UtiliFIT http://home.utilifit.com A Socially Connected Fitness Game Sun, 24 Jul 2016 14:31:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 8 Benefits of Exercising in the Morning http://home.utilifit.com/8-benefits-of-exercising-in-the-morning/ Tue, 08 Dec 2015 20:49:54 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=387 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

The old adage, the early bird catches the worm, holds true for most endeavors, particularly exercising for your health.

Whether you’re struggling to start an exercise regimen or you’ve got one but you’re starting to “fall off the wagon”, you may benefit from working out first thing in the morning.


Here are 8 unique benefits to exercising in the morning:

1. Start the Day with a Win
No matter what the day throws at you, you’ll have the sense of accomplishment for having already completed your workout. The day has barely started and you’ve already won.

2. Mental Clarity at Work
You’ll arrive at work with a level of mental clarity that you may have never experienced at that time of day. No more groggy morning meetings where you pick up every fourth word. You’ll be “in the zone!”

3. You’re Less Likely to Skip Your Workout
If you make your workout the first priority of the day, the odds of you skipping the workout are greatly diminished. Training in the evening will always be problematic because things can and do come up unexpectedly. Training consistency is paramount and if your schedule is constantly in flux, you’re going to have a hard time being consistent.

4. Minimal Distractions
You know why the early bird gets the worm? Because all of the other birds are still asleep! The peak hours for most gyms are between 5:00-7:00pm, right around the time most people get off work. Evening workouts tend to turn into a social hour too. If you workout in the morning, you can get in and out of the gym with minimal distractions/interruptions.

5. Improved Mood
You’ll start your day reveling in your new found self-discipline knowing that you’ve accomplished a daily goal before most people have woken up.

6. You’re not in a Rush
No more frantic morning commutes because you woke up late. You’ll find that when you workout in the morning you can generally move at a smoother pace. You may even arrive at work early and be better prepared for the day.

7. Good Sleep
By the time it’s 9:00 or 10:00pm, you’ll be ready to go to sleep and will most likely get a restful night’s sleep. If you workout later in the evening, your body (autonomic nervous system) tends to stay in a sympathetic-dominant state (think adrenalin) which makes it more difficult to wind down.

8. Good Habits Breed Better Habits
As mentioned above, when you get up early to workout you’ll most likely get a better night’s sleep AND you may even start to adopt healthier dietary habits. Healthy habits have a tendency to multiply once you get in a routine. Before you know it, you’re down a few belt sizes and your friends and family start asking you what you’ve been doing.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you to at least give the morning workout routine a shot. If I have, I encourage you to stick with it for a minimum of 6 weeks. If you don’t see dramatic changes in how you look and feel, let me know!

Holding the Cards http://home.utilifit.com/holding-the-cards/ Fri, 25 Sep 2015 20:23:24 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=377 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.”
-Jack London

The game of poker is a great metaphor for life. Luck vs. Skill is a lot like Nature vs. Nurture.

We’re all dealt a certain “hand” of genes, but the decisions we make throughout our lives can have a tremendous impact on the expression of those genes.

Poker makes a great analogy because there are elements that cannot be controlled and elements that can. If poker was all skill, the inexperienced player wouldn’t participate because they would lose every time. If poker was all luck, players would have a very difficult time becoming exceptional. The combination of the skill and luck makes for an interesting game.

We’re all dealt a certain “hand” of genes, but the decisions we make throughout our lives can have a tremendous impact on the expression of those genes.
In order to be an effective poker player, you should make decisions based on expected values or outcomes. Poker, much like life, is a game with variance, meaning that things will happen that go against the odds, BUT as long as you consistently make decisions that have a positive expected value, you will win in the long run.

Let’s bring this back into our body’s terms. Each of us are a dealt a metaphorical hand (genes) when we’re born. We have a genetic predisposition for a laundry list of attributes: eye color, hair color, allergies, personality traits, diseases and general aptitude, just to name a few. Most people will concede that the decisions we make in combination with our genetic make up have a tremendous impact on our path in life. If, for example, you knew that you were predisposed to diabetes and that your diet could be the deciding factor in whether or not you would become diabetic, you’d probably adjust your behavior accordingly.

