5 Ways to Drive Healthy Behavior Change Virtually

Originally posted on https://ebn.benefitnews.com

Employees have access to thousands of apps covering health and wellness on their mobile device. Employers and wellness vendors can offer workers hi-tech ways to track their physical activity, promote healthy eating and inspire wellness at work. Here are five mobile apps and outreach ideas to get employees moving and engaged in your wellness program.

1. Stretch reminders on computer screens

For office employees sitting at their desk all day, sedentary work can cramp muscles and staring at a computer screen too long can cause eye strain. Employers can remind employees to take stretch breaks by building reminders into the network, such as having a reminder pop-up on their computer.

2. Apps inspire movement

On the app side, HotSeat challenges people to get out of their seats for small breaks. It includes competitions, feedback on how your small bouts of physical activity add up to meaningful amounts. UtiliFit is another app that is breaking into this space, says LuAnn Heinen, vice president and wellness leader, National Business Group on Health.

3. Healthy smart-receipts

Employers can encourage better nutrition and healthy food choices with smart receipts from the company cafeteria, says the National Business Group on Health vice president and wellness leader. When employees purchase food at the company café, the smart receipt shows the calorie and nutritional content of their food choices.

4. Virtual trainers

Many employees can’t afford to hire a personal trainer, but technology like Anthem’s and online trainer FitOrbit’s virtual fitness and real-time, Internet-based coaching offers fitness training without breaking the banks. After selecting a trainer based on a short questionnaire, the employee electronically receives a customized fitness and nutrition plan and ongoing coaching – the latter via the modern miracle of unlimited texting, plus a weekly personal exercise plan – to support their goals.

5. Behavioral motivation online

StickK app and website asks individuals to put up their own money for a charity that they hate if they don’t accomplish their wellness or other goal. The StickK website facilitates that transaction so that a gun control advocate, for example, would have to fork over cash to the National Rifle Association for failing to meet their goal. The platform also builds in an array of behavior principles (beyond giving away your money to a cause you oppose), among them social recognition and rewards, and feedback.

Top 10 healthiest states

Originally posted December 26, 2013 by Kathryn Mayer on https://www.benefitspro.com

Americans are making “considerable progress” in their overall health, according to United Health Foundation’s 2013 America’s Health Rankings.

Overall, the annual ranking of America’s states found that smoking is down nationwide, as is physical inactivity.

Some states, of course, are faring better than others. Here are the top 10 healthiest places in America.

10. New Jersey

It helps that New Jersey’s residents are among the wealthiest in the nation, as the report finds the healthiest states are often among the nation’s most financially well-off. Additionally, the Garden State has among the most dentists and primary care physicians in the country.

9. North Dakota

North Dakota is one of the healthiest states, despite the fact that it has a high prevalence of obesity. Other factors, including few poor mental and physical health days per year and a low rate of drug deaths, help make this state amongst the healthiest in the nation.

8. Colorado

Colorado has the lowest obesity rate of any other state. A little more than 20 percent of Colorado residents are considered obese. The considerably small obesity rate also helps other factors: In 2011 and 2012, for example, state residents were among the least vulnerable to heart attack and stroke.

A high prevalence of binge drinking and drug deaths still remain big challenges for the state.

7. Connecticut

Connecticut has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation, and its obesity rate is also relatively low comparatively speaking, at 25.6 percent. Over the past two years, the uninsured population fell from 11.1 percent to 8.3 percent, according to the report. That is also helped by the fact that Connecticut has a high rate of medical professional availability for residents.

6. Utah

There are a lot of factors contributing to Utah’s good health standing: The Beehive State has the lowest smoking rate in the nation at 10.6 percent of the adult population, has low rates of binge drinking, preventable hospitalizations, diabetes, physical inactivity and obesity. But dragging the state down is a low availability of physicians.

5. New Hampshire

The state has one of the highest rates of healthy eating habits and visits to the dentist. Overall, the state is helped by its extremely low poverty rates, which enables residents to better afford treatment and increases the likelihood that they are informed on good health behaviors.

4. Massachusetts

The state is in a health care state all its own because of reforms that went into effect back in 2006. Virtually all of its residents — 96 percent — are insured, and they all seem to use their coverage. More than in any other state, residents went to the doctor to get their cholesterol checked and visited the dentist. The state’s healthy status is also helped by the availability of physicians. In 2011, there were nearly 200 physicians per 100,000 residents.

