Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Can you limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23 and 1/2 hours per day?

Dr. Mike Evans makes a compelling case for exercising 30 minutes per day in this well done 9 minute video. It's the single best thing you can do for your health.

Dr. Evans is the founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and a professor at the University of Toronto and a staff physician at St. Michaell's Hospital. (I'd like this even if he had not mentioned Steven Blair from the University of South Carolina. Go Cocks!)

Many thanks to Bill Baulkwill for sharing this with me.

Related Posts: What do you mean an hour at the gym doesn't counteract a sedentary job?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Payer-Provider Lines Blur -- Another Trend in Health Care

Have you noticed that the line between payers and providers is becoming blurred? More insurance companies now own groups of providers. There are numerous examples, but I’ve been paying particular attention to UnitedHealthcare’s launch of hi HealthInnovations -- a fully owned subsidiary that is providing steeply discounted hearing aids to some of its’ Medicare members as well as offering direct to consumer sales. Other examples include Humana’s purchase of Concentra, a Texas-based provider of stand-alone medical centers. Wellpoint recently acquired CareMore, a health plan operator that owns a number of clinics in the Los Angeles area. CIGNA controls a Phoenix medical group. There are flip side examples too, Partners HealthCare System Inc, a large hospital and physicians network in Massachusetts, acquired Neighborhood Health Plan, a Boston-based nonprofit insurer with 240,000 members. I found this article on the topic particularly interesting, Managed Care Enters The Exam Room As Insurers Buy Doctor Groups.  

Why the shift? Healthcare reform is minimizing profits, so insurance companies are diversifying. The Affordable Care Act limits the portion of premium dollars that can go towards administrative costs and profits. This year, a provision requiring insurance companies to spend 80 to 85 percent of premium dollars on medical care and health care quality improvement, rather than on administrative costs went into effect. In 2012, insurance companies will be required to provide a rebate to their customers if their profits exceed the mandated percentage.

Insurers are also under constant pressure from employers and other customers to minimize premium increases. If the insurance companies own the provider groups, they have more control over the costs. When I attended the United Healthcare’s Customer Forum last June, they mentioned that they were introducing a HMO in Florida at the request of some of the employers they work with. The thinking seemed to be that these employers would prefer to provide a limited HMO benefit to their employees than no benefit at all. Actually owning the provider groups doesn’t seem like such a huge leap from a HMO. Look at Kaiser as another example. And, isn’t that what is happening with the trend toward ACOs, Accountable Care Organizations. Some are being initiated by large physician groups, some by hospital systems, and others by health insurance companies. Humana, United Healthcare, and Cigna have all announced plans to form their own ACOs.

What impact will this have? Time will tell. Insurance companies controlling the providers might drive costs down, but ACOs could push costs up. As hospitals join forces with physicians and gain market share, they may have more leverage in negotiations with insurers. Benefits may become available to more people through delivery models like United's hi Healthinnovations, but consumer may have fewer choices of providers and durable medical suppliers. Americans typically place a high value on choice, but with 50 million people uninsured (16.3 percent of Americans) something has to give. Especially when you consider the fact that the percentage of people covered by employer-based health insurance has declined while the number of people covered by Medicare and Medicaid has increased.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner the Volumetrics Way

I asked Ellen Slotkin, the nutritionist we are working with on our current weight loss program, for her advice for staying on track during Thanksgiving. We're using Volumetrics as the basis for our program.

As we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday, here are several things to keep in mind…

1. Give “THANKS” this holiday season.
T- Try. “Try” dishes by taking a small portion, rather than eating an entire serving. That way you get to experience all of your favorites, without excess calories.
H- eat Half. The easiest way to “have your cake and eat it too” during Thanksgiving is to select everything you would have normally chosen, but put only half the amount on your plate. Once you have eaten it- take a moment to ask yourself if you are truly hungry for a second helping. Try having a glass of water, tea, or low-calorie beverage before going back for seconds.
A- Activity. Plan a family walk after your Thanksgiving meal, or head to the mall for some black Friday shopping and park farther out in the parking lot than you normally would.
N- “No” is not an insult! Saying No to an offer of a high-fat, high-calorie dish is not an insult to the person who made (or purchased it.) If they truly care about you, your health should come first.
K- Keep it Simple. Control the amount of extras at your meal -- gravy on turkey, whipped cream on pie -- these calories can add up quickly, so limit your self to a small amount of each.
S- Slow Down. Prevent second and third helpings by slowing down your eating speed. Focus on conversation, put your fork down between bites, count the number of times you chew.

2. Substitute Smart.
  • Use fat-free cream of mushroom soup for casserole dishes.
  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste turkey and make gravy.
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in desserts.
  • Reduce oil and butter whenever possible.

