Wellness tip: Making men’s health a priority

The pursuit of health and wellness doesn’t need to be “every man for himself.” Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference for mens’ health.

June is Men’s Health Month in the United States, serving as an important opportunity to highlight the health risks unique to men and ways in which they can be addressed through simple, everyday actions and a little intention.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, men are more likely than women to smoke, drink alcohol in excess, make risky or unhealthy life choices, and procrastinate routine or situational medical care1. These likelihoods are in part responsible for the 13.8% of American men ages 18 and over who are considered “in fair or poor health,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)2.

More specifically, studies have shown 30.9% of men had consumed five or more drinks in a single day at least once in the previous 12 months, and 13.2% currently smoke cigarettes. Obesity and hypertension rates among US men are also high at 41.6% and 50.5%, respectively2.

A 2017 study on mortality in the United States revealed men die five years earlier than women on average3. According to the CDC, the leading causes of death for men are heart disease (similarly to women), cancer, and unintentional injuries resulting from accidents2.

Luckily, these risks are relatively easy to assuage for men who take their health and wellbeing into their own hands. This includes actions like being mindful about eating more healthfully, regularly moving the body, avoiding smoking or secondhand smoke and limiting alcohol intake, scheduling annual medical exams and getting screened for health issues early on, and taking steps to manage stress, which can contribute to heart and mental health issues, weight gain and high-blood pressure4.

All in all, health and wellness is very much a reciprocal process — you get out of it what you put in. Implementing small changes, like the ones above, is a great way for men to start prioritizing their own health and wellbeing, and to inspire other men around them to follow suit.

Sources:

[1] US Department of Health and Human Services (2024). “Men: Take Charge of Your Health.” Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Accessed May 14, 2024, from https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/doctor-visits/regular-checkups/men-take-charge-your-health.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Mens Health.” US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed May 14, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/mens-health.htm.

[3] Murphy, Sherry L. et al. “Mortality in the United States, 2017.” NCHS Data Brief No. 328. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. November 2018. Accessed May 14, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db328-h.pdf.

[4] US Department of Homeland Security (2023). “June is Men’s Health Month.” Accessed May 14, 2024, from https://www.dhs.gov/employee-resources/news/2023/06/14/june-mens-health-month.

How much should I expect to spend on a wellness program?

Cost is more than price tag. It’s also about evaluating a program’s ability to engage and target the employees who can benefit most from better wellbeing.

The cost of wellness programs varies widely but generally are on the rise. According to a pre-COVID-19 pandemic 2020 study published by Business Group on Health, wellness programs have seen a 36% increase in cost. Typically, companies spend between $3 and $7 per employee per month ($36 – $84 annually) for a wellness platform, many of which include at least some level of health coaching. Scale can lower the per-employee cost of a wellness program, as companies with more employees usually see a lower cost-per-individual.

Average Cost Comparison for Wellness Programs

Standard Program ElementsIndustry Average LowIndustry Average HighWellSpark Average
Digital wellness platform + app (annually, per employee)$36$84$45
Incentives and rewards, such as gift cards (annually, per employee)$40$75$50
Individual health coaching sessions (per session)$50$350$120
Biometric screenings (per screening)$40$75$55
Pricing varies by client. Costs shown reflect an average of WellSpark clients and are subject to change.

Additional costs associated with implementing a wellness program might be:

  • Incentives: To drive program participation, employers might fund incentives and rewards, often in the form of gift cards or lower health insurance premiums.
  • Coaching: More individualized coaching and support is often offered for an additional fee, charged either per session or per month.
  • Events and Activities: Hosting wellness fairs or biometric screening events aid participation. Biometric screenings, for example, may cost between $40 and $75 per person.

These costs do not include extra customization, strategy and support, or individualized coaching services you may seek.  In many cases, employers may choose to purchase an additional single-point solution, such as those offering diabetes management or mental health support services.

How is WellSpark Priced?

