiled too? 😉

Au Naturel

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In my effort to live a clean and holistic life I am always on the hunt for great natural beauty products. Our skin is the largest organ in our body and we put it through so much without much thought. It’s also pourous and absorbs everything in our environment that we expose it to.  For the longest time, I didn’t think too much about this, and had no hesitations when it came to conventional beauty and skin-care products. However, over the last few years, I have switched over to more natural products. I honestly didn’t do this with the intention of being more conscious about the chemicals I was exposing myself to. Rather, the switch started because over time I stopped being able to tolerate the smells of conventional products and was drawn to products that use essential oils for fragrance. Plus, it seemed like no matter what I used, my skin was always breaking out, cracking from being overly dry and my eczema was taking over my life. I kind of thought that the products I used wouldn’t really make a difference when it came to my skin (I thought it was just because I’m a redhead) and had just accepted my fate.

Once I started using more natural products however, I definitely started to noticed an improvement. When I was in my graduate program I took a course on health and the environment and was introduced to the EWG’s Skin Deep rating system for beauty products. The Environmental Working Group examines all of the chemicals in beauty and personal care products and gives it a score- the lower the number, the better. A low score means it is not as harmful to your body. It also gives a breakdown on any harmful or potential harmful ingredients. Once I checked out there list, I was pretty surprised. I honestly wasn’t aware how many scary chemicals I was exposing my skin to! If you think about the number of products you use daily, it can be quite alarming. While the Skin Deep guide doesn’t always have local Canadian products, it is a great resource and can help you pick out more mainstream natural products. After using it, you’ll start to get familiar with what ingredients are okay, and what ingredients may be dangerous.

I will be totally transparent- I still don’t use 100% natural products, but I do try my best. I’m gradually making the switch but I also am not sure if I’ll ever be able to part with my urban decay eyeshadow palettes. That being said, I’d say I’m about 80% there and when I find a good product, I have to share it with the world! A lot of people don’t now how great a natural product can actually be. I am honestly not trying to get everyone to switch to natural products (though, that would be great) but these products are seriously amazing and I think everyone should check them out! Over the last few weeks I have purchased a few that I have quickly become obsessed with and I thought I’d share them here with you all today!

Perk Naturals Exfoliating Scrub

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Okay, this exfoliating scrub is seriously unreal. The ingredients are: Fair Trade Robusta Coffee, Dead Sea Salt, Natural Brown Sugar, Sweet Almond Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Orange essential Oil, Jojoba Oil, Vitamin E. How simple right? And yes, that’s coffee as the first ingredient. I love me some coffee. Caffeine has been shown to increase blood flow and applying it directly to the skin will stimulate that area. It can also help in the reduction of cellulite! Plus, this scrub will energize you as you get your day started! It’s an amazing exfoliator that you apply with your hands. It will leave you skin soooo soft and supple. Plus, it’s affordably priced! At $15 bucks for the smaller size, you can’t go wrong. Get it at The Detox Market or from their site linked above. BONUS, it is a Toronto based company and everything is hand made. I love supporting local businesses!

If you are caffeine sensitive I may avoid this one, but check out their other scrubs!

 

Skin Essence Light Facial Moisturizer

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This product is seriously life saving. It’s a little pricey ($32 for 30 ml) but you will use a lot less compared to a conventional moisturizer. The ingredients are: Jojoba Seed Oil, Kukui Nut Oil, Orange Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Lavender Flower Oil, Lime Oil, Geranium Oil, Galbanum Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin-E) and Tea Tree Oil. Again, so simple! It also smells AMAZING. After using this for just two weeks on my face I have noticed such a difference. My facial skin always used to be so so dry after I washed my face or showered, and then once I moisturized it would be so oily. Not to mention I seem to always be breaking out! I have tried many moiustuzisers (natural and conventional), and have never found one that I liked enough to purchase again. Well, now I have found it! As mentioned, you only have to use a little bit, about 3 drops. It feels oily at first but is quickly absorbed. My skin is SO soft, my breakouts have gone down, and I’m no longer suffering from the constant cyclical battle of dry vs. oily. Find it online (linked above) or at the Big Carrot. Again, it’s a local company too!

