September Is National Cholesterol Education Month

                                                                                      Todd Freitag                                                                                          Sales/Wellness Coordinator


September is National Cholesterol Education Month, a good time to get your blood cholesterol checked and take steps make any necessary lifestyle changes. Children, young adults and older Americans can have high cholesterol. Learn how to prevent high cholesterol and know what your cholesterol levels mean.

National Cholesterol Education Month is also a good time to learn about lipid profiles and about food and lifestyle choices that help you reach personal cholesterol goals before the holiday season hits us when we typically consume higher fat content food and become less active. More than 102 million American Adults (20 years or older) have total cholesterol levels at or above 200 mg/dL, which is above healthy levels. More than 35 million of these people have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher, which puts them at high risk for heart disease.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in many of the foods that we eat and also in our body’s cells. Our bodies need some cholesterol to function normally and can make all the cholesterol they need. Cholesterol is used to make hormones and vitamin D. It also plays a role in digestion. Too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries. After a while, these deposits narrow your arteries, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

How do you know if your cholesterol is high?

High cholesterol usually doesn’t have any symptoms. As a result, many people do not know that their cholesterol levels are too high. However, doctors can do a simple blood test to check your cholesterol. High cholesterol can be controlled through lifestyle changes or if it is not enough, through medications.

It’s important to check your cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Many things may increase your risk for high cholesterol, including:

  • Genetics: High cholesterol runs in some families.
  • Age: As we age, our cholesterol levels rise.
  • Medicines: Certain drugs can elevate cholesterol levels.
  • Obesity: Individuals with overweight or obese body mass indices are at greater risk for high cholesterol.
  • Diet: Consuming high quantities of saturated and trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Inactivity: Activity helps to elevate HDL cholesterol. Lack of activity has the reverse effect — it increases LDL cholesterol.
  • Smoking: Tobacco products decrease HDL and increase LDL. The link between smoking and high cholesterol is greater for women.

How often should you have your cholesterol checked?

It is recommended to have your cholesterol checked at least every four years but it doesn’t hurt to have it checked regularly as cholesterol can change with little time. Preventive guidelines for cholesterol screening among young adults differ, but experts agree on the need to screen young adults who have other risk factors for coronary heart disease: obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and family history

Less than half of young adults who have these risk factors don’t get cholesterol screening even though up to a quarter of them have elevated cholesterol.

A simple blood test called a lipoprotein profile can measure your total cholesterol levels, including LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol), HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol), and triglycerides.

The following chart shows optimal lipid levels for adults:

                                                                                         Desirable Cholesterol Levels
Total cholesterol Less than 170 mg/dL
Low LDL (“bad”) cholesterol Less than 110 mg/dL
High HDL (“good”) cholesterol 35 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL

What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, particularly from high-carbohydrate foods, you may have high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia).

Can children and adolescents have high cholesterol?

Yes. High cholesterol can develop in early childhood and adolescence, and your risk increases as your weight increases. In the United States, more than one-fifth (20%) of youth aged 12–19 years have at least one abnormal lipid level. It is important for children over 2 years of age to have their cholesterol checked, if they are overweight/obese, have a family history of high cholesterol, a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or certain chronic condition (chronic kidney disease, chronic inflammatory diseases, congenital heart disease, and childhood cancer survivorship.

If you have high cholesterol, what can you do to lower it?

Your doctor may prescribe medications to treat your high cholesterol. In addition, you can lower your cholesterol levels through lifestyle changes:

  • Foods such as legumes, avocados, nuts, fatty fish, whole grains, fruits and berries, dark chocolate and cocoa, garlic, soy foods, vegetables, dark leafy greens, and extra virgin olive oil
  • For adults, getting at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week. For those aged 6-17, getting 1 hour or more of physical activity each day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don’t smoke or quit if you do.

Guide to Environmental Wellness

                                                                              Toni Sperlbaum                                                                                           VP of Sales and Marketing


For the purpose of this article, we are going to define “Environmental Wellness” as: How design, operations, and behaviors within the workplace can be optimized to advance human health and wellbeing.

Did you know?

  • Humans spend 90% of their time inside buildings
  • We also work 62,400 hours of our lives (assuming 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and 30 years as our timeline)
  • 80% of adults in the U.S. go through their day at least mildly dehydrated
  • Harsh, inconsistent, or glare-filled lighting over the course of 8-10 hour workdays is a prominent cause of sleep disorders and causation of headaches, affecting productivity
  • Worker performance can be lowered by 66% when distracted by office noise, while even a 4% – 6% decline in productivity can be measured when building temperatures are non-optimal
  • Having elements of greenery and nature incorporated report a 15% increase in employee well being, a 6% increase in productivity, and a 15% increase in creativity.