WellSpark seeks to offer clients a cost advantage that reflects actual participation levels. For the first year of the WellSpark program, when engagement is typically lower, customers usually opt not to pay “full freight” but rather only for their employees who actually participate, along with a low “per employee per month” rate for access to WellSpark‘s digital support tools. Then, as participation increases, WellSpark applies guardrails to prevent unpredictable expense increases resulting from greater employee use of the program.

WellSpark’s program consists of three core components:

  1. Digital platform with accompanying app
  2. Personal health assessments and educational content
  3. Coaching

With WellSpark, companies of up to 2,000 employees can expect to spend $70 to $135 annually per employee, not inclusive of incentives or rewards. The more employees an organization has, the lower the cost per employee will be. WellSpark consultants work closely with clients to recommend the option that makes the most financial sense for achieving company wellness goals.

Learn more about how to select the right wellness program for your organization.

WellSpark diabetes management participants improved their health and wellbeing

Three years of data shows lowered A1c levels, improved adherence to preventive care screenings, and decreases in diabetes distress scores.

WellSpark Health’s Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES) programs connect individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes to health coaches who focus on weaving effective diabetes self-management practices into daily habits, which can lead to sustainable improvements.

Annually, WellSpark evaluates the aggregate results of the company’s diabetes management programs for all participants from its employer client groups. Across three years of data, from the beginning of 2021 through the end of 2023, these health coaching programs demonstrated consistent improvement in health and wellbeing for people living with diabetes, including mitigating the potential negative effects of this chronic condition.

Large 60% with more than 60% improved A1c in WellSparks diabetes management program

Lowering A1c for the win
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), A1c is a blood test that measures a person’s average blood sugar levels over the past three months. It’s a common test for diagnosing prediabetes and diabetes and is one of the main tests to help individuals and their health care team manage diabetes1. Even a slight reduction in A1c levels translates to lower medical costs and fewer deaths. A 1% drop in A1c translates to a 15-20% decrease in the risk of heart attack or stroke2. A 1% drop in A1c also translates to a 25-40% reduction in the risk of diabetes-related eye or kidney disease2.

More than 60% of participants in WellSpark’s 12-month diabetes management programs improved their A1c over the last three years, lowering it by an average of 1.4%.

“I have been able to lose a total of 44lbs incorporating healthy food and exercise on my own. I have learned about my diabetes and decreased my A1c from 8.9 to 5.9 over the past year. I’ve learned a lot about reducing carbohydrates which had been a problem for me, because rice was a huge part of my life and my culture. It was great to ask questions and have the nurse wellness coach available to me without judging me.”

A participant in WellSpark’s one-on-one DSMES health coaching program

Prioritizing preventive care
The CDC states that preventive care services could save more than 100,000 lives in the U.S. each year3. Chronic diseases alone, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, are responsible for 7 out of 10 American deaths annually4. Yet, many people in the United States don’t get recommended preventive healthcare services, even though these services are often available at no charge for individuals who have health insurance.

Large 93% with an average of 93% completed preventive care in WellSparks diabetes management program

Diabetes presents daily demands – managing blood sugar levels, diet, and a complex medication routine – making adherence to recommended preventive care screenings additionally challenging.

Because preventive care is an important part of overall wellbeing, adherence to recommended screenings is an important data point to track. Over the past three years, WellSpark’s diabetes management program participants’ overall adherence to diabetes-related preventive care services was above average at 93% or more. These services include physician follow-up visits, foot care visits, retina eye screenings, and kidney function screenings. National averages for these services range from 51% to 91%.

Decreasing diabetes disease distress
The most common psychological issue among those with diabetes is Diabetes Disease Distress – an emotional response to diabetes, including increased worry, stress, concern, and fear among people struggling to manage the disease. According to the National Institute of Health, individuals with a reduction in diabetes-related distress had significantly greater improvement in A1c, medication adherence, self-care activities, and self-confidence5. And a 1% reduction in A1c was associated with a 13% reduction in diabetes-related total healthcare costs6. Over the past three years an average of 32% of WellSpark program participants reported reduced disease distress because of the program’s support.