The problem is that most of us are playing the game having no real knowledge of the actual “hand” we’re holding. I’ll argue that if you know don’t know the “cards,” it’s hard to play a truly winning hand.

Enter genetic testing…

It’s costs around $100 and can all be done via the mail. There are no probes necessary and you’ll get your results in about 4-6 weeks. It may end up being the best $100 investment you’ve ever made.

I recently received my results and I was amazed at the degree to which components of my personality could be traced back to genetic markers. I was also amazed to discovery that I am susceptible to certain conditions and drug allergies that I was not aware were common in my family. It’s incredible information to have!

I’m now able to take preventative measures to avoid potentially life threatening conditions because I’m aware of my genetic predispositions.

Whether it be through, diet, exercise, sleep/lifestyle habits or a combination of all of the above, you have the ability to control how you play the hand you’re dealt. I encourage everyone to learn more about their genes and develop a strategy to if necessary, “play a poor hand well.”

Take a Walk: How Nature Can Help You De-Stress http://home.utilifit.com/take-a-walk-how-nature-can-help-you-de-stress/ Mon, 10 Aug 2015 18:41:58 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=373 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

Sometimes it pays to just relax and enjoy the outdoors.

More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in urban environments. Although cities come with a number of amenities that aren’t available in rural areas, they also come with loads of additional stressors. In fact, most urbanites are bombarded on a daily basis with stressors that our ancestors were rarely, if ever, exposed to. Whether it be the daily slog to work in traffic or the constant ping of our mobile phone notifications, we’re routinely exposed to minor stressors that have the potential to compound in an already stressful environment. It should come as no surprise that there is a growing body of evidence indicating a link between urban environments and mental illness.

The Foundation

If we’re smart, we do our best to inoculate ourselves from these stressors by exercising, getting “good” sleep, eating nutritious meals (and playing UtiliFIT as often as possible, of course). But there are a number of other ways we can help our bodies relax in addition to proper sleep, exercise and nutrition.

Walk it Off

One such method to de-stress is completely free and is something our ancestors often did just to get around. It’s as simple as taking a walk and getting some fresh air. A recent study published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” shows that there is actually a scientific basis for advising someone to “take a walk” to alleviate their stress. The key is for the walk to take place in nature (i.e. a park, the woods, etc.), not in an urban environment.

The study’s author, Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, was aware of the association between mental illness and urban environments. He and his colleagues wondered what impact, if any, regular exposure to nature would have on the typical urban dwellers stress levels.

In conducting the study, Mr. Bratman was particularly interested in an area of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC). The sgPFC happens to be a portion of the brain that experiences increased levels of neural activity during bouts of depression and/or rumination (i.e. worrying).

Urban Walks vs. Nature Walks

Subjects were examined before and after 90 minute walks in both a natural setting (ex. a park) and an urban setting (ex. next to an interstate). When tested after their nature walks, subjects showed a decrease in both self-reported rumination and neural activity within the sgPFC. None of these effects were seen in subjects after their walks in urban environments.

Although we’re not yet able to pinpoint the exact mechanism behind the neural impacts of nature walks, there’s no doubt they can yield tremendous mental and physical benefits.

So get outside and take a walk!

Beat the Heat! http://home.utilifit.com/beat-the-heat/ Wed, 01 Jul 2015 19:15:35 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=364 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

Stay hydrated. It’s advice you hear often, particularly when the temperature is on the rise in the Summer. How much water do you need to drink to stay hydrated? What impact does dehydration (both mild and severe) have on your body? What’s an easy way to tell whether or not I’m properly hydrated? These are the questions I’ll attempt to answer in this article.

It’s helpful to know that every single cell in your body needs water in order to function properly. No matter who you are or how much you weigh, your body depends upon a fine balance of water and electrolytes to maintain functionality in your nervous system, cardiovascular system and muscular system. The fine balance can be impacted by as little as a 2% reduction in water mass within the body. When the loss of water mass exceeds 3-4% there are dramatic negative changes in your body’s ability to regulate temperature and maintain a regular heartbeat. Headache, inability to concentrate and fatigue are all indicators of mild dehydration. Symptoms become more severe as dehydration progresses: lower blood pressure, irregular or erratic heartbeat and increased core temperature.

