Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Map Walking/Running/Biking Routes

Terry posted a link to the Iowa Girl Eats blog on our Inside Workplace Wellness Facebook Page today. It's quiet in the office, so I took a few minutes to poke around and discovered the post 3 Free Web Tools You Should Be Using! Number one was to plot your run/walk/bike route using the Loops tool at I went in and plotted a walk around the block from our office.

It was easy to plot the route and it showed me the change in elevation and a summary of the route -- 1.33 miles. I have been wanting to plot several routes from our office for people to use when they walk and run. I've even thought about having them printed on little cards like I've seen at hotels. It looks like I have a tool to get this done now. I guess I'll add that to my list for 2011.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Screenings for LOST @ASHA

After we completed our Biggest Loser program last year, we took note of what we would do differently next time. One item on the list was to simplify the assessments. During our Biggest Loser program, we did a couple of fasting blood draws to measure cholesterol and blood glucose and physical fitness assessments. During this program we will keep it simple and measure the following:
  • weight,
  • blood pressure,
  • waist to hip ratio and circumference, 
  • BMI,
  • body fat breaking out essential body fat, reserve body fat and excess body fat.
We'll use the tool we developed last year to calculate the various body fat measures. Cyndi Fales from Lifework Strategies and our intern last summer, Diana Levin, described the tool in this post.
Today, we are shopping for a new scale. That was another lesson learned the hard way from our last program. We want a simple digital model with a maximum weight capacity of 400 pounds.

This will also keep our costs down. The lab work alone last time cost us approximately $7,000 at $35 per blood draw and it was difficult to reschedule for people that missed the planned assessments.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


We're Kicking off our 2nd annual weight management program. Staff can sign up through January 7, 2011. Our Wellness Advisory Team put together this flier announcing the program. (Thanks Melanie!)

Hopefully we'll be able to help people make some changes that will improve their health over the long term, but even if we just help folks knock off the extra pounds they gained over the holidays it's worthwhile. Those pounds compounded from year to year can really add up.

Today Terry is working on developing charts to track each team's weight loss. We're using what they do on Thintervention as a model. So, we'll be recording pounds lost each week instead of weight like we did last year during our Biggest Loser program.

I'm looking forward to seeing if participation is as high as it was in our Biggest Loser program last year.

Lost Flier

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Wellness Wish List

I have been thinking about our wellness program goals for 2011. My wish list includes:
  1. Individual coaching to help our staff members and their families coordinate prescription medications and take their medications correctly
  2. Robust disease education and management program
  3. Seamless data sharing between Lifework Strategies, our wellness partners, and United Healthcare, our health insurance company
  4. Visit from the mammogram van
  5. Wall mounted iPhone/iPod speakers for our exercise room
  6. TRX Suspension Training Class
If you have other suggestions, or if you think you can help us make any of these things happen, please get in touch with me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Preview of Our Next Weight Loss Program

Our plans for our next weight loss program are starting to take shape. We will kick it off in January and hope to help people reach their new year's weight loss resolutions. We've tried to keep the best of the Biggest Loser program we ran last year and change it up a bit to keep it interesting and address lessons learned. The next step is to get some feedback from our Wellness Advisory Team and ask them to help us come up with a name. If you have an idea for a name for our campaign, please share it below. 

These are my notes. (I apologize to all you linear thinkers ;-)

Thanks to Terry Harris, my linear thinking partner in HR, Cyndi Fales from Lifework Strategies and all the members of our Wellness Advisory Team for sharing your great ideas.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Workplace Wellness Book Club

Has anyone tried sponsoring a health and wellness related book club at work? I don't necessarily mean a book club that reads health and wellness books (although that is an option.) I'm thinking more along the lines of a book club that reads best sellers and discusses health and wellness related lessons or inspiration that can be gleaned from the writing. 

I'm sitting here reading my November 2010 issue of Shape Magazine. (By the way, this is my favorite magazine. I've been reading it for years and I still look forward to its arrival every month.) There is a short article, Book Clubs Get a Healthy Makeover. It describes a book club that was developed by Jennifer Huberty, Ph.D., an associate professor of physical activity in health promotion at the University of Nebraska. They meet in person in Omaha, but for $40 a month you can join the online discussion. Evidently they read best sellers and then Huberty relates the story to topics like confidence and changing behaviors. 

We actually have a book club in our office and I know a lot of folks participate in book clubs outside of work. So, I'm wondering if this might be a way to engage staff in our wellness program that we've had trouble reaching and offer some additional support to people that are already engaged. 