3. Portion Control!
  • Turkey: One deck of playing cards
  • Starches: Two computer micePie: Two small slivers

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Build Your Immunity Arsenal for Travel

Our organization holds an annual convention for 10,000+ members the week before Thanksgiving. About 100 staff travel to host the convention. We usually fly and then wind-up working 14 hours a day in a convention center. Inevitably, some of us get sick. It's usually just a cold, but it's no fun. I asked Dave Foreman if he had some tips for staying healthy when you travel. Dave's a pharmacist and a Naturopathic Doctor. We partnered with Dave on a heart health initiative earlier this year. This is what Dave shared with me.

Whether or not it is cold/flu season or you just don’t want to get sick, here are a few tips to support yourself naturally.
Avoid Sugar - (this includes other “white” foods like pasta, bread, cake, etc. and honey) I like to say that sugar/refined foods make your immune cells stupid. I read years ago that 7 teaspoons of sugar will decrease your immune function by 50% for up to 8 hours.  While you immune cells aren’t functioning properly, bacteria and viruses can wreak havoc on your body. Stay ahead of the game and avoid those refined foods.
Wash your hands - Goodness knows what all you have on your hands. I like grapefruit seed extract as my hand sanitizer.  If you want something more traditional, there are a few great choices at your local health food store.
Supplement - I use a supplement daily (Host Defense) to support my immune system. By using a support supplement, I can use it daily for months on end. Other products I like are: Advanced Immune Support (MD Select), Immune Support Formula (Weil Nutritional Formulas) and Immuneactive (Futurebiotics). Consult with a store health enthusiast to find the right formula for you.
Pay me later: You know the old saying, “pay me now or pay me later”. What if it is too late and you are now getting sick? Look for products that boost or stimulate your immune system into action. In my family, we use Esberitox (Enzymatic Therapy). Other great products such as; Seasonal Support (MD Select), Umcka Cold and Flu (Nature’s Way), Immuboost Blend Sp-21 (Solaray) and Wellness Formula (Source Naturals) along with a bunch more I can’t list can be found in the immune support section of your local health food store.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Improve Your Health Care Experience with Health Advocate

Three years ago, I went to the SHRM conference looking for a company that could help our staff get the most out of our health insurance. We were paying for our staff to have great coverage, but I was hearing about situations where our staff weren't getting the care they needed or they were hassling with resolving claims issues they didn't fully understand. The HR team was also spending a considerable amount of time helping people resolve issues related to our health and dental insurance and receiving questions about Medicare that were outside our area of expertise. Health Advocate had a booth at the conference. I chatted with them, picked up some literature, and followed-up when I got back to the office. We decided they would fill a need and added the benefit November 1, 2008. 

Health Advocate can help people address a whole host of healthcare and insurance-related issues that include. 
  • Finding the best providers or hospitals
  • Untangling medical bills
  • Locating eldercare and support services
  • Securing second opinions
  • Navigating insurance coverage
  • Explaining conditions and treatment options
We cover all our staff (regardless of whether or not they have our health insurance coverage) and all of our retirees. Coverage also extends to our spouses, dependent children, parents and parents-in-laws. We seem to be averaging around 40 interactions per month. About half of the calls are people looking for assistance with a claim. Other popular reasons to call relate to locating care, seeking health information, and dealing with Medicare. 

I've used the service myself a number of times. Health Advocate once wrote a successful appeal letter for me when I had lab charges denied that were provided through a participating doctor, a couple of years ago they helped me find a physical therapist near the office with available appointments, and I just called them again to help me find a doctor with a particular speciality and to get information about treatment options for a specific condition. 

The service is reasonably priced at $2.10 per covered employee/retiree per month. The current utilization report suggests that they saved us $20,838 from 12/1/2010 through 9/30/2011. (That's mostly an estimate of productivity savings.) During that period, our coverage cost about $6,400. Not a bad ROI. 

If you're covered under the ASHA plan, you can call Health Advocate at 866-695-8622

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's Open Enrollment Time

It's open enrollment time again and we just posted this information for staff on our Intranet and sent individual letters out to all of our retirees. I believe in making benefits information easily accessible to our families, so I'm posting it here too.

Open Enrollment 2012

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Loretta's Trip to St. Thomas

Loretta is back from St. Thomas and she has a big smile on her face. She shared this about her trip. (If you haven't already done so, be sure to read about her journey to wellness.)

Hi all,

We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to St. Thomas this past week. The weather was beautiful and the views were amazing! We enjoyed the beaches, great food, shopping and site seeing. The condo was very nice with fantastic views from all rooms of Bolongo Bay and the Caribbean Sea. We took the ferry to St. John and enjoyed the beautiful beaches and national park there as well. It was all so relaxing and enjoyable and all that we hoped it would be.

On a health and fitness note, thought you would be pleased to know that I incorporated healthy eating (lots of grilled or steamed seafood and vegetables) and fitness (walking, swimming and use of exercise equipment in the condo) every day. I set a goal for myself to neither lose nor gain any weight during the week and am pleased that I achieved this small goal! I stayed on course with making good choices 90% of the time and limiting treats to 10% of food and drink choices. Among our splurges we sampled the local meat pate and enjoyed a yummy rum infused chocolate shake (Fodor’s choice recommendation) at Udder Delight, an ice cream concession associated with the St. Thomas Dairies near Maegen’s Bay.

