October Is Now “Walktober”!

                                                                                  Mekenzie Anderson                                                                                               Wellness Intern


Now that the fall season is upon us, it’s time to start working on that fall bucket list! Something new you may want to add to your to do list is joining in on walktober. Walktober is a 31-day challenge designed to inspire people to prioritize walking. Walking can provide several health benefits to people of all fitness levels. Not only does it improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes but it also serves as a great stress reliever. The cooler fall temps makes October a great time to lace up your shoes and get started. Walktober is a national challenge, celebrated all over the country. Below are some suggestions on how you can get involved this month.

  • Walk to work. – Ditch the traffic and enjoy a stroll to your workplace. Unable to walk to work? Try for an alternative and get your steps in during your lunch break. Get your co-workers on board and move your meetings outside. Who knows, maybe a walking meeting will spark some new creative ideas. If you live in the city and use public transportation get off a few stops early and walk the remainder of your trip.
  • Create a challenge at work. – Encourage employees to participate in the fun by providing an incentive or a prize. Create a fun hashtag for participants to use when posting on social media. This may add some extra motivation.
  • Go on a color tour. – Gather some friends and family for a hike at a local park. Schedule it when the leaves are in peak season to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
  • Get involved in a community walking events. Check your local running/walking shoe store and ask about upcoming events taking place.
  • Track your progress. – There are numerous apps with tracking capabilities but one of the most popular is the Fitbit app. Don’t have a Fitbit device? No problem, the app will use a motion sensor in your smartphone to estimate your steps. Some of the features include time elapsed, average pace, and calories burned. The app also allows you to virtually race and challenge your friends.

There are several different ways to incorporate walking into your everyday life. Challenge yourself this month to get outdoors and be more active. Walktober is the perfect time to start!

April is National Stress Awareness Month

                                                                                      Olivia Keeley                                                                                         Winter Wellness Intern


Did you know that April is National Stress Awareness Month? Probably not, because we constantly try to ignore the mental and physical demands stress brings upon us. According to the American Psychological Association, a survey taken in 2017 reported 80% of respondents experiencing at least one symptom of stress in the past month. Stress happens to all of us. Sometimes it seems unavoidable and overbearing. Whether a stressful situation occurs at work, home, school, or on the roads we must learn ways to cope with it. It is always important to remember that taking time for yourself is essential for your mental and physical health. It’s healthy to relax, renew, and rejuvenate!

According to the American Heart Association, stress can lead to a lot of unwanted complications. Health troubles such as: heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, weight gain, concentration and memory issues, sleep problems, depression, headaches, anxiety, and digestive complications are few of many health related issues that could take a toll on your body. Negative stress can prevent us from performing our best physically, mentally, and emotionally. Although no one lives a completely stress free life, we can still manage it throughout the week.

The American Heart Association provides healthy habits we can turn to in a stressful situation:

  • Stress-Busting Activities – Try doing activities that allow you to relax or avert your negative energy to something positive! Meditation, journaling, playing a favorite sport, taking a walk in nature, exercising, or listening to music are just a few activities you can attempt to limit your stress.
  • Positive Self-Talk – Rather than letting a stressful situation put you down, try shifting your thoughts from negative to positive by changing your mindset. Instead of saying, “Everything is going wrong” try switching that to “I can handle this one step at a time”. Or, instead of saying something like, “I can’t do this” try saying “I’ll do the best I can. I’ve got this”.
  • Give Up Bad Habits – Having too much alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine can increase blood pressure and heighten feelings of anxiety. Try cutting back on those unhealthy habits to reduce your stress.
  • Laugh Often – Laughter enhances your mood and helps you forget about things that may cause you to stress out. Listen to a funny podcast or put on a comedic movie. Tell jokes with friends and share laughter together!
  • Slow Down – Plan ahead and stay organized with a planner or desk calendar so you don’t have too much on your plate at once. Without having to rush to get things done, you will feel calmer and satisfied that you’re ahead of schedule.

When you take these small steps to manage your stress, you will feel more creative, more alive, and have time to appreciate small moments of happiness.  Furthermore, you will be able to recognize when you need to take time for yourself to be your healthiest version of you!

