Beyond medical: How supplemental benefits help attract and retain talent

By Phil Bruen, Vice President, Group Life and Disability Products, MetLife

As the annual enrollment period takes place in workplaces around the United States, human resources teams and employees have benefits on their minds. During this time, it’s important for employers to educate their workforces on how the benefits they provide can help workers achieve their short- and long-term financial goals.

To do this, employees should use the information their company provides related to benefits and also seek guidance from those they trust most. Doing so, even more so than a major life event, can cause individuals to not just evaluate, but act on benefits that meet their needs.

Employers who are competing for the best talent find that providing benefits to support the financial well-being of their workforce is necessary. According to MetLife’s 16th Annual Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS), less than half of workers believe their employer understands their personal financial pressures.

The benefits offered to employees during their annual enrollment period go well beyond basic health insurance. Products such as dental and vision insurance, accident and critical illness coverage, and disability insurance provide additional financial support for costs beyond what medical insurance covers. Workers need to view all employee benefits as a critically important part of their health and financial wellbeing. Their benefits package is necessary to protect employees’ life goals, such as purchasing a home or sending children to college.

Why peace of mind matters

The recent MetLife study revealed that employees use their benefits to fulfill a need greater than a visit to the dentist or a more affordable way to get glasses. On the whole, today’s workforce relies on their benefits as a financial safety net—benefits give them peace of mind.

For example, 71 percent of employees say their benefits help them worry less about unexpected financial or health issues. Additionally, 65 percent say their non-medical benefits help limit their out of pocket medical expenses. Understanding these deeper advantages of benefits helps HR leaders serve employees better. It also pays off for companies as well as our research shows that benefits increase employee loyalty, engagement and even productivity.

But for many companies, the big question is how to offer more benefits without incurring outsized expenses. The answer rests in creating options for employees to customize their benefit offerings. The good news? Employees are ready to help, since 60 percent said they’d like their employer to offer a wider array of benefits that they can choose to purchase.

Getting beyond medical

When you think outside of the traditional health insurance box, some of the most important and sought after benefits fall into these three categories:

1. Disability insurance and income replacement. More than one in four adults who are currently 20-years-old can expect to be out of work for at least a year because of a disabling condition before they retire.[1] And yet less than half of Americans report they have enough savings to cover even three months of their living expenses.[2] Providing an option for short- and long-term disability insurance offers employees a simple way to keep unexpected events from turning into financial disasters.

2. Supplemental health benefits. Today’s employees want and need a solid health insurance plan. But for most individuals and families, that’s only a component of their overall healthcare. For example, 53 percent of employees consider dental insurance a “must-have,” and 37 percent say the same about vision care. Other key offerings that employers can consider include hospital indemnity, critical illness, and accident insurance, all of which supplement health plans, and provide employees with additional financial resources when they may need them most.

3. Retirement and financial wellness. Nearly three-quarters of employees report that saving for retirement is a priority—and nearly half say they’re already concerned about outliving their savings, according to the 2018 MetLife research. Traditional employer-sponsored retirement plans certainly provide the financial security and savings that employees want. But additional benefits such as lifetime income solutions, life insurance products and financial planning, and education services work to strengthen overall benefit plans and give workers additional ways to prepare for retirement.

In an increasingly competitive job market, employee benefits truly help elevate companies in the minds of their current employees—as well as the people businesses want to attract and retain. As HR executives find creative ways to build out their benefits, they also prepare their businesses and workforce for a better future.

[1] Disability Statistics, The Council for Disability Awareness, http://disabilitycanhappen.org/overview/ accessed September, 2018

[2] Chances of a Disability, Ibid, The Council for Disability Awareness, http://disabilitycanhappen.org/disability-statistic/ updated March 28, 2018

Looking for more information on supplemental benefits? Join Phil Bruen and Carol Harnett as they discuss consumer strategies this open enrollment season on the CDA’s BlogTalkRadio.




