Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

MiniMarathonNobody would ever accuse me of being the picture of health or a model of purely healthy behavior. There is room for improvement in my diet, exercise and sleep patterns. Still, one of the major takeaways of 2013 for me will be a renewed awareness of and emphasis on healthy behavior.

I was reasonably good about eating and sleeping and getting enough activity the first nine months of the year, but everything kicked up a notch once I started wearing a Fitbit Flex in September. Since then I’ve tracked activity, calories and sleep daily. I decided to lower my maximum weight another five pounds and now maintain that level. I’ve counted calories of everything I’ve consumed the past three months and am far more aware of the caloric and nutritional consequences of my eating decisions. I haven’t had a single day since getting my Fitbit of less than 10,000 steps, averaging at least 80,000 per week. I may not be doing all that I should for better health, but more health-related behaviors have become ingrained and an important part of how I live each day. I have new habits, and that is critical to changing one’s lifestyle.

It’s easy to make excuses not to make time for physical activity or not to take the time to track calories and nutrition of what you consume or not to sleep enough, but I’ve known for a long, long time that we always find time for what is really important to us. If watching the TV or eating certain foods or killing time with our favorite sedentary or unhealthy pastimes is what we value most, then we’ll choose those over more healthy options. Short-term gratification is a formidable foe of long-term better choices, and too often it wins the battle in many households.

Research varies as to how long you must do something before it becomes a habit, but there is no dispute that you can develop new, healthier habits if you choose to do so. What motivates one person to change behavior may be very different than what motivates another. How long it takes to get to the point where you can live the new lifestyle without hardly thinking about it may vary widely from one person to the next. But new habits can come to pass.

Let me offer an analogy from running to explain the point I believe I’ve reached this year…

When I first take out on a longer run, the first several miles are the toughest for me psychologically. After just a few miles I’m battling inside my head unwanted thoughts like “Why are you doing this?” and “Why don’t you just stop now and go home?” The temptation to call it a day is great and sometimes I’ve given in to that voice.

However, I have run enough times to know that for my body, for whatever reason, it’s at about the six-mile mark when something happens. After that distance and length of time, it’s as though that unwanted voice takes the hint and finally realizes “I guess he’s going to keep on going. I may as well go away.” At that point, I can keep on going literally for as long as the ol’ body will allow. I’ve never run a marathon, but I have run out on my own in such circumstances up to about 18 miles or so.

So it seems like this year has been when I’ve passed the psychological six-mile mark in creating new habits of eating and maintaining a regular routine of activity such that the temptations to do otherwise just don’t win the day any more. That’s a good feeling.

Unfortunately, you can’t build up healthy behavior like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter. It’s something you have to keep at year-round. That’s a good thing, really, because breaking the habit for a long period would not only be detrimental for the short term, but most likely for the long term as newer, unhealthy habits emerge.

Consider yourself fortunate if you are surrounded by others who set a good example of healthy behavior and who encourage you to do so as well. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones if your employer offers numerous health and well-being initiatives and incentives as does my company. Any and all external motivation and encouragement to live healthy helps pave the way to a better, longer future.

Ultimately, though, you have to make the decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle yourself. Nobody can successfully force you into it and keep you on the path against your will. I understand that in the absence of any external support and encouragement, the lone commitment to improve seems like a long, uphill climb. But it can be done! And it doesn’t all have to be done quickly. In fact, it can’t happen quickly. In pursuits like this, I like to take an annual or monthly view – not a daily or weekly one – and ask myself, “Am I in a better place today than I was a year or a month ago?” If the answer is “Yes,” then that’s good enough. At least I’m moving in the right direction.

My thanks to work colleagues, family, friends and my employer who encourage healthy behavior. You have helped make 2013 an important year for me in changing habits that should serve me well for years to come. Things are shaping up for some new healthy goals for 2014, but with the advantage of already having established a new baseline of healthy habits on which to build.

Being healthy isn’t automatic or easy. You have to want it and work for it. I am grateful that one of my major lessons learned for 2013 is to work at being healthy.

2013 Lesson Learned: Rest

Posted: December 6, 2013 in Health
Tags: , , , ,

hammockDuring December I will sprinkle throughout the month a few posts regarding key lessons learned for the past year. I’ll kick off the lessons with this post on the subject of rest.