The Price You Pay At The Pharmacy Is Not An April Fool’s Joke

                                                                                  Adam King, CPhT, PRS
Pharmacy Savings Program Manager


You walk into the pharmacy, plunk down your insurance card thinking you just got the best possible price for you and your insurance on your generic medications, right?  Well not so fast!  If you want to really save money on your prescription, where you fill your prescription is just as important as which medication you take.

Let’s consider the cholesterol drug atorvastatin which is better known as Lipitor®.  These prices were actually paid by members of the same prescription drug plan for a 90-day supply.

If the first thing that strikes you is that the chain retail stores charged the highest price, then you are very observant.  When it comes to negotiating with insurance companies chain pharmacies with thousands of stores have the highest negotiating power with insurance companies.  They can often dictate what the insurance company reimburses them which explains the higher cost.

The second thing you will notice is that member 1 got the best deal which is free.  The advantage here is that the member did receive the medication at no cost to themselves and the employer.  The store in this case is using this medication as a “loss leader”, or a method to get you to the store hoping you will purchase other items.  While free is a great price, just remember the retailer is hoping you’ll reward their “generosity” by spending money with them elsewhere.  These pharmacies will also often have higher charges for other medications you might fill.

If you want to save money without strings attached independent pharmacies, regional grocery chains, and hospital outpatient clinics do not share the same negotiating power of the large chains.  Instead the insurance company can often dictate the maximum allowed price the pharmacy can charge the patient.  This is how they claim to save health plans money, and in truth they are half right.  If you use one of these pharmacies, ask them if it might be possible to get a lower cost on your medication by paying out of pocket rather than billing insurance for some of your medications.  You’d be surprised how many insurance companies charge abnormally high rates for low cost generics.  While most people think HIPAA is a privacy law, its regulations are also put in place that give you the right not to bill your insurance.

Member 6 got upset by the higher cost he was paying at a larger chain pharmacy and decided to do some price shopping and discovered that one of the big box warehouse club pharmacies had a discounted “cash” price of $20 for his medication.  Cash pricing refers to prices charged by providers without billing the prescription or service to the insurance company.  So rather than bill their insurance, member 6 paid out of pocket to save money.  While member 6 got a good deal on that medication, member 6 did not get the best deal.

There is one cautionary warning on member 6’s tactic.  Member 6 should now get all their medications at that pharmacy to avoid a potentially dangerous drug interaction as there is no central database that tracks every medication that is filled unless those medications are filled by a pharmacy and billed to an insurance plan.

Member 7 used a discount mail order pharmacy to fill their prescription again by doing some price shopping.  Online mail order pharmacies are convenient and often inexpensive just make sure you order your medication early to allow for the delivery time.  Be aware that if the pharmacy advertises drugs from Canada, that they may be sourcing those medications from third world countries that have very lax pharmaceutical regulations.  What you think may be your cholesterol medication may very well just be a sugar pill.

If you choose to have an online discount pharmacy fill your medication, make sure that you get a good deal on all your medications.  Also verify that the pharmacy is registered with your state board of pharmacy which oversees that the pharmacy is following state and federal regulations related to pharmacy practice and drug sourcing.  The website should also be registered with the Verified Pharmacy Program offered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.  Again, this pharmacy will not bill your insurance, so you should make sure that the pharmacy is aware of all the medications you take and that there is a pharmacist available to answer questions about your medication.

Last, it pays to have a patient advocate that is aware of all the tactics companies use to maximize their profits at your expense.  Health Plan Advocate offers a certified and licensed pharmacy technician that will help you, your company, and your colleagues save money.  If your employer does not offer this benefit, ask your human resource department to contact us about this valuable service.

Going Beyond Diet and Exercise

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 Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Vice President of Sales & Marketing

When you think of the term “wellness program”, the first thing that often comes to mind when it comes to programming are diet and exercise.  More and more, however, we are seeing a more whole-person wellness movement in the field which includes not only diet and exercise, but many other factors such as financial wellness, stress management, ergonomics, spiritual wellness, and much more.