 

Saje Natural Wellness Spray Deodorant

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I’m not here to push natural deodorant use but the jury is still out on the potentially harmful effects of aluminum contained in antiperspirants. I think my own personal aversion to these conventional kinds comes from the fact that it seems weird to clog up these pores when they are meant to sweat, stopping a natural cooling and detoxifying system. Disclaimer, I sweat A LOT. I actually find that most conventional antiperspirants and deodorants make me sweat even more. I have tried every single deodorant and antiperspirant under the sun. Not only are my armpits always agitated, I find that none of them really work that well anyway. I have ruined so many shirts and I honestly have kind of just given up.  I often don’t use any deodorant at all, which is okay for the most part until I’m intensely working out, or wearing stuffy business clothes on a hot day. At that point, I honestly start to stink. I have been on the hunt to just find one that keeps me from stinking! For a while I used Tom’s natural antiperspirant, which was kind of a lesser evil in the antiperspirant world but still contains aluminum and left my arm pit skin so dry and painful (but didn’t stop the sweat like any others or really help with the stink factor). Once I realized that it wasn’t really doing anything I started hunting for a good natural one. I tried probably about 20, no joke. Creams, sticks, sprays, etc. I even made my own. I found that a lot of the essential oils in some of the natural ones even made me stink worse! For a while, I really really liked this one by Primal Pit Paste, but the baking soda content in it was simply too high and left me with a big ugly rash in my armpits. The one I made is actually pretty good, but it’s a bit messy and requires multiple applications on a sweaty day.

I recently discovered this one from Saje Natural Wellness after seeing it on Erin Ireland’s snap story (vegan, vegetarian, health conscious people: do yourself a favour and follow her). I figured I’d give it a try since Saje (a Vancouver-based company) has a 100% satisfaction guarantee. I’m pretty sure that this particular scent is meant for men, but it’s not overly masculine smelling, and I think that when I work out I probably do smell like a man so the strength is probably just right for yours truly. The ingredients are: potassium alum (liquid mineral salts); essential oils of cymbopogon martini (palmarosa), aniba rosaeodora (rosewood), santalum album (sandalwood), lavandua angustifolia (lavender), citrus aurantifolia (lime), pogostemon cablin (patchouli), foeniculum vulgare dulce (fennel) and vetivera zizanoides (vetiver).

FINALLY I have found a natural deodorant that I love! Like most natural deodorants, it requires re-application as you sweat, but since it’s a spray, it’s not messy (or difficult) to reapply. It lasts for a surprisingly long time and even after a long 18km run I wasn’t that stinky. I think I’m going to buy one to keep everywhere- my gym bag, my desk, my purse. Seriously, check it out!

I am so so pleased with all of these products and I highly recommend you check them all out. Let me know what you think too!

I recently also purchased a natural mascara and concealer. I don’t love them, but am going to use them up. Once I’m ready to buy more I’m going to look into other natural options. Does anyone have any recommendations?

Wellness and Corporate Culture

In the literature, it is often made very clear that in order to have a successful employee wellness program, there must be a culture that is supportive of wellness. Of course, any organization that has a wellness program could argue that they then, in hand have this supporting culture of wellness- or else why would they have a wellness program at all?

However, I have found this to not always be the case. So I ask you this, can you have a successful wellness program without a supportive culture?

I would argue that you absolutely cannot. To me, wellness is just a piece that falls underneath the overall umbrella of corporate culture and they must be interdependent in nature. To have a successful wellness program, there absolutely must be a positive corporate culture, one that supports and encourages a culture of wellness. Otherwise, the wellness programs simply will not be utilized or thrive. Wellness is so much more than checking off a box in your HR strategy.

What does a supportive culture of wellness look like?

Top down: It’s important for those at the top to walk the walk. Literally. This means your senior leaders are out there hosting walking meetings, working out at the in-office gym, attending lunch n’ learns and getting involved in fitness challenges. They also support (and encourage!) all of the employees below them to do this as well, whether it be by contributing an awesome prize to a fitness challenge, inviting an employee to a lunch time workout, organizing a team for a local race or challenging an employee to reach a healthy lifestyle goal.

Flexible hours: This doesn’t mean giving employees the free-for-all. But allowing and encouraging employees to take an extra 10 minutes at lunch so they can make it to the gym and back for a solid workout can do wonders. Same thing goes for allowing an employee to come in a little bit later so they can make it to the gym before work. As long as employees are putting in the required work, allowing this flexibility is only going to improve productivity.