Is there truly a one size fits all recommendation for hydration?

No, but I continue to recommend that most people strive to consume 8x 8oz glasses of water each day. Although people vary in height, weight, lean body mass and activity levels, I believe it’s a good general rule of thumb that would never be considered bad advice.

That being said, you can achieve hydration by means other than just water. Fruits, salads and other beverages all contain a significant amount of water. It’s just one more reason to add healthy nutrition choices like vegetables and fruits to your daily routine. Not only will they help keep you hydrated, but you’ve got the added benefit of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well.

Would someone ever need more than 8x 8oz glasses of water per day?

Yes! You probably lose more water than you think through sweating, so anyone who is exercising strenuously (hopefully you’re in this category!), or is outside during extreme heat will want to err on the side of “drink more.” It’s also possible to lose bodily fluids by other means, such as vomiting and diarrhea, so it’s important to consume water to make up for the water lost, especially when you’re under the weather.

What are some easy ways to monitor my hydration?

No matter who you are or how much you weigh, your body depends upon a fine balance of water and electrolytes to maintain functionality in your nervous system, cardiovascular system and muscular system.
“The Pee Test” is a tried and true rule of thumb. Take a look at the color of your urine. If you’re hydrated then your urine will either be clear or slightly yellow. If you’re dehydrated your urine will run the color wheel (by increasing levels of severity) from yellow to chardonnay colored to orange and finally to brown.

The only exception to this rule is if you’re consuming vitamins (alien ooze green, anyone!?!) If you are, you may be hydrated but your urine can be a vibrant color.

Any other easy indicators of dehydration?

Pinch the skin on the back of your hand and raise it up 0.5-1.0 centimeters. If it springs back into place in a couple of seconds, you’re good. If it takes longer, get some H2O!

What about water temperature? How cold should the water be?

Although an ice-cold beverage may seem to be more refreshing, it actually hinders your ability to stay hydrated. Before it can be absorbed, that water has to be heated up to body temperature, so for the quickest route to hydration, stick with room temperature to start with.

Hopefully, the tips and tricks mentioned above will help you beat the heat this summer and stay hydrated!

Avoid the Ouch!: Injury Prevention and Your Fitness Program http://home.utilifit.com/avoid-the-ouch-injury-prevention-and-your-fitness-program/ Tue, 02 Jun 2015 18:15:28 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=348 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

When selecting a fitness program, there are a number of things you need to consider:

  • Which program is best for your goals?
  • Is this program something you can stick to long term?
  • How do you avoid getting injured?

While each of these is a great topic worthy of its own discussion, in this article I’m going to arm you with the knowledge to best address the last topic: injury prevention.

If getting back in shape isn’t a test of will in its own right, staying the course after an injury certainly is.

Can we anticipate circumstances that may lead to injury? If so, what can we do to avoid situations that may be detrimental to our health and performance in the long term?

Let’s start by identifying what can lead to injury: too much physiological stress.

If your training regiment outpaces your adaptative gas tank… injury is soon to follow.
Although mental stress can contribute to your inability to recover from workouts, excessive physiological stress is the leading cause of injury. Physiological stress is the body’s response to a mechanical or metabolic stimulus. Think lifting heavy weights (mechanical) or hill sprints (metabolic). In either case, homeostasis is disrupted and your body reacts by attempting to accommodate the stimuli by building stronger muscles/bones or generating more mitochondria. In case you need a refresher on your biology, mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cells that produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency for every cell in your body.

Whether you participate in CrossFit, triathalons, obstacle courses, weightlifting or the occasional 5k, you need to be able to adjust your program to your body’s ability to recover. If your training regiment outpaces your adaptative gas tank… injury is soon to follow.

