Friday, May 28, 2010

First Impressions -- Guest Post by Diana Levin

We got very lucky! Lifework Strategies has an intern, Diana Levin, working with them this summer and they offered to let her spend Tuesdays with us at ASHA. Diana is studying health promotion at American University and she started with us last Tuesday. I asked her share her first impressions with you.

From the moment I came into the building, the friendly and inviting culture was clear. Throughout my first day, a number of employees came through the HR office to either sign up for a class or find out how their team was doing. Besides the impressive facilities and overall robust wellness program, what really came through was the enthusiasm shared by employees. They seem empowered to take ownership over their health, as well as, encourage other employees to do the same. Their "Biggest Movers" program clearly has created competition that encourages employees to either remain active or become active. Each stage of change is addressed in this program, which is also clear from the percentage of participants (about half). I look forward to gaining more insight from a well-established wellness program. On another note, the innovative ideas that Janet has really brings excitement to the office and program. Her newest idea is to possibly start a hula hooping class. Throughout the day employees that dropped by were encouraged to try hula hooping and almost all of them did. Where else can you hula hoop in the office? I will be interested to see if this childhood pastime catches on as a form of exercise for the employees.

As for my first impressions, Diana is a quick study, a pleasure to be around, and a pretty good hula hooper. I'm going to be looking forward to Tuesdays all summer.

Follow Diana on Twitter @DianaMLevin

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eat Like an Athlete - 6 Tips to Get Stronger, Faster and Leaner

One of the rules in our home is that you eat a combination of protein and carbs within 45 minutes of working out. I take five exercise classes a week at work with my colleagues; and I noticed a lot of folks weren't eating after they exercised. We've offered a number of educational programs focused on nutrition, but none that were geared toward optimizing athletic performance. (I'm using the term athlete loosely here, but what's the point working out day after day if you are not getting stronger, faster or leaner.)

We worked with Matt Diener from TrueFT to bring Kristin Wood from Max Muscle in to talk with interested staff. Not surprisingly, this presentation attracted different people then most of our lunch and learn sessions. Most of the staff that attended are active and exercise regularly. 

Kristin offered the following suggestions for improving our health and performance.

  1. Eat smaller meals 5 or 6 times a day.
  2. Incorporate weight training into your workout routine.
  3. Consume adequate protein at regular intervals to rebuild and repair muscle tissue.
  4. Focus on eating low glycemic carbohydrates.
  5. Follow the 20% rule when eating foods that are processed -- 20% or less of total carbohydrates should come from sugar.
  6. Always eat a protein with a carbohydrate. 
Protein is stored within the body as lean muscle mass. When your body needs protein to support vital functions, it relies on immediate protein from your diet (eaten within the past 3-4 hours) or it will break down lean muscle mass. When protein is ingested, you elevate the nitrogen balance within your bloodstream. Elevated nitrogen puts your body in an optimal state for building and repairing muscle tissue. With little or no level of nitrogen in your blood, your body will begin to break down lean muscle mass. If you continuously put your body in this state, your performance will plateau and your metabolism will slow down. Put more simply, if you want to get stronger and faster, you better eat adequate protein to ensure proper recovery. 

Kristin talked a bit about a study by Chesley that suggests you need to consume almost 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day to maintain a positive nitrogen balance. She told us that all proteins are not the same. Many of us found it interesting that soy is not easily digested and that you have to consume 10 ounces of soy to obtain the same amount of protein you get from 1 ounce of meat. 

By consuming small meals frequently, you can minimize the number of hours your body is in a catabolic state when muscle wasting occurs. Kristin showed two charts, one where an individual ate six times over the course of a day and was in a catabolic state for 3 1/2 hours and a second where an individual only ate lunch and dinner over the course of a day and was in a catabolic state for 17 hours. Carefully timing your meals also helps maintain ideal blood sugar levels.

Relative to my observation about people eating after working out, Kristin said that our muscles are "more" insulin sensitive and ready to absorb nutrients for repair for approximately one hour after working out. She shared this chart that shows how the metabolic window begins to close within 45 minutes following exercise.