Making health the easy choice: This can mean any number of things, providing employees with healthy snacks in the office is a great place to start. Making sure there are healthy breakfast foods around is another great idea. Planning team building events that take place during work hours and focus around health conscious activities (bubble soccer, healthy cooking class, yoga class, etc) is also a great way to embed health into the culture.

Encourage use of vacation time: Is it common that employees don’t use their vacation days? If so, encourage them to do so and set an example by using your own vacation days as well. Sometimes it is an implict norm to not take vacation and people are afraid to, but people need this down time to rest and unwind.

Wellness Days: Instead of calling unplanned days “sick days” instead call them wellness days. Encourage employees to use these days for their wellness needs, not only when they are miserably sick. Sometimes we really do need a day to de-stress and stay on the couch, encourage using these days for whatever reason, no questions asked.

Environment: Not every organization can afford stand-up desks, but perhaps you are able to convert an empty boardroom to a stretching or relaxation room or build a small gym. Another thing to consider is making sure that stair cases are unlocked so employees can use the stairs more often.

Out of all of these, I would argue that having those at the top walk the talk can make the biggest difference. What do you think? What other ways do you think a corporate culture can have an impact on employee wellness?

 

 

Consistency

How sticking with one thing can change everything

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Over the Easter long weekend Happy Hubs and I drove to Northwest Indiana to spend some time with his parents as well as spend a day in one of our favourite cities- Chicago. If you haven’t been to Chicago I highly recommend checking it out. It has some amazing coffee shops, incredible food, beautiful buildings and a waterfront to make all Torontonians envious.

Normally when it comes to travelling, even 3-day weekend getaways, I let everything fall out the window concerning the healthy lifestyle I lead in my day-to-day life (because nothing counts when you’re on vacation right?) However, at the beginning of this year a friend and I vowed to run a minimum of 100km/month for all of 2016. At first, I thought this would be a no brainer and was pretty excited to see that number reach over 200km/month once I started training for some goal races. However, after looking over my training logs, it seemed that I was in for a bit of a challenge. If there was anything consistent with my running, it was that I am unbelievably inconsistent.

Up until recently, it was apparent that I thought I was running much more than I actually was. Looking over my logs, even in the months leading up to my first half marathon, my runs were scattered all over the place. One week I’d run 4 times, the next only once, some weeks had no runs at all. I embarrassingly realized that I wasn’t even giving myself a real shot when it came to training.

While I am aiming to run a marathon this fall, I didn’t really have any upcoming spring races in mind (besides the Sporting Like 10k that I run every year) when I started running a consistent 100km/month. Very quickly though, I started to notice some small changes. I have been sticking to a long run every. single. week. and my gains have started to become very apparent on those long runs. Each week, just by consistently running 14-17km, I am getting faster, something that has never happened with long runs before. Building a base at these distances has helped me immensely. Until this recent consistency, I always took walk breaks but I haven’t taken a walk break now for over a month on a long run! While I have been doing speed work for quite some time, and throw in hill workouts every now and then as well, it’s really all started to come together since I started sticking to my long runs. For the first time, I feel like I am seriously improving at distance running and I feel I can begin to set some solid time goals (before, my approach was always “just finish”).

A big thing that has helped with this is that I started doing my long runs with the club I run with whereas I always used to do them alone. Running with people has helped me so much because we push each other to keep going, and chatting away week after week makes the kms fly by. On a bit of a whim, I have decided to run a half marathon at the end of the month in Montreal. I’m approaching it as more of a training run, just to sort of see where I am after a few solidly consistent months of running.  I think I kind of owe it to myself, now that I’ve actually been staying consistent.

All of this being said, one thing that I love about Nike Run Club is that so many different cities also have a club that more or less follows the same schedule. It’s pretty cool to see the larger Nike community on social media and know that we are all in this together. Happy hubs and I decided to stay overnight in Chicago and, to not throw off my consistent training, decided to do my long run with NRC Chicago on the Saturday morning.

I sure am glad we did. We have both spent a fair amount of time in Chicago before, but there is something to be said about seeing it on a run. We woke up bright and early at 7:00am, put on our run clothes, scarfed down some breakfast and headed out. It was chilly, but nice and sunny which definitely made up for it. It was pretty cool to see the Nike space in Chicago. While the space was different, it had the same vibe that the Toronto club does, a solid group of like-minded people buzzing about all there for the same purpose. The pacers were super welcoming and glad to have visitors from Toronto joining them.