Please share your thoughts. (Yes, this includes staff. I'll gladly take your feedback and suggestions any way you choose to share, but I do love it when people leave comments on my blog. And, that holds true whether you agree or disagree with me.) 

And, please let me know if you have a book in mind that you think would be a good "fit" for an endeavor like this.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Smoke Free and Vending Machine Free

I just read The Great Banana Challenge in the WSJ and I’m left thinking, why bother? We have a pretty comprehensive wellness program in our office and we tried putting some healthier snacks in our vending machines and they didn't sell. Why? People who eat healthy generally bring their food from home, they plan ahead, they don't make many impulsive vending machine purchases. What's one of the first things people are taught in a nutrition education program? -- carry healthy snacks with you and stash some at your desk. There are Lara Bars in my purse and containers of flax seed and cinnamon at my desk to stir into the plain greek yogurt I bring from home. I can't tell you the last time I bought food from a vending machine (and the last time I did, I'm sure I wanted something junky I don't normally keep around).

The article in the WSJ also mentions the price of the fresh fruits and vegetables -- $2.50 for a banana. OK, I can't imagine wanting a banana so bad that I'd pay $2.50 for it. Actually, I can't imagine wanting a banana at all since Kristin Wood ruined them for me during our Eat Like an Athlete program. When is it appropriate to eat a banana? -- after completing a marathon or century bike ride. So, for me, that's never. But, I digress.

Has anyone asked whether people that eat fresh fruits and vegetables want to get them from a machine? I enjoy picking out a variety of fresh apples at the farm market, but a red delicious apple in a vending machine holds no appeal to me. Or maybe the question is, will people that eat out of a vending machine buy fresh produce if it's available?

I've been looking on line to see if someone has developed a profile of who purchases food from a vending machine. There has been quite a bit of research done on vending machines in schools, but nothing I've found about vending machines in workplaces. Although it looks like the National Automatic Merchandising Association is conducting somesurveys now. According to this literature review,33.8% of vending machines were in office environments in 2006.

As it stands, why do we even have vending machines in our office? They're full of food we don't want our staff to eat and it's the vending machine company that's making money on the sales. If we took them out all together, people would at least have to walk across the street to buy a bag of chips and they'd get some exercise.

We're a smoke free property. How about a junk food vending machine free property too?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Diabetes Education and Support in the Workplace

We are currently running our first condition specific wellness program -- an eight week program for people that are diabetic, pre-diabetic or have family members that are diabetic, or pre-diabetic. We have 31 people participating. Diana Levin, designed the program when she interned with us and Lifework Strategies last summer.

Prior to the start of the program, we offered A1C Screenings which I talked about here. A1c is a blood test that checks the amount of sugar (glucose) bound to hemoglobin. It is used to diagnose diabetes as well as check the long-term control of blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. Any employees who had an abnormal result received a phone call from a physician's assistant at Lifework Strategies who offered coaching and next steps. People that have an abnormal A1c result were also referred to our diabetes education program. In addition, Lifework Strategies went back through our Biggest Loser blood test results and contacted staff members with high glucose levels and suggested they participate in this program. I believe Lifework Strategies efforts were critical in getting people to participate in our program.

We assembled a nice package of information for each participate and distributed them at a kick off that was combined with the first of four educational sessions.

  • Overview of Diabetes and Exercise
  • Nutrition and Learning to Control Your Blood Sugar
  • Diabetes Problem Solving, Reducing Risks, and Products for Diabetes
  • Supporting Family with Diabetes
These informational sessions are supplemented by weekly peer discussions groups. We recruited three volunteers from the program participants to lead these sessions. Their role is to facilitate the groups getting together and to prompt discussion.

We are participating in the DC Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes to close out the program. We intentionally set a very modest fundraising goal of $100 because our primary objective is to celebrate the close of our program and what we've learned together about diabetes. I'm pleased to say that we've already raised $335 and we're hoping to bring in some additional pledges before the event. I think this is going to be a great finale to our program and we'd love for you to join our team. The walk begins and ends at Nationals Park on October 23, 2010 and you can choose a 2 mile or a 5 mile route. 

Here's a good article about why and how an employer can get involved in helping their employees manage diabetes -- Fighting the 'Stealth Scourge'.

Update 10/23/10: Six of us completed the 5 mile DC Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes. It was a beautiful fall morning and a nice walk from Nats Park to Eastern Market and back. We raised $510.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Selecting a New Health Plan Using a Systematic Decision-Making Process

Guardian has provided our health insurance coverage since 2004. We have been happy with them, but we're hearing rumors that they are getting out of the health insurance business and we certainly don't want to be the last ones on a sinking ship. We worked with our broker, Mark Sager at Alliant, to put our health insurance out for bid this year.

