Make no bones about it. Calcium and vitamin D build strong bodies.

Bone health is one of those health items we typically take for granted until they become a problem. Trouble is, most of those problems will occur later in life, so if you pay attention when you’re younger, the long-term results will benefit you down the road.

It’s important to take steps now so that your bones will be healthy and strong throughout your lifetime. That’s especially critical in the childhood and teen years to avoid osteoporosis and other bone problems later in life. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become softer and fragile, making them fracture or break much easier.

You can build strong bones by getting enough calcium and weight-bearing physical activity during the tween and teen years, when bones are growing their fastest. Young people in this age group have calcium needs that they can’t make up for later in life. In the years of peak skeletal growth, teenagers build more than 25 percent of adult bone. By the time teens finish their growth spurts around age 17, 90 percent of their adult bone mass is established.

Calcium helps build healthy bones

Your body continually removes and replaces small amounts of calcium from your bones. If your body removes more calcium than it replaces, your bones will become weaker and have a greater chance of breaking. By getting lots of calcium when you’re young, you can make sure your body doesn’t have to take too much from your bones.

Bones have their own “calcium bank account,” so depositing as much calcium as possible will help you reach your peak bone mass. After age 18 the account closes so you can’t add any more calcium to your bones. You can only maintain what is already stored to help your bones stay healthy.

Calcium is found in a variety of foods. Low-fat and fat-free milk and other dairy products are great sources of calcium. Tweens and teens can get most of their daily calcium from three cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, but they also need additional servings of calcium to get the 1,300 mg necessary for strong bones. In addition:

  • Low-fat and fat-free milk has lots of calcium with little or no fat
  • The calcium in low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products is easy for the body to absorb and in a form that gives the body easy access to the calcium
  • Low-fat and fat-free milk has added vitamin D, which is important for helping your body better absorb calcium
  • In addition to calcium, milk and dairy products provide other essential nutrients that are important for optimal bone health and development.

Other good sources of calcium include dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and bok choy. There also are foods with calcium added, such as calcium-fortified tofu, orange juice, soy beverages, and breakfast cereals or breads. Adults or youth who can’t process lactose also can take calcium supplements but you should check with your physician to ensure compatibility with other medicines or conditions.

Exercise builds strong bones, too

Bones are living tissue. Weight-bearing physical activity causes new bone tissue to form, which makes bones stronger. This kind of physical activity also makes muscles stronger. When muscles push and tug against bones during physical activity, bones and muscles become stronger.

So there’s much you can do at any age to ensure strong, healthy bones, but it begins with awareness, and is fortified through diet and physical exercise.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

It’s always the right time to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle

Everybody knows someone who has heart disease, whether they or the person with the disease realize it or not. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. February is American Heart Month, and it’s still early in the new year, so there’s plenty of time in 2012 to adjust your lifestyle and make smarter choices that will prolong both the longevity and quality of your life.

The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. While some of these problems are hereditary, there’s much we can do to improve our odds of remaining heart healthy and for controlling problems like high blood pressure that we may have inherited.

Overall, a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons we have to fight heart disease. It is the overall pattern of the choices we make that count.  Eating smart, exercise, sleeping well, and stress and weight reduction all play important roles.

When it comes to eating in a healthful way, read nutrition labels and base eating patterns on these recommendations:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars
  • Select and purchase foods lower in salt/sodium.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.

So, take a proactive role in protecting your heart through healthy pursuits in everything you eat and do. You’re well worth the investment!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Faddy doesn’t fix flabby. Think healthy!

It’s February, well into resolution and best-intentions season, and many of us are still trying to shake off the extra holiday pounds…or at the least, to eat healthier foods. But wanting to lose weight and knowing how to lose weight are different objectives, and achieving and sustaining that weight loss requires smart planning, dedication, and good information.

We can cut the carbs and sugar, eat lots of raw veggies, replace a meal with a protein shake, count calories, or pursue one of many temporarily popular “fad diets.” All are advertised as good ways to lose weight. And while nutrition experts agree that fad diets will take off weight, they also say it won’t last, and it typically isn’t healthy.

Fad diets appeal to people because they concentrate on weight loss and not on overall health. Instead, people need to focus on nutrition and health, and to recognize that there are benefits to be gained from a healthful diet besides just weight loss.

Also, many people believe that healthy eating is just too hard, actually making the obstacles larger than they really are. Vegetables, experts stress, can be cooked in the microwave just as easily as heating processed food. And there is an enormous amount of self-help literature available online, in book stores, and through nutritionists, your physician and other health professionals.

Moderation and variety are the keys to long-term healthy eating. It’s also important to choose high-quality foods over low-quality foods. Fast food and snack foods are low quality, which means they have a lot of calories without a lot of nutrients. And when we try to appease ourselves by adding processed cheese sauce to the broccoli or deep frying our veggies, we’re not improving our diet. 

It starts by making up our minds to eat better, and by experimenting with changes that we can sustain, unlike those offered in fad diets. Actually engaging our brains, paying attention to what we’re eating, how much and when is a big first step. Frequency and understanding the chemistry of food, what we’re putting into our bodies and how it affects us, will make a big difference. And changing our diets without adding exercise is not going to be as effective a means of losing weight or achieving improved overall health.

