National employee wellness month

4 cost-effective ways Houston startups can champion employee health and wellness

Here are some ways to encourage health and wellness in the workplace without breaking the bank. Tom Merton/Getty Images

Apple and healthcare provider Aetna announced earlier this year the two industry giants are collaborating on a new app, Attain. The wellness app, available both for the iPhone and Apple Watch, rewards users who achieve certain health-focused goals such as getting more sleep, meditating, or even receiving their annual flu shot.

Today, companies are increasingly leveraging similar health and wellness goals and reward programs, if not this very initiative. In fact, the United States' workplace wellness industry is valued at nearly $8 billion.

This hefty price tag encompasses massive corporate health and wellness programs such as that of Google, which offers its employees benefits such as massage services, physical therapy, onsite health care, community bikes and even guitar lessons to promote mental health. However, for most companies, building an onsite health care facility or having your own personal masseuse at the ready to release the knots in your neck and back is a bit out of the price range, we'd say.

For those companies, including startups operating on a tight budget, most just want employees to experience less work-related stress and live happier, healthier lives. In honor of National Employee Wellness Month this June, here's how startups can implement budget-friendly health and wellness programs into their companies.

1. Utilize tech in wellness challenges

Fancy equipment is not necessary for an effective corporate health and wellness program. Instead, try offering employees Fitbits, a budget-friendly option, as part of their benefits package, which they can then use to track their daily activity. To leverage the Fitbits to create intraoffice challenges, offer employees incentives for health goals such as the most activity or the most seven-hour nights of sleep each month.

My company that I coach for, Orangetheory Fitness, also features its own brand of wearables, the OTbeat, which tracks workout activity such as calories burned, steps, distance and splat points (Orangetheory lingo for when you achieve excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). I see friends, coworkers and even complete strangers compare splat points — something employees could also use as a friendly form of competition.

2. Hand out workout passes that give employees an hour off work to exercise

This is the real-life version of Monopoly's "Get Out of Jail Free" card. One of the major reasons I see people fall out of touch with Orangetheory is because they don't have enough time to work out. An extra hour or two out of the workday could be all it takes to motivate your employees to get active.

In fact, most gyms and fitness classes offer corporate discounts to employers. I'm seeing more and more companies sign up for a corporate membership, especially since health and wellness in the workplace is becoming much more important.

3. Host group health and wellness events

Another initiative idea that's cut from the same competition cloth: Cooking contents. Host a lunch where staffers bring their favorite healthy recipe. Then, have employees vote on the most delicious option.

You can also implement health and wellness in other company events such as employee 5Ks and team-building exercises such as weekly team outings to a local fitness class. These would be ideal opportunities to dole out those workout or lunch passes.

4. Try "deskercising"

Like most successful companies, it takes a lot of sweat, blood, tears — and often countless hours at a desk — to see the fruits of your hard-earned labor. Today, a sedentary or inactive lifestyle, which most likely consists of sitting at a desk with little to no physical activity, has been linked to a number of chronic diseases, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, as well as increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

While deskercising (i.e. the combination of sitting at your desk and exercising) doesn't quite measure up to a full-on workout, it has similar effects, including improved health, physical and mental. Squats, chair dips, shoulder raises and even frequent walks or breaks from the desk can have a significant impact on employees' health and work productivity.

Whether you implement one or all these programs, it's important to remember companies — whether they're a small startup of five or an established corporation of many — can implement health and wellness initiatives.

It's not the program or the money invested that makes corporate health and wellness initiatives effective. At the end of the day, the efficacy of any health program comes down to the company its willingness to prioritize the holistic health and wellness of its employees.

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Charlotte Morales is Orangetheory Fitness's San Felipe head coach.

If Houston wants to maintain its title as Space City, it needs to channel the innovation of its history as space exploration moves forward. Pexels

Space has captured the imagination of mankind since we first looked up at the night sky. We've reached out to touch the stars, and now endeavor to inhabit them.

Earlier this month, a prominent collection of experts on space health attended the first Space Health Innovation Conference co-hosted by the University of California, San Francisco, and Houston-based Translational Research Institute for Space Health.

As NASA eyes a return to the moon with the Artemis Program, attendees of the Space Health Innovation Conference advanced a national discussion of human space exploration by seeking to manage the many health risks associated with humans during space flight. The event included NASA leadership, innovative companies, commercial space vendors, as well as leaders from the space health and life sciences communities.

The conference's goal is to inform, inspire and invite participation in the exciting challenge of optimizing health and medical management in space environments.

With its headquarters in Houston, TRISH partnered with the Human Research Program at Johnson Space Center to source and seed the best emerging health technologies to support NASA's space exploration. TRISH is based out of the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and is a consortium that includes the rich space pedigree of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology. The Space Health Innovation Conference is the result of a grant by TRISH to UCSF. TRISH has also hosted Space Health focused events at the MIT Media lab and at Caltech.

TRISH's main charge is finding disruptive health technologies and new scientists to fuel the US Space Program. TRISH explores emerging areas of science that support health and human performance in the harsh environment of microgravity and high radiation. TRISH funds novel research in artificial intelligence, omics, human computer interfaces, behavioral health and beyond. Projects all share one goal: predicting and protecting future Mars explorers. And NASA leadership encourages TRISH to take the risks that could mean huge leaps forward.

Innovation and risk tolerance are hallmarks of Houston and its rich history. From the city's humble origins, to Jesse Jones's national financial leadership, to the building of the Houston Ship Channel, and to the explosion of the energy industry, Houston has always dared to leap forward. President John F. Kennedy's iconic speech entitled "Address at Rice University on the Nation's Space Effort" declared the US ambition to embrace the new frontier of space and conquer the moon. Humble Oil donated the 1,620 acres for JSC to Rice University, who then sold the land to NASA for $20. (Humble Oil would later become Exxon Mobil.)

JSC housed flight control, space flight training, and the NASA Astronaut Corps. JSC gave Houston the nickname "Space City", which led to the naming of the local NBA team to be the Rockets and the local MLB team to be the Astros. JSC's support for the astronaut corps began with the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, which evaluated the Apollo astronauts upon return to Earth. And the Christopher C Kraft Mission Control facility has directed all crewed space flights since the early Gemini program. An American flag flies atop Mission Control at JSC every day that an American is in space. That flag has flown continuously since November 2, 2000.

Nearly two decades since Bill Shepherd first boarded the International Space Station, the conversation around supporting human health and performance in space continues. And Houston will continue to lead the way for all our sakes, in space and on terra firma.

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James Hury is the deputy director and chief innovation officer at Houston-based Translational Research Institute for Space Health.