We ran a gorgeous 8 mile out and back south along the waterfront. The waterfront trail in Chicago is just amazing. Sure, we have some nice parts of ours in Toronto, but it doesn’t even come close to the beauty that is the waterfront in Chicago. I’m already dreaming about running along it the next time I am there. If you are visiting Chicago, make sure you take a walk along the waterfront (north or south, it’s all gorgeous). The view from the Adler Planetarium is something else.

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If you had told me a few years ago that I would wake up at 7:00am while on a holiday for the purpose of running 8 miles, I would have not believed you. They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Now that I am three months into consistently running, I can’t imagine NOT running, even on vacation. It’s crazy how easily something can become a part of your life if you really make the time for it.

Now excuse me while I go get ready for a run….

Happy trails!

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Spring Tips for Eating Well

I know that it is now April (though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the blast of snow we received here in Toronto) but it was just March. For those who do not know, March is Nutrition Month, this is certainly a National Health Observance that I can get behind and the inspiration behind this post. Inspiring people to eat well is something I enjoy so much- especially once people realize HOW GOOD (and how easy) healthy food can be, dessert included!!!

Maybe it’s the (impending) arrival of spring, or the post-easter binge guilt getting to people but over the last few days I’ve had A LOT of friends telling me that enough is enough and they are really needing to get back on the healthy eating train (amen, I am right there with you).

But what is nutrition? What constitutes a healthy nutritious diet? There is SO MUCH information out there. Gluten-free? Sugar-free? Paleo? Vegan? Fat-free? Juicing? It’s hard to wrap your head around it all isnt it? And once you finally get on board with a certain diet, everything seems to change faster than you can say “saturated fat”.

However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s not. Following a nutritious diet is easier than you may think. The first step in this involves ignoring all forms of media you see surrounding healthy eating and health foods, present and past. Okay, so maybe that part is hard. Especially when you see beautiful models promoting a certain diet who tell you if you do what they do, you’ll look like them (they’re lying). Now, once you are able to block that out, throw out what your grandma has told you regarding nutrition (“eggs are high in cholesterol and therefore bad for you!”) and try and ignore your mother too (“whole-fat milk will make you fat!”). Okay, hard part over. Here comes the easy part.

Here’s the secret: Eat real food.

If you follow this rule, you will be healthy, you will feel great and you will be able to eat guilt-free.

What is real food? Real food is something that grows in the ground or is raised on the ground and has been minimally processed. Plants, animals, it’s all real food. Boxed diet chocolate granola bars? Not real food.

Here are the guidelines I follow when it comes to determining what counts as real food:

If you must eat a boxed or packaged meal or food product, read the ingredients. Are they chemicals? Something made in a lab? Do you know what those things are? Can you pronounce them? Are they all things that are grown in the ground? If you can answer “yes” to the last three questions, then go ahead, eat it. Same thing goes for eating out at restaurants.

Limit/eliminate refined sugar as much as possible. But wait, sugar comes from a plant doesn’t it? You’re right it does. But do you know how much work goes into processing that sugar cane to get the sugar? A lot. But what about organic cane sugar? It’s still processed sugar. But what about strawberries? Grapes? They are high in sugar sure, BUT (and this is a big but), they are good sugar, and they aren’t processed. Those grapes and those strawberries are exactly the way nature intended them to be. Eat up. If you need a sweetener for baking, reach for something like pure maple syrup or honey, as they are not as processed and are closer to their natural state compared to something like white sugar.

Do you see where I’m going here?

What about dairy? I thought dairy fat was bad. False! Dairy fat is good and can actually be an aid in weight loss. In fact, go for the full-fat kind. I’m serious. It will fill you up and keep you fuller longer, not to mention it’s full of protein and doesn’t go through as much processing as it’s low-fat versions. (Bonus points if you can get your hands on non-homogenized products that are pasteurized at the lowest temperatures).