I have noticed both my body and mind yearning for more rest than I’ve given them this year. Even though I have intentionally worked at sleeping at least six hours per night, I know that isn’t enough. It may be more than any recent year in memory when the average was closer to five hours, but if I listen to what the ol’ bod is saying, I have to conclude that somewhere between 7-8 hours per night is what I need these days. That will be reflected in the goals I set for 2014.

Besides sleeping, though, I need more unscheduled down time than I’ve given myself. It’s nice to have ambitious goals at work and outside of work and feel the accomplishment their achievement brings. However, there are too many days when I grow weary of a self-imposed task list that would require me to keep going late into the evening and throughout the weekends if I really did everything on the list. I need time to chill, relax, do something fun and spontaneous or just veg in front of the TV or play with my dog for a while. Doing so rests not only the body but the mind, and rejuvenates the spirit. It contributes to overall well-being in a way that constant activity cannot.

I’ve long had feelings of guilt if I relax too much, so changing that will be an adjustment for me. I’ll really have to battle guilt when I reduce the goals and tasks in 2014 and intentionally increase the hours of sleep and unscheduled fun and relaxation, but I must overcome that in the long-term interest of better health – physical, mental and spiritual.

The title of this post may include the phrase “lesson learned,” but it remains to be seen whether I’ve really learned it or not. I know it, but I will only prove that I’ve learned it and care about it when I change the behavior. Since I do care about my wellness, I believe I’ll do better in 2014, but I have to quantify what that looks like in goals and then make sure I do it. One more hour of sleep and one less hour of structured evening tasks daily equals 14 hours per week of less activity than what I’m doing now. That has to come from somewhere, so the challenge will be in deciding what goes away. Fortunately, I have the rest of the month to ponder that before deciding the 2014 details.

As an educator for most of my life, I’m grateful for lessons learned – even those learned the hard way. So the first big lesson that stands out to me from this year’s experience is this: I need more rest.

Fitbit FlexI’ve worn a pedometer for several years, tracking my steps and being mindful to reach 10,000 steps per day (about 5 miles worth) more days than not during that time. Until last week, I’ve worn a simple pedometer attached to my belt that doesn’t do much but count steps and allow me to upload them to an online site via a USB port for tracking. With the advancement in wearable devices recently, I decided that I would get a Fitbit Flex wristband to wear. As good fortune would have it, I won one in a drawing at work the week before I intended to purchase one (thanks, Humana). Today marks the end of my first week wearing the Flex and I am so impressed and happy with it I want to spread the word.

After receiving the package last Tuesday, the first task was to let it charge for an hour or two via the USB cable. That first charge lasted a full week. One of the beauties of the Flex is that it is a simple matter to plug in to your PC the USB dongle that allows the activity to be uploaded wirelessly and automatically any time you’re within 20 feet of the dongle. I just keep the dongle in the PC at all times so my steps are uploaded automatically numerous times a day as I walk by or sit at my desk. Registering at and setting up some goals and personal preferences was quick and easy.

For the past week I’ve worn both the Flex and my old pedometer so I could compare the results. I was alarmed after the first day when the Flex recorded nearly 16% fewer steps than the old pedometer. The idea of having to walk 16% more to get the same number of steps credited to my online rewards account with HumanaVitality did not appeal to me. Fortunately, though, as I wore it for the rest of the week, things evened out considerably due in part to the fact that you can wear the Flex 24×7 (including in the shower) while the other kind of pedometer necessarily has to come off at times. After 7 days and about 70,000 steps, there was only a total difference between the two of 34 steps with the Flex giving me those 34 more than the old pedometer.

Beyond mere recording of steps, though, the Flex and the accompanying website has much to offer that makes using it a far superior experience compared to the other style pedometer.

Fitbit SleepFor example, it has a sleep mode you can place it in when going to bed that allows it to track your sleep nightly. When you get up and go to your computer or grab your smartphone, you’ll find how long it took you to fall asleep, how many hours and minutes you slept, how many times you woke up and when, how many times you were restless and when down to the minute. I let my wife wear it one night to track her sleep and we both agree it did an amazing, accurate job. There are a couple of sleep settings you can choose from based on whether you are a sensitive or normal sleeper. The normal setting seems accurate for my wife and me.

It’s also nice having a silent vibrating alarm on the band you can set via the website. It woke me up each day with no problem and without my wife hearing anything (although my dog who sleeps by the bed or under my bed heard it just fine and came to make sure I was awake with a few wet kisses).