Why you should get the flu shot this year (Even if you usually don’t)

Aches. Fever. Fatigue. If you’ve been bit by a flu bug, you know it. And believe it or not, these uncomfortable symptoms that typically accompany the flu are those that are experienced by the “lucky” ones.

That’s because rather than just sending you to bed, severe flu can hospitalize or kill you. In fact, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst on record, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting 180 pediatric deaths, exceeding the previous record of 171 during the 2012-2013 season.

Although deaths for adults aren’t tallied, one measure of the severity of last season came from the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network (FluSurv-NET), which found that overall hospitalization rates for all ages were the highest ever recorded.

Flu shots protect

Make no mistake: Flu shots are your best protection against the influenza respiratory infection. In fact, the CDC found that approximately 80 percent of last year’s pediatric deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination.

During the 2016-2017 flu season, the CDC estimates that the flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.

Each year the vaccine is formulated to protect against the viruses that research shows will be most common during the upcoming season and is designed to protect against three flu viruses–an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus.

Although vaccines are recommended for nearly everyone over the age of six months, those who are most at risk are pregnant women, those over 65, those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to the flu and children.

Disadvantages of the flu shot

In rare cases, the flu shot is not recommended, so check with your doctor if you are allergic to eggs (flu vaccines contain a minute amount) or have had a bad reaction to a flu shot in the past. Virtually everyone else is a candidate.

The downsides are minimal: Contrary to popular belief, a flu shot cannot cause the flu as it is made up of flu viruses that have been killed or made unable to replicate in humans. At the most, you may experience muscle aches and fever for a day or two after the vaccine, which is likely a side effect of your body producing protective antibodies.

In addition, in some years the vaccine that is developed may not match the viruses that are most prevalent that season. But even if it is less effective, the shot still might offer some protection.

Finally, remember there is a two-week window before the vaccine takes effect so if you get sick before that, you were likely infected prior to receiving the shot.

Just say yes to a flu shot

If you’re thinking about getting a flu shot this year, even if you usually don’t, you are not alone. In fact, a survey from CVS finds that 22 percent of consumers who didn’t get a flu shot last year are more likely to be vaccinated this year based on the devastating 2017 flu season.

According to manufacturers, this year’s vaccine began shipping in August and will continue throughout October and November until all vaccine is distributed. And this year the nasal spray FluMist, an excellent alternative for those who cower from needles, will be back after a two-year hiatus, says the CDC.

For greatest protection, eligible adults should receive their shot by October, recommends the CDC. Many places, including local pharmacies and doctors’ offices, may offer the vaccine free of charge. Be sure to check with your human resources department to find out what coverage your company might offer.

Protecting yourself now is a gift that will keep on giving.

 




Yes, your family can get back on a regular sleep schedule before school starts

It’s almost that season—time for school buses and alarm clocks. And if you’re like most families, you’ve probably been letting your sleep schedule slide in favor of late evenings spent enjoying the extra hours of daylight with a bike ride or the glow of a backyard fire pit in the warm night air.

We don’t want to cut into any of your much-deserved summer fun, but that early morning alarm will come as a huge shock if you don’t start preparing for it as summer winds down. And it seems like every day we are learning more about the health benefits of sleep—from improving our memory and creativity to helping us maintain a healthy weight.

But getting back on a regular sleep schedule might be easier than you think with these tweaks to your routine.

Start gradually.

No, your kids are not just going to all of a sudden fall into bed at 7:30 p.m. if they’ve been used to hitting the hay at 10. Better to ease into it If the change is minimal, say an hour, or you have ample time before the first school day, try moving up the bedtime in 15-minute increments each night. But if you’re trying to make a drastic change and school starts in five days, you might want to speed that up to 30-minute increments.

Power down.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) finds that the blue light emitting from our devices can interfere with the release of melatonin, which helps us sleep. So skip the tablet and try a printed book for kids who like to decompress by reading in bed. And, it’s also smart to start a habit of leaving devices in a central “charging area” rather than in room so that kids (and adults!) aren’t lured into checking their snaps or messages when they’re supposed to be sleeping.