What about meat and eggs? Meat is super complicated and as someone who follows a vegan-ish diet, it’s hard for me to tell you what meat to eat and what meat to not eat. Personal opinions and choices aside, meat isn’t bad for you as long as it’s not ALL you’re eating and you don’t eat it with every meal. It is a great source of protein, and rich in B vitamins and iron. Most people will get more than enough protein by eating a balanced plant-based (with or without dairy) diet, but meat can certainly help you get more. The key here: keep it as natural as possible (back to my main theme). Natural means you’re eating a cow that was raised in a natural environment, that ate a natural diet. You are what you eat, therefore, you are what you eat eats as well. If you eat a cow who ate lush green grass and NOT processed corn feed, you are going to get the health benefits of eating something that ate something healthy, as nature intended.

Don’t be afraid of fat. We need fat, it is crucial to brain functioning and as long as we are getting real, good fats, we won’t gain weight. Remember again that dairy fat is good, so is the fat that is found in things like nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Plants. Eat all the plants. All of them. In every form. In any way. Chopped, sautéed, steamed, raw, roasted, purred, heck even fried. Calories don’t count when it comes to veggies. DIG IN.

When it comes to my own eating I follow this one simple rule, as said by Michael Pollan: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants”

The “not too much” brings me to another important point. Eat until you are full. Eat when you are hungry. If you eat mostly real foods, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll eat too much.

One last thing to remember- eating well doesn’t always mean total deprivation of all the yummy things. Sure, if you want to be the absolute best you can be, by all means, go all in. I just don’t think that this type of lifestyle is realistic or sustainable for most of us. What is a birthday without a birthday cake? What is a trip to the cottage without some chips? It’s all about moderation. Moderation doesn’t mean you can eat these things in moderation once a day, but maybe once a week or once every other week. When you do indulge, please don’t feel guilty, the last thing anyone wants is to have a negative relationship with food. Food is amazing, it brings us together, it nourishes us and it gives us energy- not to mention, it brings us so much joy!

Keep it simple, remember these few things and you’ll be feeling great in no time at all!

 

Some suggested reading:

“In defence of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto” -Michael Pollan

“Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” – Michael Moss

“Eating Animals” – Jonathan Safran Foer (this is a good read if you are pondering the philosophy and the ethics behind eating meat, of course it encourages a vegetarian diet but it talks about how unnatural the meat industry is, worth a read even if you vow to not never up meat)

Goals and Accountability

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How many others out there have vowed to or set out to accomplish something or make a change and have not been able to stick to it? How many of you have uttered the words “I’ll start tomorrow” or “next week I will really start”? Come on, don’t be embarrassed, I know I’ve done it! In fact, I think I do it on a weekly basis.

As an undergraduate, I wrote my thesis on Goal-Setting Theory. Locke & Latham’s Goal-Setting Theory states that in order for someone to work hard towards achieving a goal it has to be specific and challenging (but not too challenging). People who set a specific and challenging goal are much more likely to achieve it than those who set a “do your best” goal.

I often think of this when I take a hard look at my own goal-setting habits and techniques. When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, I don’t think that goals should be all-or-nothing big goals. For example, I often set goals that are maybe a bit too challenging (to me), such as “I’m going to work out every day of the week for the next 6 months,”  “I’m going to run a marathon” or “I’m not going to have any sweets for an entire month”. Furthermore, these goals are seriously lacking in specificity. What constitutes a workout? What counts as a sweet? What steps are involved in running a marathon? When I set out to achieve these things, they are simply too challenging and when I am (inevitably) faced with failure, I often just say “well, I’ll try my best”. This is okay, and trying your best is certainly a step in the right direction. However, I would argue that it makes room for excuses and won’t actually lead to achieving a goal or making a lasting change.

With summer coming up, a lot of friends have been asking me for advice on how to reach a goal (running a certain race, fitting back into an old bikini, etc) and I certainly have some for myself as well. A lot of these friends are frustrated because these goals are something they have tried to reach before and haven’t been able to. If you too are trying to achieve something, here is my advice to you:

