Anyone who has attended a conference or a business meeting can attest to the physical and mental strain of sitting for long hours, digesting a wealth of new information and networking with dozens of colleagues or clients. To change this routine, many event organizers have begun integrating health and fitness programs into their meeting agendas so attendees can return to each session with a fresh mental focus.
For more information on some of the ways planners can encourage healthy practices at meetings, we spoke with several experts. Mary Anne Mahoney serves as the executive director of the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau in Boulder, Colorado, considered one of the fittest cities in the United States and one that draws many health-focused groups. Dr. Steven Aldana is the CEO of Wellsteps, a widely respected organization that works with companies large and small to promote healthy behaviors in the workforce. Justin Roach is the director of business development at Dupage Convention and Visitors Bureau near Chicago. Here are some of the tips they shared.
Provide Healthy Food Alternatives
When attendees are hungry or pressed for time, it can be easy for them to grab whatever food is on hand in the break area. So instead of supplying the usual chips, candy bars and other comfort items, planners can present some healthy alternatives that provide an energy boost without the sugar crash.
“Conferences are pretty famous for having less-than-healthy meals,” said Aldana. “So one easy way to address that would be to bring in nuts, fruit, diet drinks and other healthy snacks in the afternoon, rather than the typical fare.”
As planners make choices about buffet and dinner options, it is also crucial to consider dietary preferences — vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free — beyond setting out the typical salad bar. According to Mahoney, many people appreciate the opportunity to try something new.
“When people see unusual options, such as kombucha on tap, it gives people permission to branch out and try different foods for the first time,” said Mahoney. “And if they have never had a vegan or gluten-free dish, they may be surprised by how much they enjoy it.”
Build in Exercise Periods
It is virtually impossible to integrate health-promoting activities into a packed conference schedule without giving attendees extra time to do them, and people are more likely to participate in a wellness program when it is built into the schedule.
“More and more people have added a yoga workout or stretch session at the beginning of the day. I think that it helps people clear their mind and get ready to go in and learn, absorb, share,” said Mahoney. “We know that face-to-face meeting time is so important, so planners should ask themselves, ‘How can people prepare for that energywise?’”
Aldana recommended breaking for a group walk around 2 or 3 p.m., when people tend to experience the most mental fatigue, and providing a suggested walking route or destination. This activity also allows for networking opportunities in a more relaxed setting.