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#strongwomen: Fitness pro champions workplace wellness

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Fitness professional, life coach and NLP practitioner Michelle Israel is on a mission to get more South Africans fit and healthy.

Michelle successfully manages her career as a Training and Development Manager at health and wellness company, Ascendis Health, while still finding time to inspire others to live a healthier, happier and more balanced life.

Balance is her fitness mantra

Michelle got involved in health and fitness because she is passionate about the industry. “I knew that even if it was not going to be my vocation, it would be a passion that I would pursue in some way.”

It took hard work and perseverance but it paid off when Michelle competed as a figure competitor, was featured in Fitness and Muscle Evolution magazines and eventually became a certified fitness trainer.

“These are some of my proudest moments. I now aim to use the platform this success created to help other people reach their goals.”

Her approach to health, fitness and wellbeing

Her approach is this regard is finding balance. “In the health and fitness space, it is easy to become obsessed with exercise and diet. When I started training, I fell into the trap and it took over my life. Over the years, I have learned to combat this all-or-nothing mindset through an approach that advocates balance and moderation. Fitness, exercise and nutrition should not overrun your life. I now embrace these aspects as a balanced part of my life so that they become a way of life rather than a source of frustration or obsession.”

And as a certified fitness trainer, Michelle also applies this philosophy into her programming to create balanced, manageable and sustainable plans that her clients are able to incorporate into their everyday lives.

Mindset reset

And this approach extends beyond the body to also incorporate the mental aspect. As a certified life coach and Nero-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, has changed the way she approaches health, fitness and training.

“NLP is a model of how people think and communicate. My background in NLP helps me understand how my clients’ minds work and how I can empower them to achieve long-term change. I use NLP techniques to help motivate, calm and encourage clients to improve their mindset about life, training, nutrition and exercise.”

This approach fits into Michelle’s desire to empower her clients from the inside out. “By instilling within them a mindset of inner strength, confidence and autonomy, fitness becomes a way of life and a positive driving force.”

Michelle has also found that implementing NLP with her clients has delivered powerful and positive long-term outcomes within their lives.

Taking health and fitness to the workplace

Following her success, Michelle is now taking her passion for fitness beyond personal training and into the corporate health and fitness sector.

“I developed the corporate health and fitness programme because I saw a need for a more holistic approach to employee wellness. People are often sedentary at work for hours, with limited opportunities or motivation to exercise, eat healthily or improve their fitness. I knew that a workplace fitness programme would be an ideal way to change this behaviour and mindset.

Luckily for me, my employer, Ascendis Health, is invested in employee wellness and was keen to develop an in-house corporate health and fitness programme.”

The programme started with only a small group of participants, but as more employees saw their colleagues on the programme getting fitter, healthier and happier, more people joined.

“The programme is regularly updated and improved to keep it fresh and appealing. Despite this, I find group fitness challenges are the most effective. When people meet and exercise together around a common interest, the goal-oriented environment incentivises greater accountability and boosts motivation.”

The programme runs 3 times a year over a 12-week period to ensure that employees are not restricted to just one training opportunity.

A unique feature within this programme is regular body assessments and the active involvement by Michelle and her team in coaching, mentoring and motivating every participant. “I also up-skill our employees to become coaches and help others.”

The secrets to success

The programme has yielded phenomenal results, which has been key to its success. “Employees have transform their lives, both physically and emotionally, by participating in the programme. We’ve had participants who have overcome significant health challenges, while others finally lost the weight they’ve struggled with for years. And there are those who regained their self-esteem and confidence after battling with stress anxiety and depression.”

Michelle believes that executive involvement, personalised coaching, realistic and desirable incentives, combined with a wide variety of options for participation has enabled this programme to flourish.

“I also have a dancing background and I’ve found that teaching dancing once a week really uplifts people.”

And based on the current state of the South African corporate health and wellbeing stats, there is a real and pressing need for every corporate to implement programmes that will look after the health and wellbeing of their employees.

Broadening her impact

Michelle’s next challenge will be applying her patented approach to empower and uplift young girls and women.

“The programme will on both physical and mental fitness using NLP, life coaching and fitness principles. I want to show women that strong and healthy looks different on everyone and the ideal body is actually their own one. I want to teach them how to embrace their bodies for what they can do, not just how they look. Once you change your mindset and honour yourself through the choices you make, then true empowerment happens.”

For more info, email michin.israel@gmail.com.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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