Ralph and I truly enjoyed the trip and are so grateful to have had this opportunity. Thanks so much for planning such a wonderful health and fitness program and for offering this journey to wellness and to St. Thomas! It was a memorable time. We took lots of great pictures!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Celebrate the Athletes

It was a big weekend for some of our fittest staff -- Becky Venediktov completed the Baltimore marathon in 3:52:52 crushing her four hour goal. Diane Paul completed the The Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure® 60-mile walk in Philadelphia to celebrate her birthday. Mike Guerrieri completed yet another century ride, the Seagull Century, in 6.25 hours. Even our spouses got into the spirit -- Paul Seesman, Paula's husband, completed his first century ride.

We talk a lot about helping people make healthy changes as part of workplace wellness initiatives, but it's important to support active people like Becky, Diane, Mike and Paul too. It's easy for life to get in the way of exercising and eating well even when we're dedicated. Offering staff flexible work options helps people fit training into busy schedules. We've also targeted some of our educational opportunities to our active staff e.g., Eat Like an Athlete and a Myofascial Release Clinic. 

Diane is on the right.

Mike is in the yellow. Paul is second from the right.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Weight Loss Program Update

We're three weeks into our new weight loss program. The twelve participants have met twice with their nutritionist, Ellen Slotkin from LifeWork Strategies. Week 1 they were given a copy of Volumetrics and they implemented an "add-more" philosophy. That's adding more foods low in energy density to their meals so that the portions will be more satisfying while reducing calorie intake. 

Week 3 they met again with Ellen and they focused on eating speed and strategies to slow down when they eat -- listening to relaxing music at dinner, counting the number of times they chew, putting the fork or spoon down between bites, etc... 

Today I'm distributing copies of Mindless Eating to the participants. I'm also setting up a group potluck luncheon and a weight loss community group on our intranet for them to share recipe recommendations and other thoughts. The weight loss community group is actually open to all staff. 

We had a number of people express great disappointment when they didn't get into the program. (We had 32 applications for 12 slots.) In response, we have asked Ellen to come in and do a group session on Volumetrics. This will be held Friday, October 21, at noon. We've suggested that these individuals contact LifeWork Strageties (877-252-8550) and take advantage of the wellness coaching that we've made available at no cost to our staff and their families. We've also offered to purchase a copy of Volumnmetrics for people that want to try the program. We're placing a few copies of Mindless Eating in our HR Library for anyone who wants to read it. We'll be looking for other ways to support this group too. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to Green Your Grocery Shopping & enter to win a copy of Forks Over Knives

Foraging for a Healthy & Sustainable Meal

Last week we had Gina Cawly from Conscious Corner talk with ASHA staff about greening their shopping as a lead in to our biannual green living event on October 5. Conscious Corner is a group of stores committed to healthy and mindful living, supporting small organic farms, individual artisans, socially responsible companies, the environment, animals and the community. They own Roots Market, Bark Pawsitive Petfood, Great Sage Organic Green Cuisine and Nest Earth-friendly Clothing and Gifts which are all in Clarksville or Olney, Maryland.

Pesticides in Produce

Gina suggested using as a source for information on the dirty dozen and clean 15. Most experts recommend that you eat the Dirty Dozen only when you can get them organic and that you're safe in purchasing the Clean 15 in conventional form. You can sign up to "Get the Guide" on the Food News site and then download a pdf or an iPhone or Droid app.

Can you name the top three items on the Dirty Dozen list? List them in a comment below and I'll randomly chose someone to win a copy of Forks Over Knives. Include your email address or Twitter handle so I can contact you if you win. I'll select the winner on October 14. (You must be within the Continental US to win.)

Meat and Dairy

I won't repeat what I've shared about meat. If you're interested, you can read my post on Meatless Mondays. Gina talked a bit about eggs and the practice of killing the male chicks. I'm not going to go into it too much here because we eat five dozen eggs a week in our house and I don't want to think about it. We do order them from South Mountain Creamery and I believe their practices are more humane, but I should check into it more thoroughly.

Gina shared this trailer of Forks Over Knives with us. I didn't get the imagery at first. I was picturing a salad fork and a steak knife until I read a review I'll share in a bit. It's really fork -- food -- and knife -- scalpel. The message being you control your health with what you eat. They advocate eating a "plant-based diet." They clearly mean vegan, but wisely steer clear of using this label. All or nothing propositions are hard to embrace, but most of us can probably imagine eating less meat, fewer processed foods and more plants.