Light up right.

Turns out that your lightbulb can actually interfere with your sleep, too, finds the NSF. The worst kinds? Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs) and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs), which also give off that dreaded blue light. Of course, they are also among the most energy efficient, so you still may want to use them elsewhere in the house, but for best sleep quality, your choice should be—you’re never going to guess this—a red bulb (pink works too). So get out that holiday “mood lighting” you use and stick a red bulb in bedroom lamps or night lights.

Create a restful bedtime routine.

Having an evening routine can signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. In the summer, your kid might just be crashing because of a day spent swimming and running around, but they might not be totally zonked yet if you’re aiming for an earlier bedtime. The start of the school year is the ideal time to start new habits, so consider creating a routine that will carry you through the year. Depending on your patience it can be elaborate as your child chooses, or you can scale it back to a few simple yoga stretches, a book and a round of goodnight kisses.

Eat for sleep.

Big meals right before bed can be hard to digest so if your child needs a before-bedtime snack, choose something light, such as yogurt, fruit, applesauce or toast. Coincidentally, those foods also won’t require you making a mess in the kitchen to prepare them.

And of course limit caffeine after noon—and likely before noon, too.

Set a good example.

If you’re out roasting marshmallows (or just hanging out around the fire pit which might make your child think you’re making treats), it’s going to be hard for them to settle down. And, let’s be honest, it likely wouldn’t hurt you to get a little more sleep, too. So take this as your cue to curtail your evening activities…curl up in bed with a magazine or book and see how much better you feel in the morning yourself. After all, back-to-school can be stressful for parents too, so easing into the routine well-rested yourself can only help.

 




Employee retention: 6 low-cost perks your employees will love

Looking to compete with the firms that can offer on-site chefs and massages? The truth is that most companies can’t afford to offer the perks common among the buzziest names in high tech, and yet while you might already have the basic covered—from health and disability insurance to retirement savings—many employees today are looking for a little “sizzle” in their perk program. In fact, a recent study by recruiting site Glassdoor found that 63 percent of applicants focus on available benefits nearly as much as salary.

The good news is that not every shiny perk has to break the bank. Here are six low- or no-cost perks that your employees will totally love at a price tag that will make you happy, too.

  1. Offer flexible hours. (Cost: Free)

This is frequently the No. 1 perk that employees covet, and the good news is that it is totally free to implement. The key is to make sure that you have an environment that allows for flexible hours to work; i.e. you won’t be sacrificing customer service or inhibiting team meetings. Once you’re figured out if flexible work is appropriate for your team, set some parameters about what’s acceptable and fine tune as needed.

  1. Let your employees bring their pet to work. (Cost: Free to nominal for cleaning fees)

This “pet project” has gained prominence in Corporate America, moving past something that’s critical for those with certain disabilities to a benefit for the entire team. In fact, with more than 80 percent of dog owners claiming their pet provides companionship, love, company and affection, that can translate into more productive workplaces. One survey finds that 88 percent of employees and a corresponding 91 percent of HR directors agree that a pet-friendly workplace leads to improved morale.

Of course you’ll need to make sure no one in your office is allergic, and then set guidelines about only bringing healthy, trained, friendly pets into the office.

  1. Set up a volunteering program (Cost: Free to a small investment in program materials and marketing)

The opportunity to volunteer is important to employees: A Deloitte survey found that nearly 90 percent of employees think that companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better working environment. It can help more than the outside community, too; another study found that 64 percent of respondents agreed that volunteering together strengthens relationships among colleagues.

Talk to your team about a cause that interests them or settle on a few. Maybe you collect mittens during the next cold snap and help landscape a school when spring arrives. The choices are endless.

  1. Create a walking club or other health activity.

Wellness programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism—up to one additional productive day per month per employee, finds one study. But while professional onsite classes or underwriting a fancy gym membership might be out of your budget, any workplace can help facilitate group activities like a walking or hiking club. Check around; you might have someone on staff who would love to lead a lunchtime Cross Fit group or can teach yoga fundamentals.

