Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sleep, Stress and Weight Gain

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that men and women over the age of 18 get seven hours or more of sleep per night. Additionally, they report that one out of every three Americans are not getting the recommended amount of sleep. Sleep deprivation causes a number of issues including two of particular importance: an increase in stress levels and altered dietary habits, which can both lead to weight gain.

When your body is sleep deprived, the hormones that affect your appetite are altered. Ghrelin and leptin are hormones that effect hunger. Ghrelin is the “hunger” hormone that is produced in the gut and signals your brain to eat. Leptin is the “satiety” hormone, which signals your brain that you are full. When you are sleep deprived your hunger hormones increase, causing you to consume more calories and gain weight.

When you are in a stressed state, the body uses the “fight or flight” response, signaling cortisol to flood the body with glucose. When our bodies are in a constant state of stress it leads to elevated cortisol levels, inflammation and leptin resistance. Leptin resistance is when leptin’s signal to your brain is not working properly. Although there may be plenty of leptin present, the brain doesn’t utilize it. Therefore, your body believes you are hungry and signals for increased calorie consumption, leading to weight gain.

Bottom line: Sleep and stress take a toll on your overall health. Find activities that help relieve stress such as walking or running. These activities serve the dual purpose of decreasing stress and promoting exercise. Create a bedtime ritual that includes stretching or yoga, which will trigger your mind to wind down and prepare for rest.

Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

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Health Benefits of Yoga

Whether you’re a passionate yogi or new to the ancient Hindu practice, the benefits of yoga are endless. “With a growing body of research proving yoga’s healing benefits, it’s no wonder more doctors—including those with traditional Western training—are prescribing this ancient practice to their patients”- Susan Enfield, Yoga Journal. Get in touch with your inner self and discover the benefits of yoga.

Improves your flexibility
One of the first things many beginners say before starting yoga is, “I’m not very flexible.” You do not have to be super flexible to do yoga; however, after consistent practice you will find gradual loosening of muscles. You may even notice aches and pains you had before begin to disappear.

Builds muscle strength

Using your body weight during yoga builds strength in ways many people didn’t think possible. The muscle and strength built from this practice protect us from conditions like arthritis and back pain. When you build strength through yoga, you balance it with flexibility.

Increases your blood flow
Yoga gets your blood flowing from head to toe. Many of us have poor circulation in our hands and feet and consistent practice gets oxygen to your cells, helping them function better. Whether it is a twisting pose, side bend, headstand, or downward dog, each function to get your blood moving.

Improves your balance
Many of us often feel off balance in our day-to-day lives. Whether it is mental or physical, yoga is shown to create an overall sense of balance. Regularly practicing yoga increases proprioception (the ability to feel what your body is doing and where it is in space) and improves balance. Improving balance can increase muscle and mental strength.

Helps you sleep
Yoga can provide a reprieve from the hectic schedules of our lives. Some of the less intensive practices, such as restorative yoga, encourage rest and going within to relax. Allowing our bodies to rest is something we often do not do when we get caught up in our daily schedules. Taking time for yourself is essential in your yoga practice.

Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fats, Oils, and Smoke Points

Fats are essential to our body’s health. They are not only found in foods, but are added in during preparation, cooking and serving. There are many types of oils you can buy at the grocery store, but do you know the differences? 

Each oil consists of varying amounts of saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fat is considered the “bad” fat, while unsaturated fat is considered the “good, heart healthy” fat. Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and are generally derived from plants. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are derived from meats and dairy products, with the exception of coconut and palm oils.