The scientific claims in the movie are very compelling. I found myself enthusiastically describing a number of them to my husband. I decided to look some of them up and came across this review -- "Forks Over Knives": Is the Science Legit? Health Blogger Denise Minger painstakingly analyzes each scientific claim made in the movie. I like that she supports the message, but chooses to question the claims. This is a long, but fascinating review. You'll learn that many of the claims in the movie aren't so sound, but like Denise, I still like the message.

I think other staff might be interested in this documentary, so I'm looking into hosting a screening or discussion. Please let me know if you'd be interested in participating. 

The movie is available on Netflix for instant viewing. 

Fair Trade

What does Fair Trade represent?
  • Fair Price for Producers
  • Empowerment and Self-Sufficiency
  • Investment in Communities and Cultural Heritage
  • Women's Participation
  • Enviromental Sustainability 
Look for these labels: 
Label Reading

What else should you look for when reading labels?
  • GMO Free
  • No cotton seed oil
  • No high fructose corn syrup
  • No dyes
  • No artificial flavors

Friday, September 23, 2011

ASHA Recognized as One of Greater Washington's Healthiest Employers

Yesterday, we attended the WBJ Healthiest Employers award event. Honorees were broken into four categories according to their size, and then ranked one to ten within each category. ASHA was ranked #4 in the 100 to 499 category.

Arlene Pietranton, ASHA's Executive Director, accepting our award. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sharing. Exchanging. Social Health.

On Monday, I attended the #sxsh conference -- Sharing. Exchanging. Social Health. I was really out of my element which made me think. (I spent part of the time just trying to keep up with the acronyms being tossed around.) I liked the TED style of the conference and it was a tremendous value -- $50 for a full day of learning in a pleasant environment from an impressive group of presenters. These were some of the highlights for me.

Todd Park, CTO Heath and Human Services, delivered the keynote address. He was held out as "better than coffee" first thing in the morning and he didn't disappoint. He spoke energetically about new incentives and a shift from a fee for service system to one that pays for health, quality and value. He talked a bit about integrated delivery systems and suggested there will be a range of approaches that will motivate and reward innovation prompted by projects like the CMS Innovation Center. Then he moved onto discussing information integration like the Blue Button Initiative and the Direct Project. A project to create the set of standards and services to seamlessly and securely transport health information. A note I starred -- fuel with data to spur change. (I can't help drawing analogies between healthcare and Moneyball this week with the movie coming out.) A list of initiatives he mentioned that I want to take a look at -- iTriage, Healthline, Castlight, patientslikeme, Asthmapolis, Food Oasis, and Ozioma

Melissa Davies, NM Incite (Nielsen/McKinsey), talked about patients driving online discussions. Interestingly, patients with a condition with lower prevalence tend to have greater online engagement. She had some interesting slides and shared some new data from Healthcare Social Media by the Numbers. (Be sure to check out the info graphic.)

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, previously known only to me as @healthythinker, suggested that people are adopting a DIY approach in this post-recession economy that extends to healthcare. There has been a lot written about people self-rationing care during an economic downturn, but Jane brought a different perspective. She kindly summarized her talk on her blog, (which is on my routine reading list) so you can get this great info directly from the source -- Peoples’ home economics are driving DIY Healthcare

Kent Bottles, M.D. gave a presentation on Grassroots Mobilization. He talked about patient advocacy and the success of the Avastin campaign by breast cancer patients. Of course, Avastin was not ultimately approved by the FDA for use with breast cancer, but you can still appreciate effectiveness of the grassroots campaign by patients and their supporters. Dr. Bottles suggested that we would all benefit from a social approach to recruiting for clinical trials. He shared that cancer patients get half of what their doctors tell them wrong and talked about a service to help people prepare for conversations with their doctors and even record them to revisit or share with family members later. A lot of doctors decline to have conversations recorded at this point, but Dr. Bottles predicts it will be like using video in police cars, someday doctors will come to appreciate the value of the transparency. 

At lunch time, we witnessed the launch of Is My Cancer Different. We were told, "If you've seen one cancer, you've seen one cancer." This is a campaign to educate people with cancer to request advanced molecular-level testing so treatment can be targeted. There is a very compelling and passionate group of people behind this initiative. If you know someone with cancer, encourage them to visit the site and talk with their doctors about molecular-level testing.

I was hoping to meet more of the #co_health group IRL, but I did enjoy seeing Fran Melmed (@femelmed) and hopefully a few of the #sxsh folks will join in our chat today at noon on games and engagement. 

Dave deBronkart, aka e-Patient Dave, shared his story and made a compelling case for increasing consumer involvement in healthcare. His story seemed to illustrate why we were all there. Take a few minutes, 16 to be more exact, and watch his TEDx Talk from earlier this year. 



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our New Weight Loss Program

We are kicking off a new weight loss program for staff members who have a desire to lose 30 or more pounds. The approach is highly individualize and will focus on improving nutrition and increasing activity  This program will be very different than our previous weight loss campaigns with frequent one-on-one consultations with a nutritionist and occasional group activities. There will be no teams and no competition involved.