  1. Brew up better coffee (Cost: Low-cost)

Employees boycotting your coffee in favor of pricey lattes down the street? These side trips add up—not just for your team’s wallet but in lost work time as they continually leave to get their caffeine fix outside your four walls. Rather than offering a watery subpar beverage, invest in a good system that will make café-quality coffee and then stock up on the add-ins your employees prefer, from oat milk to flavored creamer. If you really want to score bonus points, consider ordering in lunch or dinner for teams that are working late now and then. Sometimes the unexpectedness of a perk like that can make it seem even more noteworthy.

  1. Give them their birthday day off. (Cost: No cost – sort of; employees aren’t all that productive on their birthdays anyway!)

Birthdays just aren’t as much fun as when we were kids, when everyone made a big deal over our big day. While you probably do a small staff celebration (and if you don’t, you should!), giving employees their special day as a day off can build incredible goodwill. Naturally you’ll want to put some common-sense rules around it—for example your accounting team lead can’t have April 13 off. But in most cases you can let employees know to make a wise choice on a day that’s around their birthday and use it as they see fit, whether it’s binging on Netflix or riding the Ferris wheel and eating all the ice cream like back in the day.




Make fall foolproof — Save money by tackling winter house maintenance now

winter home maintenance

As we bask in the lazy days of August, there are subtle reminders that the change of seasons is around the corner – from the school supplies clogging the shelves of big box stores to that one tree whose leaves are reddening prematurely.

Before the first pumpkin spice latte hits the neighborhood coffee shop, take a weekend afternoon to knock out these cold weather household chores while it’s still nice out. You’ll save time – and money – when fall rolls around.

Clean your gutters

Yes, they will likely soon fill up with fall leaves, but now’s the time to remove any debris that may have built up over the past season. Clogged gutters can cause long-lasting, expensive issues around your property – water spilling over can damage your foundation, and heavy gutters can sag and break.

Inspect your roof

Even if you don’t want to climb up on your roof (and if you do, be very careful, as falls are a leading cause of disability), now is the time to do a visual check before the roof becomes hidden by leaves or snow. Use binoculars to get a closer look and note any missing, damage or slipped shingles that should be further investigated by a roofing professional before the rain and wind arrive.

Check your trees

Loose limbs can become hazardous in storms; they can knock out windows – or people passing underneath them, in the worst-case scenario. Cut back branches that are listing or that are too close to power lines or the roof.

Tidy up your landscaping

You might still be enjoying your summer flowers and by all means, continue to. But while you’re in your garden, pull weeds and rake up needles and leaves before the chore gets bigger in the fall.

Organize your garage

Late summer is the perfect time to try out those bikes and see if they are still the right size, or determine that no one is ever going to play ladder ball. It’s much easier to make a decision on what to get rid of when you know for a fact that no one has touched it all season. And there’s still time to hold a garage sale and make a little back-to-school cash.

Have your heating system checked

Need to service your furnace or heat pump? Now’s the time…before everyone else realizes they need to, too. Ditto your fireplace and chimney. You’re guaranteed to get faster – and probably cheaper – service from a repair person who’s not being pulled in a dozen different directions as other homeowners realize their heating element isn’t working up to par.

Get your back-to-school system in place

The night before school starts is not the time to remember that you never cleaned out last year’s backpack. Before the stress of September rolls around, take the time to fill out the paperwork that came in the mail earlier in the summer, sign up for music lessons, create a paper filing system – all those organizational chores that will make your fall less harried.

Coordinate your emergency supplies

What better time to establish your emergency kit than as you’re stowing your camping gear from summer getaways? Rather than relegating it to the attic or a hidden shelf, make an organized plan to have it ready should you need it if the power goes out or there is another weather emergency. Change the batteries in your flashlights and lanterns; wash and store the sleeping bags; replenish the waterproof matches and first aid supplies. While you’re at it, add a stash of non-perishable foods and an extra deck of cards – just in case.