When choosing oils for cooking it is important to understand what a smoke point is and how it can minimize the risk of unpleasant odors, impaired flavors and reduced vitamin content. A smoke point is the temperature at which oil begins to break down and produce a continuous smoke that is clearly visible. Traditionally, oils are extracted from nuts and seeds through mechanical crushing and pressing. If bottled immediately, it is called ”virgin” oil. These unrefined oils are packed with minerals, enzymes and other compounds that are susceptible to rancidity. To produce an oil with a higher smoke point, manufacturers use industrial level refining processes such as bleaching, filtering and high temperature heating to extract and eliminate the extra compounds. It is important to not heat oil past the smoke point or it will begin to break down, releasing free radicals that can be harmful. Below is a chart of common oils and their smoke points:

Smoke point
Safflower oil
Olive oil
Soybean oil
Peanut oil
Corn oil
Sunflower oil
Vegetable oil
Canola oil
Avocado oil
Sesame oil
Coconut oil
Extra virgin olive oil

Bottom line: All oils are not created equal. While one tablespoon of oil has 100 calories, their composition is quite different. Use the chart as a reference when you’re preparing food to know which oils are better for cooking and which ones are better to drizzle on after cooking.

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Health Benefits of Hummus

Is it possible for one food to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, assist with maintaining a healthy weight, promote a healthy gut, improve diabetic symptoms, reduce the risk of diabetes and reduce the risk of cancer? A 2016 review published in the journal Nutrients finds that consuming traditionally made hummus provides all of these benefits. Hummus is shown to have many health benefits because it is high in fiber and has many essential nutrients and phytonutrients. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data reveals that hummus consumers have higher intakes of fiber, polyunsaturated heart-healthy fats, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, potassium and iron compared to those who do not eat hummus. These nutrients are lacking in many Americans diets. Hummus is more nutrient dense than other spreads and sauces, making it a healthy alternative. It is a great source of fiber, protein and flavor and can be topped or spread on a variety of snacks and dishes. Try these tips to add more hummus to your diet:

1. Spread on sandwiches or wraps
2. Top stir-fries and rice bowls
3. Dip veggies or whole grains
4. Spread on toast
5. Add to salads
6. Thicken soups
7. Choose falafel as the protein in any dish

Bottom Line: It's easy to make your own hummus - save money and avoid the added fat and salt in commercial brands. Try this hummus recipe to get started:

1 15oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup tahini
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 tablespoon water (optional)

1. In a food processor or blender, combine the tahini and lemon juice.
2. Mix in the olive oil and spices.
3. Next, add the chickpeas a little at a time and stir to combine.
4. Blend until smooth, add a tablespoon of water for creamier consistency.

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Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Monday, February 13, 2017

6 Ideas to Strengthen Your Wellness Program

Wellness programs have evolved over the past few years and companies looking to improve employee health while lowering health care costs should consider what’s new in wellness in order to make their programs even stronger.

Organizations that have successfully discovered the benefits of wellness programs are taking a fresh approach and updating not just the benefits offered to employees but the implementation of these programs.

Overall Well-being
While many plans focus on fitness and nutrition, employers are expanding initiatives to help employees with overall well-being – from mental and emotional health to financial fitness, sleep, and work-life balance. Offering programs that address the whole person is a key component to improving employee health and reducing medical claims.

Individualized Wellness Options
The more successful health and wellness programs recognize that employees are individuals and have different needs, challenges and motivations. When introducing a new component of a wellness plan, employers should consider offering a variety of options within each workshop, activity and program. This can be achieved through the use of individualized menu planners, fitness trackers, online and real-time coaches, text messages and reminder apps, access to online live chats for questions and answers, and personalized employee portals on the company’s health and wellness web site.

Incentives – Offer the Carrot
Rewards, rather than penalties, work best to incentivize employees to participate in wellness programs – and rewarding employees for participation or meeting goals can be very effective. Incentives don't need to be costly to drive engagement. Employers can offer a reduction in health premiums, gift cards or a raffle ticket for a trip to all who complete a program (a weekend in New York City, anyone?).

Fitness Anywhere
Finding time to exercise is always a challenge. Encouraging employees with opportunities to increase physical activity during traditional work hours provides flexibility – and may be just what your employees need. Fitness trackers are a great way to encourage employees to take steps at work or during lunch breaks. Competitions and challenges are always good motivators to increase employee participation in fitness. 