Because we spend so much time at work, we as HR professionals and key players in making change happen in our workspaces can have a huge effect on how these spaces impact employees’ health and wellness goals.  The goal is to remove barriers to success by amending the environment.  Some of these changes are simple, while others require planning ahead of a new construct or majorly overhauling your current buildings.

The three factors to environmental wellness include 1. Policies and Procedures, 2. Social Supports, and 3. The Built Environment.

Here is your basic guide to evaluating your facilities to help your employees be successful:

Built Environment

  • Ensure you have a kitchen or common area/break room with microwave, fridge, sink, utensils, and/or dishwasher. This will encourage employees to bring lunch instead of eating out
  • Filtered/drinkable water accessible
  • Indoor & outdoor walking paths marked (doesn’t have to be a physical path – take some steps or a measuring device and figure out mile markers, in or outdoors)
  • Bike racks
  • Basketball hoops (or similar activity) in the parking lot
  • Vending machine overhaul. Require 50% of your machines have healthy options, move unhealthy options lower while moving healthy options to eye level, or inflate prices of unhealthy options in order to make healthier foods more affordable and accessible. At least post nutrition facts about the contents on the outside of the machine so employees have the knowledge to  make better choices.
  • Indoor greenery
  • Lively and energetic paint colors on the wall
  • Allow standing desks (or better yet, use standing desks as an exciting prize to one of your wellness contests!)
  • Wellness bulletin board. A designated area to communicate all things wellness.
  • Paintwork or artwork on walls in facility. You can even have an employee art contest to highlight their talents and engage employees in voting to choose the winners to be hung.
  • Talk to maintenance about regulating temperatures and keeping air moving
  • Hopscotch boards on the floor entering meeting rooms or bathrooms. Extra steps, a quicker pulse, and unavoidably, a smile.
  • Outdoor seating area (picnic table or bench) to get some fresh air, vitamin D, and eat lunch (prevents more frequent trips to get fast food)
  • Stairwells? Make them more attractive by painting the walls (FUN, employee work, not just normal paint colors, although that will help), having music in the stairwell, or having fun facts posted about taking the stairs v. the elevator and how it’s better for your health.
  • Elevators? Put prompts outside of elevator about stair health facts (calories burned, muscles used, elevated heart rate, blood flow, etc.)
  • Bigger Overhauls – natural lighting (skylights or moving workspaces towards windows) & dedicated Well Mom lactation rooms

Policies

  • Unhealthy food laying around – must have healthy options next to a candy dish
  • Catered lunch – if the organization is catering in lunch for meetings with people larger than 4 people, healthy options must be available for a choice
  • Nicotine free campus
  • Make clear if employees can use yoga balls at their desks or if that is a hazard in your organization

Social Supports

  • Walk Well Wednesdays Club
  • Working mother groups
  • Softball/Kickball leagues
  • Biking groups
  • Saturday 5K training groups
  • Community events groups – Relay for Life, Heart Walk activities
  • Weight loss groups

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

                                                                               Christina Falahee                                                                                 Wellness Coordinator/Health Coach


During the summer, many of us are excited to spend time outdoors after being cooped up all winter. It’s during these warm months we spend most of our time outdoors. Although the sun is a great source of vitamin D, moderation is key.

July is National Ultraviolet Safety Month which is a great way to shine a light on the effects of UV rays and spread the importance of sun safety. UV radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer in the United States. It can cause eye damage including cataracts and macular degeneration.

 Who are Most Susceptible?

  • Had skin cancer before
  • Have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
  • Have many moles, irregular moles or large moles
  • Have freckles and burn before tanning
  • Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond, red, or light brown hair
  • Live or vacation at high altitudes (the strength of UV rays increases with elevation)
  • Live or vacation in tropical or subtropical climates
  • Work indoors all week and then get intense sun exposure on weekends
  • Spend a lot of time outdoors
  • Have certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus
  • Have certain inherited conditions that increase your risk of skin cancer, such as xeroderma pigmentosum or nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (Gorlin syndrome).
  • Have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, such as infection with HIV
  • Have had an organ transplant
  • Take medicines that lower or suppress your immune system
  • Take medicines that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

 How Do I Protect Myself from UV Rays?