Hang your holiday lights

Seriously…your future self will thank you – the one that’s not standing on a ladder as the wind gusts and the rain pelts. Of course you don’t have to turn them on – in fact, please don’t – but it’s nice to know they are ready and waiting for when the holiday spirit strikes.

And now that your house is ready for fall, enjoy that warm summer evening in your newly prepped yard. You deserve it!

 




Yes, you can make remote workers feel like part of the office – Here’s how

Remote work has exploded over the past decade: The “State of the Remote Job Marketplace” report from FlexJobs finds that roughly 43 percent of U.S. workers performed their roles away from the office at least occasionally in 2017, up from fewer than 10 percent in 2007.

The reasons employees prefer remote work are many, from avoiding a brutal commute to working more comfortably if you have a disability. And even though remote workers are typically highly effective, it can still take a toll on both parties in terms of collaboration.

That’s why companies that commit to making offsite workers feel engaged will reap the benefits in both production and retention. Here are four ways to accomplish it.

  1. Create your own version of “face time.”

Sure “FaceTime” can never really replace real face time, but managers should focus on creating ways employees can seek feedback, whether they are looking for instruction on a project or coaching.

Setting up a weekly or monthly phone or video call is one way to generate regular communication, but it’s wise to offer additional options, such as “office hours” a couple of times a week when managers make it clear they are available for questions. Managers may let their virtual team know that they’ll be available from, say, noon to 1 p.m. three days a week, alerting them that’s a good time to call, text or send a Slack message for immediate feedback.

  1. Make conference calls more inclusive.

If you’ve ever been the sole caller amid a conference room full of team members, you know how isolating that can feel. That’s why managers need to be careful to prevent the offsite worker from feeling like a side note.

First, make sure your tech is up to par so that the sound is clear, and there’s as little lag time as possible. Then set up ground rules where people in the conference room introduce themselves before speaking – unless it’s a small team where there’s no room for confusion. Be fanatical about curtailing side conversations that can happen when colleagues gather together so that the person on the phone doesn’t feel left out.

One genius way to avoid all the meeting miscommunication is to have everyone call in on their own separate line. Often the rhetoric is clearer when you’re not gathered around a squawky speakerphone, and the remote workers won’t feel as though they’re missing out by not being there at the table.

Finally, if you’re working in different time zones, try to find a mutually agreeable time, or at least rotate the calls so that the remote worker isn’t constantly forced to call in during the wee hours of the morning or dinner time.

  1. Build team camaraderie.

Yes, there are times that the team is all going to go to happy hour to celebrate a promotion or have a birthday lunch. But there are ways you can include your offsite employees, too, with a little creativity. For example, you could have the account win celebration in a conference room equipped with video chat. For extra points, surprise a remote employee by sending them their own birthday cake on their special day or have lunch delivered to their home so you can all “eat together.”

Make sure their role in team success is always acknowledged, whether through a company-wide email or newsletter or an announcement at a town hall that’s broadcast to them, too.

In addition, consider whether there are times that you could include them in person. For example, if they live reasonably close, consult their calendar first and schedule the celebratory lunch with ample lead time so they can plan to attend. If they are farther way, consider the value to be had by bringing them in a couple of times a year for team meetings or other events so they can enjoy the in-person dynamic that contributes to success.

  1. Keep the lines of communication open.

Above all, make it clear that remote employees can have your ear just as readily as the onsite team members can. While you don’t have to be constantly “on call,” it’s a good idea to respond to emails or texts as soon as is feasible so your employee doesn’t feel as though they are being ignored because they are not down the hall.

For many teams, a chat app like Slack can take the place of casual in-person conversations. Everyone will feel more cohesive if they are able to trade banter, along with project logistics, via an informal channel.




7 Ways To Save on Commuting Costs – One Will Work For You

The thought of having to pay just to go to work can be annoying, but most of us do. In fact one 2015 survey found that the average American spends $2,600 on their commute.