Your body’s ability to adapt to training can change on a weekly or even daily basis depending upon the following variables:

  • Mental Stress: Things like projects due at work, arguments with friends or loved ones, financial problems…
  • Sleep Quality: Do you get the recommended 6-8 hours?
  • Nutrition: Are you eating lean protein, fruits, vegetables and minimizing consumption of processed foods?
  • Training History: When is the last time you worked out on a consistent basis?
  • Genetics: Are members of your family prone to X condition?

Subtle changes in the following stress variables can alter your body’s perceived “dose” of stress:

  • Training Volume
  • Training Intensity
  • Training Frequency
  • Exercise Selection
It’s worth noting that each individual will have a unique response to a given training protocol.

During periods of intense stress, your body may initially respond by ramping up hormone production, but this is not sustainable over the long term.

After an extended period of intense stress, your body will attempt to mitigate the stress by reducing hormone production entirely. This is your body’s last-ditch effort to mute the stress response before “throwing in the towel.” Once the proverbial towel has been thrown, your hormones will be in flux, you’ll be very susceptible to injury and your immune system will be compromised.

So how do you avoid going down this path?

  1. Keep a training journal. In addition to the sets, reps and intensities of your regiment, note how you feel during each training session and the days following. It’s not uncommon to feel tired and sore from time to time, but that shouldn’t be an ongoing trend for more than a few days.
  2. Gradually ramp up your training. If you haven’t been training consistently or if you’re just beginning a training regiment, I’d advise ramping up your training frequency from 2x/week to 3-4x/week over a 4-6 week time period. As much as we’d all love to go full bore from no training to training 2x/day, 5 days/week, you’ve got to give your body an opportunity to gradually acclimate.
  3. Assess and adjust your training. Based upon your training journal and the anticipated impact of current life stress (work, family, finances, etc.), you should dial down (or dial up) your training to accommodate for these factors.
  4. Remember that it is great to have a training plan BUT it’s even better to have a plan that can adjust to what life throws your way. Factors that can and will alter your body’s ability to adapt to stress should be taken into consideration.

    If you follow the steps listed above, not only will you mitigate your risk of injury but you’ll also be more apt to reach your intended long-term fitness goals.

    ]]> Great Expectations and the Pygmalion Effect http://home.utilifit.com/great-expectations-and-the-pygmalion-effect/ Mon, 06 Apr 2015 15:37:05 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=339 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

    “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

    In its positive sense, the phenomenon whereby individuals rise to meet high expectations of them is known as the Pygmalion effect. A leader’s expectations of his or her people, and the peoples’ expectations of themselves are the key factors in determining performance.

    Whether in the workplace, the classroom or on the athletic field, we at FIX believe that setting high standards and striving to meet those standards provides the clearest path to success for everyone.

    Setting expectations… using zombies.

    For those unfamiliar with our 6-week A Step Ahead: Zombies challenges, we set teams of “survivors” in a post-apocalyptic world and they have to walk in real life in order for their in-game avatars to reach a new safehouse each week… oh, and this all happens while being chased by a zombie horde. Those who outpace the Horde eventually make it to safety, while those who don’t, get caught, which results in one of two outcomes: teams/individuals either step up their pace, diet and exercise to fight the Horde off and escape, or they’re overwhelmed and become zombies themselves.

    Whether participants are humans or zombies, our game challenges participants with a certain goal to exceed. For human players, it’s to stay ahead of the zombie horde. For zombie players, it’s to catch the humans and turn them into zombies too. It’s in this mechanic that groups create their own Pygmalion effect.

    Because most groups have a subset of their population who turn into zombies, there’s a push and pull between the players behind both sets of avatars. Humans want to escape. Zombies want to catch. These conflicting player motivations lead to some interesting insights for us, as the game runners.

    For the first groups we play-tested, we kept the zombie horde slow and made escape easy. We posited that if individuals started turning into zombies too early in the game, it might seem daunting or frustrating. The result was that early groups would have sky-high survival rates and would have a blast, but not the “kick in the butt” level of activity gains we were aiming for.

    Humans want to escape. Zombies want to catch. These conflicting player motivations lead to some interesting insights for us, as the game runners.
    For subsequent test groups, we ramped up the intensity. Zombies started out with more daily steps and their pace quickened over the challenge more rapidly. Escape was no longer easy, and now required a concerted effort. Alongside the ramp up in difficulty, we added the ability for zombie players to fight off the zombie virus and re-join their (former) human team by way of consistent healthy diet over the course of an entire week.

