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

Related posts:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Observing my friends and family, I came up with a theory that ones willingness to tolerate discomfort had a lot to do with whether or not a person exercised routinely. I noted that some people would cancel a walk if they had a blister or back off in a class because their quads were burning while others would push through injury and illness -- throwing up during a basketball game and getting right back on the court; taping up a bloody, swollen toe to catch in a baseball game; making a concession to a torn rotator cuff by doing a shorter triathlon. I also noted that the people that step back when their quads are burning often seem stunned when they hear other people felt the same thing and kept going. 

Then, I read Switch and started thinking about self control as an exhaustible resource. This was a big aha moment for me and I blogged a bit about it in this post -- Self Control and the HR Candy Jar

I didn't connect the two thoughts until today when my colleague, Terry Harris, shared this post with me -- The Neuroscience of Success. Maybe it's not about your willingness to tolerate discomfort -- it's about willpower. 

The better you are able to resist your own natural impulses, the more effectively you can focus your energy on the task at hand. I experienced this on Sunday when I did my first triathlon. (It was just a sprint distance, but I was pushing myself well outside my comfort zone.) As I swam and biked and ran, I felt like my body was just doing what my mind had predetermined. I guess that was willpower. 

The good news is that you can develop your willpower. A study suggests that brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand for two weeks will increase your stick-to-it-tiveness in other areas. The author of the post I shared, Jason Gots, also suggests a few things that you can do to conserve your willpower which is crucial when you think about willpower as an exhaustible resource. Especially during a period of time that you're trying to make a change. He suggests organizing your work day so that tasks requiring more effortful self-control are interspersed with ones that require less, taking breaks after willpower-intensive activities, and avoiding draining your willpower before important activities. Maybe some minor adjustments to your work day will help you conserve enough willpower to make it through your evening workout or resist a dinner of red wine and chocolate ice cream.   

Update: 11/27/2011

Just saw this article in the New York Times Willpower: It’s in Your Head -- "When people believe that willpower is fixed and limited, their willpower is easily depleted. But when people believe that willpower is self-renewing — that when you work hard, you’re energized to work more; that when you’ve resisted one temptation, you can better resist the next one — then people successfully exert more willpower."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

St. Thomas Entries -- Food Fights, a revolutionary journey of weight loss and fitness & the Dabbler

Three more wellness journeys from our St. Thomas program.
  • Food Fights -- This colleague took our first book club book, Food Rules, and used it and our wellness coaching as a jumping off point to improve how her family eats. You'll enjoy her journey and her daughter's request for more quinoa. 
  • Another colleague turned in a truly lovely scrapbook chronicling her successful journey to to integrate physical, spiritual and mindfulness practices to improve her physical fitness and lose 15 pounds. She actually lost 18 pounds, eliminated medications, dropped a dress size and is enjoying riding her new bicycle. She also reported a collateral benefit -- her husband lost 25 pounds. One of many resources she used was 40 Days to Personal Revolution by Baron Baptiste.
  • The Dabbler -- One colleague reflected back on her days as a Girl Scout and earning the dabbler badge. When she was young, she enjoyed experimenting with various aspects of art and culture and tried to recreate that experience as her journey. She explored painting, sketching and playing the piano again. She said the experience has brought her a soundness of mind that she was missing and she intends to make it a never-ending journey. 
Thanks again to our very generous and supportive insurance broker, Mark Sager, for giving us the trip to use as a prize for our wellness program.

Monday, August 1, 2011

ASHA Named One of Greater Washington's Healthiest Employers

We're honored to be included in Washington Business Journals' list of the areas 40 healthiest employers. The award honors companies whose policies and initiatives promote the health and well-being of their employees. They used an online assessment tool and measured wellness programming in six key categories -- culture and leadership commitment, foundational components, strategic planning, communication and marketing, programming and interventions, and reporting and analysis.

They'll announce the ranking of each company during an event on Thursday, September 22. The event includes a wellness expo and breakout sessions. In addition, all 40 companies will be profiled in a special supplement in the September 23 - 29 issue of the Washington Business Journal. Congratulations to all the other winners!

Airlines Reporting Corp.
Allstate Insurance Co.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
AOL Inc.
BioReliance Corp.
The Bullitt Agency
Calvert Investments Inc.
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield
City of Greenbelt
City of Rockville
Corporate Network Services Inc.
Duke Realty Corp.
Dynaxys LLC
Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center
GTSI Corp.
IQ Solutions Inc.
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc.
Neustar Inc.
Nixon Peabody LLP
Praxis Engineering Technologies Inc.
Quest Diagnostics Nichols Institute
Radio One Inc.
Reston Association
Reston Hospital Center
Robert Philipson & Co.
Ryan LLC
Sigal Construction Corp.
SiloSmashers Inc.
SRA International Inc.
Systems Planning and Analysis Inc.
The Teaching Co. LLC
Thompson Hine LLP
USI Insurance Services LLC
Virginia Hospital Center