Certainly all those gas costs, parking fees and tolls can take their toll. If you’re looking to reduce your outlay, check out these seven ways to help reduce your commuting costs.

  1. Figure out the optimum time to commute.

Sometimes we can’t just waltz into work whenever we want, or we might have a daycare schedule to work around, but if you do have a modicum of flexibility, you might be surprised at the difference in your commute that even 30 minutes or so can make. And less time on the road translates into burning less fuel – not to mention patience.

Given the amount of flexibility your personal schedule allows, test the waters by going in at different times or use an app like Waze to scope out various commute times to see what’s best. You might see a significant difference by leaving your house earlier – and many downtown garages even offer you a better rate if you park before a certain time. Use the extra time to get work done in a quiet office or even just grab a relaxing breakfast and catch up on some reading. You also might find that evening commutes dissipate around 6:30 or so; you could use that time to hit your office’s fitness center or run some errands.

  1. Optimize your route.

And speaking of traffic apps, never leave home without one working for you. Even if you are convinced that a certain route is fastest, anything can happen to cause an unexpected traffic jam on a given day. Best to know what streets to avoid before you’re stuck in the crawl.

  1. Take public transportation.

Seems obvious, right? But you might not have realized that in many cities, public options have improved from just the slow city bus. Many areas have spent big bucks on light rail or other choices that can get you where you’re going even faster and more comfortably. And if you’re in one of the many urban areas that offer scooters for public rent, you can cover that “last mile” even quicker.

  1. Check into any benefits for commuting reimbursement.

Many times your onboarding process might have been so hectic that you didn’t take the time to fully understand all the benefits available to you. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2018 Employee Benefits study, about 13 percent of companies offer a transit subsidy and 12 percent offer a parking subsidy so make sure you’re not inadvertently forgoing it.

  1. Get the best price on gas.

With gas prices on the rise, you want to get the best value you can. Some stations seems to adjust depending on the day of the week, so watch your pump to see if there’s any pattern and fill up when it’s cheapest. Also consider using an app like GasBuddy that crowdsources gas prices so you can make sure you’re getting the best deal around you.




Tackling the summer slide: Promote employee productivity with a twist

The lazy days of late summer are great…unless it’s your employees who are feeling a little bit too much summer fever. Because even though it’s the time of year when we want to hit the pool, the beach or the park, the work still has to get done.

However, employees have become more emphatic about “work/life” balance, and offering appealing policies can help fuel retention, an issue on the minds of almost every HR professional these days. That’s why it’s important to do what you can to promote employee-friendly offerings, while not turning the place into a free-for-all.

Here are six ways that companies can help their employees feel like they’re getting a little taste of summer while still getting the work done.

  1. Take meetings outside.

Remember when you were in school, and your teacher let the class take their reading circle to the playground on a sunny day? Heaven! Outside is the only place employees want to be, enjoying a little breath of fresh air. And it might even help them work better: According to the L.L.Bean 2018 Work and the Outdoors Survey, 86 percent of indoor workers would like to spend more time outside during the workday, with nearly three-quarters saying it would improve their mood and lower their stress levels. So see if you can indulge the team by heading out for a meeting in a nearby park or even in a green corner of the parking lot.

  1. Relax the dress code.

There’s something about capris and sandals that make you feel like you’re on vacation even if you’re working. If it’s appropriate for your workplace, consider loosening your dress code, even if it’s only on Fridays.

Make sure to put sensible limitations on the rules, such as no tank tops or athletic wear, or other specifics that are important for your particular office. If needed, remind employees that the relaxed dress code only applies to them when they are not meeting with clients or any other role restrictions you deem necessary – and recommend they keep a back-up outfit in the office in case they need to slip into something more professional for an unexpected meeting.

  1. Offer flexibility when it makes sense.

This can be tricky because not every workplace or department can accommodate flex hours equally. After all, phones still have to be answered, and client needs still must be met. But if there is an opportunity for team members to come in earlier a couple days a week – and thus leave earlier– make that an option.

