Wellness: Working its way into product design

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Have you recently spent $500 on a blender, or maybe $175 on running shoes or a wristband fitness tracker?

Even if you haven’t, there are plenty of people who have. Market data shows the demand for products that help maintain health and wellness is growing, and that growth, in turn, is driving the product design industry.

“People are more aware of their health than ever, and they’re spending money accordingly—especially young GenY adults,” says izzy+ Founder Chuck Saylor, noting the Vitamix blender as an example.

According to a Business Insider article (December 24, 2013), Vitamix “…has tripled its workforce in the last two years as its popularity among health-conscious consumers has surged, with sales growing 52% last year.” The growth, at least in part, can be traced to the rising number of fitness buffs and health-conscious eaters, who are clearly willing to buy a $300-$650 blender whose brand revolves around health.

“If consumers are investing money in their wellbeing, that means innovators and designers are paying more attention than ever, too,” Saylor says.

Some fitness design niches, like running shoes, have been big business for decades. Nike began producing its innovative, “swoosh”-clad shoes in the 1970s, and they’ve been innovating and pushing the boundaries of running shoe design since. Today, a variety of brands compete, with running shoes that combine functional design and technological advancements (costing $175 and more, and weighing under 7 oz).

A more recent segment of the fitness design industry revolves around technology, such as digital body monitors and fitness trackers like FitBit. (During this year’s izzy+ Valentine’s promotion we even gave away FitBit Flexes, to coordinate with our focus on wellness.) An article about the biggest fitness tech trends predicts continued growth: “The number of companies and amount of competition in the fitness and wellness tech space give me great hope that we’ll continue to see a lot of innovation and integration in this space.”

At izzy+, wellbeing via human-centered design has been a focus since Saylor started the company in 2001. But none of our products has been more health-focused than our most recent product releases, Wabi and Nikko seating. Barbara Hoogenboom, a physical therapist and professor at Grand Valley State University, worked closely with designers Saylor and Sava Cvek, who drew on extensive anatomical research to engineer a chair that promotes “bottom-up sitting.” The seat pan design is engineered to support proper pelvic alignment, tilting the pelvis slightly forward, keeping it balanced from side to side, and reducing pressure points on the “sit bones.”

“Our position on the design of the whole Wabi and Nikko seat system came purely from physical therapy,” says Saylor. “Design, technology, and science all converge in this chair.”

So much research went into the design of these chairs because how we sit clearly matters—not just in terms of reducing back pain, but also for increasing our ability to focus, innovate, and be creative. Adults in office-oriented vocations spend more time sitting each day than they spend doing anything else—we average 9.3 hours of sitting a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping (which leaves just 7 hours for anything else). Saylor says a healthy sitting posture, combined with regular movement throughout the day, is key to maintaining health and wellbeing at desk-based jobs.

In an Office Insight article about Active Design, Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins + Will suggests that every effort to engineer more movement into our days is worthwhile.

“Most of the best principles for design…encourage physical activity through small, incremental steps that help raise consciousness about a more healthy lifestyle in general, and a more active one at work or school, in particular.”

So here’s to your health and wellbeing—bottoms up!

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For more information on how sitting impacts health, check out this recent Washington Post article and infographic, and  to learn more about how Wabi and Nikko can improve your overall wellbeing, head to our website.

Photo at the top of the post by AForestFrolic

Photo below, the stool-height Nikko chair with the NeoCon Gold-winning Nemo Bar

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Wellness: Working its way into our environments

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This post is the second 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), the design of our environments (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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Michelle Maloney heads to work each day prepared to work her body as well as her mind.

That’s not such a surprising thing, considering where Michelle works—at Human Kinetics, the leading publisher of information about physical activity.

“Working at Human Kinetics has had a huge influence on how I think of my health,” says Michelle (MS, MBA, CPT), an acquisitions editor who joined the company a decade ago.

The Human Kinetics headquarters, in Champaign, IL, has a fitness center with locker rooms, a cafeteria that offers healthy meal options, and a Wellness Committee responsible for planning lunch-and-learn sessions, fitness demonstrations, and an annual health fair. When the weather warms up, employees can hit the tennis and basketball courts or the walking trail that circles them.

But even companies that aren’t inherently focused on wellness are becoming more and more likely to do whatever they can to encourage a healthy corporate culture, Michelle says.

“There is definitely more of a focus on the links between behaviors and health. Employers are really starting to drive these changes. They have to—it’s a matter of costs.”

Most employers are well aware of the ways wellness impacts their bottom line. Not only do the expected negative costs of employee sick days and health insurance exist, but there’s a growing awareness of the fact that hiring people who are well in a holistic way can also yield positive results in terms of efficiency and innovation. A body that’s functioning properly—with optimum respiratory, circulatory, and digestive function—leads to a mind that functions at its best, according Barbara Hoogenboom a physical therapist and professor at Grand Valley State University (EdD, PT, SCS, ATC).

While it’s great for workplaces to include fitness facilities (or even climbing walls!) when they’re able, even the general design of work environments can play an essential role in encouraging movement throughout the day, says izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor.