The website dashboard is configurable in the panels it displays and can show steps per 15-minute time intervals, total steps, calories burned, distance traveled, very active minutes, sleep, weight, a gauge of calories in vs. calories burned (if you also log you food intake), how you stack up in activity over the past seven days with others you may friend on the site, plus Fitbit virtual badges earned for various accomplishments. I find myself checking the dashboard several times daily, either on the website or using the excellent smartphone app with the same detail.

Fitbit Dashboard

There are several nice touches that Fitbit adds to the user experience:

  • Customizable notifications via email or smartphone app. For example, I get an email when the battery is about 75% discharged so I have plenty of time to charge it and not lose any data. I got that reminder this morning after 6 days of use, wore it all day at work and then charged it when I got home this evening. Other notifications to my phone tell me when I am close to the goal I have set to help nudge me over the hump. Website notifications let you know where you stand among the people you have friended.
  • There are two sizes of wristbands that come with the device, and the removable clasp works with either band. Multiple colors are also available.
  • The site also syncs up with several other popular fitness sites to share data if you wish.
  • The food logging option is easy to use and has encouraged me to start tracking calories and other nutritional information in far more detail than I ever have, and with very little effort on my part due to the large database of items that pop up as you start to type what you ate or drank. Even the simple way of logging water consumed during the day has made me more aware of how much I drink and how much more I should drink daily.
  • While I haven’t had a need for it yet, the Fitbit customer service reputation is stellar. I have many coworkers with excellent customer service stories when, for example, they have lost or accidentally destroyed a device.
  • Data is automatically uploaded to the site not only if you are near the USB dongle connected to a PC, but if you use the smartphone app and have Bluetooth enabled. This allows me to check stats real-time as I walk my dog or go for a jog, for example.
  • There are multiple community forums on the website and the ability to create or join public groups.
  • Weekly stats emails.

If I was to suggest improvements to Fitbit in their next models of the Flex, there are a few things that would make this little device even better:

  • The ability to track flights of stairs you climb like another of their devices already does.
  • A numeric readout on the band that shows the number of steps achieved for the day rather than a series of 5 lights that each represent 20% of your goal.
  • A solid band that does not require a clasp. Although I’ve had no issue with the band coming off, I have heard of a few people at work who have lost a Flex because it came loose.
  • Tweaks in its tracking ability for when users are doing things like pushing a stroller or grocery cart when it may not get enough movement to record anywhere near all the steps actually taken. A workaround is to use the larger band to place around your ankle for such times or maybe try it in your pocket. I haven’t experienced that issue, either, but have heard others at work complain about it. I thought perhaps I would experience it walking the dog and holding the leash with the hand wearing the band, fearing the more stable position of that hand might not record steps, but that was not the case.

Overall, I am extremely pleased with the Fitbit Flex. In fact, I ordered one yesterday for my wife to wear. The retail cost is $99 and is well worth it in my opinion for the ease of use, the features available, the superb website dashboard, and the motivation it can help bring to the ongoing daily challenge of living a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re curious to find out more, check out the website for it. They have other devices besides the Flex if you’re interested. If you’re a Fitbit user, feel free to friend me at using my email address

If you’re a Fitbit user, I’d love to hear your story in a comment below.

scale-150It was one year ago today that I finally reached my target weight goal which I had struggled for a long while to achieve.  Those who have known me since childhood may remember me as an underweight guy who doesn’t have any issue with extra pounds on board.  Growing up, I was the skinniest kid in the class.  My nickname from some best friends in high school and college was “Runt.”  I weighed only 113 pounds the day I got married a week after graduating from college.  Things had changed, though, 30+ years later as I’m sure many from my age group can understand.

In late 2011, I put on nearly 20 pounds in a relatively short time period.  The Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday season was the main stretch of time in which I threw caution and good sense to the wind and reached what was for me a lifetime high weight.

I didn’t like the new, bigger me very much in a few ways.  The extra weight slowed down my running game considerably.  I didn’t care for the noticeable gut.  Who likes having to buy bigger clothes, too?  Not me.


Inspire Health

Posted: April 30, 2013 in Health
Tags: ,
me running a half-marathon several years ago

me running a half-marathon several years ago

I recently wrote about our company’s five corporate values and their helpfulness when used in making decisions.  Today I want to start a series of posts on each of these five values, addressing how I can live each one personally and professionally.  As a reminder, the five values are:

This post focuses on the first value – Inspire Health.