Future cost avoidance
Diabetes can be costly to individuals with the disease as well as for employers who provide health insurance coverage. WellSpark’s accredited diabetes management programs, verified by the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES), are focused on future cost avoidance, help individuals make lifestyle and behavioral changes that improve their overall wellbeing, and can lower their cost of care. WellSpark works closely with employers to tailor programs to the unique needs of each workforce, incorporating variations of one-on-one and group health coaching options.

“While not exclusively a workplace problem, employers have a unique opportunity to address diabetes and its biological, psychological, and social factors that impact the health of their workforce. By taking action and bringing essential diabetes resources to their workforce, employers can improve overall employee health and wellbeing while also better managing healthcare costs.”

Andi Campbell, President of WellSpark Health

In addition to tracking the data shared here ― A1c levels, preventive care adherence, and diabetes disease distress ― the majority of WellSpark disease management participants also improved their blood pressure, lost weight, and adhered to diabetes self-monitoring guidelines.

By taking time to really understand the sum of everything in a person’s life ― the biological, psychological, and social factors ― WellSpark’s health coaching programs help individuals unlock the barriers that prevent them from making lasting change, give them the support they need to form new health and wellbeing habits, and better manage their diabetes.

Learn more about the disease management health coaching programs WellSpark offers: https://www.wellsparkhealth.com/solutions/

Sources:

[1] Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Retrieved March 21, 2024 from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/managing-blood-sugar/a1c.html
[2] A −1% change in absolute % HbA1c translates to 21% fewer deaths from stroke, 37% fewer eye and kidney complications, and 14% fewer heart attacks. Using the Milliman model; this −1.6% change in mean A1c (in the study population) converts to an estimated cost savings of $192,110 for a 12-month period or $1,256 annual savings per member in program; Diabetes management with a care coordinator improves glucose control in African Americans and Hispanics, Wayne S. Rawlins, Michele A. Toscano-Garand, and Garth Graham; J Educ Health Promot. 2017 May 5;6:22.
[3] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2020) Access to Health Care, Retrieved March 21, 2024 from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/healthcareaccess/
[4]Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2023) National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). Retrieved March 21, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/center/index.htm
[5] National Institute of Health, Retrieved March 22, 2024 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5398174/
[6] Nation Institute of Health, Retrieved March 22, 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8873294/

Wellness tip: Healthy sleep habits, healthy you

Burning the candle at both ends? Research says poor sleep habits could cost your health.

The term “beauty sleep” may sound like just a posh way to refer to a good night of rest, but the origins of this idiom actually relate to the restorative health benefits of getting quality shut-eye. These benefits go beyond a physical sense of well-restedness to include improved mental processing, weight management, a stronger immune system, reduced stress and improved mood1. Consistently getting enough sleep could even lower a person’s risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety2.

There are many factors that could impact someone’s ability to sleep, and they vary from person to person. Some of them are simply demographic, while others are occupational or socio-economic. Some are preventable, like late-day consumption of caffeine or alcohol, while others are caused by sleep disorders, underlying health issues, or chronic stress and anxiety. In a 2017 study published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers Nicola Magnavita and Sergio Garbarino suggest loneliness could lead to problems sleeping, as well3.

“In the complex relationship between wellbeing, health and productivity, sleep impairment can act as a moderator,” Magnavita and Garbarino wrote. “Sleep disturbances may be both the cause and the consequence of reduced wellbeing and may therefore set up a vicious circle with relevant consequences for productivity and, in the longer term, the safety and health of workers.”

Taking steps to regain control of your sleeping habits could help break this cycle and set you up mentally and physically for better health and wellbeing. The National Institute of Health’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion provides several tips for individuals looking to improve their sleep1:

  • Establish a consistent schedule for waking and sleeping
  • Avoid exercising a few hours before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine later in the day, and alcohol right before bed
  • Get in the swing of a relaxing before-bed routine, such as a warm bath, reading, or something else you find calming
  • Avoid bright lights and loud noises (i.e. from the TV, computer or phone) in the bedroom

For those who have tried these tips and still have trouble falling or staying asleep, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has detailed common sleep disorders on its website.