But don’t despair. Once you start substituting vegetables and fruit for heavy carbs and prepared foods high in fat, sugar and sodium, you’ll get used to the healthier eating style and smaller portions will become enough. Also, if it makes you feel better, remember that February includes Valentine’s Day, and the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate have been well documented so you can still reward yourself and stay on the road to improved overall health and weight. Healthful living is a lifestyle choice, and extra weight a prime contributor to most chronic diseases. And if all of these factors don’t motivate you to change, remember, swimsuit weather will be here again before you know it!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

How are you measuring your wellness program’s ROI?

Regardless of the services or products you offer, healthcare costs take a big bite out of your revenue stream, and you need a cost-containment solution to mitigate or control those costs. Since 1999, increases in employer-sponsored healthcare costs have far exceeded the rate of overall inflation; up to as much as four times in some years. In response, many U.S. employers have instituted worksite wellness programs designed to encourage employees to live healthier. The end result is reduced health risk factors for employees and a reduction in year-over-year healthcare spending trends for both employees and their employers.

In a health management study conducted in 2009 with managers of small- to medium-sized businesses across the country,* the majority of respondents stated their worksite wellness programs had been in place for more than two years, long enough to see return on investment (ROI). However, while the survey found that most respondents understand that the impact of a wellness program should be measured, many key metrics to achieving a good assessment remain unmeasured.

To calculate the ROI of employer wellness efforts, you have to understand the relationship between health risk factors and healthcare costs. Risk factors increase the unnecessary and avoidable utilization of medical services that will drive up cost. When organizations understand the correlation between health risk and cost, they can begin to understand how to measure the cost savings from reducing those risks.

Defining Return on Investment

There are two ways to define ROI; reduce the rate of increase in health plan costs and reduce costs in absolute terms. You can measure monetary savings of medical costs in absolute terms (for instance, a savings of $100 per participant from 2010 to 2011). Companies can calculate ROI if it offsets the rate of increase in health plan costs. If the trend was 10 percent per year for four years and becomes 7 percent per year after the implementation of a wellness program, you know it’s working.

Sixty-two percent of survey respondents state their organizations analyze the cost effectiveness, cost savings, and return on investment of their wellness programs. Employee participation is the most tracked metric, with 89 percent stating it is a very important measure. Respondents also list behavioral changes (84 percent) and employee satisfaction (74 percent) as important measures. Of related interest, although 87 percent of respondents state their program tracks participation, only 63 percent say their organization regularly monitors employee satisfaction; 61 percent say organizations assess changes in biometric measures; and 55 percent say their organization assesses and monitors the health status of at-risk employees.

Also of great significance, few respondents are tracking productivity metrics; only 29 percent monitor the impact on absenteeism, and a mere 18 percent monitor the impact on employee turnover, morale or productivity. And barely half of the employers surveyed said they or their current wellness provider have the capability to analyze medical and pharmaceutical claims data, critical components for effective cost analysis.

Behind the Financials

On-the-job performance often takes a back seat when it comes to measuring the ROI of health management, since healthcare cost reduction is the driving force for most wellness programs. While absenteeism is relatively easy to track, many employers do not measure it because it is difficult to determine the cause and reason. Employee morale, productivity and presenteeism are more challenging to measure. Presenteeism reflects an employee’s productivity when well, compared to when they are in pain, sick or stressed.

Participation tracking is very important, as is talking with your employees about their personal goals, their efforts to achieve those goals, and the support they get or feel they’re getting from their workplaces. Companies that are able to demonstrate ROI for wellness initiatives typically share five common elements:

  • A comprehensive program
  • Effective incentives
  • Biometrics
  • Multiple program modalities; and
  • Communication programs.

Initiating best practices

The following are best practices to strengthen wellness program performance and ultimately strengthen ROI:

  1. Design a comprehensive program to apply to all employees. Include both healthy and at-risk employees for program initiatives, as well as health assessments and screenings.
  2. Integrate incentives into plan design. The best programs have engaged and supportive managers who tailor incentives to their unique employee population. Successful wellness efforts include initiatives like premium discounts, cash, prizes, and/or paid time off.
  3. Validate efforts with biometric screenings. Health risk assessments are only one part of the process for tracking employee health. A biometric screening includes three components: blood work, blood pressure and body mass index.
  4. Offer multiple program modalities. Some wellness programs are completely self-directed. The best programs offer several options since one method will not work for the employee population. If employees do not like the offered programs, they will stop participating.
  5.  Engage employees with effective health-awareness programs. The best wellness communication strategy is engaging but not threatening. Efforts should be ongoing throughout the year and customized to your company and its activities. The most successful worksite wellness programs are fun and interesting, and keep employees involved for the long term, while lowering health risks.

The Centers for Disease Control has determined that approximately 75 percent of healthcare costs and productivity losses are related to lifestyle choices. Changing behavior is critical to reducing health care costs, so the more employers support and participate in their employee wellness efforts, the greater the ROI. And remember: When it comes to measurement, take criticism seriously, but not personally. People love to complain. If a company listens carefully, employees will give feedback on program design successes and failures. 

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

*The survey, “Trends in Measuring the ROI of Corporate Wellness,” was conducted in 2009 and sent via email to nearly 21,000 professionals. Nearly one-third of respondents (32 percent) were senior management, C-level, vice president, or director. Another 40 percent were manager level. Most represented small to medium-size businesses, and all worked for companies with a current wellness program in place.