September is National Yoga Month, which means it’s the perfect time to offer onsite yoga classes at your facility or at least provide local resources and information to your members.  Luckily, yoga hits two birds with one stone.  Many yogis see their practice as their own personal escape, connecting deeply to their core values and philosophy.  It also combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation and stress relief.  Seventy seven percent of people report regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, and those who participate in yoga report reducing stress levels.

Outside of the mental benefits, no one can deny that yoga is a better workout than seems to those who haven’t done it before!  Not only does it improve flexibility, strength, and muscle tone, one 2011 study showed that 12 weekly yoga classes resulted in better function than usual medical care in adults with chronic or recurring low-back pain.  What this means for your health plan is less doctor or physical therapy visits!   It has also shown to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, improve respiration and energy, and reduce cardiovascular disease. It’s really a win-win.

If you’re not a big fan of yoga, or feel you are unable to host a class onsite for whatever reason, I encourage you to put out a Deep Breathing, Meditation,  at-home yoga challenge to your members, or even a Lunch & Learn seminar regarding some of these topics.  As you can see from the few benefits I sited above (there are many more!), mental and emotional wellness are just as important as diet and exercise.  That makes healthier, happier, more productive, and lower cost employees.

Namaste.

Superman, The Hulk, The Flash, Mr. Fantastic & He-Man walk into a Gym……

   Ryan Hall  MS, CSCS, Wellness Coordinator

Superman, The Hulk, The Flash, Mr. Fantastic & He-Man walk into a gym…stop me if you have heard this one!  You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this.  Sit tight as I drop a little superhero analogy on you.  First off, a little comic book background on our subjects:

Superman (Muscular Endurance):  As the saying goes – “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…nanana…it’s Superman!” With this intro behind us, Superman represents all that is seen as muscular endurance; speed, strength and power.

Hulk (Muscular Strength): The green giant with the strength to destroy buildings, throw a tank and pretty much put any power lifter to shame. I don’t know of a better epitome of muscular strength in the comic world.

Flash (Cardiovascular Endurance): Does this one really need any explanation? With the ability to move, think and react at light speeds as well as having superhuman endurance that allows him the ability to run incredible distances, there is no one better to represent cardiovascular endurance.

Mr. Fantastic (Flexibility): Some of you may be wondering who this one is, think Fantastic 4. Mr. Fantastic has the ability to stretch his body like a giant rubber band, i.e. he’s very flexible.

He-man (Body Composition):  Think Arnold Schwarzenegger in a loin cloth at his peak.  Yeah, that’s He-Man.  Not to mention the superhuman strength and speed.

Okay, introductions out of the way I’ll get to the point. My question to you is: who do you want to be? In other words, what is your goal? Too many people start off an exercise routine not knowing what they really want. They want to lose weight, get stronger, bulk up their muscle mass and be able to run a half marathon.  That all sounds fine and dandy, but you have too many contradicting factors.  You can’t bulk up and lean out at the same time.  It’s incredibly hard to build serious muscle mass and train for cardiovascular endurance.  And not to mention become a yoga master and dead lift 600 pounds.  The way you train needs to match what your goals are.

If you are looking to gain muscle mass and you are starting off as a scrawny 6 ft – 175 lbs, you will probably need to go through a bulking process where you are consuming extremely high amounts of calories and limiting your cardiovascular exercise in order to gain not only muscle, but some excess fat in order to push heavy enough weight to make the muscles grow.  You say you want to get faster and run a marathon?  You should probably skip max dead lift day.  Training the muscles to be able to work hard for long periods of time is your strategy.  Think lots and lots of lunges and core work.  You want that rock hard six-pack?  Nutrition should be your first thought, but moderately heavy weight coupled with moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise is your route.  And it is really hard to pull off a Handstand Scorpion Pose (yoga – look it up) if your traps, shoulders and biceps are so large that you can’t scratch the back of your own neck.

My advice here is to have a goal in mind before you step foot in the gym. Think long and hard, do you want to lose that spare tire?  Look good in a bikini?  Sculpt that chest and back?  Bench press 450 & Squat 600?  Are you thinking you’d like to try your hand at a marathon or triathlon?  Or do you just want to be Batman?  That’s my goal, just be Batman!