Some other takeaways -- Bananas are fine if you just finished a marathon, but not good with a cup of coffee and a yogurt for breakfast. (I know some of you heard Kristin say a Snickers Bar is a better choice than a banana because at least the Snickers Bar has some protein in it from the nuts, but I don't think she really meant for us to have a Snickers Bar for breakfast.) You can substitute 1/4 cup of carbs for a glass of red wine at dinner. It's better to use half and half then skim milk in your coffee. 2% cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt are good. Other types of yogurt are not good. (Not good for you that is. I know they may taste good to you.)

People are still talking about the session and a number of folks have told me that they are paying more attention to when they eat and how much protein they consume. Although I've always tried to follow our house rule that we eat within 45 minutes of working out, I'm taking it a bit more seriously now. I used Health Txts to send myself text messages after each of my scheduled exercise classes reminding myself to eat. (Health Txts is a free service that allows you to receive self improvement text messages that you write and/or you choose from their expert library to help you meet your physical and mental health goals.)

Kristin Wood is a ENW Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist for Adults and Children and a Co-Active Life Coach.  She works with clients to help them achieve their health and fitness goals.  Ms. Wood is the owner and regional director for Max Muscle Sports Nutrition of Manassas.  She also served on the New Product Development team and regularly writes columns and articles on nutrition for Max Sports & Fitness magazine.  Ms. Wood lives in Vienna, VA and has two teenaged sons. With a little luck, Kristin will read this post and correct me if I got anything wrong.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Biggest Loser -- Feedback from the Follow-Up Survey

We reviewed all the survey results and debriefed from our Biggest Loser campaign. Here is what we learned. First, the program really fostered a sense of community. I don't think we talk about this aspect of workplace wellness programs enough. I've been struggling with how to describe what I observed. Someone that completed the survey said it well. 

"The community spirit that permeated office-wide was fantastic. Inadvertently, this program managed to create the sense of community that many complained was lost when we moved to this new building. I really enjoyed geting to know the team members better and enjoyed the opportunity to talk with those I'd encountered in the lunch room (or elsewhere) given that we all had a topic of mutual interest. The fact that it was a team effort actually helped me to stay on track with my dietary goals and I am very grateful for having had this program as I really wanted to lose weight but without the structure, may not have been quite so commited. Thanks so much HR for doing this program!!!!"

I found it interesting that people wanted more one-on-one coaching and time with a nutritionist, yet only six individuals took advantage of the one-on-one wellness coaching we made available through our EAP. People really liked, Meilissa, the nutritionist that did a Weight Management presentation for us. We explained that if they called the EAP they could meet individually with her, but only six people did. I think one of the reasons workplace wellness programs are so effective is that they make classes and services so easily available. If we bring someone into the office and schedule the appointments, people participate, if they need to make the contact on their own, they just don't get around to it.

If we do this again, we'll probably keep the screenings simpler -- just weight, body fat, and maybe cholesterol and blood glucose. We'll save the fitness related assessments for other programs. Based on the feedback from our participants we might also suggest or require that participants have a BMI of 25 or higher. 

A huge thank you to Cyndi at Lifeworks Strategies and all their staff that helped us in this endeavor. Here's a summary of the survey results.
Results Summary

  • The majority (97%) of participants were motivated to join the program for their desire to lose weight or achieve a personal goal. Some employees were motivated by others, such as a family member, co-worker or doctor.
  • Regarding specific program goals, more than half (54%) stated that weight loss was their primary goal. Other top goals included improving fitness (11%), eating a healthier diet (9%) and weight maintenance (7%). A handful of participants wanted to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol or control diabetes.
  • Nearly 90% of participants felt they made progress towards their primary goal; about 45% of participants felt they achieved half or three-quarters of their goal. More than a quarter of participants (27%) felt they fully achieved or exceeded their primary goal.
  • The weekly weigh-ins (82%), initial screenings (78%), seminars (68%), and team support (64%), were most commonly reported to have high or very high impact on helping participants reach their goal. These components were followed by mid-point screenings (57%) and on-site fitness classes (53%). More than half of the participants reported that the potential for prizes had no impact. About one-third of participants felt the team challenges had no impact on helping them reach their goals.
  • Most all participants positively changed eating or fitness habits as a result of the program. More than 80% are eating appropriate portions of food, more than three-quarters are making healthier food choices when eating out, and 64% have increased the amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet. Three-quarters of participants are exercising more during the week, and about 67% are taking the stairs more often.
  • The program seemed to have less impact on the participants’ water intake, where half reported about the same level as before. The majority of participants (67%) reported no change in the amount of restful sleep, yet the same number (67%) of people also reported increased energy.
  • Eight employees (11%) were able to decrease or eliminate the use of OTC medications and one participant has eliminated the use of prescription medication. Six employees reported that their doctor had increased their prescription medication; it is unknown if the program had an impact on uncovering new conditions that required medication.
  • It is encouraging that nearly all of employees (99%) have made healthy lifestyle changes as a result of the program which they plan to continue in addition to continuing to work towards a weight loss goal.
  • An additional benefit of this program was improved co-worker relationships. Most participants (84%) felt that the Biggest Loser Program enhanced their relationship with their co-workers.
  • If this program were offered again, 87% said they would be likely to participate; 54% said they would be very likely to participate. 