“Summer Fridays,” where the office closes at noon, have become more common and probably won’t surprise clients. Or, if the phone or floor absolutely must be manned, see if you can at least rotate among the departments so there is still coverage. Of course, you have to emphasize that flexible hours don’t mean the work doesn’t get done – it just means staff has some choice of whenit gets done.

  1. Plan something fun.

Of course everyone has a different definition of “fun,” so take your culture and employees’ personalities into account before you plan an outing or event. Here are some great ideas for activities that are liable to please everyone, no matter their age, interests or abilities.

  1. Surprise them with a treat.

Same as the teacher taking the class outside, nothing says summer and “playing hooky” like the ice cream truck. So some Wednesday afternoon when it’s business as usual, surprise the office with a box of popsicles or ice cream sandwiches – or iced lattes if that’s more your team’s vibe. An unexpected treat can go a surprisingly long way in engendering employee’s goodwill and loyalty.

  1. Ask your team what they want.

And finally, if you’re out of ideas for helping employees enjoy these last few weeks of summer, find out what would make them happy. They might appreciate leaving an hour early to head out on a bike ride with their kids or coming in an hour late so they can enjoy a morning kayak session or an extra-long lunch break to soak up some rays at the park.

The bonus is that by surveying your employees, you’ll have some great intel to use when planning summer 2019.




Summer-proofing Your Exercise Routine: Six Tips for Fun and Safety

The heat is on – and that can make exercise challenging. However, there’s no reason to put your exercise habit on hold just because of the heat. It is important, however, to take some precautions to keep it pleasurable – and safe. Check out our suggestions to feel the burn, but not get burned.

 

Realize that exercising in the heat can be dangerous.

First, never downplay the risks of exercising in the heat – potential side effects include heat exhaustion and heat stroke if you aren’t careful.

 

Stay hydrated.

This is the No. 1 way to stave off the dangers mentioned in the first point. Hydration is important for sweat, which we sometimes consider a bad thing, but it’s actually the body’s natural mechanism for cooling off. That’s why you should drink plenty of water before and during your workout and then drink up throughout the day. You also can up your water intake with foods like watermelon and cucumber that have a high water content – and are refreshing, to boot.

One way to determine if you are drinking enough when exercising in the summer is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. Experts recommenddrinking 150% of the water weight you lost during the workout over the next few hours to replenish.

 

Check the forecast.

Before you head out, check the temperature to make sure it’s not too hot, but also look into the air quality. Sometimes when it’s hot, the air quality can deteriorate, which can lead to headaches or lung and breathing problems. Your town might have its own updated site, or check out AirNow, a service of the Environmental Protection Agency.

And don’t forget your sunscreenif you’re exercising outdoors.

 

Time your workouts carefully.

If you’ve never been a morning person, there’s nothing like a hot summer day to turn you into one. Many exercisers find that mornings are ideal to exercise, for the cooler temps of course, but also the pleasant byproduct of a gorgeous sunrise. And of course, if you take care of exercise first thing in the morning, you won’t be tempted to slough it off as your day gets busy.

On the flip side, some people prefer an evening workout. Just make sure you are exercising with a buddy someplace well-lighted and safe, if your session keeps you out in the dark.

And whether you’re enjoying the cool mornings or evenings, make sure you are wearing reflective clothing for safety if you are anywhere near cars.

 

Take it to the water.

Summer is the ideal time to take the plunge into learning a new water sport. Whether you want to try your hand at stand-up paddle boardingfor a core workout, kayaking for an upper body session or water skiing for an all-over burner, a new sport can keep your workout fresh – and is liable to work muscles you didn’t even know you had.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a good old pool workout if you have access. Swimming laps is a relaxing, low-impact cardio workout, and you can up the burn by doing any exercises you would do on land in the water for extra resistance, from running to arm circles.

 

Take it inside.