    Unsurprisingly, the ramped up difficulty caused more participants to turn into zombies sooner, and the results were fantastic.

    Many players who turned to zombies started walking more in order to catch their co-workers and turn them into zombies. Other zombie players wanted to become human again, and stepped up their pace and diet habits in order to make the transformation. The increase in the zombies’ pace caused human teams to react and take more steps themselves, and a great push/pull effect took shape.

    What we ultimately found is that the higher the expectation we placed on the group, the higher the expectation the group placed on themselves, and the higher the overall increase in healthy behavior from beginning to end. Although this led to more players being turned into zombies, we found that setting expectations higher provided bigger gains. It’s the Pygmalion Effect in full swing, but what does this mean, in practical terms, for your company and your employees?

    More than providing a feel good moment, an effective Corporate Wellness Program needs to accurately assess where a company currently resides in terms of healthy behaviors, and bridge the gap between where they are and where they need to be.

    What we ultimately found is that the higher the expectation we placed on the group, the higher the expectation the group placed on themselves, and the higher the overall increase in healthy behavior from beginning to end.
    We live in a unique time in that we’re paying our workforce to be more inactive than ever, but the consequences for a lifetime of inactivity don’t come home to roost until we’re middle aged, or older. By that time, it’s too late. The diseases associated with an inactive lifestyle are chronic and life altering, if not life ending.

    By now, employers generally have their heads wrapped around this, but traditional wellness options (biometric screenings, gym memberships etc.) don’t address the elephant in the room: behavior. If you don’t aim to produce long-term, sustainable behavior change, your population is going to continue their current behaviors, and the only thing that biometric screenings will accomplish is to confirm how unhealthy those habits are, year in, and year out.

    Ultimately, there are no magic bullets or 7-minute solutions to this issue. Healthy behavior change in large populations is a long-term play that must begin with high expectations.

    So where does your company fall? What expectations do you place on your employees when it comes to healthy behavior? Does your company have what it takes to meet that standard? Do you?

    There’s only one way to find out…

    Survive & Advance http://home.utilifit.com/survive-advance/ Wed, 04 Mar 2015 21:08:05 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=329 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

    “Survival of the fittest…”

    It’s a phrase often attributed to Charles Darwin, but it was actually coined by Herbert Spencer after he read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It’s the answer to the question, “Which genes are preferentially passed along to future generations?” The answer, in other words, is those that are the most advantageous (read fittest) for a given environment.

    It’s a succinct way of summing up natural selection. It also happens to be a major factor in gauging whether or not you’ll be here in 10 years.

    Can we determine whether or not we have the genes to live a long healthy life? And if we don’t happen to be genetically gifted, do we have influence over the expression of those genes and our health?

    The answer to both questions is “Yes!”

    A recent study released by Johns Hopkins Medicine used performance in a treadmill test to predict a participant’s 10-year risk of dying. The study analyzed the data from 58,000 heart stress tests, and from that, cardiologists developed a formula that estimates one’s risk of dying over the course of a decade, based on one’s ability to exercise on a treadmill at an increased speed and incline.

    The study found that fitness level was the single most powerful predictor of death and survival, even after researchers accounted for other variables such as diabetes and family history.

    Let that sink in a little bit: Your fitness level is the single most powerful predictor of whether or not you live or die.

    We’ve known (for quite a while) that being in good shape is indicative of a lower risk of death, but this study, in particular, highlights the importance of cardiac and respiratory fitness.

    The study found that fitness level was the single most powerful predictor of death and survival, even after researchers accounted for other variables such as diabetes and family history.
    So how do you improve cardiac and respiratory fitness?

    You’ve got to MOVE on a regular basis! How much and how often, you ask?

    There are two categories of activity to talk about here. The first that I’ll go over is what most people think of as “exercise.” Needs will vary depending upon the individual, but at a minimum you want to get to the point where you’re providing your cardiovascular respiratory system with a dose of stress 5 out of 7 days a week. What does that mean? Think increased heart rate and sweating in 30 minute bouts!