Interested staff contacted our partner, LifeWork Strategies, and Cyndi Fales interviewed everyone who was interested. She assessed a number of things like the support candidates had at home, health conditions that might be improved by weight loss, readiness to change, and what worked and didn't in their past attempts at weight loss. 32 staff members expressed an interest in the program and 12 people were selected to participate.

Each participant has a one hour, one-on-one meeting scheduled with the nutritionist that we're working with, Ellen Slotkin, RD. We've provided each of the participants with a copy of Volumetrics and Ellen will be using the book as she works with people individually.

United Healthcare provided us with Fitbits to give to the participants. We're going to let everyone get started with changes to their diets since that has the biggest impact on weight loss and then we'll get them set up with the Fitbits.

We're making a long term commitment to the folks in this program. We have a plan for the next 12 weeks or so and will be relying on feedback from the participants to figure out what comes next.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Got Grit?

I recently wrote a post about willpower and how my thinking had evolved from my theory that one's willingness to tolerate discomfort had a lot to do with whether or not a person exercised routinely, to thinking about self control as an exhaustible resource, to thinking about willpower.  Willpower is defined as being able to resist your own natural impulses and to focus your energy on the task at hand. I'm currently reading Drive and they introduce the concept of grit being and indicator of success. Grit is defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. 

Maybe it's not just willpower we need to make a healthy lifestyle change. Maybe we also need grit. Now I'm thinking you need willpower to make a change -- start a new diet or an exercise program -- but once you get some momentum going, you need grit to sustain the change and make it part of your lifestyle. From what I've read, you can't just apply grit to any random endeavor though. You have to see how your actions bring you closer to a long-term goal that you're passionate about.

There is a Grit Test on the University of Pennsylvania's Authentic Happiness Site. It's 22 simple question and only takes a few minutes to complete. Unfortunately, it takes a minute to register with the site to get access, but it's worth doing. I hope you'll take the test and let me know what you think.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Free Trial of ASHA Fitness Classes

We've recruited a wonderful group of trainers and developed a fun array of classes for our staff. Next week, staff can drop-in on any class and try it out at no cost. Then, they can sign-up for what they like best for our next 12 week session. This is what we're currently offering.

Functional Training – Class 1 (Matt and Chris)
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Mondays 7:30 am

Discover your inner athlete in this circuit training class developed by True AP for the mature athlete hidden in all of us. Improve your speed, agility and quickness while increasing your strength and balance.

Women & Weights – Class 1 (Christina)
Level – All
Mondays 4:00 pm

Get your heart pumping and muscles moving in this whole body strength and conditioning class combining weights, bands, balls and floor work to challenge the entire body.

Women & Weights – Class 2 (Christina)
Level – All
Mondays 5:15 pm

Get your heart pumping and muscles moving in this whole body strength and conditioning class combining weights, bands, balls and floor work to challenge the entire body.

Boxing Bootcamp (Matt and Chris)
Level: All
Tuesdays 7:30 am

Get in shape Rocky style. Learn the basic punches, combinations, and defenses while working out your entire body to improve cardiovascular endurance, core strength, power, footwork, and coordination. Take out your frustrations and find your inner peace. (Hey, some folks like yoga, some prefer hitting things.) Gloves and all equipment are provided although some folks prefer to sweat in their own gloves.

Total Body Conditioning – Class 1 (Ahmad)
Levels – All
Tuesdays 4:00 pm

Tune-in to the heart pumping music and get a full body work out in this high energy class. Includes cardio and weights and is designed to burn fat and build muscle. Open to all fitness levels; exercises are easy to follow and modify.

Pilates – Class 1 (Carol)
Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Tuesdays 5:00 pm

Sculpt and strengthen your core without all those boring crunches and sit-ups. This mat-based workout is designed to help participants develop leaner, longer-looking muscles, establish core strength and stability, and heighten mind-body awareness. Props may be incorporated to add variety. This class will leave you standing tall and feeling refreshed and in touch with your breath. Please bring a mat.

Get Fit ChallengeNew (Matt and Chris)
Level: Beginner
Wednesday 7:30 am

Do you want to begin an exercise program, but find it a bit intimidating to start off on your own or by joining one of our existing classes? Well, this is the class for you. Matt and Chris will lead you through some total body cardio drills and low-impact strength and core training. Assessments will be built into the class every four weeks, so you can measure your progress and there will even be prizes to encourage you to stick with the program. This is the perfect starting point for people who want to improve their health and fitness.

Zumba (Christina)
Level -- All
Wednesdays 4:00 pm

Dance your way to the lean and graceful body you desire. Moderate impact, high-energy class designed to burn calories by moving to the beat.

Cardio Kickboxing (Lisa)
Level – Intermediate to Advanced
Wednesdays 5:15 pm

High intensity, high impact, fat blasting work out designed to increase your stamina and strength. This class combines easy to follow, drill based elements of boxing and martial arts with aerobics to elevate your heart rate. All to some good tunes. Be prepared to sweat.

