A recipe to get your veterinary team fit(ter) together


Long shifts. A stressful, emotional environment. These ingredients can create an unpalatable mix that leads to skimping on sleep, dodging exercise and reaching for junk food. Team health challenges just might be the spice to get your team on the track in the New Year.

Fact: More and more companies are recognizing the value in encouraging employee health. Healthier employees equal better stress management, fewer sick days, higher levels of energy and more happiness. In higher stress fields like ours, it's even more important to emphasize the need for enough sleep, exercise and healthy eating. 

To get your team on the right track, consider trying nutrition and exercise challenges that help assess and, better yet, improve overall health. Present these activities as contests to get more team members on board with a little healthy competition.

It's a piece of cake! The nutrition challenge

Award a point a day for each of these activities.

1. Set a goal to eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day. 

Examples of one serving of fruit:

> 1 small apple >1 large orange >1 banana > ½ cup raw cut fruit

Examples of one serving of vegetables:

> ½ cup of cooked squash >1 cup of raw leafy vegetables > 12 baby carrots 

2. Avoid junk food. Cut out the chips, candy bars and carb-loading and replace it with vegetable and fruit snacks. Try yummy combinations like cucumber or carrot chips and hummus, or grapes or cantaloupe and vanilla Greek yogurt instead. 

3. Eat a healthy breakfast each day. Your most important meal of the day is your first, so make it count. Instead of biting into cereal that mimics dessert, eat some yogurt and granola or an egg on a whole grain English muffin. 

4. Make a healthy cookbook with your team. Each time someone submits a recipe, they get a point. You can even do a crockpot-specific cookbook. Once it's compiled, throw a crockpot party with your coworkers and share and freeze multiple healthy meals. 

Wanna be fit as a fiddle? The exercise challenge

It's hard for all of us to find time in our busy lives to exercise, but squeezing in 30 minutes is possible for most anyone. For each 30 minutes a team member exercises, they get a point. You can add a second layer to the challenge: Team members who exercise at least five times a week get their points doubled. 

1. Enter a 5K walk or jog. Reward employee participation in these fitness events by assigning an amount of points per event, with the more grueling and intense events receiving more points. 

2. Schedule group walks for the beginning of the day, lunchtime or after work. Each time an employee participates, they get a point. 

3. Pedometer challenges can increase physical activity in the workplace. Each time employees hit their recommended 10,000 steps in a day, they get a point. And if they surpass the recommendation, they can add to their score in increments you designate. 

Jump for joy! The emotional wellbeing challenge

1. Find a new hobby or interest and dive in! Spend some time doing something completely fun and of your own choosing, and not related to work. For each event (a class, meet-up, project) or hobby team members pick up, they get a point in the challenge. 

2. Encourage your team to take time to meditate and re-energize each day. For every day, encourage 15 minutes of meditation. Each day this is accomplished, the team member gets a point. 

3. Take some time to help the community. You can assign one point per hour volunteered, or push team members by paying for a certain amount of hours volunteered. For example, employees can be paid for up to eight hours of volunteer work each year. 

4. Teach team members to more consistently express gratitude. Collect words of positivity in a jar and whoever writes the most wins the challenge. 

Get a clean bill of health: The health risk assessment challenge

1. Many apps track sleep nowadays. And wireless activity trackers like FitBit can track movements during sleep as well, so you can get an idea of how much time you spend in a deep sleep. If employees get at least seven hours in a night, assign one point. 

2. Have employees get a physical exam and have their body mass index, or BMI, assessed. This will help employees set weight loss goals and get a better idea of their physical health. Give employees five points for getting a physical exam with their doctor.

3. Have employees complete the RealAge.com assessment for another five points in the challenge. This assessment gives you an idea of your body's health age compared to your actual age. The results can be eye-opening!

4. Encourage employees to cut out unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking or consuming unnecessary extra calories. Each employee can choose an unhealthy vice and assign points for how many cigarettes or drinks or extra calories were consumed. In this case, the lowest number wins.

Starting a health program at your workplace can improve mental and physical health in the long-run and can also serve as a team building opportunity. The key is to keep it simple-one themed goal per contest, versus having team members try to tackle multiple aspects such as healthy eating, exercise and emotional wellbeing all at once. Avoid making reporting overly difficult for employees and keep the prizes modest to avoid cheating. 

Once you've come up with a theme and a point system, introduce it to your team and enjoy watching everyone feel and act better, and in turn, work better too. 

Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, VDT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a technician in Richmond, Virginia.

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