  • Make your goal specific. Instead of “I’m going to run a marathon” make it something like “I’m going to run a marathon in October, and to get there I am going to start training at the end of May and dedicate 4 days/week to running”. Instead of “I’m going to workout every day of the week for 6 months” make it something like “I am going to work out 7 times a week, where each workout will last 30 minutes”. Instead of “I’m not going to eat any sweets for a month” change it to “I’m not going to eat any sweets that are made from refined sugars or over 250 calories”.
  • Make your goal challenging, but not too challenging.  For me, this means taking a step back and being honest with myself. What is realistic? What do I already do but can improve upon? For instance, I currently run about 3 days a week. This has become a part of my routine and most weeks it is “easy” enough to fit in but sometimes it can still be a challenge. I realize however that training for a marathon involves a little more. Aiming to run an extra day/week is hard because it is more than I already do. But, it is not overly challenging. Instead of saying “I’m not going to eat any sweets for a month” (too challenging), limiting myself to only eating sweets made without refined ingredients will still be a challenge (I LOVE SWEETS) but is more attainable. I can say no to an indulgent sugary easter chocolate bar knowing that I can still eat one of my homemade nut butter cups, or enjoy a few pieces of high quality dark chocolate.

Thirdly, I am going to add an additional point that I find helps me reach a goal just as much as setting specific challenging goals.

  • Hold yourself accountable. Accountability goes a long way when it comes to reaching a goal. Have a friend join you as you reach for your goal. Having support and encouragement through it all makes it easier and you’ll be less likely to give up if someone is right there with you. If you can’t get a friend on board, join a group of like-minded people working towards similar goals and build a community (running with a club helps me immensely with my running goals). Sign up for a bootcamp, take a healthy cooking class, join an online community, there are a lot of groups out there that can help! Talk about it. People who are running marathons are known for this. It’s not about boasting, it’s about making it known so that it’s easier to stick to. If you talk about it, it becomes a part of your regular thought patterns and conversations, serving as a constant reminder to keep with it. Be that annoying person, tell everyone about your goal. Reward yourself. This can be a small reward for every step, or a big reward once you reach the goal. Try and keep these rewards healthy and not food based, especially if your goal is weight loss. For example, it is no secret that I love workout clothes. In the past I have been successful reaching a healthy lifestyle goal if I allow myself to purchase a new piece of active wear at the end of each successful month.

Don’t give up! Setting a goal can be daunting but it should also excite you. Be realistic with yourself but don’t forget that it should be hard! If it wasn’t, you would have already done it. Hang in there and keep pushing!

How to Deal- Late Night Snack Attacks

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I don’t know about you, but I have a serious love affair with snacking and always have. I find during the day I am very mindful about what I eat and what snacks I consume. However, once I’m at home, dinner finished, workout done and cuddled up on the couch, my snacking becomes completely mindless. This is a phenomenon that has been observed time and time again so I know that I am not alone in this. Yet, even as someone who is completely conscious of living a healthy lifestyle, that all seems to so quickly fly out the window the second I sit down in front of the TV at night (which I will admit, in the winter it has become a daily thing- I’m not perfect). It doesn’t even matter if I’m full from dinner still- all of the sudden I want to eat EVERYTHING (and usually everything that is bad for me). Today I thought I’d share with you what I do to help combat this:

  • If I’m not hungry and I keep feeling like I need to eat something, I’ll TURN OFF THE TV and go into my bedroom and read. Reading stimulates my mind enough for me to stop thinking about eating ALL THE SNACKS.
  • As soon as I find myself wanting to snack while I watch TV I stop and ask myself “am I really hungry? did I eat enough today?” If I am not really hungry, I’ll drink a big glass of water or make some tea and then reassess. If I realize that I didn’t eat enough, I’ll then consider having a snack. This helps me with make my sense of my snack cravings and makes me conscious of what is going on in my body and mind.
  • I think about how I will feel tomorrow. Sure, a giant bag of bulk candy or a bag of chips may sound great in the moment, but how will I feel after I eat it or the next morning? Chances are, not great. Knowing this and keeping it in mind is sometimes enough to prevent a snack attack.
  • I’ll brush my teeth. Once my teeth are all minty fresh I am less inclined to snack.