    The Department of Health and Human Services calls for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week for adults, but that’s not the whole story on how to ensure your own “survival of the fittest.”

    I’m getting my heart rate up for 30 minutes, 5 days per week, now what?

    It’s long been held that diet, exercise, and recovery are the 3 pillars of a healthy lifestyle, but all the latest research points to a 4th pillar… daily activity. Sustained exercise is critical, but being sedentary the rest of the day is associated with its own set of risks, meaning that just because you work out for 30 minutes doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

    Numerous studies have shown that even if you work out every day, if you’re sedentary for the rest of the day you’re still at an increased risk for developing a host of chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, all cause mortality and lots of other scary stuff that you want no part of.

    The good news is that it doesn’t take much activity to ward off the negative effects of sedentary behavior. Just a minute or two of light activity each hour (like getting up and walking) is enough to keep your body from entering its “sedentary” mode.

    Ok, so I need to exercise and I need to get off my butt for a few minutes per hour. How do I get started?

    Increased levels of activity will yield more health benefits (to a point) but it’s really about starting wherever you are and gradually acclimating to a greater dosage of physical activity. Start off with whatever you’re capable of and build from there. The key is consistency. One-time bouts of activity are great, but they aren’t going to have a large influence on whether or not you’re still around in 2025.

    Consistent behavior will trump one-time bouts every time.

    Find something you can do on a weekly basis (that you enjoy!) that gets your heart rate up and makes you sweat. It can be jogging with your dog, swimming, interval training with free weights or going for a bike ride, just to name a few examples.

    The key is doing something that can become habitual. You don’t think about brushing your teeth each morning, you just do it. That’s how it should be with your daily exercise too!

    Now get moving!

    Games, Health and Habits http://home.utilifit.com/games-health-and-habits/ Thu, 05 Feb 2015 21:56:51 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=318 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

    The words “Game” and “Work” evoke very different connotations for most people. Games are most often associated with structured play for their own enjoyment, while work may be viewed as drudgery that’s associated with completing a task, but doesn’t necessarily entail achieving a particular result.

    Depending upon your point of view, exercise and achieving a healthy lifestyle may fall into the “Work” or “Game/Play” category.

    I’d argue that if you generally view exercise and healthy habits as “work,” then the likelihood of you achieving either is greatly diminished. On the other hand, if you could somehow make forming healthy habits into a game that you enjoyed, you’d have a clear-cut path to reaching your goal.

    Question: How do you make acquiring healthy habits enjoyable?

    Answer: You play a game that rewards the habits and behaviors you’re trying to acquire using feedback loops to reinforce and drive behavior.

    There’s a common saying that, “Habits are formed at the intersection of repetition and reinforcement.”
    To delve into more detail as to why this works, let’s take a quick look at our latest game, A Step Ahead: Zombies, which is a step-based corporate walking challenge that makes use of UtiliFIT Desk Activity Games.

    In A Step Ahead: Zombies companies are divided into teams, and each team has to work together to outpace the Zombie Horde and make it from safehouse to safehouse.

    Where do the feedback loops come into play?

    In A Step Ahead: Zombies, it looks something like this:

    1. Action: A player performs his or her healthy habits (i.e. Exercise, Steps, Healthy Diet/Lifestyle Choices).
    2. Feedback: The game engine uses these real-world activities to drive various game actions/events: players receive points, they see their movement across the game board, they unlock progress in the ongoing story, and the Zombie Horde is either pushed back or it overtakes players’ team.
    3. Response: Without being conscious of it, players’ brains respond to all this sensory feedback, triggering a release of dopamine… which is pretty much the body’s way of saying, “Yay!” and thusly makes us feel awesome.
    4. Loop: Because dopamine makes us feel awesome, the brain automatically and subconsciously seeks to repeat the behaviors that caused the dopamine release.

    So how does this create a healthy habit?

    There’s a common saying that, “Habits are formed at the intersection of repetition and reinforcement.” The more we perform a particular activity that is reinforced through reward, the more difficult it becomes to “break” the habit.