A colleague, Karen Niles, had introduced some of us to the Kepner-Tregoe approach to decision making and we decided to use it in selecting a new health insurance carrier. The approach helps decision makers use weighted objectives to guide decision making, evaluate alternatives against objectives, and document recommendations by showing the structured thinking behind the decision.

In this case, the objective was pretty obvious -- Choose a new insurance company to partner with and provide health insurance coverage to the ASHA staff and retirees. Mark brought us bids from three insurance companies to consider -- United Health Care, Aetna, and Carefirst.

We solicited feedback from everywhere we could think of... we posted a notice to the staff and our retirees that we would be making a change and asked them to share any experiences they had with the carriers we were considering, we posted questions on Facebook and Twitter, asked for feedback from our current and former billing and flex plan administrators, and wellness partners. We also did a fairly extensive internet search. We captured all this on printed out emails, index cards and reports and hung it on a bulletin board. We wound up with an overwhelming amount of feedback. I met with a colleague in research, Mike Jeffries. Mike mentioned Edward Tufte's work and he suggested that we cut out all the extraneous information, so I spent a little time with a pair of scissors, some tape and a highlighter. This made a surprisingly big difference. (I wish I had a before picture so that you could see the difference.)

We used this feedback to brainstorm our objectives. Then we broke the objectives into musts and wants and determined what we would use as an indicator for each factor. We met with each of the carriers to determine if they could meet all of our musts. United Health Care and Aetna made it through this first round of screening.

We had a long list of wants and we spent a Friday afternoon weighting them. Because the list was so long, we categorized the wants and then grouped them on note cards organizing them from most to least important by category. This helped us to assign weights using a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best satisfier. All this information was entered into a spreadsheet. United Health Care and Aetna came back in to meet with us a second time and we explored each factor and scored the carriers as to how well they satisfied each want. The process was somewhat tedious and continued via email after the meetings. It forced us to make sure we were comparing apples to apples and helped us to maintain a perspective that went beyond our liking one companies' presentation more than the other. Here's the spreadsheet.

Quotes 2010

You can see that United came out on top -- 1694 to 1681. This approach allowed us to distinguish the best satisfier from two very good options. We also checked references for United and Aetna and did a detailed cost comparison.

In addition to aiding us in making a decision, our approach conveyed our priorities to the carriers and that we are interested in creating a long term partnership. I look forward to working with the team at United Healthcare.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Favorite Health and Wellness Podcast

I enjoy listening to the Health Report, a podcast that is broadcast weekly by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The host is Dr. Norman Swann and he delves into each topic with enough depth that it's educational and thought provoking. Each episode is about 30 minutes long.

This week, I listened to the September 13th edition on homocysteine and brain atrophy. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't even know what a homocysteine was, and I'm still not going to try to define it for you. However, the podcast was fascinating and has interesting repercussions for treating Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment using vitamins.

You can listen or read the full transcript on the Health Report site or download the podcast on iTunes.

Do you have a favorite health or wellness related podcast? If so, please share it here. I'd like to find some other good podcasts that might help make my commute seem shorter.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

9 Lessons for Longevity from The Blue Zones

In The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner visits four places where people are living the longest, healthiest lives anywhere on the planet -- Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California and Nicoya, Costa Rica. The book is an engaging easy read filled with so many good stories and ideas, I wanted to take notes, so I thought I'd share them with you here. 

Here are nine tips that could help you lead a long and healthy life:

1) Move. People that live the longest are physically active much of most days. Most don't run or go to the gym, but they engage in low-intensity activities like walking and gardening as part of their daily work. The time outside also allows people to get a steady dose of vitamin D from the sunshine. It was interesting that they pointed out that Okinawans sit on the floor and probably strengthen their legs just by getting up and down throughout the day.

2) Hara Hachi Bu - eat until you are 80% full. This comes from the Okinawans, stopping when you are no longer hungry, but not quite full is a good way to avoid overeating. Eat your biggest meals at breakfast and lunch. Nicoyans, Okinawans and Sardinians all eat their big meal at midday. Loma Lindans eat their big meal for breakfast. Without exception, the people that live the longest maintain a healthy weight over the course of their lives.

3) Eat whole, unprocessed foods and a mostly vegetarian diet. The cornerstones of a longevity diet are beans, whole grains and vegetables. Pork was eaten in three of the four Blue Zones, but it was only consumed three or four times per month. Seventh-day Adventists consume nuts daily and they have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and have other health benefits. People in all four Blue Zones maintained gardens growing their own fruits and vegetables.