  • Seek Shade: UV light is the strongest between the hours of 10am and 4pm. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest, and it’s important to protect yourself.
  • Protect Your Skin with Clothing: Clothes provide different levels of UV protection. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric.
  • Read Your Sunscreen Labels: Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection protect against both UVA and UVB rays and with sun protection factor (SPF) provides UVB ray protection. Values of 30 or higher are recommend. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming and sweating, even if it’s labeled “water resistant”. Be sure to check the expiration date on the sunscreen. Most sunscreen products are good for at least 2 or 3 years, but you may need to shake the bottle to remix the ingredients.
  • Wear Your Sunglasses: Effective sunglasses should block glare and 99 – 100% of UV rays and have a wraparound shape to protect the eyes from all angles.
  • Routinely Check Your Skin for Any Changes: Birthmarks, new moles and marks should be consistently examined for alterations in size, shape and color or if they look and feel differently from other moles and marks on your body.

Wellness on a Budget


Toni Sperlbaum, CWWPM, CHWC, Wellness Account Manager

When I was acquiring my certification as a Certified Worksite Wellness Program Manager at the National Wellness Conference in Minneapolis, MN, our two-day intensive class consisted of professionals like myself sharing their experiences and struggles in wellness.  One topic of discussion that was clearly a concern for HR and wellness professionals was the lack of a budget.  Conversations were that “my wellness program isn’t successful because we don’t have the money to do things”.  Bravely, a wellness coordinator from Saudi Arabia raised her hand, stood up and said, “Our company is massive.  The amount of figures in my wellness budget would sicken you, it’s so much.  We have all the money you could want and our program. isn’t. working.”  She opened everyone’s eyes to show that it’s not a hefty budget that makes a wellness program successful.  It’s the cohesion of your programs.  It’s the creativity of your people and your vendor.  It’s your leadership team’s public support in your efforts (NOT through finances, but by example).  It’s these things that give your wellness program a personality and your workplace a culture.

Since 2001, Health Plan Advocate has been providing corporate wellness programs.  Although we provide services that require a budget, we also work as consultants in sharing our ideas and experiences with the hopes that your wellness program will be the most successful it can be.  Here are 5 of our budget-friendly wellness ideas:

  1.  Wellness Committees.  If you don’t have a wellness committee, you should.  Sure you may have to pay these employees for their time on your committee during the work shift, but these are the people who are out in the workplace who know what will work and what won’t.  They will also be your CREATIVE TEAM!  As a client of HPA’s, we can run these committees for you, we can sit on them consistently to offer our experiences, or we can do a one time visit – whichever you prefer!
  2. Health Fair.  This is one of my favorites.  All you have to do is pick the date and time.  Your benefit vendors, local health food stores, hospitals, gyms, and more show up and do all the work for you!  It’s about introducing local resources to your employees to support them in your journey.  Vendors will typically provide decent door prizes, too.
  3. Parking Tickets.  During the warmer months, take a trip once a week (or as frequently as you’d like) into your parking lot.  On the cars parked the farthest away, leave them a “parking ticket”.  On that ticket, it will tell the employee that they have parked HEALTHILY and once they collect 3 tickets, they can turn them in to you to claim their prize.  This can be something tangible and low budget like a water bottle, t-shirt (it’s amazing what people will do for trinkets!), or something non tangible like a free jean day, or 4 hours of PTO, whatever you’d like!
  4. Healthy Selfies.  We have to give credit to one of the agencies we work with for coming up with this one.  They had their employees submit “Healthy Selfies” – photos of themselves doing something healthy.  After collecting photos, they sent them out to their staff to vote on their favorites.  Not only did they have fun with it (and was it completely FREE), but it allowed employees to see all the other fantastic healthy things their peers were doing, were able to share about this great fitness class they were a part of, share their favorite walking route, and more!
  5. Scavenger Hunt.  Have your committee (or some fantastic volunteers) stand at different points of your facility or campus with a clue directing participants to their next destination (ever seen The Amazing Race?) but they have to answer a health and wellness trivia question to earn their next clue  Once they reach their final destination, they can earn a trinket or maybe everyone who completes it goes into a drawing to win a day of PTO, tshirts, gift cards – whatever you prefer!

I could go on all day with budget friendly wellness ideas, but I’ll stop here.  Talk to Health Plan Advocate to see how we can help you with your program!