In the end, research has drawn a clear line connecting healthy sleeping habits with healthy people, and vice versa. If you feel that you could be getting better sleep, try implementing small changes to your morning and nighttime routines to determine what works best for you. Or meet with a WellSpark Health Coach to find some strategies to improve your sleep habits.

Sources:

[1] Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP). “Healthy Living: Get Enough Sleep.” US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed April 15, 2024, from https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep.

[2] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep.” Accessed April 15, 2024, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/public-education/brain-basics/brain-basics-understanding-sleep.

[3] Magnavita, Nicola, and Sergio Garbarino (November 2017). “Sleep, Health and Wellness at Work: A Scoping Review.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Vol. 14, No. 11, 6, p. 1347. Accessed April 15, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14111347.

How to choose the right wellness program?

Cost, time and effectiveness are the factors to consider

Maybe you’ve decided that it’s time to try a wellness program to address factors that are negatively influencing the happiness, stability, and expenses related to the health of your workforce. The success of your business relies on employees who are focused on their work, show up consistently and reliably for your organization, and whose health doesn’t impose avoidable medical expenses and insurance claims. The behavioral changes that underpin these issues are what wellness programs are designed to affect. But, how do you know you’re choosing the right program—that will drive the change you’re looking for—and not investing in a wellness program that will miss the mark, not earn attention and participation from your workforce, and ultimately be yet another expense on top of the ones you had hoped to overcome?

Three key criteria should drive your research and comparison of wellness programs, and ultimately the choice you make: the cost, time and effort you must invest to earn employee interest and participation, and ultimately the results.

Cost
At this point, wellness programs appear to be a commodity. So many options are available that seemingly offer the same features, do the same thing, and are designed to deliver the same results. Shopping for the best price may seem like the logical approach to guide your selection process. But, how much you spend on a wellness program isn’t the only thing that determines the smartness of your decision. Rather, it’s whether you choose a program designed to address the issues you believe are at the core of where improvement is possible, especially among the employees you feel are most responsible for the challenges you want to overcome. Learn more about how cost should guide your wellness program choice.

Time investment
After you’ve chosen a wellness program to implement, the real work begins, which is driving adoption and engagement from your employees. A program can’t be successful if it doesn’t earn participation from the employees who will most benefit from it. When considering which wellness program to commit to, it’s important to understand what responsibility—meaning time and effort—you and your team will need to devote to crafting and delivering the activities and communications required to earn employee participation.

Evaluating effectiveness
Feeling confident that a wellness program offers a mechanism for measuring and demonstrating achievement of intended results is the most important factor among your decision-making criteria. Ultimately, being able to showcase positive results will determine whether your choice and implementation of a wellness program is viewed as a success, failure, smart investment, or waste of resources. The essential first step is yours, which is evaluating your organization’s challenges and identifying exactly where you feel wellness program intervention is needed, and how the circumstances that reflect the collective wellness of your workforce will look different if a program has done its job. For that to be possible, a wellness program must come with reporting that offers the visibility you need.

Where does WellSpark fit in among wellness programs?
WellSpark is for clients seeking a holistic, integrated wellness program to drive cultural shift within a workforce, not just target a single health issue.

WellSpark focuses on a variety of measures, including disease distress and forward-looking “future cost avoidance” rather than return-on-investment, which is a measure of past performance. WellSpark seeks to reach employees who are not yet part of the “sick care” system but who have the potential to become costly members in the future if no intervention is taken.

Your healthiest most wellness-conscious employees will jump at the chance to participate in a program. But they are the ones you least need to reach and influence. To impact change where it is needed, you need to reach and engage employees who ignore or resist participation. It’s not the largest potential participation that will drive the results you need, it’s participation from those who present the greatest barrier to achieving results, and who are usually the ones most difficult to reach and engage. That’s where WellSpark’s boutique, consultative, and customizable approach truly delivers.

Holistic versus single-point solution wellness programs
Although wellness programs come in variety of forms and are delivered through multiple modalities, one distinguishing factor can help in your research, evaluation, and decision among programs. If a program is a single-point-solution, it aims to address one health concern, such as prevention or management of diabetes. So, if you have identified more than one health or wellness issue to tackle with your workforce, you may need to consider more than one solution. In contrast, holistic programs, WellSpark being one example, consider biological, psychological, and social dimensions of a person’s health to address the whole wellness picture.

