Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Can You See It Now?

Picture this. You’re hungry. In your mind you can picture dozens of food possibilities, and some of them will look more appetizing than others. But remember, this is only in your mind at this point. Now you can create a choice in your mind. You can visualize exactly what you are going to do—in this instance what you are going to eat. Focus in on what you are seeing.

You know the choice is up to you, and you also know you can make a nutritious choice or one that’s nothing more than empty calories. If you focus on picturing the healthier choice you have taken a positive step, and one that can be repeated over and over.

Using imagination to create mental images of what we want in our lives is not a new technique, but it has the potential to help us all achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Visual imagery in sports is used by athletes to improve their games and skills, resulting in better performance. Athletes don’t start out picturing defeat.

Visualization is more than just self-talk. By imagining and honing in on the image you are creating you physiologically create neural patterns in your brain, as if you had physically performed the action you visualized. That thought process can stimulate the nervous system the same way the actual event does.

Back to the example of competitive athletes. Sure, physical skills are required, but so is a strong mental game. Studies have shown that sports outcomes are 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical.

And, with visualization, it’s actually OK to supersize. Try to feel, smell and taste everything in order to imagine it as vividly as you can. You’re already using visualization throughout the day, even if you don’t realize it—now you can take conscious control, making it work for you.

Applied to wellness, imagine what you can accomplish by visualizing yourself making positive choices that contribute to positive lifestyle behavior changes. Practice a run-through of the choices you know you will make each day. Envision yourself achieving your goals, remind yourself of your objectives and what you need to do to reach them. See your success.

Visualization may not solve our country’s health care crisis, but don’t you think it’s worth a shot to solve your own?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Yellow Brick Road to Wellness

Remember The Wizard of Oz? We know the story is about more than flying monkeys, witches, ruby slippers, tornadoes, lions, a tin man, scarecrows, munchkins and a heroine named Dorothy (and her little dog Toto). We know it’s about more than the Great Oz, and his room of mirrors and illusions, all used to sell himself as the one who knows all.

The real story here is about what each of us already possesses inside ourselves—and that is the power to change our behavior and become who, and what we want to be. Most of us just need a little nudge. When we are told, and then believe that we can go out and do something and that we already have the skills to do it, most of us will make the effort to make it happen. Won’t we?

This is where LoneStart Wellness comes in. When we engage people through our proven, sustainable workplace wellness initiative, we show them they really can change their daily behaviors and begin to make positive lifestyle choices. They Achieve and Believe, and they achieve even more. This is one of the major differences between our hands on / high touch initiative and other more passive, on-line wellness programs.

As Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion set off down the yellow-brick road, they were each in search of something—something it turns out they already possessed. The Lion was after courage, the Tin Man a heart, the Scarecrow wanted brains, and Dorothy just wanted to go home. The Great Oz (much like LoneStart Wellness) knew they already had what they needed—he just had to show them how to believe it.

We know it’s up to each individual person to make healthier choices, we just provide the toolkit (the courage, the heart, the brains—and the ruby slippers—and a great worksite wellness program) to make it happen. Are you ready?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It Costs How Much?

While it seems like everyone is talking about obesity (and childhood obesity), and what it’s costing us, would you believe that it’s nowhere near our top policy priorities for 2011? In fact, it’s just about dead last (right below global warming). The Pew Research Center found only 19 percent of us rate addressing obesity a top priority.

And, until we address this issue on a national level, we will never succeed in containing health care costs (or balancing the budget).

In 2010 the U.S. spent approximately $168 billion on obesity-related costs. To put that figure in perspective, look at what some of the larger departments in the federal government spent: $26.3 billion (Dept. of Energy), $51.7 billion (Dept. of Education), $72 billion (Dept. of Transportation), $26 billion (Dept. of Agriculture), $51.7 billion (Dept. of State) and $23.9 billion (Dept. of Justice).

$168 billion is a big bill to pay—and it’s going to get bigger still. It’s estimated by 2018 (just seven years from now) obesity will cost us $344 billion in medical-related expenses, eating up 21 percent of all health-care spending. (2010 America’s Health Rankings Report)

Even though we see almost daily reports linking obesity to a number of chronic diseases (more than 53), type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and too many more to list, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to how obesity fits into our out-of-control health care costs.

Do we tend to look at it only as a personal responsibility issue that we can’t really do anything about? Is the problem just too overwhelming? Is it just that we think we lack an effective solution so we continue to return to the drawing board for yet another study? Enough.

There are a number of effective solutions in place already, ours being one of them. We continue to build momentum with workplace initiatives and program participants. And, we continue to prove that people want to be well. Most of us would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem. And, we’re not alone.

Given the choices, most of us would probably choose to live healthier, longer lives rather than face an earlier, and perhaps costly, unpleasant death. Wouldn’t we?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Auto Insurance and Wellness . . . Who’s Behind the Wheel?

We’ve heard a lot about health care costs, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care reform during the last two years, so, being in the “wellness business” we thought we’d toss in our nickel’s worth on the subject. (And, speaking of nickels, would it surprise you to know that only 5 cents of every dollar spent on health care goes toward wellness and preventive health while the other 95 cents goes to treating illness after it occurs?)

Here’s a question . . . actually, several questions. What is “wellness” to you? What’s the connection between wellness and your health care costs? And, what is the connection with the auto insurance industry?

The answers to these questions might be somewhat different if you’re answering from the perspective of an employer rather than an individual. But, maybe not all that different. The ingredient that must be present to improve wellness, health and reduce health care costs, whether for yourself or your organization hinges on behavior change. And, there’s never been a more pressing need.

Consider two more questions: Are your auto insurance rates based on your driving history and record? Are your health insurance premiums based on preventive measures and personal lifestyle choices? (See where this is going . . .)

Between 2000 and 2010 health insurance rates rose approximately 114 percent. We are told to look for another 8.9 percent increase this year. On the other hand, auto insurance premiums have decreased 6.8 percent since 2009, in part because the auto industry creates the opportunity for its insured drivers to earn discounts—based on driving record, use of seatbelts, and driver’s education. On the flip side, accidents, multiple tickets, and poor driving behaviors result in significantly higher rates. Where health insurance is concerned, shouldn’t we be able to earn the same discounts through positive wellness and health care behaviors? Shouldn’t employers, through wellness programs offered through their organizations, receive rate discounts when their employees become proactive and make positive lifestyle changes, changes that result in lower health care costs and fewer claims?

In fact, a new study published in the March / April edition of the American Journal of Health Promotion finds that health care costs rose at a 15 percent slower rate among wellness program participants when offered a workplace wellness program. This showed a savings per participant of $332.

What if we could begin to reverse the climbing costs of chronic disease (80 percent of which is caused by poor lifestyle choices) by linking an individual’s positive behavior changes and improved health to rate discounts instead of the dreaded annual premium increase?

Think about where we would be if we all went out and actually made those positive behavior changes.