4) Say Cheers. In Sardinia they drink red wine. In Okinawa, it's sake. Consistency and moderation seem to be the key. The other beverages consumed by centenarians seemed to be limited to water, coffee and tea.

5) Live with a strong sense of purpose. The people that live the longest have a reason to wake up in the morning. They enjoy caring for their families, engage in work they find meaningful or volunteer.

6) Slow down and de-stress. People in each of the Blue Zones take time to appreciate family, friends and their surroundings. I was at a conference recently where one of the speakers suggested that we should all try to be calm, confident, patient and present. Centenarians seem to have mastered this. They also have close relationships with friends and neighbors and visit almost daily. Oh, and I almost forgot, get enough sleep -- 7 to 9 hours each night.

7) Practice your religion. All the centenarians interviewed seem to have faith. Studies show that attending religious ceremonies even just once a month increases you life expectancy.

8) Put your family first. The people that live the longest marry, have children, and build their lives around that family core. Their lifelong devotion pays dividends as they get older and their children reciprocate their love and care. In three of the four Blue Zones, the younger generation welcomes the older generation into their homes.

9) Surround yourself with those that share these values. Social connectedness is ingrained into the world's Blue Zones. In the book Connected by scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, they present compelling evidence for our profound influence on one another's tastes, health, wealth, happiness, beliefs, even weight, as they explain how social networks form and how they operate.

There is a corresponding website that allows you to calculate how long you're likely to live given you current habits using a tool called the Vitality Compass. It didn't take long to complete and it's kind of fun to see the results. Here's mine.  

The Danish Twin Studies established that less than 25% of how long the average person lives is dictated by genes. In other words, most of how long and how well we live is up to us. Choose wisely!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Vitamin D Screening Results

Studies show the effects of a Vitamin D deficiency can be broad reaching including an elevated risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, and immune-system abnormalities; not to mention the obvious impact on bone development and bone loss. According to an article in the LA Times, a study of 13,000 Americans, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 50% to 75% have suboptimal levels of Vitamin D by current standards. I started learning about Vitamin D deficiencies five years ago and have since been trying to offer Vitamin D screening as part of our wellness program. For some reason, no one wanted to do it. Finally, LifeWork Strategies agreed to conduct the screening for us.

Last May, we offered Vitamin D screening to our staff during our annual wellness fair. 67 people were screened. 47 were in the desirable range and 20 were low. Lifeworks Strategies phoned the 20 people with a low result and suggested they follow-up with their physicians.

I'm reviewing a report on our top 20 drugs by fills now and Vitamin D shows up as #3 with 44 prescriptions filled. This is the first time Vitamin D has ever showed up on the list. The cost for all 44 prescriptions is only $116.47. 

There are tons of articles out there on Vitamin D. Here are a few that I found particularly interesting.

What Do You Lack? Probably Vitamin D - New York Times
It may be vitamin D's day in the sun - Los Angeles Times

Vitamin D myths and advice for patients -

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Biggest Mover Finale

We held the closing celebration for our Biggest Mover program today. 58 of the 98 active participants earned a President's Challenge Award. We also had an additional ten people participate as friends and family and four of them earned awards.

Here is a video with some highlights of the program...

We ran the program from May 4 through August 31. People seemed to loose interest the last couple of weeks, so that might have been a tad long. However, the President's Challenge just changed the points needed to earn awards essentially doubling them. If you shortened the program now, people wouldn't have time to earn a variety of awards. 

We provided President's Challenge certificates to everyone who earned them. We also recognized the winning team, the top three point earners, and the individuals that improved the most in a fitness test that TrueFT ran for us at the beginning and end of the program. 

Overall the program was a lot of fun, inexpensive, and fairly easy to administer. Try it in your workplace. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Benefits of Eating Seasonal & Local

The work of our Green Team often supports our wellness efforts. We all work in a wonderful Gold LEED Certified green building. Our indoor air quality is exceptional and free of pollutants and all our workspaces are ergonomically designed for the staff's comfort. The use of natural daylight is maximized and most staff enjoy unobstructed views of the outside. All things that are good for our bodies and souls.