“The workplace is no longer about sticking people in a cube, adding some lumbar support, and telling them to not move until lunch,” says Saylor. “Regular movement throughout the day is essential to wellbeing, and the best workplaces are making changes to encourage more movement.”

For instance, creating appealing second and third spaces—meeting areas and nooks furnished for comfort and productivity—compels people to get up and leave their desks for a refreshing change of scene, rather than staying in one place all day.

This approach to design—thinking about how design can best encourage people to move— has become so pervasive that it even has a name: Active Design. (Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins+Will, perhaps the leading expert in the field, has written extensively about Active Design, such as in this post.)

Designing cities that are more bikeable and walkable, and that offer more appealing public destinations, is also a part of this broad cultural movement. Working, living, and playing in environments that encourage us to move achieves what experts are now saying is essential to wellness: regular movement throughout our days. In other words, even a daily trip to the gym won’t do the trick on its own, as a recent Here & Now public radio report explains:

SACHA PFEIFFER: It seems like the reality here is that you can’t think of a certain part of your day as being your exercise time and then everything else being everything else. It has to be woven in more throughout.

ALLISON AUBREY: That’s right. Sort of a mindset shift, if you will. I mean, if you want to think about the practical advice for building in the daily activity, you’d think about things like, you know, instead of sending an email to that colleague, walk down the hall and talk to them.

As a matter of fact, Allison Aubrey’s example brings to mind yet another benefit to getting up and moving around the workplace: better communication and more collaboration with colleagues.

So are you feeling inspired to get moving? Great! We’d love to hear how you engineer more movement into your day.

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Above: Climbing-wall-meets-coworking-space at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville (photo by aaditya bharadwaj)
Below: Bike-sharing programs in many cities encourage alternatives to the taxi or bus (photo by Jonny Brownbill)

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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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5 gifts of wellness to give yourself

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It’s that time of year—when the length of your to-do list meets the width of the holiday treat table in the break room, and the only gift you end up giving yourself falls somewhere under the category “stress” (which isn’t, of course, a gift at all).

Thinking about your health can  just add to the stress, but that’s because we tend to raise the bar too high, adopting an all-or-nothing mentality that’s tough to conquer. But take heart—giving yourself the gift of wellness doesn’t have to look like a six-mile daily run or cutting every last sweet treat out of your diet. There are many ways to insert small, good-for-you actions into your day, and there are many reasons it’s worth making it happen, from increasing productivity and creativity to decreasing aches and pains and irritability.

Consider these ideas a holiday gift from us, which will help you give a gift to yourself. Try several of them or just pick one or two that seem especially manageable.

1. Check your posture

No, your mother didn’t tell us to say this—our friend Barbara Hoogenboom did. Barbara, a physical therapy professor at Grand Valley State University who specializes in movement and posture, says our sitting and standing postures are key to our overall wellness. While sitting, aim for 90 degree angles at the hips, knees and elbows, and keep your shoulders at ease. Your head and torso should be in line with one another, and balanced over your center of gravity. Good posture doesn’t just make your mother proud, Barbara says it helps relieve back and neck tension and improves circulatory, respiratory, and digestive function (which can improve the workings of everything else—even your brain!). Read more about basic posture principles

2. Keep moving

You may have heard that sitting is the new smoking. You may have also heard that we make chairs, but we’ve always been big fans of movement—both moving while sitting and getting up to move about your workspace. While sitting, a correctly balanced seating posture (see above) allows for maximum healthy movement, according to Barbara Hoogenboom, EdD, PT, SCS, ATC. When it comes to getting up and moving around, research shows that getting away from your usual location (like your desk) is critical to effective thinking—it not only gets the blood flowing, but it  opens up neuropathways in the brain, allowing us to look at problems and projects from a fresh perspective. Read more about how “getting away” affects your brain.

3. Sleep well

Everyone knows that getting a good night’s sleep helps our immune system fight off viruses (and helps us fight off the grumpies). But research shows that adequate sleep can also boost creativity, by increasing levels of serotonin. To achieve the deep sleep required to reduce cortisol levels and boost serotonin, start winding down an hour before bed by putting away your electronic devices and reading a book or a magazine rather than Facebook or your email. A hot bath or shower also helps, as does limiting food and alcohol for two hours before bed. Sweet dreams!

4. Stretch yourself

You don’t have to go to the gym to do something good for your health. Simple stretches can be done right at your desk, boosting energy, releasing and lengthening tight muscles, and moving more oxygen through your system. Try a couple of these work-friendly stretches every hour or so. (And if you’re taking time off work for the holidays, these yoga poses can be practiced without leaving your bed!)

5. Laugh a little

Of all the gifts of wellness we’ve offered, laughter is probably our favorite at izzy+—especially during a holiday season focused on joyful times spent doing your favorite things with your favorite people. Not only does approaching life with a sense of humor bring many personal benefits, laughing with others creates and sustains interpersonal bonds (something we care a lot about at izzy+—being Better Together). Laughter also results in multiple health benefits, from decreasing stress and managing pain to energizing organs, boosting the immune system, and improving blood pressure and flow. Read more about the benefits of laughter—and be sure to practice laughter as much as possible this holiday season!

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