Functional Training – Class 2 (Matt and Chris)
Thursdays 7:30 am
Level: Intermediate to Advanced

Discover your inner athlete in this circuit training class developed by True AP for the mature athlete hidden in all of us. Improve your speed, agility and quickness while increasing your strength and balance.

Total Body Conditioning – Class 2 (Ahmad)
Levels – All
Thursdays 4:00 pm

Tune-in to the heart pumping music and get a full body work out in this high energy class. Includes cardio and weights and is designed to burn fat and build muscle. Open to all fitness levels; exercises are easy to follow and modify.

Yoga (Kathleen)
Level: Beginner
Thursdays 5:15 pm

Yoga is so much more than a good stretch for the body—it’s a good stretch for the mind and the soul, as well! Round out your work week by coming to this relaxing Level 1 class. Whether you’re a newbie, a seasoned yoga “veteran,” or just plain stressed out, please join Kathleen and Crew for our weekly dose of sanity. NOTE: This class is very intentionally centered on quieting the mind, focusing on the breath, relaxing the body, and slowly but mindfully moving through some of the most beneficial, foundational poses in yoga. We’ll open our hips, strengthen our backs, tone our abs and arms, and increase our flexibility. We’ll quiet our “monkey minds” (sometimes, the biggest challenge of all) and soothe our souls in the process.

Logistics/Need-to-Know’s: Please wear loose, comfortable clothing. Yoga is done without shoes (and, preferably, without socks). Please bring a yoga mat if you have one. Other props (highly recommended but not mandatory) include two yoga blocks, a yoga strap, and a firm blanket.

TRX (Grant)
Level – All
Thursday 5:00 pm

Hang from the durable TRX ropes to push, pull, lift and lower your body through Spiderman moves for a total body suspension workout that also super-strengthens your core. You’ll rotate circuit training style between the TRX and other boot camp style drills. This class is on level B1 in parking coverage – outside, but under cover.

Pilates – Class 2 (Carol)
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Fridays 7:30 am

Sculpt and strengthen your core without all those boring crunches and sit-ups. This mat-based workout is designed to help participants develop leaner, longer-looking muscles, establish core strength and stability, and heighten mind-body awareness. Props may be incorporated to add variety. This class will leave you standing tall and feeling refreshed and in touch with your breath. Please bring a mat.

Women & Weights – Class 3 (Christina)
Level -- All
Fridays 4:00 pm

Get your heart pumping and muscles moving in this whole body strength and conditioning class combining weights, bands, balls and floor work to challenge the entire body.

If you are interested, you can learn about the cost of the classes in this post

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Taking a Journey to Wellness -- Guest Post by Loretta Nunez

Some of you enjoyed Carol Williams' post so much, that you suggested I ask Loretta Nunez, the winner of our trip to St. Thomas, to share her story. Loretta kindly oblidged. (She's promised me a picture from St. Thomas that I look forward to sharing with you.)

jour-ney n. 1. The act of traveling from one place to another. 2. A process or course likened to traveling; a passage. The latest ASHA wellness program became a personal journey toward improved health and wellness for me and for my husband.

My wellness goal focused on integrating physical, spiritual and mindfulness practices to improve my physical fitness and lose 15 lbs. over the course of the three month program. My motivation for making this journey was an intention to be more proactive about preventing a family history of cardiovascular disease from becoming a reality for me.

Incorporating spiritual and mindfulness practices along with physical activity was a critical part of my journey for change. I sought to shift my focus from what I call the “mechanics of diet and exercise” to one of greater self-awareness and presence in the moment. Achieving greater awareness led to being more open to actions that brought about change in small steps. My “spiritual” activities included setting my intentions each day, practicing relaxation breathing, and meditating. To increase my physical fitness, I planned 30 minutes of physical activity 3-5x per week (e.g., yoga, bike riding, walking on the treadmill, workouts with weights) starting with activity that I already enjoyed (yoga) and expanding to other activities (bike riding) as my endurance and strength improved. To change my eating habits, I chose more lean protein and vegetables in place of higher carbohydrate meals and practiced being mindful of my food choices and portions at each meal.

I used a variety of informational resources to achieve my goals including what I learned from previous ASHA wellness programs. One resource that was particularly helpful for changing my thinking and attitude was a yoga book written by Baron Baptiste titled 40 Days to a Personal Revolution. In the book the author describes 12 laws of transformation. I focused on one principle per week for 12 weeks through meditation and journaling. Another key resource was maintaining a journal of my goals, action plan, meditations and physical fitness activities. The journal helped me stay focused on the big picture (my goal for wellness of my whole being) and also helped me see small changes that added up over time.