Today our interests overlapped in a slightly different way. The Green Team helped us to plan a Lunch & Learn session on the benefits of eating seasonal and local. Cindy Mann presented the session. Cindy has talked with us before and the staff lover her. She's warm, entertaining and knowledgeable. Cindy is the founder and director of Boundless Wellness, but we know her through our partnership with LifeWork Strategies. Give Cindy 15 minutes and you'll be itching to go out and eat some kale. (See one of her kale recipes on slide #15.) Cindy mentioned that she really enjoyed Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I already have it downloaded to my Kindle.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cardio and Diabetes Screening Results

On August 19, we offered two screenings to our staff -- Cardio CRP and A1c. Cardio CRP is a blood test that is clinically used to assess reltaive risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) as well as assess risk of a recurrent cardiovascular event in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD.) A1c is a blood test that checks the amount of sugar (glucose) bound to hemoglobin. It is used to diagnose diabetes as well as check the long-term control of blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.

Lifeworks Strategies conducted the screenings for us. 59 employees (24%) participated in the screenings. All participating employees will receive a letter with educational materials and their results. Any employees who had an abnormal result will receive a phone call from a physician's assistant at Lifework Strategies who will offer coaching and next steps. People that have an abnormal A!c result will also be referred to the diabetes education program that we are kicking off next month.

Cyndi Fales prepared this report that describes the tests in more detail and shows our aggregate results. As you can see, a lot of peope fell outside the normal range.

ASHA A1C CRP Aggregate Report Aug 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Staffing Continuity, Flu Shots and Workplace Wellness

I was asked by LifeWork Strategies to sit on a Flu Panel on September 2 with a nurse and a doctor from Adventist HealthCare. They've asked me to help send the message that flu shots are most effective when offered as part of a comprehensive wellness program. I hope you'll join us.

A recent study indicated that obesity is a risk factor for severe illness from the flu and, of course, the obesity rates are climbing. The CDC released a report earlier this month that said more adults are obese -- an additional 2.4 million. The report includes a statement from Dr. William Dietz that is particularly relevant to workplace wellness.

“Obesity is a complex problem that requires both personal and community action,” said William Dietz, M.D., Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. “People in all communities should be able to make healthy choices, but in order to make those choices, there must be healthy choices to make. We need to change our communities into places where healthy eating and active living are the easiest path.”

Working on our workplace wellness program is largely fun -- exercise classes, educational programs, and campaigns to inject some enthusiasm. However, it's also important to plan for the not fun -- events like a pandemic.

Last year with the threat of a flu pandemic looming large, we finally finished developing a staffing continuity plan. ASHA had a business continuity plan that was designed to help us respond to localized threats -- fires, bombs, riots, earthquakes and hurricanes -- that affect infrastructure already in place. We decided we needed to compliment that plan with a staffing continuity plan that protects employees and their ability to conduct business during a sustained crisis like a pandemic. (In all honesty, I don't understand why staffing continuity is not part of business continuity, but that's not my area of expertise.)

We started the process with a lot of questions. We expected that our members would understand a short term delay of service in the event of an emergency, but how would that change if we needed to seriously limit services if a large percentage of the staff was unable to come into the office over an extended period of time? What services would we want to maintain at a minimum? Do we have adequate cross training in those functions? Could the staff meet those needs even if they weren’t physically present in the N.O.? Are there things that ASHA can do to minimize the number of staff exposed to an illness or limit the spread of an illness between staff? What information needs to be shared with staff in the event of a pandemic?

We did our best to answer these questions in the plan below.

ASHA Staffing Continuity Plan FINAL

Update: September 2, 2010

Here are the slides from the event. I learned that if we could vaccinate 92% of our staff we could basically stop the spread of the flu within our workplace. We're no where near that number now, but at least we have a goal.

Update: October 4, 2010

Interesting post in the Your Health at Work Blog from Harvard Business Review -- Flu Vaccination Programs and the Bottom Line. The article states that a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh showed employee vaccinations programs save anywhere from $15 to $1,494 per worker depending on the type of the business and the severity of the flu.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Redesigning Our Body Fat Reports - Guest Post by Cyndi Fales and Diana Levin

After our Eat Like an Athlete session with Kristin Wood, I stopped by Max Muscle to check out their body fat machine. Max Muscle uses a Futurex machine. I don't know that it's much more accurate than the Omron machine Lifework Strategies is using with us, but Kristin provided a much more comprehensive report. I liked that it showed essential fat, reserve fat, and excess fat. (I think it's important to remember that not all fat is bad.) I also think it's more encouraging for people to focus on eliminating just the excess fat. Kristin also gave me my BMR and how many calories I probably burn each day. I've used other apps that gave me a much lower number. This one seems more realistic (or maybe I just like it because it's higher ;-)

This experience prompted me to ask Cyndi Fales our partner at Lifework Strategies to help us redesign the reports we give to our staff. Below is a description from Cyndi and Diana Levin, the intern we share, about how they developed our new report.