Let WellSpark help you determine what type of wellness program is the best fit for your organization. Contact us today.

An employer’s guide to quashing loneliness and sowing social connection

Loneliness has been deemed an epidemic, and its effects are associated with increased health risks and reduced employee performance. How can employers cultivate a culture of connection in the workplace?

The COVID-19 pandemic may be behind most of us, but according to US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, there’s another epidemic sweeping the nation: one of loneliness. In fact, this condition preceded the pandemic, with more than 50% of American adults reporting feelings of loneliness pre-COVID, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Forced isolation during the pandemic only served to exacerbate the issue, which continues to run rampant today.

This feeling of disconnection and isolation can have serious ramifications for mental and physical health and, in turn, the health of our society as a whole. A lack of social connection can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, anxiety, depression, dementia, susceptibility to illness, and even premature death. For example, the negative health effects of loneliness can be compared to smoking 15 cigarettes per day1.

“Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection the same way we have prioritized other critical public health issues such as tobacco, obesity, and substance use disorders,” Dr. Murthy said. “Together, we can build a country that’s healthier, more resilient, less lonely, and more connected.”2

In an advisory shared by Dr. Murthy in May 2023, numerous studies were cited as evidence of how social connectedness benefits all of us. Specifically for working Americans, fostering inclusivity has been linked to lower levels of chronic stress and burnout in the workplace. Additionally, connectivity has been shown to enhance employee engagement and satisfaction, creativity, competence, innovation and job performance1.

So, what can employers do to cultivate a culture of connection in the workplace? The US Surgeon General offered many suggestions, starting with prioritizing socialization at all levels of an organization1. Employers can also:

  • Empower company leaders and managers to nurture connection across teams and initiatives
  • Use existing support programs to educate employees on the power of social connection at work
  • Promote a workplace culture that addresses whole-person wellness and inclusion
  • Enact policies that respect work-life balance
  • Explore ways to keep employees connected amid hybrid or remote work1

For employers to succeed in fostering social connection in the workplace, it’s important to tailor efforts to specific work environments and cultures. Additionally, striving for continuous improvement will help ensure employees are supported through this epidemic of loneliness now and in the future.

Helping employees foster better human connections in their lives is good business. Learn how WellSpark helps employers improve the health of their workforce through employee support individual, group and text to promote a culture of wellbeing.

Sources:

[1] Surgeon General’s Advisory (May 2023). “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community.” US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed March 31, 2024, from https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf.

[2] US Department of Health and Human Services (May 2023). “New Surgeon General Advisory Raises Alarm about the Devastating Impact of the Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation in the United States.” Accessed March 31, 2024, from https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/05/03/new-surgeon-general-advisory-raises-alarm-about-devastating-impact-epidemic-loneliness-isolation-united-states.html.

Wellness Tip: Channeling personal and environmental wellness for Earth Day

Three ways to boost physical and mental health while also benefiting the planet.

Personal health and wellness and environmental wellness are not mutually exclusive. In fact, millions of sustainably minded individuals exist at the intersection of these two increasingly important topics, and there are several ways to address both, even simultaneously, in your daily life.

Keep reading for three ways you can celebrate the wellbeing of the planet alongside your own health and wellbeing this April.

Spend time outdoors

Connecting with nature — and disconnecting from our screens — has been proven to have numerous benefits for health and wellness, according to David Strayer, Ph.D., professor of Cognition and Neural Science at the University of Utah. In a 2017 TEDx presentation, Strayer detailed “nature’s ability to be a restorative tool” for the brain, including contributing to improvements in short-term and working memory, problem solving and creativity, as well as reduced stress levels and increased feelings of positive wellbeing1.

“The idea is that there are increasing benefits from spending more time in nature and leaving the technology behind,” he said.

Dedicating more time to exploring and appreciating nature can also be part of practicing mindfulness, getting regular exercise, and creating work-life balance, all of which can benefit physical health and mental wellbeing2.