3. Minnesota

The Gopher State has low rates of physical inactivity, diabetes and premature and cardiovascular deaths. However, it also has a high prevalence of binge drinking and low per capita public health funding.

2. Vermont

Vermont, last year’s reported No. 1 state, is ranked second this year and has ranked among the top five for the last decade.

Vermont has a low uninsured rate. In the past year, the percentage of uninsured population dropped from 9 percent to 7.8 percent of the population.

1. Hawaii

Top-seated Hawaii scored well along most measures particularly for having low rates of uninsured individuals, high rates of childhood immunization, and low rates of obesity, smoking and preventable hospitalizations. But like all states, Hawaii also has areas where it can improve: It has higher-than-average rates of binge drinking and occupational fatalities, and lower-than-average rates of high school graduation.


Join the January 13 Event

Originally posted on  https://www.rwjf.org

Building on its original work from 2009—which helped advance a national movement to address non-medical factors that affect our health—the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America will release new recommendations on Monday, January 13, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. ET, during a live online event.

Watch the YouTube video on Creating a Culture of Health: https://youtu.be/XeIfRaKqDnw

During the event featuring Commission Co-Chairs Mark McClellan and Alice Rivlin, Commissioners will offer recommendations covering three key areas:

  • Prioritizing investments in America’s youngest children
  • Encouraging leaders in different sectors to work together to create communities where healthy decisions are possible
  • Challenging health professionals and health care institutions to expand their focus from treating illness to helping people live healthy lives

Doctors urged to treat obesity like any other ailment; New guidelines say do whatever it takes to get the pounds off

Originally posted November 13, 2013 by Nanci Hellmich on www6.lexisnexis.com

There's no ideal diet that's right for everyone, but that shouldn't stop the nation's doctors from helping their heavy patients battle weight issues as aggressively as things like blood pressure, according to new obesity treatment guidelines released Tuesday.

The guidelines, from three leading health groups, say that doctors need to help obese patients figure out the best plan, whether it's a vegetarian diet, low-sodium plan, commercial weight-loss program or a low-carb diet.

Still, the most effective behavior-change weight-loss programs include two to three in-person meetings a month for at least six months, and most people should consume at least 500 fewer calories a day to lose weight, the recommendations say.

The guidelines are designed to help health care providers aggressively tackle the obesity epidemic. "The overall objective is quite a tall order: to get primary care practitioners to own weight management as they own hypertension management," says obesity researcher Donna Ryan, co-chairwoman of the committee writing these guidelines for the Obesity Society, American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.

The recommendations are part of a set of heart disease prevention guidelines released Tuesday.

Nearly 155 million U.S. adults are overweight or obese, which is roughly 35 pounds over a healthy weight. Extra pounds put people at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems.

Health care providers should encourage obese and overweight patients who need to drop pounds for health reasons to lose at least 5% to 10% of their weight by following a moderately reduced-calorie diet suited to their food tastes and health status, while being physically active and learning behavioral strategies.

"The gold standard is an intervention delivered by trained interventionists (not just registered dietitians or doctors) for at least 14 sessions in the first six months and then continue therapy for a year," says Ryan, a professor emeritus at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. If this kind of intensive therapy is not available, then other types of treatment, such as commercial weight-loss programs or telephone and Web-based programs, are good "second choices," she says.

Medicare began covering behavioral counseling for obese patients last year, and under the Affordable Care Act, most private insurance companies are expected to cover behavioral counseling and other obesity treatments by next year.

"There is no ideal diet for weight loss, and there is no superiority between the many diets we looked at," Ryan says. "We examined about 17 different weight-loss diets."

Pat O'Neil, director of the Weight Management Center at Medical University of South Carolina, says, "The diet you follow is the one that's going to work for you. That's good information for the public to have."

The report advises health care providers to calculate body mass index (a number that takes into account height and weight) at annual visits or more frequently, and use it to identify adults who may be at a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Evidence shows that the greater the BMI, the higher the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and death from any cause, the report says. "BMI is a quick and easy first step," Ryan says.