Feedback Summary

Two questions asked participants about what they enjoyed most about the Biggest Loser campaign and suggestions to improve the Biggest Loser campaign, respectively. The feedback was both positive and constructive.

Some common positive themes include:

  • Participants felt the tone of the program was upbeat and most felt incredibly supported by coworkers and HR.
  • Participants seemed to learn a lot about proper diet and exercise through a variety of program activities, including seminar, screenings and coaching support.
  • Many employees felt that being part of a team was helpful (helped hold them accountable) and enjoyable.
  • Many enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment and being able to track results throughout the program.
  • Most participants were able to apply at least “some” of the information from all seminars to their efforts. Participants seemed to have gained the most information from the initial Weight Management seminar.
Some common areas of concern include:
  • Participants would have liked a kick-off session or more detailed introduction to the program at the beginning.
  • It was concerning to some participants that there were people in the program who did not appear to need to loose weight. (I blogged about this before.)
  • On the other hand, a few participants suggested the program have a broader focus beyond weight loss.
  • Some employees felt that the team challenges did not accommodate all types of participants and could be improved. (You can read about each of the three team callenges and view pictures in previous posts.)
  • Some participants recognized that a team does not work well for everyone; some were frustrated with their specific team or other individuals lack of commitment to the program.
  • Participants would like more time to meet one-on-one with a Coach.
  • Some participants would prefer less email reminders during the program.
  • Participants suggested that we improve the fitness related assessments. (I blogged about this too.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tracking our Biggest Mover Team Progress

We just announced our first week's Biggest Mover Team winner. Congratulations to Team Anything Goes! The rankings were determined by the average points recorded per team member in the President's Challenge site, so teams were seriously disadvantaged if all their team members had not set up accounts and recorded their activities.

The HR team came up with a fun way to show the weekly team rankings. Nothing like a little craft project on a Friday afternoon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stan's a New Man -- Interview with Stan Dublinske a Biggest Loser

What motivated you to lose weight?

My doctor said, “You’re going to die!”
My new motto -- Eat less! Exercise more!!!

How did you change your diet?

I began watching what I was eating. I paid attention to the portion size, ate fewer treats and more fruits and vegetables. Now I eat at least six small meals a day. I also started drinking a lot of water.

What is your exercise routine?

I take fitness classes at ASHA four mornings a week. In the afternoon, when the weather is nice, I walk home which takes 30 to 45 minutes. When it isn’t nice, I ride the stationary bike or use the treadmill in the exercise room for 30 to 45 minutes doing intervals. On weekends, I try to walk or take a hike at least one day. And, now it is golf weather! I try to play once a week.

How did ASHA’s Biggest Loser campaign help you?

The campaign helped motivate me to start taking fitness classes. The competition and my desire to win provided an incentive to keep me going. Being part of a group of 100 colleagues who also wanted to lose weight and exercise made it easier for me to participate in the activities offered. Now that I have had 12 weeks of eating less and exercising more, it has become a life style change that I feel I can sustain.

What positive changes have you experienced?
  • Reduced my waist line by 10 inches (5 during the 12 week Biggest Loser campaign)
  • Increased push-ups from 26 to 40
  • Increased sit-ups from 34 to 54
  • Increased flexibility from 10” to 15”
  • Decreased glucose from 129 to 62
  • Decreased total cholesterol from 125 to 108
  • Decreased triglycerides from 82 to 59
  • Decreased diabetes A1C score from 11 to 8
Have you met your goal?