By the end of the 12 week program I had achieved my goal which in reality is merely a milestone in my health and wellness journey. My husband supported my efforts and joined me in making changes as well. We both benefitted by losing weight and eliminating the need for previously prescribed medications. Based on the medications that we eliminated, we saved ourselves about $800 and our health plan about $2,700 a year in annual prescription costs. These savings were an eye opener! We benefitted from ASHA’s commitment to wellness and prevention and experienced firsthand the personal and economic impact of making behavioral changes that are within our control.

While this journey in reality is endless, it now includes a planned stop on the island of St. Thomas thanks to the generosity of ASHA and others who sponsored this wellness program. My husband and I are grateful for the changes we made and all that resulted from this program. I must also give kudos to ASHA for its ongoing commitment to offering health and wellness programs in the workplace.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How well does your health plan cover treatment for communication disorders?

Nearly 50 million Americans have a speech, language or hearing disorder. The ability to communicate is essential to learning, working, social well being and living independently. When communication is impaired, it affects every aspect of a person's life, including interactions in the workplace. You can positively impact workplace communication by making sure that you provide adequate speech, language and hearing benefits under your health insurance. We always negotiate with health insurance carriers to implement ASHA's model speech, language and hearing benefits as part of our contract. It's an inexpensive benefit to offer -- less than 35 cents per covered employee per month. Yet, it's critical when an employee needs it. 

Can you imagine struggling through a meeting unable to hear most of the conversation? Approximately 30 million Americans have a hearing loss and half of them are under age 50, so many of them are in the workplace. Today's digital hearing aid prices range from approximately $1,000 to $3,500 per hearing aid according to this post. The $2,000 benefit provided in our model language puts hearing aids within reach of those that need them. 

Take a few minutes to watch this video and imagine what it might be like to be a parent of a child who stutters. Two out of every 10 children have some type of speech, language or hearing disorder. Although educational systems provide speech, language, and hearing services, they are available only to children who qualify under a very rigid set of federal regulations and state education laws. In addition, caseloads in the schools are high, so many children benefit from supplemental services. This can be a big worry and expense for parents if their health insurance provides inadequate coverage. 

Make sure you know what your policy currently covers. Or better yet, do what we do and negotiate with your carrier to cover speech, language and hearing benefits as described in the ASHA's model language below.

ASHA Model Benefits (Aug 2011)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Carol Williams' Heart Health Story

Carol was so enthusiastic about our Heart Health initiative, I asked her to write this guest post to share her story. 

I participated in the Heart Health Initiative and saw dramatically positive results at the end of the program.  I have been on a statin drug for my cholesterol (hovering around 200) for the past 8 years. During the past 3 years I developed diabetes with fluctuating blood sugars, very high blood sugars, and very high triglicerides. My endocrinologist wanted to start me on insulin because I could not get my blood sugars down with any consistency and more importantly, my triglicerides were high and no medication she prescribed made my numbers budge.  

Through a variety of wellness initiatives available here at ASHA, I have been able to lose 15 pounds in one year. I've changed my eating and exercise habits: eating low carb, walking on ASHA's treadmill 4 times a week for 30 minutes, eating breakfast, eating my "big" meal before 2pm, not snacking after 8pm. To keep me motivated and on track, I have twice monthly phone calls with ASHA's wellness coach.  

I went to David Foreman's presentation because I was on a statin drug for cholesterol and I have a family history of stroke and heart attack, but none for diabetes.  What Dave said made so much sense to me and I decided to give the Sytrinol and Fish Oil alternative treatment a try.  First I had to battle with my internist because she did not want me to stop the statin drug.  Her reason - it is the only cholesterol lowering drug approved by the FDA that has been shown to also prevent stroke and heart attack for people with heart health problems.  I read the research provided by Janet McNichol about the negative effects of statin drugs on some people and armed with that information was able to get permission from my internist to stop the statin drug for 3 months.  She was wary of Sytrinol because there was no research done by the pharmaceutical companies and no FDA approval that it could help prevent stroke and heart attack. But she gave in when she couldn't give me an honest answer to my question "Will it kill me to go off the statin for 3 months?"  

I was very strict about taking the Sytrinol, missed some doses of the fish oil, missed a few of my treadmill sessions, and cheated a few times by eating bad carbs like a piece of "made from scratch" cake or a danish pastry or a bowl of spaghetti!  I was so nervous and full of anticipation while we waited to get our blood results at the end of the 3 months.  My wait and adherence to my wellness plan was so worth it!!  All of my numbers went down and most exciting were the lower cholesterol, bad cholesterol and trigliceride numbers. I also no longer have the wildly fluctuating blood sugar numbers and most of the time my blood sugar is normal throughout the day and now tends to be low.  I have not had appointments with my internist and endocrinologist yet, but I can't wait to show them the positive and much improved results after I stopped the statin med completely.  I also will be working with them to lower the dosages of the diabetes meds I still take so as not to experience blood sugar levels that are too low. 