Show up in your community

Social wellbeing is a key aspect of overall wellbeing, and one way to enhance your sense of social wellbeing is to cultivate a sense of community. This can look like a random act of kindness, giving back to those in need, or maintaining high-quality relationships that encourage you to better yourself and lift up those around you3.

There’s never a shortage of needs in any community, and there are a myriad of ways to get involved in environmental activism and other community events that benefit the environment. Giving back can not only benefit others and the planet, but also give us a feeling of purpose that contributes to positive wellbeing.

Rethink the menu

Serving up breakfast, lunch or dinner with a side of environmental stewardship is probably easier than you think. While eating patterns and dietary needs differ from person to person, fine-tuning mealtime decisions for both personal health and environmental wellbeing can be done in one fell swoop.

For example, meal planning can help reduce food waste, and taking a more mindful approach to the ingredients and food groups we consume can benefit the planet in terms of emissions, biodiversity and conservation. Additionally, selecting ingredients that are sustainably sourced and produced, adding more vegetables to your plate than meat, minimizing consumption of processed foods, and maintaining a diverse and balanced diet can all contribute to the health of the planet as well as personal health and wellbeing, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)4.

All this aside, there are countless ways to celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and year-round. Visit www.earthday.org to learn more about the national holiday and how you can contribute, including through its Individual Action Toolkit here.

Sources:

[1] TEDx Talks. (Dec. 12, 2017). Restore your brain with nature | David Strayer | TEDxManhattanBeach [Video]. YouTube. Accessed Feb. 21, 2024, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vRMRBxvtZA.

[2] WellSpark. (Nov. 26, 2023). “Minding your mind to be in the moment.” Accessed Feb. 21, 2024, from https://www.wellsparkhealth.com/minding-your-mind-to-be-in-the-moment/

[3] WellSpark. (Nov. 26, 2023). “Wellness tip: Putting the ‘health’ in healthy relationships.” Accessed Feb. 21, 2024, from https://www.wellsparkhealth.com/wellness-tips-putting-the-health-in-healthy-relationships/.

[4] World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). “How to eat more sustainably.” Accessed Feb. 21, 2024, from https://explore.panda.org/food/how-to-eat-more-sustainably.

Wellness tip: Food for thought on building healthy eating habits

Developing and sticking to healthier eating patterns could be a first line of defense for preventing certain chronic diseases.

Like most things in life, a healthy diet is all about balance. And while everyone deserves a sweet treat every now and again, maintaining that balance could help you prevent the development of chronic disease later in life. Today’s food landscape is rife with indulgence, highly processed foods and copious levels of sugar. Being mindful of how nutrition impacts long-term health and wellness — and what is at stake if poor dietary habits are sustained over time — has never been more important.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), roughly 117 million Americans — nearly half of all adults — have at least one preventable disease abetted in part by poor diet, lack of exercise, or both1. These include heart disease, diabetes and even some types of cancers.

There is a plethora of research on the ineffectiveness of dieting for the general population, especially with fad diets that restrict certain types of foods or food groups. These approaches often aren’t sustainable, and can sometimes even be unhealthy. Luckily, there are also plenty of other ways to go about healthier eating, starting with some nutritional education.

One of the best things a person can do for their diet is provide variety. This involves eating foods across all major food groups — proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy — and, to take it a step further, broadening the menu to include several items from each food group2. Adding variety to your diet is an easy way to ensure your body is receiving the nutrients it needs to support your overall health.

Expanding your palate to include a greater variety of foods is important, as is limiting foods that may taste good, but probably aren’t doing your body any favors from a nutritional standpoint. For example, the ODPHP recommends a daily diet that does not exceed 10% of calories from saturated fats (butter, cheese and high-fat meats) or added sugars (sweet treats, candy and soda). Additionally, sodium, which tends to be higher in processed foods and restaurants, should be limited to under 2,300 milligrams per day for the average adult2.