IF I must snack simply because my craving is taking over or I really am still hungry, here is how I deal, because let’s get real, I can’t watch “The Bachelor” without a snack…

The key here is to make CONSCIOUS and MINDFUL decisions of what goes in to my body, and yes, I do believe that night time snacking is not always a bad thing and can be a part of a healthy lifestyle:

  • As noted above, I will always try and drink a big glass of water or have a tea first and then see if I still want to snack.
  • I always make sure that I have healthy snacks on hand, so even if I eat a lot of said healthy snack, it won’t throw my body off that much. Preparation is key here. When planning out my meals and writing my weekly grocery list I always include healthy snacks.
  • Keep rich, “healthy” chocolate on hand, a.k.a. NOT Cadbury mini eggs. I can eat a million of those without stopping. However, when I have good, rich, dark and low-sugar chocolate around, I can eat one to three pieces of it and feel totally satisfied.
    • I recommend chocosol or something similar
    • A quick trick to make a healthy chocolate bar in a pinch- melt some coconut oil on the stove top and add cocoa powder and natural sweetener of choice (maple syrup or honey) to taste. Poor into the bottom of a muffin cup or small container and place it in the freezer. In a short period of time you’ll have a delicious creamy chocolate treat!
  • Bake healthy and satisfying “treats” ahead of time to have on hand when you want a snack! Anything packed with healthy fats and superfoods that mock a traditional treat is great:
  • If you’re more of a chips and salty/crunchy kind of snacker, reach for (or make) some of these healthier choices:
    • Popcorn! An air popper is a quick and easy way to make a healthy snack. Popcorn is packed with fibre and when you make it yourself you aren’t going to be eating a bunch of chemicals like the ones found in the microwave varieties. Top with whatever you like- butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, or my personal favourite- nutritional yeast
    • Kale chips as so easy to make (and way cheaper than buying store bought kale chips) and almost taste exactly like potato chips. Follow this recipe and use an oil spray bottle for flawless results
    • Olives are good for you and taste delicious too. Plus, they’re so salty it’s hard to eat too many
    • Pickles- same as above!

If you must indulge in the less-than-good kind of snack (hey, it happens) the key thing to remember is portion control. I know that if I buy a Costco size bag of mini eggs or a family size bag of chips, I will eat the whole thing (it’s not my fault!) so if I do give in to my less-than-ideal cravings, I make sure I only buy a small quantity so I literally can’t eat more than that small amount. Think a mini bag of mini eggs, a snack size bag of chips, a mini cupcake. BUT, always remember, the less you eat these things, the less you want them. Giving into these cravings is a sure fire way to make you crave even more (it’s science guys, I’m not making this up).

I hope this helps those late night snackers like me! Have a great night everyone and happy (healthy) snacking!

Financial Wellness

It’s been a bit quiet over here recently but I’m back! Before I jump into my post I just wanted to give a quick shout out to the Giving Tree Retreat in Collingwood Ontario for providing the most absolutely perfect accommodations for our much needed Valentines Day/Family Day long weekend getaway. If anyone is need of a break/romance/time to unwind, I cannot recommend this place enough! Seriously, check out this picture:

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That’s right, that’s an open-air tub looking out on a snowy meadow next to a wood stove. The best part about Giving tree’s Karma cabin? No wi-fi! I am a total phone addict and while I still did get cell service here, this really did force me to disconnect and reconnect with my husband. Go there now, do it!

Now, to focus on the main content for today: Financial Wellness. Said getaway was booked at a time when Happy hubs and I had much more of a disposable income. Unfortunately, due to my contract ending, this hasn’t been the case and has kind of been the reason I haven’t been posting much on here. I know, I know, having no job means I should have all the time in the world to post on my blog and feel inspired, but for a Type “A” like myself I find it to have had the exact opposite effect. Worrying about money is exhausting. It’s depressing. I realize I say this from a place of privilege as I am not going hungry and I have a roof over my head, but trying to function like my normal (happy fit and free!) self has been a real struggle when I’m not sure if I can make my student loan payments, or pay my cell phone bill and constantly have to say no to social outings that I can’t afford (I know, first world problems but stressful none the less- I’m not asking for pity here). Couple that with living in 2016, a time when every millennial makes you feel inferior by plastering all of the oh-so-amazing parts of their life on social media (guilty as charged) and I’ve ended up pretty down in the dumps. Social media is NOT conducive to feeling great when you are just trying to get by and all it does is trigger a 21st century “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome.