The guidelines are being published simultaneously in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association; the Journal of the American College of Cardiology; and Obesity: Journal of the Obesity Society.


The 4-Minute Workout

Originally published by Gretchen Reynolds on The New York Times health blog.

Thanks to an ingratiating new study, we may finally be closer to answering that ever-popular question regarding our health and fitness: How little exercise can I get away with?

The answer, it seems, may be four minutes.

For the study, which was published last month in the journal PLoS One, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, and other institutions attempted to delineate the minimum amount of exercise required to develop appreciable endurance and health gains. They began by reconsidering their own past work, which had examined the effects of a relatively large dose of high-intensity intervals on various measures of health and fitness.

For those unfamiliar with the term, high-intensity intervals are just that: bursts of strenuous exercise lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes, interspersed with periods of rest. In recent years, a wealth of studies have established that sessions of high-intensity exercises can be as potent, physiologically, as much longer bouts of sustained endurance exercise.

In a representative study from 2010, for instance, Canadian researchers showed that 10 one-minute intervals — essentially, 10 minutes of strenuous exercise braided with one-minute rest periods between — led to the same changes within muscle cells as about 90 minutes of moderate bike riding.

Similarly, the Norwegian scientists for some years have been studying the effects of intense intervals lasting for four minutes, performed at about 90 percent of each volunteer’s maximum heart rate and repeated four times, with a three-minute rest between each interval. The total meaningful exercise time in these sessions, then, is 16 minutes.

Which, the researchers thought, might just be too much.

“One of the main reasons people give” for not exercising is that they don’t have time, says Arnt Erik Tjonna, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who led the study.

So he and his colleagues decided to slim down the regimen and determine whether a single, strenuous four-minute workout would effectively improve health and fitness.

To do so, they gathered 26 overweight and sedentary but otherwise healthy middle-aged men, determined their baseline endurance and cardiovascular and metabolic health, and randomly assigned them to one of two groups.

Half began a supervised exercise program that reiterated the Norwegian researchers’ former routine. After briefly warming up, these volunteers ran on a treadmill at 90 percent of their maximal heart rate — a tiring pace, says Dr. Tjonna, at which “you cannot talk in full sentences, but can use single words” — for four four-minute intervals, with three minutes of slow walking between, followed by a brief cool-down. The entire session was repeated three times a week for 10 weeks.

The second group, however, completed only one four-minute strenuous run. They, too, exercised three times a week for 10 weeks.

At the end of the program, the men had increased their maximal oxygen uptake, or endurance capacity, by an average of 10 percent or more, with no significant differences in the gains between the two groups.

Metabolic and cardiovascular health likewise had improved in both groups, with almost all of the men now displaying better blood sugar control and blood pressure profiles, whether they had exercised vigorously for 16 minutes per session, or four minutes per session, and despite the fact that few of the men had lost much body fat.

“This is not a weight-loss program,” Dr. Tjonna says. It is, instead, he says, “a suggestion for how people can make a kick-start for better fitness,” or maintain fitness already gained, when other obligations press on your time.

The results, Dr. Tjonna says, persuasively suggest that “getting in shape does not demand a big effort” in terms of time.

That finding, though, inevitably raises the question of whether the bar could drop even lower. Could, for instance, a mere two minutes of strenuous training effectively improve health and fitness?

Dr. Tjonna, the killjoy, doubts it. There are other groups of scientists looking at even shorter bouts of exercise, he says, “but it seems like they don’t get the same results regarding the maximal oxygen uptake” as the four-minute sessions used in his experiment. Since improved maximal oxygen uptake can reliably indicate better overall cardiovascular health, he suspects that “we need a certain length of the interval to trigger” such health and fitness benefits.

Thankfully, for those worried that a trip to the gym is an inefficient means of completing four minutes of exercise, the workout can effectively be practiced anywhere, Dr. Tjonna says. Sprint uphill for four minutes or race up multiple flights of steps. Bicycle, swim or even walk briskly, as long as you raise your heart rate sufficiently for four minutes. (Obviously, consult your doctor first if you haven’t been active in the past.)

“Everyone, we think,” Dr. Tjonna says, “has time for this kind of exercise three times a week.”

Special thanks to the Reduced Shakespeare Company and Christopher McDougall for their contributions to the Well 4-Minute Workout playlist.