These changes don’t need to be sweeping, and they will vary based on a person’s specific dietary needs and daily caloric intake recommendation. Starting small can be a way to gain confidence with healthier eating patterns. Would a sandwich hit the spot? Reach for whole-wheat bread instead of white. Feeling peckish? Try a handful of fruit or nuts, rather than potato chips. Instead of overhauling your entire diet from the get-go, start small and with intention, working yourself up as you go.

Perhaps the most important part of establishing healthy eating patterns is perseverance. This is why it can be beneficial to make healthy eating a part of your everyday routine. In the words of the ODPHP, “Think of every day and meal as an opportunity to make a healthy choice.”

Building on all this, the following meal planning tips can be a great place to start to help establish healthier eating patterns that last3:

  • Map Out Your Meals: Outline meals you plan to eat for the week and use it as a guide. Be sure to list beverages and snacks, too!
  • Find Balance: If you have veggies, dairy and protein at one meal, include fruit and grains in the next to cover all 5 food groups over the course of a day.
  • Vary Protein Foods: Choose different protein foods throughout the week. If you have chicken one day, try seafood, beans, lean meat or eggs on other days.
  • Make a Grocery List: Start by writing down all of the ingredients for the meals you plan to make. Just be sure to cross off items you already have on hand.
  • Love Your Leftovers: Prepare enough of a dish to eat multiple times during the week. Making leftovers part of your plan can save money and time.
  • Be Mindful of Portion Control and Sizes: Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. If you are trying to manage weight by reducing total daily calories, only eat half of the amount of the carbohydrates that you would normally eat.
  • Drink Plenty of Water: Avoid sugary beverages such as soda, iced tea, lemonade, coffee and tea (especially made with sugar and creamer) as well as overuse of sports drinks and juices. To stay well-hydrated, enjoy plenty of water throughout the day, with and between meals and snacks.
  • Bonus: Meal planning makes it easier to eat healthy on a budget!

Minute changes in diet can have supersized effects on overall health and wellness. In all, being more mindful of eating patterns and understanding which dietary approach works best for you — whether it be preparing meals in advance or having a plan when grocery shopping — is the key to unlocking healthier mealtimes and staving off the risk of preventable diseases.

Sources:

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. December 2015. Accessed Feb. 18, 2024, at https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015.

[2] Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. “How to Build a Healthy Eating Pattern.” Accessed Feb. 18, 2024, at https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Healthy-Eating-Pattern.pdf.

[3] Medikeeper. “Meal Planning Tips.” Accessed on February 16, 2024, from https://my.wellsparkhealth.com/.

Wellness tip: Understanding women’s heart health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Awareness of the risks and symptoms cannot be overstated.

Heart disease impacts roughly 60 million women across the United States, indiscriminate of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite being the leading cause of death for women, with one in every five female deaths attributed to heart disease in 2021, only half of American women are aware of this risk1.

Women have specific risk factors for heart health, disease and failure, many of which are caused by gender-specific hormone changes and anatomy. Therefore, more widespread public awareness about the signs, symptoms and risk of heart disease in women, as well as a more gender-equitable approach to understanding women’s heart health in the medical community, are both needed to address these staggering statistics.

Understanding signs and symptoms

According to the CDC, there are three common types of heart disease in women. The most common is coronary artery disease, which is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, and poses a greater risk to women after menopause. Arrhythmia is another common heart disease, and refers to a heart that beats irregularly, too quickly or too slowly. Lastly, heart failure is the third most-common serious health disease among women1.

While some women have no symptoms, there are several to look out for, including1:

  • A dull or heavy ache or discomfort in the chest (angina)
  • Neck, jaw or throat pain
  • Back or upper abdominal pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Excessive tiredness

These symptoms shouldn’t be taken lightly, but in the case of no symptoms, women who are experiencing signs of a heart attack — including chest, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations (a fluttering feeling in the chest), swelling of the feet, ankles, legs or abdomen — should seek immediate medical attention1.

Risk factors unique to women

Women have long been underrepresented in medical research, including when it comes to understanding cardiovascular health and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association2. Several health circumstances unique to women can impact their heart health. These include starting menstruation or menopause early, the use of oral hormonal birth control, pregnancy complications and outcomes, and polycystic ovary syndrome1, as well as being “disproportionately affected by inflammatory and autoimmune disorders,” which has been known to impact heart health2.

