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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Variety is the spice of life—and work

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Nemo Bar and Trellis interpretation by Chuck Saylor, in the lobby of the Merchandise Mart

We’ve all been there, whether we’re studying for an exam, creating a presentation, or brainstorming for a big project: Gradually our minds become stuck circling around a single thought, or they begin wandering off entirely, into unrelated territory.

Clearly it’s time for a getaway.

“So often, great ideas and profound beliefs and actions seem to be fueled and found when we take the time to reflect in an inspiring place,” says Chuck Saylor, founder and CEO of izzy+. “It’s why people go to off-site retreats in the woods, or by the sea. It’s why they take sabbaticals in the mountains to free up their thinking and recharge the batteries.”

Of course, some real travel to the Alps or the Caribbean would be nice (as we wrote about in Part I of this series), but Saylor is actually referring to less drastic methods of getting away—without leaving the building.

“Culturally, we are losing that ability to go offsite and reflect,” Saylor adds. “So we need to create inspiring spaces within the work environment that allow us to have that revelation, to relax our minds, to achieve those ‘aha’ moments.”

Research shows that just getting some geographic distance from your desk can yield refreshing results. They key is having a destination that makes you want to get up and move. This year’s izzy+ NeoCon showroom is designed around a variety of “inspired destinations.”

“A variety of inspired destinations in the workplace naturally encourages movement, and that contributes to a healthier, more social and more productive work environment,” explains Rick Glasser, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for izzy+.

The Nemo Trellis embodies the idea of inspired destinations—places that make you want to get up and head for a change of scene, whether to have a casual meeting or refresh your sense of focus.

Of the three Nemo Trellis installations in this year’s showroom, two (pictured below) are concept designs created by young designers who won the izzy+ design challenge that was introduced as part of the Valentine’s Day promotion. Lindsey Salazar of Archideas in Chicago created a Trellis that blurs the boundaries between outdoor and indoor environments, while Eda Muco of Dyer Brown & Associates in Boston used a translucent material to play with the idea of boundaries without walls.

Another, more whimsical Nemo Bar and Trellis concept (pictured at the top of this post) is installed in the Merchandise Mart lobby, where weary NeoCon guests can take a few moments to sit down and refresh. This interpretation of the Trellis has a wheatgrass roof and reclaimed barnwood panels, while a massive cross-section of polished maple serves as the Bar’s surface.

“When people encounter the izzy+ spaces, I hope they will smile, I hope they will be surprised, and I hope that it will provoke some inspiring thoughts within them,” says Saylor. “There is a time for work and a time for leisure and reflection, a time to be introverted and a time to be extroverted and collaborate. It’s all about a healthy balance, and izzy+ will always be on that journey to find the right balance and to create the products and designs that support and inspire people.”

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Above: izzy+ sales reps and the Nemo Trellis design contest winners, beneath the Trellis concept created by Eda Muco (from left to right Marty Smith and Eda Muco of Boston, and Melissa Huff and Lindsey Salazar of Chicago).
Below: The Nemo Trellis concept designed by Lindsey Salazar, creating a cozy cove for the newest version of the Lotus concept chair by Chuck Saylor.

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Distance makes the mind grow broader

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Photo by lindyi

It’s summer—the time of year most synonymous with travel. As soon as the weather begins warming up, we start feeling that itch to get away. Travel is something most of us crave so much that we set aside precious time and money for it, and we often enjoy the planning and anticipation almost as much as journey itself.

There are obvious, almost universal benefits of travel, like the freedom of leaving our inbox, yard work, and the daily grind behind. Other benefits are more personal, depending on whether we’re seeking relaxation or adventure, natural beauty or urban stimulation, a complete change of scene or a chance to revisit a family tradition.

But no matter what kind of getaway you prefer, scientists confirm what people have innately known for hundreds of years: The psychological benefits of setting out for a new destination are multiple and impactful. In fact, “getting away” is essential to effective thinking—it actually opens up neuropathways in the brain, because it puts distance between us and all the problems that feel “close” when we’re at work and home.

When we get geographic distance from our own problems + feel more relaxed due to being on vacation, we’re more likely to see new ways of dealing with problems at home,” writes Psychology Today reporter Alice Boyes in “5 Reasons Why Travel is Good For You: The Positive Psychology of Travel.”

Yep. The first benefit of travel, according to Boyes, is that “Geographic distance leads to improved problem solving” that’s “more creative and expansive.” Brandon Reame, Market Development Strategist at izzy+, has seen that happen first hand—not just as a result of his own travels, but also when he led a group of interior designers on an izzy+ trip to Nicaragua last fall.

“There’s something about a change of scene that gives you a different perspective,” says Reame. “It’s almost like at home you’ve been stuck attacking problems from the same angle, over and over again, and as soon as you get away you can see the whole situation differently. I loved watching how being in Nicaragua opened up the minds of the designers we took on our trip.”

Joy Eling, izzy+ Product and Brand Manager, agrees: Travel is inspiring—even when it’s just a family vacation to the beach.

“What I love most about travel is stepping outside the norm of daily life, and the flexibility and experiences that come with it,” says Eling. “That comes from creating my own schedule, which is usually no schedule at all, and being able to explore new places and experiences. It all helps me feel relaxed and inspired.”

In the “5 Reason Why Travel is Good for You” article, Boyes shares four other key benefits of travel: being more open to new experiences, which builds new skills to take home with us; developing a more expanded sense of self and what we’re capable of; being able to fully relax (a given benefit!); and returning home with more curiosity and a broader sense of meaning in life.

Reame adds another benefit: Travel impacts how we see others, which in turn impacts our ability to be Better Together.

“There are really great people everywhere in this world, from Abu Dhabi, to Cologne, to Birmingham. Traveling has allowed me meet and form great relationships in many corners of the country and world,” Reame says. “Getting out of the office is also the best way to really see what other people are dealing with. It’s hard to create a relevant brand without spending time out in the world.”

While all those benefits of travel sound wonderful, the reality is that we have to stay home and take care of business before we can afford the time and money travel requires. So does that mean our problem-solving, creativity, and relationships are destined to remain stuck when we’re stuck in the office?

Not necessarily. Especially if you’re in an environment that’s been designed with multiple “inspired destinations”—places that compel you to get away from your desk, interact with different people, and enjoy a change of scene. The impact won’t be as powerful as traveling with izzy+ to Nicaragua or Norway, but even these mini “getaways” can do you plenty of good (and you don’t have to worry about airport delays!). We’ll explore how in Part II of this blog series, as well as in our NeoCon 2013 showroom. (Now there’s an inspired destination—hope to see you there!)

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The group of designers that traveled to Nicaragua with izzy+ in November 2012.