Berkshire Co-op

Great Barrington — At Berkshire Food Co-op, the staff doesn’t just sell wellness — they practice it, too.

Each January, interested employees sign up for the Co-op’s annual wellness challenge: a month-long initiative in which team members earn points by working toward their personal wellness goals. At the end of the month, the participant with the most points wins a prize.

“Any employee is welcome to sign up,” explained Program Coordinator Jessy Turner, who oversees the contest. “And beginning January 1 through the end of the month, you log wellness activities.” It’s an open-ended premise, and that’s by design.

“As we know, ‘wellness’ is not just physical wellness. It’s emotional wellness, it’s psychological wellness — all of that,” Turner said. “Basically, what it’s encouraging you to do, is to be more active, and be more mindful of whatever wellness is to you, and what you need to add in your life.”

Participants can earn points for a wide range of activities, from strength exercises and cardio to meditation, with the only stipulation being that each activity lasts at least two minutes. This can also include making conscious healthy decisions, like opting for a salad when out for dinner, instead of a steak. “We’re kind of flexible, just because there’s so many aspects of what makes us well,” Turner said.

By allowing participants to choose their own activities, each person is able to pursue wellness from where they are, rather than chasing a universal goal. “That way, it’s fair for experienced gym-goers and the newbies,” Turner said. “So everyone’s on the same playing field.”

For those seeking a little more structure, the Co-op provides a calendar of suggested activities. “It’s accompanied by a video tutorial, as well as a modification for people who, for whatever reason, may not be able to fully do the activity. And then also a mindfulness activity, in case you can’t or don’t want to do the physical activity,” Turner said. “It’s totally voluntary, and it’s just a way for all of us to kind of be on the same page.”

A wellness competition isn’t just a way to boost employee morale — it has serious benefits for individuals when it comes to forming and maintaining healthy habits. The structure of a contest, plus the accountability it encourages, are powerful motivators. Even more importantly, working together with a group provides vital emotional support, which can make the difference between staying the course and giving up. A study by the American Osteopathic Association, for instance, showed that people who worked out as part of an organized group saw substantial benefits in quality of life, compared to those who worked out without social support, across all metrics: physical, mental and stress levels.

“I work with a really supportive group,” Turner said. “So I think in that way, we support each other’s emotional and physical wellness.”