Wellness: working its way into our lives

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Photo by SyncHealth

This post is the first in a three-part series about changing perceptions around health and wellness in the U.S. The series will explore a variety of issues: How changing ideas about wellness are impacting the lifestyle choices of individuals (part 1), our environments and interactions (part 2), and the development and design of products (part 3). We hope you’ll return in early February for the rest of the series and share your thoughts and ideas along the way!

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When Jill Horning graduated from the University of Michigan and moved to West Michigan to work for izzy+, she adopted an approach to wellness that was culturally common—especially a decade or two ago.

“I drove to work, stayed at my desk all day, then drove home,” says Jill, now izzy+’s E-marketing specialist.

Jill has always been health-conscious, so she did have a membership at the YMCA and says she tried to fit in a workout whenever she could. But exercise definitely wasn’t a natural, daily activity.

It was in 2012, when Jill moved to Chicago to work at the izzy+ showroom, that her approach to wellness shifted.

“Once I moved to the city I started walking everywhere,” Jill says. “I should have just sold my car then and there!”

Jill now walks 25 minutes to and from work each day, in addition to her periodic runs and more structured workouts.

“When I started walking to work I honestly didn’t know if it would last, but after two weeks I noticed how great I felt and I didn’t want to think about taking the bus,” she says. “Now when I go work in the Michigan office for a week, I notice how lethargic I am. I really need that fresh air and exercise at the beginning and end of each day.”

This approach to wellness—weaving physical activity into the fabric of each day rather than taking it in sporadic bursts—is definitely a trend experts are observing. Today, physical fitness is thought of less as focus just for athletes and fitness fanatics, and more as something that’s for everyone.

Michelle Maloney (MS, MBA, CPT), an acquisitions editor at Human Kinetics, a publisher specializing in the physical activity field, says this trend comes partly out of a broadened awareness of health issues and the many lifestyle choices that have led to them.

“I think there is more awareness than ever of the need for people to improve their health and change their lifestyle,” Michelle says, pointing to news stories about obesity and related health risks, and also the rising costs of healthcare. She says 60 percent of the adult U.S. population is considered sedentary.

“It’s kind of snowballed, until it’s reached a point where obesity rates are so high, we have to pay attention.”

The shift away from complicated diets and exercise regimes toward what Michelle calls “behavior change” is key to success for most people, as research done at the Cooper Institute indicates.

“It’s a matter of getting back to basics with nutrition and activity,” Michelle says. “It’s hard to do, because these things have been engineered out of what we do every day.”

During the past 50 years, everything from the invention of office technology and the design of cubicles to the development of automobile-reliant suburbs has played a part in engineering physical activity out of our lives. But the tide is shifting as cities work to become more walkable and bikeable, and as workplaces move toward open, collaborative spaces that encourage movement throughout the day.

“Everywhere you look there’s more of a focus on well-rounded wellness and happiness, with more realistic expectations,” Michelle says.

Not only has Jill, a twenty-something, seen that trend play out in her life, but her mom, Amey Horning, recognizes a shift in her perspective, too.

“I used to be on and off about exercise,” says Amey. “What I’m learning now is that it’s all about balancing mind, body and spirit. My approach changed when my life changed due to divorce. I decided I needed to get back to me, to quiet my mind and focus on being well.”

Whether she’s getting outdoors for cross-training, meditating on her own at home, or going to yoga class at the Lakeshore Yoga Center in Grand Haven, Michigan, Amey says the combination leads to feeling less stressed and more healthy, in every way.

“My parents are 80 and 82, but they weren’t as active later in their life, so their bodies seem older than they are,” Amey says. “It puts a little fear in me, and inspires me to make the positive changes I can make in my own life. Our choices really matter.”

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What changes have you noticed in your own approach to wellness? If you need some inspiration, read more about recent research and tips to KEEP MOVING:

Low Intensity Activity Can Have Health Benefits looks at the health risks associated with men who spend five or more hours a day sitting, and why regular movement throughout the day is important in addition to exercise.

Sitting is the new smoking—even for runners explores similar research that points to how regular daily exercise—even up to 60 minutes a day—does not alone negate the adverse effects of sitting.

A guide to assessing and improving your posture—understand better ways of sitting and standing, and learn yoga poses that will help you strengthen and refine.

