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Teaching Healthy Lifestyles Not a Stretch for This HR Professional

By Rita Zeidner  5/27/2008
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Employees of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., are running out of excuses not to exercise.

One of the biggest barriers to exercise—finding time during the day—was removed when one of the organization’s own human resource chiefs signed on to teach a lunchtime yoga class.

Rachel Permuth-Levine, acting director for the Office of Strategic and Innovative Programs at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, one of NIH’s many divisions, says the agency introduced yoga classes as a way to make fitness accessible to all workers.

“When you have motivated, healthy employees, it makes for a more productive work environment,” she said.

To help increase the appeal of yoga among nonbelievers, she launched the organization’s first annual Yoga Week, featuring a five-day series of events to teach workers about the benefits of yoga practice.

Drawing upon the institute’s scientific expertise, she brought in several NIH investigators as well as scientists from Harvard University, the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and elsewhere to discuss the potential of yoga as a therapy for a variety of health conditions including back pain, anxiety, fatigue, hypertension and asthma, she said.

And in an unusual twist, Permuth-Levine, who is a certified yoga instructor, gave a demonstration and taught a yoga class.

“We wanted to give something back to NIH employees,” she said.

Permuth-Levine said Yoga Week, which was launched in May to coincide with National Physical Fitness Month, is the latest addition to a year-round program that emphasizes the role of exercise and healthy lifestyles in maintaining a productive workforce.

“It’s a message we repeat over and over again,” she said.

Rita Zeidner is senior writer for HR Magazine.

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