    We glide along what is known as “The Four Stages of Learning.” I’ll describe each of the four stages, adding how they manifest within our games, for context.

    1. Unconscious Incompetence: People in this stage may not immediately recognize the deficit in their behavior. I call this the “I work out, I eat healthy” crowd. The length of time someone spends in this stage depends upon how willing they are to learn/improve.
    2. Conscious Incompetence: People in this stage recognize the behavioral deficit as well as the value of acquiring new healthy behaviors, though they may not understand or know how to acquire these new behaviors.
    3. Conscious Competence: People in this stage understand how to acquire the healthy behaviors and the impact the behaviors have on their lives, but need some sort of stimulus to take action. I call this the “I’ll do it if you remind me” group.
    4. Unconscious Competence: People in this stage have so much practice performing healthy behaviors that it becomes habitual and can be performed without making a conscious effort. I call this the “Lords of Discipline” group. They’ve mastered the game.

    Stages 1 through 3 need an outside force incentivizing and reinforcing their healthy behaviors to push them toward a self-sufficient, healthy lifestyle. Once you’ve reached Stage 4, the odds are very good that you’re “winning the game…” both in our games and in life.

    What does it all mean?

    In the broadest sense, we’re using the body’s psychophysiological responses to drive behaviors. What this means is that, using game design and feedback loops, we’re able to reinforce “the good” in a way that simply feels like fun to the player. Using these principles, we’re able to help people start small and grow from there.

    Although the challenge only requires players to record how many steps they accumulate on any given day, they also find that other healthy behaviors, like being active throughout the day instead of being sedentary, eating the proper amount of vegetables, hydrating with water, or getting the proper amount of sleep, as just a few examples, also contribute to their success.

    How effective is all of this?

    Well, even though the only thing required to play A Step Ahead: Zombies is to walk, over 90% of players opt to play UtiliFIT Desk Activity games and track healthy activities, even though neither are required for participation. By my standards, that’s pretty darn effective.

    If you’d like to learn more about A Step Ahead: Zombies, head on over to astepaheadchallenge.com.

    ‘Tis the Season… http://home.utilifit.com/tis-the-season/ Thu, 04 Dec 2014 18:36:07 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=310 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

    ‘Tis the season for holiday cheer AND adding a few more pounds. The stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day sees more weight gain than any other equivalent time period throughout the year.

    On average we each gain 1-2 pounds during the holiday season. What’s a couple of pounds you might ask? Well, over the course of a decade it could lead to serious health implications.

    So how do you combat the Holiday Season weight creep every year?

    Here are 10 ways to boost your metabolism and win the battle over the bulge:

    On average we each gain 1-2 pounds during the holiday season.
    1. Drink water, and lots of it! Not only will water ease digestion and assist in boosting your metabolism but it can serve as a natural appetite suppressant. The body often has a difficult time distinguishing between hunger and thirst. Make sure you don’t just need fluid before you reach for a snack.
    2. Join the Clean SMALL Plate Club! Research shows that 92% of people tend to eat everything they put on their plate…even if it’s a massive plate. To assist in portion control, opt for using smaller plates. Knowing that you’re going to eat everything you serve yourself, using small plates can help you keep to reasonable portions.
    3. Lift Weights! When people think of fighting pounds they often think of slogging hours on end of cardio. But adding lean muscle mass through the classic lifts (i.e. deadlift, back squat, bench press and pull ups) will elevate your basal metabolic rate and have you burning calories long after the effects of that treadmill session wear off.
    4. Go Green! Make an effort to include more vegetables and fruits on your plate during the holidays rather than highly processed carbohydrates such as breads and pastas. Not only are they a great source of much needed micronutrients but they are not nearly as calorically dense as other carbohydrate options.
    5. Have a Cheat Meal, Not a Cheat Week! It’s important to give yourself a mental break if you find it difficult to adhere to healthy diet choices. Keep in mind a cheat meal can be up to 800-1000 calories, but it shouldn’t be an all out glut fest. Adding a cheat meal once a week can actually cause your body to produce more leptin, which is an important hormone responsible for maintaining our energy balance.
    6. Pace when you’re on the phone! Mobile phones and blue tooth headsets allow you to move freely while on the phone. Make sure you take advantage of every opportunity to move throughout the day. Not only will it double your caloric expenditure when compared to sitting but it can add up to thousands of calories over the course of a year.
    7. Masticate. Not only will thoroughly chewing your food make digestion easier but it can also keep you from overeating. It can take up to 20 minutes for a hormone called cholecystokinin (CCK) to tell your brain you’re satiated. When you inhale your food, CCK doesn’t have an opportunity to kick in in time to prevent you from overeating.
    8. Salad with Protein for Lunch. Eating salad for lunch (assuming you shy away from high calorie dressing/cheese toppings) is a great way to get adequate dietary fiber and have a filling meal without the excess calories.
    9. Play UtiliFIT! Whether it’s one of the UtiliFIT sedentary disruption games or a 6 Week – A Step Ahead Challenge, making an effort to increase your “incidental” activity throughout the day can give your metabolism just enough boost to substantially increase caloric expenditure over the holiday season.
    10. Get your Holiday Kicks away from the Table! Many of us tend to focus on the meals during the holidays rather than other enjoyable activities. Plan activity time with friends and family to burn some extra calories rather than having everything revolve around the next big meal.