5 yoga poses to boost the immune system by increasing the circulation of blood cells, decreasing stress hormones, and stimulating the lymphatic system.

Below: Amey Horning manages to keep moving during a long Michigan winter, and Amey and Jill Horning, on the move together in Cambodia.

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Two companies learning & growing together, across the miles

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What does dog sledding have to do with seating ergonomics?

Or what does a manufacturing plant have in common with a herd of reindeer?

And why would two furniture companies based more than 4,000 miles apart decide that a partnership is a great idea?

For more than eight years, izzy+ has been making treks to visit the Norwegian side of its family and uncover answers to those questions and more, firsthand.

Most recently, in March, it was a group of 11 izzy+ sales representatives who traveled to Norway, where HAG has been based since it began designing and making workplace seating in 1943. izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor met HAG leaders in early 2004, when izzy+ was just three years old, and the two companies announced alliance at NeoCon that June.

“The corporate culture and beliefs at izzy+ and HAG are so much alike,” says seating product manager Nick Fernandez, who has visited HAG twice since starting at izzy+ in 2012. “When you’re at HAG you hear the same types of stories, and see the same passion for the same things. It’s also laid back like izzy+—they don’t take themselves too seriously on a day-to-day basis, but they take what they do really seriously, just like izzy+ does.”

While the commonalities of the two companies sparked the partnership, it’s their differences that inspire such a vibrant collaboration—and make these regular treks to Norway so important—according to Rune Akselberg, a native of Norway and Vice President of Sales and Market Development at izzy+.

“The culture in Norway is quite different than in the U.S., especially when it comes to caring for the environment and general health and wellbeing,” says Akselberg. “It’s a much stronger lesson when you can experience it for yourself—when you see the elk and the reindeer drinking from the stream right outside the HAG plant, you understand that everything is connected. The choices a company makes have a broad impact, well outside its doors.”

The Norway trips, which include time in Oslo, where HAG is headquartered, and Roros, the small mountain village where HAG’s main plant is located, are all about learning through active participation in the culture, not passive observation.

For instance, at the Oslo Opera House, izzy+ groups see another type of Scandinavian design, experiencing how form, function, and people come together. When they visit a dog sled camp, they learn basic dog sledding techniques, then harness the dogs on sleds and go on a thrilling ride into the mountains. After dog sledding, the group convenes around a big fire in a teepee, where they eat, drink, and share stories—perfect object lessons in HAG’s focus on movement and izzy+’s Better Together philosophy.

“Dog sledding is an experience like no other, and it perfectly demonstrates the HAG philosophy around balance, movement, and the environment,” says Akselberg.

Laura Connell, who is based at the Chicago izzy+ showroom, says immersing yourself in Norwegian culture really makes a difference. She uses the word “profound” to describe her experience in Norway this past March.

“Norway is the healthiest country I’ve ever been to. The culture is all about balance and movement, and how our bodies are supposed to function,” says Connell. “Everything we did on the trip tied into something we were learning about HAG. At HAG they have a very holistic approach to everything—the environment, corporate responsibility, ergonomics, design—it’s all there in every chair. It was great to see it all in action, both in how they work and how they live.”

Seeing HAG’s beliefs in action has really stuck with Fernandez, who says, “No decisions are made randomly or by accident at HAG. Every decision is held up against their brand standards. It doesn’t matter how cool something is or how easy it would be to sell. If it’s not up to all their standards, they won’t make it.”

More than anything, Akselberg loves seeing groups of izzy+ travelers return home with stories to tell and a deeper, more passionate understanding of HAG, their Norwegian family.

“I think this relationship with HAG has played a huge role in how we understand and talk about important issues like the environment, and health and wellbeing at izzy+,” Akselberg says. “Learning together, experiencing something new together, is a really powerful experience. izzy+ and HAG have so much in common, but also so much to learn from each other because of our different perspectives and cultures.”

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Pictured at the top of the post is the izzy+ group that traveled to Norway in March (photo by Stacy Marcus). Below are photos of the izzy+ group preparing to go dog sledding; people congregating and walking on the new Oslo Opera House (both photos also by Stacy Marcus); and a recent outcome of the izzy+-HAG collaboration: HAG Capisco Puls seating, pictured with Dewey 6-Top tables.

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