When I was young and continuing all the way up through college, I was the skinniest person I knew.  I recall once being held up by my ankles in grade school at my desk by a bigger kid when the teacher was out of the room.  I know what it’s like to never be picked for the sports teams in gym class until there is no other choice.  I was “invited” to not come back to my Little League baseball team by the coach after a few practices.  Even though I was a pretty good shot at basketball from playing quite a bit at my house, the junior high coach did not reward my tryout with the option of playing on the team – a tryout that took every ounce of courage I had.

By high school, some of my closest friends affectionately called me Runt and still do.  I knew my strength was academics, not sports, so I have avoided team sports like the plague ever since.  When I got married one week after graduating from college, I weighed a measly 113 pounds and embarked on a year of drinking a gallon of milk a day to put on a few pounds.  Eventually I took up running in my 40s because it’s something I can do and be proud of, competing against myself while improving my health.

Goodness knows I have enjoyed my share of junk food along the way – burgers, fries, pizza, all things spicy, ice cream, chocolate, and the favorite soft drink of all of us raised in Winchester, Kentucky – Ale-8 – all the usual no-no’s.  Being perpetually underweight didn’t exactly deter me from eating what I felt like eating in quantity or quality.

I share all of the above to confess that for most of my life I haven’t been too terribly concerned with health-related matters.  It’s rare that I’m sick or experience issues, so there has hardly ever been an imposed reason to be concerned.

Muddy Fanatic

some of our team with spouses/friends after a Muddy Fanatic race last year

But then I went to work almost ten years ago for Humana, a health insurance company, and not just a health insurance company, but one that genuinely cares about people living in a healthy manner, promoting it among employees as well as those they insure.  I finally joined a nearby fitness center that was convenient to attend, although I’m not a member currently, preferring to walk/jog/run alone or with my dog for most of my physical activity.

Last summer our company sponsored a 100 Day Dash for employees where I made a commitment and succeeded in averaging 15,000 steps per day for all 100 days, losing 16 pounds in the process and returning to a weight I had been at for many years when I felt my best.  I have been at or below that weight every day since last July 26 and I make sure I eat and maintain a level of activity that keeps me at or below that target weight.

I still enjoy an occasional junk meal, but never to excess, and I more frequently choose healthy options when eating out than I did my first 55 years of life.  My annual physical results are great as are the annual biometric measurements for work that earns us a lower health insurance cost, and an additional annual assessment for work which last year showed my “Vitality” age to be two years younger than my actual age.  All in all, not too bad.

That’s the personal.  You may or may not find it inspiring.  What about the professional opportunities I have to inspire health?

In my role at work as the community manager for our enterprise social network, I am pleased that health and wellness related topics are the number one topic every week.  It is a pleasure to manage a platform that is being used by more than 26,000 employees in part to help improve all aspects of their well-being – health, security, belonging and purpose.  While very few of the 7,000+ posts per week are made by me, I choose which few get broadcast in a weekly summary email to all 26,000 people, making sure I include health-related posts regularly, bringing attention to personal success stories and opportunities to improve one’s health.

Also at work, I am responsible for the company’s corporate Twitter account (@Humana) where I make sure that about eight tweets per day go out, the vast majority of which promote health-related well-being.  That is another opportunity to extend the message and inspire thousands of others daily to live a healthy lifestyle.

There is still more I need to do for my own health, some of which is captured in my goals for 2013.  I’m doing very well on the health-related goals I set for the year and am starting to think about goals for next year such as more gym workouts, and more (and longer) races to run.

Humana's President/CEO Bruce Broussard biking to work

Humana’s President/CEO Bruce Broussard biking to work

I deeply appreciate the regular encouragement, reminders and incentives my company provides for our 44,000 employees to live a healthy lifestyle.  I appreciate the regular well-being reports they distribute that inform us how we are progressing as a company regarding associate well-being.  I appreciate a President/CEO who models healthy behavior.  I enjoy working on the social media team that occasionally participates together in events like races and who daily makes multiple posts across numerous social media sites related to well-being.  I am grateful for a host of colleagues who share their struggles and successes on our internal social network.  Such sharing opens the conversation, creates a safe place for others to share, and inspires untold thousands in the process.

I may not be the person others think of when they think of the value “Inspire Health,” but in some small ways I know I’m living it and promoting it to others.  I look forward to continuing the journey.

Inspire health.