Batman (All Around Bad***): But wait, wouldn’t Superman embody this description? The answer is yes, except for the fact that he is not human and Batman is just like the rest of us. No special powers, no magical abilities, just grit, determination and looks good in a spandex suit.

The Definition of Healthy

Nicole Griswold, CHWC, Wellness Coordinator

What is your definition of ‘healthy?’ Give someone a topic that is considered healthy and I guarantee they will come up with a statement (even if it’s factual or not!) as to why it isn’t good for you.  Over the weekend, I had an epiphany; as a society, we will do whatever it takes to come up with a reason why something is unhealthy. Anything! With so many studies, opinions, and fads out there these days, we are able to find someone or something that will give a reason as to why something is unhealthy.

I’ll give a few examples. These are actual examples that I have heard through health coaching in corporate wellness, personal conversations, and social media.

  1. Avid runners have such horrible knee and joint issues. It just wrecks their body!
  2. Apples are bad for you because they contain sugar.
  3. Vitamins are a waste. They’re not as natural and effective as food sources.
  4. The fresh produce at the grocery store was picked past it’s prime ripeness, so it’s really lacking nutrients.
  5. That chicken isn’t good for you because it’s been processed.
  6. Going for a walk doesn’t burn that many calories, so it’ just a waste of time.
  7.  I had to take some broccoli off my plate so I wouldn’t go over my carb count.

What do you think? Do you agree with the above statements? I believe this trend has a lot to do with our underlying psychological instinct to achieve perfect health on top of our constant ability to produce excuses and reasoning as to why most of us are not healthy. Kind of like a “I do these healthy things but they don’t work because of *excuse* so you can’t blame me” type statement.

My two cents – Don’t overthink what you know is good for you. Don’t believe everything you hear. Educate yourself. Focus on the positives. Don’t compare your state of health to others. Create your own definition of healthy!

Top 5 List: Community Service and Wellness


Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Wellness Account Manager

January 18th was “King Day of Service”.  This got me thinking about the great opportunities organizations have to incorporate service into their wellness programs.  I believe there really is something to volunteering and the benefits that directly correlate to an employee and a health plan.

You’ll see a variety of programs that are considered “wellness”.  Flu shots, biggest loser challenges, biometric screenings, yoga classes, and countless additional programs can fall under this umbrella.  At HPA, we believe that a good program incorporates 3 major prongs; Nutrition, Exercise, and Mental Health.

According to Harvard Medical School, studies have shown that volunteering not only wards off feelings of loneliness and depression, but can also reach beyond mental health, affecting physical health as well.  This includes lowering blood pressure and having a longer life span.

The benefits are there, but how can companies be using community service as a tentacle of their wellness efforts?  Here are our top 5 options we have put together based on what we are seeing in the industry:

  1. Designate 2 non-profits or movements a year to focus on.  Focus less on making 1 huge donation as a company and focus more on how you can involve your employees to either fundraise or be directly involved with the mission in a hands-on manor.  Allowing paid time offsite or department trips to volunteer is an important piece to show your buy in to your efforts.  Visiting your local soup kitchen or children’s museum are great options and make great team building activities.
  2. Have a points program?  Make community service hours a part of it!
  3. Join a local effort such as Relay for Life or the American Heart Walk.  Employees can fundraise AND be physically active.  Events like this also help build a culture of giving-back and wellness.
  4. Partner with some local charities to allow your employees a mentorship opportunity, or host a kickball game or something similar with underprivileged kids in the community. One example: Big Brothers, Big Sisters has a corporate mentorship program.
  5. On a much lesser scale, some organizations will incorporate a donation method into their challenges.  For example, within a Hold it for the Holidays weight maintenance challenge, the winning employees will earn money for themselves and a company match of the winnings to the employee’s charity of choice.

Community service not only provides the aforementioned benefits to mental and physical health of your employees, it molds the culture of your workplace and improves the image of your company’s presence in its community.

Be well and VOLUNTEER!