We'll be using the new report for the first time on Wednesday, August 4. We created it as a pdf file, so that we could share it with others. If you use it, please pass along your feedback to help us hone the tool. (Many thanks to Emerald Ong for sharing her graphic design skills.)

Body Composition for PRINT

BMI and Body fat are two common methods of determining obesity. But what do these numbers really tell us? BMI tells us if we are X inches tall, we should weigh a certain amount, above said amount would be considered overweight or obese. BMI does not take into account age, gender, athletic build, etc. As a result, it doesn't provide the best picture of body composition. It is, however, a simple and inexpensive method of calculating possible health risks.

There are many ways to test body fat: underwater weighing, bioelectrical impedance, skinfold, Futrex, etc. Each method has it pros and cons, but any of these methods will give you a ratio of fat to lean muscle. What we have learned is that the percentage of body fat readings from these tests tells us a lot more than just how fat or lean we are! Our bodies have essential fat (required for normal bodily function), reserve fat (additional fat that doesn't cause medical risk), and excess fat (extra fat that increases medical risk). After reviewing some exercise physiology and nutrition texts, as well as, various online resources, we discovered that we can determine essential, reserve, and excess fat from our body fat percentage using a few equations.

Based on our research, essential fat is a constant percentage for men and women. However, various materials suggested different percentages for essential fat, which means that the numbers are up for debate. We aired on the side of caution by going with The American Council on Exercise’s numbers which went up to 13% versus other resources claiming as low as 9% for females. If a female’s essential fat is too low, they lose their menstrual cycle. Therefore, sticking to 13% is a safer bet. For men, we saw essential fat recommendations between 2-6%. Reserve fat is the amount of fat above essential that does not exceed the recommended total body fat range. Finally, with the essential and reserve fat known, the difference between these two weights and your total fat weight is how much excess fat you have.

Some body fat equipment may give you the breakdown of the fats, but it is just using simple calculations to determine the weights. As mentioned before, we did come across some varying information. For example, there are many different recommendations for percentages of essential fat. Some sources break down their recommendations by sex, gender, and even athletic level. As a result, there is room for discussion and debate with all the calculations. All in all, the calculation can give a great ball park figure of excess body fat and where there is room for improvement. We think reviewing the equation helps to show that not all fat is bad fat. Our body needs fat to function properly, and this equation can show if someone does not have enough of that essential fat.

Update: It's August 4, 2010 and people are lining up to get their new body composition reports.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Our First Frisbee Golf Tournament

We held our first Frisbee Golf Tournament after work on June 23, 2010 as part of our Biggest Mover Campaign. 25 staff members participated.  It was hot and humid, but there was lots of laughing and even a little singing. We worked with TrueFT to plan the event. They came up with an ingenious, cost-effective design for the baskets and laid out a challenging yet approachable course.

We plan to play again in the fall. This time we'll order some pizzas and plan a tailgate for after the event.

(The handsome, young man in the white shirt at the beginning of the video is my son, Ian.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Pricing Structure for Fitness Classes -- Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad

We've been offering exercise classes as part of our wellness program since the beginning of 2008. We typically have three classes per day -- 7:30 a.m., 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Staff members have been signing up for 8 week sessions and paying $5.00 per class. The $5.00 covers a significant portion of the cost of offering the classes and it helps to make people feel committed to attending. Twenty-five percent of our staff have been taking at least one exercise class per week. Ten staff members take three or more classes per week.

We recently sat down and brain stormed various pricing models with goals to (1) encouarge people to make a long term commitment to exercising, (2) make our classes more affordable, and (3) increase enrollment. We also thought it would be nice to ease the administrative burden if we could do so without compromising any of our other stated goals.

We decided to try a 12 week session instead of the 8 week session we had been offering. This flier describes what we came up with.
This new 12 week session starts today, July 26, and runs through October 10th. Our enrollment actually decreased by three people (5%) which is disappointing. We lost our step instructor for the month of August and a couple of these folks are waiting for the next session of our step class to start in September. In the meantime, we plan to offer a kettlebell class for the month of August. Hopefully that will attract a few more people. Sign-ups for that start tomorrow.

The average number of classes taken increased from 1.8 to 2.02 -- 12%, so we met this goal. The feedback from people on the new pricing structure has been positive with only one exception, so I think we also succeeded in making the classes more affordable. So, we met two of our three goals. Enrolling people for 12 weeks and eliminating credits for the first canceled class definitely eases the administrative, so we accomplished that too. 