If you belong to a gym, summer is the perfect time to take that bike ride to a stationary peddler or your run to a treadmill. You might even learn something about your effort and stride when you pay attention to the machine’s feedback. Working with a machine also allows you to control the intensity of your workout, so throw in some hills or intervals that you might not normally encounter.

It’s also a great time to try a new class. Check out your gym’s offerings and give Zumba or spin a whirl, if you’ve never tried it. Shaking up your routine is not only more interesting, but can yield a huge fitness boost.

If you don’t belong to a gym, try the same tactic with an exercise program or DVD. Try a new workout you find online or on your cable package, or download a fitness regime that you can do on your own. Many boot camp style workouts require nothing more than your own body weight, and maybe a mat and some light weights so you can bust out those moves anytime, anywhere.

 

No matter what strategies you want to try, the important thing to remember is that it’s important to maintain your fitness program even during the lazy days of summer. Your body will thank you for it, through increased physical and mental fitness.




Change-Makers: The Yellow Tulip Project

Photo of Julia Hansen, founder of The Yellow Tulip ProjectOn an early May evening this year in Portland, Maine, a radical art exhibition quietly opened on the edges of the city. It was called I Am More: Facing Stigma and featured life-size black and white photographs of 22 people from the wider community.

There were artists, doctors, real estate agents, high school students, mental health advocates, and poets ranging from 14 years old to 69. The images, created by the photographer Lissy Thomas, were accompanied by a short description of how each person identified themselves. “I am a doctor. I am a father. I suffer from depression.”

The exhibition was organized by The Yellow Tulip Project, a non-profit organization formed by a 16-year old high school student from Portland called Julia Hansen. The organizers had put out a call on Facebook, to see if people would be willing to step forward and publicly share their experiences of living with mental health issues or of being impacted by the suicide of a loved one.

Smashing the stigma

It was personal experience that compelled Hansen to set up this project. When she was a sophomore in Portland, she lost a best friend to suicide. Six months later, her other closest friend also took her own life. Emerging from the grief and shock of the deaths of her two best friends, Hansen then did something transformative.

She wanted to bring discussions of depression and mental illness out of the shadows of high school culture and into the light. So she set up The Yellow Tulip Project, and crafted “Tulip Teams” in schools throughout northern New England. These volunteers would become advocates for mental wellness within their own school walls and build “Hope Gardens”—where yellow tulip bulbs are planted in schoolyards and community spaces every fall.

Yellow was the favorite color of one of her best friends, and the tulip the favorite flower of another. “The tulips kind of represent my depression,” explains Hansen. “The bulbs are there and they’re in the cold and dark. But in the spring they’re forced to push up through the ground and bloom, to see the beauty again.”

A rising trend

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults (that’s 18.1 percent of the adult population of the U.S. or nearly one in five). Data from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that in 2016, an estimated 16.2 million adults (6.7 percent of the population) had at least one major depressive episode that year.

These statistics are mirrored in the workplace. Mental health issues are the fourth most common cause of both short-term and long-term private disability insurance claims—the key reasons why people take prolonged time off work.

This form of disability is one that many struggle to talk about. It’s something that actor and writer Will Wheaton—famed for his role in the iconic film Stand By Me—discussed in a speech at the Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) which he then recounted in a blog that has since gone viral.

Julia Hansen believes that one of the best ways to heal this epidemic is to build educated communities. She encourages people to come together in real life to create gardens and communal spaces where conversations about things like depression can naturally flow.

She says this is something we can all help to cultivate. The key is to normalize the conversation. “We want to build strong, supportive and educated communities that support people struggling with mental illness,” she explains. “One day we hope that we can all speak openly about mental illness in the same way that we speak about physical illness.”

Change-Makers is a series of blogs where The Council for Disability Awareness highlights people who are raising awareness and normalizing conversations about disability in their communities. Do you know of someone doing extraordinary work? Write to us at info@disabilitycouncil.org  

Pictured above, Julia Hansen. Image courtesy of Lissy Thomas.