I’m not sure how many of you have been following the story of Talia Jane, the 25 year old ex-yelp employee who called out her CEO publicly for not paying bottom tier employees a livable wage. There are a lot of things wrong with what Talia did, but there are a lot of things I agree with as well, one being that it’s not acceptable that large corporations can get away with paying such small salaries to these people and two, that minimum wage is not liveable and needs to be regionally specific (this is a very big problem in Toronto as well). In a rebuttal, Stefanie claims that Talia needs to suck it up and make sacrifices, something I don’t really disagree with, but as pointed out in this rebuttal to the rebuttal, Stefanie is making a lot of assumptions- the big ones being that Talia can live at home while she gets through this and that her family is helping her out, when this may not be the case at all. I am lucky enough that when I was a new graduate I was able to live at home, rent-free, with free food which allowed to me to work for free and gain some experience that no doubt led me to being successful in my field. It seems that Stefanie had these same privileges. No where does Talia mention living at home, in fact, she mentions that she moved out to escape a living situation that made her want to die. Another thing that I liked about this rebuttal to the rebuttal was this statement:

“Bay Area companies are notorious for having figured out that offering their lowest level employees bells and whistles is a cost-effective smokescreen for what they actually pay human beings”

This is something that I have found to be all too true in Toronto as well, and something many people close to me have experienced first-hand. I don’t like how so many people are labeling Talia as “just another entitled millennial” even if some of what she has said does come across as entitled. What particularly irks me are the people saying “you said yourself that this job is something any 18 year old could do and that you don’t need a degree to do it, so why did you take it and then complain about it?” Clearly, these people have not experienced what it is like to be a recent grad facing our current job market. A lot of us millennials know that we have to work hard, and we know that we have to work our way up and get experience and may not make a ton of money, for some time BUT I ask these people, have you looked for a job in 2016 as someone with little to no experience? These are often the only types of jobs we can get, and they are still extremely hard and competitive to land. We take them because we don’t have a choice (been there, done that) and I was just lucky enough that when I was making very little money my mother welcomed me with warm arms and let me stay with her. There aren’t “entry level” jobs for University graduates. There are minimum wage jobs and unpaid internships (and not everyone has the luxury of being able to take an unpaid internship), and then there are careers for people with 5+ years experience. This is not how it used to be. Yes, our parents had to work hard and they had to accept low paying jobs, but generally, they were able to get by, and many were even able to purchase a house a few years later. My own mother told me her first salary was $25,000 in 1981. In current day dollars, that is $67,000. That $25,000 is not much less than what Happy hubs was offered at his first “real” job in 2015 (and I’m not complaining here, he needed his foot in the door and we were lucky to be in a place where we could make this work, just explaining for comparisons sake).

BUT, I don’t want to get all political here, because this wasn’t really the point of my post. That was all just a long-winded intro to what I really wanted to talk about. The main point that I took from all of this is that Talia said the thoughts of her financial state consumed her, and for months, her hands were constantly shaking due to the stress and constant state of worry she was under. When considering the dimensions of wellness, it is so important for all of these reasons discussed to really take a hard look at financial wellness. A few months ago, I was talking to an old colleague of mine about how we wanted to run a financial wellness seminar in our workplace.

I guess our discussion came about because we were discussing that even in our well-paid employee population, there seemed to be people who were struggling. This conversation then came to the realization that it is simply impossible to be well if you are struggling financially. This can be summed up with the familiar saying “wealth equals health”. In order to be healthy, you must be able to afford to access things such as medical care and healthy food. Beyond that though, even when people do have decent paying jobs and can access health care and decent food, it doesn’t mean that they are financially well. Many people are still crippled by the high cost of living, food, loans, expenses of children, etc. and these financial worries can be extremely stressful. We discussed that day how if (even working, decently paid) people are stressed financially, they simply are not going to be making wellness a priority in their lives. This is for many reasons, they could be spending all their money on childcare with nothing left over to buy healthy food, they could have a huge mortgage and don’t have any extra cash for a gym membership, or they simply could be too stressed over money to be motivated to get out and go for a long walk or run. We could give people all the tools they need to live a healthy lifestyle, but people wouldn’t act on it if they don’t have the resources to do so.

While all the dimensions of wellness are important to include in any workplace wellness programming, I’m thinking today that financial wellness is arguably at the foundation of it all. This is definitely something to consider when it comes to planning your workplace wellness programs. (Also, this is another reason to pay your bottom tier workers a liveable wage- giving them the resources to be healthy, productive and engaged employees). Financial health is not something that many of us are taught in school. Even running workshops on creating a proper budget and budgeting and saving techniques could go a long way in terms of helping your employees live a healthy life.

What sort of financial wellness programs do you run in your organization?