We are always listening to the feedback we get from the staff and making adjustments, so we'll see how this goes and decide how to proceed for our next session in October. If you have any suggestions, please share them.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Get Fit with Fitbit

I had coffee with Jennifer Benz of Benz Communications in April and she showed me her Fitbit. I ordered one the minute I got back to my office. The Fitbit was developed by a San Francisco based startup by the same name. It does much more than a traditional pedometer. It tracks calories burned, steps taken, distance traveled, and even your sleep quality if you wear it on a wristband at night. The Fitbit uses a 3D motion sensor similar to what’s used in the Nintendo Wii, so it tracks your motion pretty accurately and can distinguish when you are sedentary, lightly active, fairly active and very active. It automatically uploads data from your Fitbit to the Fitbit website every time you get within 15 feet of your computer via a wireless base station that you plug into your USB drive.

The Fitbit is a small plastic clip that attaches easily to your waist band. You can also keep it in your pocket and I’ve heard that women often wear it on their bras. This is somewhat appealing because it should keep it out of sight and minimize the risk of losing it (at $99 I don’t want to lose it.) 

I wore mine religiously for a month. I even committed to logging all my activities, the food I consumed and my weight on the Fitbit site. The home screen on the Fitbit website is a dashboard that shows your calories burned with a graph of how active you are throughout the day. Below that is an activity chart that shows your steps taken, miles traveled and an activity score. It displays a pie chart of your level of activity that looks like this: 

This could be a very useful tool for people that want to be more active, but don’t want to exercise or go to the gym. You could easily set a goal to reduce the amount of time you are sedentary and then just make a conscious effort to move around more.

I think the impact of sleep on health is undervalued, so I love that Fitbit incorporated the sleep tracker. I don’t know how exactly it works, but it seems pretty accurate. Yes, I usually fall asleep in less than 10 minutes and wake up a few times during the night. If you saw a pattern that was troublesome, it would be easy enough to use Snag It to capture the graphs and put them in a document that you could print out and take to your doctor. Unfortunately, there are currently no print options available on the Fitbit website. I contacted the folks at Fitbit with a number of questions. A lot of what I was looking for was in development, but it seems a print feature has been overlooked.

I’ve been logging all of my workouts in the activity section. Once you enter the data, it adjusts your calories burned and active score accordingly. The choices of activities that you can enter are frustratingly limited at this time. For example, Pilates is not included. We’re using the President’s Challenge site to track our activities as part of our Biggest Mover Campaign at work right now and their list is far more exhaustive. I understand that the folks at Fitbit are working on adding more options though.

I’ve also been logging what I eat. Keeping a food journal when you assign calories to everything you eat is always a pain in the rear. It’s not different using the Fitbit website. You can add foods and enter the nutritional information for them and there are a lot already included. It’s a little clunky though. When I add a food, I have to go in and edit it to enter the nutritional information. Then, the nutritional information I entered doesn’t show up in my log unless I delete the original entry and select it again. You can easily view your calories, fat, fiber, carbs, sodium and protein. I haven’t found a way to view your calcium intake even though it’s something you enter when you put in the nutritional information. Like I said, keeping a food diary is always inconvenient, but I do believe it’s extremely helpful when you are trying to lose weight and it’s just good to do from time to time to inform your decision making. I saw quickly that I’m not always eating enough protein and I was reminded that there are 620 calories in a serving of Five Guys fries which quickly undoes an hour of kickboxing.

I wish the site allowed you to record your body fat along with your weight. I’ve been particularly interested in looking at essential fat, reserve fat and excess fat lately. These are all formula driven calculations after you have height, weight and percent of body fat, so it seems it would be an easy feature to add. The Fitbit representative I corresponded with said he would forward this request to the Fitbit technical team for assessment.

You can view your data over a 30 day period of time. I understand that Fitbit is working on allowing the user to select a date range and view data over shorter or longer periods. The graphs often disappear on me. I can’t figure out why. It’s annoying, but eventually they reappear.

Fitbit is in desperate need of an iPhone app. I asked if they’re working on developing one, but that is the one question that Fitbit didn’t answer. It would make it much easier to keep the food and activity log up-to-date when you are on the go.

The Fitbit is still new. The first ones were available in September 2009 and demand immediately exceeded supply. People waited six months for their orders to be fulfilled. I waited two months. The website says a Fitbit ordered today will ship in four weeks. There is no monthly fee for using the Fitbit website so the $99 cost of the device is all inclusive. I think it’s perfect for data junkies and people that want to be more active without “exercising.”