According to the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Natural Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, women have anatomically different hearts compared to men. Structurally, women have smaller hearts with thinner muscular walls, and smaller blood vessels than men, and are more likely to manifest coronary microvascular disease, which impacts smaller arteries of the heart and can make identifying the disease more difficult3.

There are several other risk factors unique to women’s heart health, including anemia, high blood pressure — which affects more than 56 million women in the United States1 — endometriosis, mental health problems, metabolic syndromes and obesity3. Additionally, women with diabetes and/or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol, as well as women who smoke, are at a greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, even more so than men with the same predispositions, according to the NIH3.

Understanding these specific catalysts, as well as educating the general public on signs, symptoms, and the level of risk, are key to creating gender-equitable approaches to women’s heart health.

Sources:

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Women and Heart Disease.” Accessed Jan. 14, 2024, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm.

[2] American Heart Association (May 9, 2022). “Report calls out gaps in women’s heart disease research, care.” Accessed Jan. 14, 2024, from https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/05/09/report-calls-out-gaps-in-womens-heart-disease-research-care.

[3] National Institute of Health (NIH). “Women and Heart Disease.” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Accessed Jan. 14, 2024, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/coronary-heart-disease/women.

Progress over perfection

Tips and tricks for taking small steps to achieve big goals.

For many, the start of a new year comes with a new sense of motivation for self-reflection and self-improvement. We all have great aspirations come January, but typically fall off the wagon before achieving those goals, whether they are personal, professional or somewhere in between.

According to a survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Forbes Health, the average new year’s resolution lasts up to three months — at best — for most people1. Out of the 1,000 people surveyed in October 2023, only 5% kept up with their new year’s resolution through June.

Whether your goal is to lose weight, be more mindful, advance in your professional role, or something else entirely, it’s important to make a plan toward achieving that goal, as well as a means for following that plan. When it comes to setting goals, one common problem is shooting too high, or setting unrealistic expectations that are more likely to result in disappointment than success. According to the experts, the best approach is to start small2.

For example, in the book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear, he suggests every goal or positive habit can be boiled down into a two-minute version3. If your goal is to run three miles per week, you could start by tying your shoes, or referring to yourself as a runner in casual conversation. These tactics might sound ridiculous, but science shows taking small steps like these over time can lead to significant results toward achieving a larger goal.

Clear also argues that a goal is only as good as the system used to achieve it. This is why it’s important to be intentional and methodical in your goal setting endeavors.

In a 2020 study published in PLOS ONE, Martin Oscarsson and his fellow researchers suggest approach-oriented goals are typically more successful than avoidance-oriented goals4. Approach-oriented goals refer to maintaining a desired outcome, while avoidance-oriented goals are centered around eliminating bad habits or undesired outcomes. So, instead of setting the goal of “losing weight,” changing your perspective to “eating healthier” or “exercising more” — in essence, taking steps toward a positive outcome rather than spending time and energy avoiding a negative outcome — could result in a better success rate.

Aside from starting small, the American Psychological Association also suggests focusing on one goal at a time to get the best results, as well as sharing your progress (and setbacks) with friends and family to keep yourself accountable2. Most importantly, seek support when you need it, and remember to give yourself grace. It should be about progress, not perfection.

Sources:

[1] Forbes Health. “New Year’s Resolutions Statistics 2024.” Accessed Jan. 8, 2024, from https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/new-years-resolutions-statistics/.

[2] American Psychological Association. “The secret behind making your New Year’s resolutions last.” Accessed Jan. 8, 2024, from https://www.apa.org/topics/behavioral-health/new-year-resolutions.

[3] Clear, J. (2019). “Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.” Penguin USA.

[4] Oscarsson, M., Carlbring, P., Andersson, G., and Rozental, A. (2020). “A large-scale experiment on New Year’s resolutions: Approach-oriented goals are more successful than avoidance-oriented goals.” PLOS ONE, 15(12), e0234097. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234097

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