I met my Biggest Loser goal of losing at least 1 lb a week. I hope to lose another 20 to 25 pounds and get my diabetes A1C score down to 7 or less. I have a doctor appointment in June to review my progress.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lessons from a Leading Woman -- Learn how Jinwen Tang incorporated Foot Massage to Get Healthy

What motivated you to lose weight?

I was pre-diabetic and starting to have symptoms of diabetes -- thirst, hunger and fatigue.

How did you change your diet?

I eliminated most carbohydrates from my diet.

What is your exercise routine?

I swim for 30 to 40 minutes each day around 5:00 and then I exercise for another hour around 8:00 p.m. I also incorporated a reflexology foot massage.

How did ASHA’s Biggest Loser campaign help you?

I had tried to lose the weight on my own, but I just couldn’t. Any weight I did lose, I’d gain right back. The Biggest Loser program provided the structure and support I needed. It helped me a lot.

What positive changes have you experienced?

• Glucose decreased from 104 to 94
• Waist circumference decreased 4 inches
• LDL increased from 132 to 143
• My pre-diabetes symptoms are all gone. I feel more energetic.

Have you met your goal?

Yes, I’ve basically eliminated my pre-diabetes symptoms and I don’t have to take any medication as long as I don’t eat carbohydrates. My weight loss goal was 15 pounds and I exceeded it.

Biggest Loser -- Final Biometric Results

We have some very compelling individual stories of weight loss and some of our Biggest Loser participants lowered their cholesterol more than 30% in just 12 weeks. (People were proudly showing me their individual reports.) The aggregate data is less exciting. For example, the average decrease in cholesterol was 8%.

Our Biggest Losers lost a total of 681 pounds -- an average of 7 pounds per participant. BMI decreased from an average of 29.2 to 28.1. Body Fat dropped from an average of 36.4% to 35%. Waist circumference decreased from an average of 35.6" to 34.8". (I've already blogged about my concerns about the realibility of this measure.) Blood pressure readings show some shifting around, but negligible improvement.

A few of our most successful participants (like Steve) have agreed to help me develop profiles that I'll share here as well as on our intranet. I hope they will tell the more meaningful story.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lesson from our Leading Man -- Learn how Steve White lost the Weight

What motivated you to lose weight?

I was getting more and more uncomfortable sitting because my spare tire was overinflated.

How did you change your diet?

I changed the way I eat in the evening. I try to control my portions at dinner by having two small helpings rather than returning for another plateful of food. I then eat smaller and more healthy snacks after dinner and drink water. I used to snack on American cheese.

What is your exercise routine?

I run/walk three times a week for 6 - 8 miles in the morning. I added strength training into my routine 3 times a week. I start with a 100 calorie trip on the elliptical machine to get warmed up and then I do pushups, crunches, curls, lat pull down, semi-chin ups, leg lifts and leg curls.

How did ASHA’s Biggest Loser campaign help you?

The program motivated me by giving me a mechanism for tracking my weight loss. However, the biggest thing was having a team for support and camaraderie.

What positive changes have you experienced?
  • Decrease in cholesterol
  • Increase in strength as indicated by the number of push-ups and sit-ups I can do in a minute
Have you met your goal?

Yes. I’m going to continue using the same evening eating strategies to keep the weight off.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Two Widely Held Misperceptions about Workplace Wellness Programs

There are two things I always hear at programs on workplace wellness that I disagree with strongly. If you believe what you're told, they could get in the way of your starting a successful program in your workplace.

Myth #1 - You must have top management support for a wellness program.

What you really need is for top management not to be a barrier. Put another way, it's a nice to have, not a need to have. Of course, you may need management to approve the proposed budget for the program, but they don't have to tout the benefits of a wellness program and they don't have to don their tennis shoes and Zumba with you (though it would be really great if they did)!

Myth #2 - You need cash incentives to get people to participate.

Are you nuts? Last week, I attended a benefits bench-marking session and the presenters threw out a figure of $150 in incentives per employee to encourage participation. We have a staff of 250, so that would be $37,500. Uh, no. Spend that money on screenings, education, exercise classes, and fitness equipment.

I don't think you really need a carrot or a stick to get people to do what they know is good for them. Just figure out what is getting in the way of people making healthy changes and break down those barriers. Make it fun. Create a sense of community that people want to be part of. Start small building the program a little at a time and then try to brand the program so people start seeing how it all ties together. People will want to participate in your wellness activities if the activities are well supported, relevant and fun!