Biometric Screenings
A comprehensive wellness program should include biometric screenings in addition to programs on nutrition, fitness and mental/emotional health. Employers who use biometric screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and other health risks can successfully lower overall health care costs. When screenings are paired with a wellness coach, employees have the tools and support needed to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Coaching and Online Resources
Implementing one-on-one coaching to complement your online wellness resources can help meet all the needs of your employees. Providing a range of resources and tools, and ways to access them, is the best way to ensure that your employees will engage in your program. Offering telephonic coaching or email support from coaches as well as online seminars, videos and articles allows employees to access health information at times that are convenient to them, no matter where they may be.

Wellness Workdays is at the forefront of the latest trends in worksite wellness and uses all of these tools, and more, to help employees make healthy lifestyle changes. Contact us to find out how we can help your employees live healthier lives.


Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

5 Ways to Evaluate Your Wellness Vendor

With the growing popularity of corporate health and wellness programs comes an increase in the variety of plan options available, as well as the number of vendors selling packaged plans to employers. Selecting the right vendor for your company is a challenge that can be met by evaluating these five standards.

Data is now an invaluable commodity. The security of any system should comply with either HITRUST, SOC 2, PCI, ISO 27001 or other industry standard. If certification is not available, then evidence of policies, enforcements and third-party security scanning should be made available upon request. Personally identifiable information should only be sent through a secure channel. Sending Social Security numbers and other patient data through an unsecured channel allows unauthorized access that can lead to identity theft.

Quality of Data
All data collected should be accurate, complete, valid, truthful and without duplication. This criteria should be enforced at every phase of the wellness program implementation from initial member registration to operation to the generation of reports and billing. Vendors must use a reliable method to validate member registration in the health and wellness program by cross referencing it with a valid data source for eligibility. Vendors also need to be held accountable for data quality, as inaccurate information will invariably lead to faulty conclusions and expensive decisions.

Transparency is essential to ensuring employee engagement. Employees should know who can see their private data, where the data is going and how it’s being used. Additionally, employees should be able to opt out of certain items such as extended third party personal data capture. It is also important to ensure that vendors are HIPAA compliant and can notify the affected parties if a violation occurs.

Program Effectiveness
Prior to hiring a vendor, employers should establish mutually agreed upon criteria to measure program effectiveness (i.e., participation rates, health outcomes and/or medical expenditures). Once these criteria are finalized, the methods to analyze the data should be formalized. Ideally, the analysis will be conducted by a neutral platform that generates objective data – rather than relying on vendors who have an interest in reporting positive results. This will hold vendors accountable to the performance metrics that are most valuable to your company.

Employers should understand the technology that supports their wellness program; the reliability of the technology is critical to measuring the effectiveness of  an organization's initiatives. This can be evaluated by looking at how the technology is implemented, past satisfaction reviews, system uptimes, scalability, security and quality.

Wellness Workdays adheres to these five critical factors and provides clients with the highest level of service. Contact us for more information about our award-winning programs.


Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Move More to Stay Young

A new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology reviewed nearly 1,500 women with self-reported levels of physical activity. Those who were the least active showed the greatest markers of aging. That means couch potatoes actually age faster than their physically active counterparts. It also means that staying active – as simple as walking 30 minutes every day – can help promote healthy aging. Making small changes such as standing more and sitting less can have a big impact on health. Along with the daily thirty minutes, here are some tips to move more and stay young.

Use a standing desk: It is easy to be sedentary, especially during the workday when you are bound to a desk. Sitting too much can cause posture changes that lead to back pain and increase the risk of chronic diseases. One way to combat the sedentary desk blues at the office is to utilize a standing desk, which has become widely available for purchase. A variety of stands are also available for extending the height of traditional desks. Be creative and make your own standing desk by using a stool or a stack of books to prop up a laptop.

Take small breaks every hour:
Getting up and moving each hour will improve focus and increase blood flow. You may find you spend less time at your desk, but are more productive. Take a walk around the office, stretch or do some quick exercises by your desk. Set a reminder in your calendar to take frequent activity breaks.

Move more every day: Small changes throughout your day add up over time. Challenge yourself to increase your activity wherever you go by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away and going for walks more often. Begin and finish your day with a walk, run or some stretches. Swap out sedentary activities for more active ones. Try listening to a book on tape while breathing some fresh air on a walk, hike or run. Make being active a social event by inviting friends to join. Remember every little bit counts!

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