Update 10/4/2011: The new Fitbit Ultra was introduced yesterday. Here is a thorough review published by engadget.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Magic of Hula Hooping -- Guest Post by Maddy Thom

When we kicked off our Biggest Mover campaign, I decided to look for someone who could do a hooping demonstration for us. (I got the idea a year ago when Matt Hirn from TrueAP posted a link on Twitter to a video of Fatboy Slim's That Old Pair of Jeans. I watched and thought, I wish I could do that.) Ten minutes on Google and I'd found Maddy Thom and connected with her on LinkedIn. This is Maddy and she's amazing.

Maddy did a hooping class for us at ASHA on June 8th and it was great fun. We looked nothing like Maddy, but we learned a few tricks and laughed. Incidently, we've had a few hula hoops in the HR area for a month or so now and I have yet to see someone pick one up and not smile.

We wanted to schedule some more lessons, but Maddy just accepted a job as a Production Coordinator. I am happy for Maddy, but disappointed that she doesn't have her days free to teach here. Maddy does still teach evenings and weekends and I plan to have her do some lessons for me and my friends. She also makes and sells hula hoops. I am fascinated by Maddy's talent and story, so I asked her to write a guest blog post. I hope she inspires you to pick up a hula hoop.

After ten years devoted to basketball, I first picked up a hula hoop two years ago, when I *sigh* finally accepted that at 5’5” tall, playing in the WNBA was just not in my future.

I was first exposed to hoop dance in March of 2008 during my spring break. I attended Langerado—an annual music festival that was held in South Florida. I was, as always, enchanted by the scene, though particularly with my hula hooper extraordinaire friend, Allie. Throughout the weekend I found myself often staring her direction instead of toward the music that I paid well over $200 to see, mesmerized both by her hoop skills and the joy hooping seemed to generate in her and among onlookers. I’m telling you, it was MAGICAL. [Insert shower of fairy dust here.] I promised myself standing there, bubbles in hand that I too would learn to hoop.

While technically my hoop journey started that day, it wasn’t for a few more months that I actually gave it a whirl. It was May 2008 and I was suffering through a miserable mess of exams. Lacking the time for a full-fledged trip to the gym, I was questing some physical activity when a colorful, glittery, fabulous idea floated through my overworked brain.

I had spent the time since Langerado debating how teaching myself hoop dance would go, wondering if I had mentally committed to undertake this challenge when I was in a particularly euphoric mood…the sunshine, music, and beer all providing a burst of confidence. I’ve never been a dancer, unless you consider the year of tap/ballet/tumbling in Kindergarten. What I mean to say is that my forte has always been in team sports—basketball, field hockey, and lacrosse. I worried that while I was certainly coordinated, I had also spent the past ten years developing skills that involved throwing elbows using my body as an instrument to knock people around, skills that I feared might shadow any graceful movements that I might have hidden somewhere inside of me.

So there I was, standing in my cleared out living room, holding my 40” diameter, 1” 160 psi tubing, water-filled hoop, ready to go. (These specs probably mean nothing to you right now, but should you choose to pursue hooping you will realize what a monster of a hoop I was using.) During my first practice, I think I figured out waist hooping (a big step for me, who as a child stuck to the Skip-It), but I only got better from there. Being unfamiliar with “hoop communities”, particularly my Charlottesville hoop community, I relied on YouTube for instruction, seeking out random tutorials on beginning moves that looked impressive.

I quickly became addicted—there is a feeling associated with being inside a hoop that is really difficult to explain; it’s something you have to experience. It made me truly and wonderfully happy. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s nearly impossible to be unhappy when you have a hoop swinging around your waist while your dancing to your favorite band with one of your friends. I was able to laugh at myself trying to learn new tricks and combinations while also developing an awesome new sense of self-confidence. The more that I hooped, the more I decided I liked—dare I say LOVED?—my body.

Part of why hooping is so fabulous is because it’s so versatile—it’s a great workout, a form of dance, a high-energy performance art, and a Saturday afternoon activity you can share with your kids. (Not to mention, it’s inexpensive and accessible—no costly gym memberships required!)

While everyone’s hooping takes on a different form, some graceful and dramatic, others resembling break-dancing or hip-hop, rest assured that you will quickly discover what works for you as you “find your flow” (as we hoopers call it) inside the hoop. So give it a try next time you see some hoopers at the park or at your town’s summer fair. Hula hooping will leave you inspired, revitalized, and with a smile on your face—take it from a self-proclaimed hoopaholic.

If you're interested in hula hooping as a form of exercise, check out these articles.

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.