    Try to incorporate at least a few (if not all) of these tips to stave off the Holiday weight gain and help you kick off 2015 right!

    Happy Holidays!

    Sleep is a Weapon! http://home.utilifit.com/sleep-is-a-weapon/ Fri, 07 Nov 2014 09:09:51 +0000 http://home.utilifit.com/?p=299 By Ben Smith, Lead Health Coach at Fitness Interactive Experience

    “Rest is a weapon,” said Jason, repeating a phrase he had come to believe was a vital truth, vital for survival.
    -The Bourne Ultimatum

    If America’s favorite fictional CIA assassin believed that is the case, chances are you should too. In fact, recent research indicates that getting adequate sleep is just as important (if not more so) than a proper diet in maintaining health.

    If you look at the sleep habits of elite special operators as well as the general public, the vast majority of them are chronically sleep deprived. It’s something we, as a culture, respect and may even celebrate.

    Those who regularly sleep less than 6 hours a night are deemed “Go Getters” and wear their lack of sleep as if it were a badge of honor, while those who get more than 8 hours a night may be considered lazy or lacking motivation.

    Sleeping less is not heroic. It’s a problem.

    To put it bluntly, lack of sleep can make you sick, fat and stupid.
    Sleep is now recognized as an important health issue, with insufficient sleep being linked to motor vehicle crashes, medical errors, as well as industrial disasters. Too little sleep is also linked to a host of health issues including weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and depression. Research has even shown that some behavioral issues in children are linked to too little sleep.

    On average, most Americans sleep 6.5 hours a night, which is 20% less than Americans just 30 years ago.

    Current research indicates that sleep deprivation produces impairments in mental and physical performance equivalent to alcohol intoxication. After 17-19 hours without sleep your level of impairment is worse than a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.05%. After 24 hours it translates to a BAC in excess of 0.1%.

    To put it bluntly, lack of sleep can make you sick, fat and stupid.

    So how much sleep should we be getting?

    The answer is… it depends, but more than 6 hours and less than 9 hours is the general rule of thumb. A few things you can do to increase the likelihood of a good night’s sleep:

    • Turn off all electronic devices (i.e. computers, cellphones, TVs, iPads, etc.) at least 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep.
    • Get on a schedule. Try to go to sleep at about the same time each night.
    • Don’t drink caffeinated beverages after lunch.
    • Keep the room temperature between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Consider wearing socks. Cold feet can disrupt your sleep.

    Using just a few of the recommendations above could have a significant impact on your sleep quality and duration.

    Whether you’re an athlete, a businesswoman or the best CIA assassin in the game, your goal should be to use sleep as a weapon. It’ll leave you sharper, healthier and more prepared than your competitors.

    1. Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006.
    2. Occupational Environmental Medicine. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. 2000
    3. American Journal of Epidemiology. Association between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women. 2006