As already mentioned in Janet's post, I have saved myself (and ASHA) a significant amount of money by getting off the statin drug!  I am so grateful to Dave, but mostly appreciate the ASHA Wellness Program initiatives which have had a significantly positive impact on my health and all-around well being.  Thank you ASHA!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Heart Health Initiative Results and ROI

Early this year I heard David Foreman speak about heart health. Dave is a retired pharmacist, naturopathic doctor, practitioner of natural living and holistic approaches to better health, and a fellow Gamecock. His talk prompted me to dig through reports on our prescription drug utilization. 13% of the adults covered by our health plan take statins and, after listening to Dave, I became concerned they could have more of a negative impact on my colleagues' health than a positive one. Our annual prescription drug costs for statins are over $30,000 a year. So, it seemed reasonable to invest in some sort of cholesterol program. I contacted Dave and together we designed a 12 week heart health initiative for our staff.

We kicked off the initiative in April. Dave spoke to interested staff and we offered cholesterol and CRP screenings. 42 staff participated in the baseline screenings. Dave talked with us about his four pillars of health -- diet, exercise, spirituality and supplementation -- as they relate to heart health. Dave also educated us a bit about the risks associated with statins. After staff received their lab test results, we gave them the opportunity participate in a 12 week initiative designed to lower their cholesterol. Participants pledged to:
  • Eat as described in Food Rules -- Eat food. Not to much. Mostly plants.
  • Move a little -- the equivalent of a 30 minute brisk walk or more per day
  • Take 150 mg of Sytrinol twice daily 
  • Take 2,000 mg of Coromega Omega 3s daily

Dave arranged to have Coromega and a Sytrinol manufacturer donate the supplements for our program. Participants were each provided with a welcome kit and encouraged to participate in a discussion of Food Rules. We also took a field trip to a local farmers' market to apply what we learned in the book. Dave joined us for two video chats during the course of the initiative to answer participant's questions and share additional information. 

All participants agreed to complete an end point screening in July so they could assess whether the changes they made were working. 16 staff members chose to participate in the program. 
  • 37% (6) lowered the total cholesterol
  • 50% (8) lowered their triglycerides
  • 44% (7) increased their HDL (good cholesterol)
  • 31% (5) lowered their LDL (bad cholesterol)
  • 19% (3) lowered their CRP

It's rare that I can calculate a meaningful ROI for a component of our wellness program, but this initiative provided the opportunity. (The cost of our screenings was covered under our annual contract with LifeWork Strategies. However, I'll break it out on a fee-for-service basis here.) 

At least one individual was able to eliminate the use of a statin saving herself $280 a year and our plan over $3,600 per year. So, even if we assume that there was only that one return on our investment, we will have recouped the full cost of the program in 14 months. 

The program didn't work for everyone, but seven individuals plan to continue with it and I'm pleased with the ROI. One of the participants, Carol Williams, shares her story here

Monday, August 15, 2011

Meatless Mondays

Foraging for a Healthy and Sustainable Meal

I've written other posts about my struggle with choosing foods that are healthy and sustainable. I came up with a list to guide my shopping and did some research on food labels. Then a colleague, Kat, shared an article from HBR that provides an easy answer. 
Eliminating meat from your diet just one day a week is more effective than buying everything you eat locally. 
When it comes to reducing your food-related carbon footprint, you can have the greatest impact by reducing the amount of meat that you eat -- most notably if that meat is beef. And, a vegetarian or flexitarian diet is good for your health. View this slideshow to learn more.

We're adding some "Green" books to the HR Library in preparation for our Green Living event in October. I've ordered these two, but I'm looking for other recommendations. Please share your favorites. 

I was struggling with this post because it was full of links. Thanks to Steve Boese for introducing me to Slidestaxx.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The winner of the trip to St. Thomas is… Loretta Nunez!

Loretta’s goal was to integrate physical, spiritual and mindfulness practices to improve her physical fitness and lose 15 pounds by July 15.

Our external panel of experts said they chose Loretta’s entry because she was focused on a specific task and she truly documented that she had achieved her goal. It was clear that a large amount of effort was put into her journey and her journal. They felt her journal was a true testament to the reasoning behind wellness programs. They also loved that her husband lost weight during her journey. Loretta and her husband were both able to eliminate the need for prescription medications and they both lost inches, dropped one size in clothing, and improved their energy and quality of life. Loretta chose a goal, she stuck with it, she achieved it, and she documented her journey in a very creative manner.

A huge thank you to our panel of external judges for donating their time and expertise.
  • Mark Sager, our insurance broker with Alliant and the donator of this fabulous trip.
  • Cyndi Fales, our point person at LifeWork Strategies and coordinator of the review panel
  • Sue Heitmuler, MA, Health Ministries at Adventist Health Care
  • Cindy Mann, Nutritionist and Holistic Health Counselor
  • Christina Sweeney, Personal Trainer
  • Debra Weinstein, EAP Counselor at LifeWork Strategies
And, many thanks to Mike Cannon for treating us all to delicious smoothies with his Vitamix. Be sure check out his blog

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