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Friends Nourish the Body and Soul

Blog contributed by: Blue Zones

Cornell University polled 100 people in 2011 and found the average American had only two friends with whom they would confide important, personal matters. During times of high stress, friendships have a tendency to fade into the background, while work and family take center stage, battering themselves into the foreground of our lives. Research shows this is a mistake and in fact, counterproductive to maintaining your physical, mental and emotional well-being! Here are some consequences of social isolation and a few tips on how to build and keep the right tribe to improve your health, happiness and even life expectancy!

3 Consequences of Social Isolation:

1) Effects on the Body and Mind
Research shows stress hormones spike while feelings of self-worth plummet in response to negative situations. Friends, however, have a protective effect on both of these body and mind responses. Simply being with a best friend during a stressful event, such as an argument, bullying or deliberate peer rejection, reduces the levels of stress hormones that would normally flood the body and stabilize feelings of self-worth, thus acting as a social buffer.

2) Diminishes Longevity
The mortality risk for people who find themselves socially isolated is equal to that caused by obesity and physical inactivity. Having close relationships, in fact, increases your life span at a rate equal to that of quitting smoking! Dr. James House at the University of Michigan found the chance of dying over a period of 10 years increases by 10 % for people who live alone or have only a few friends compared to people with more friends and family.

3) Physically Disabling
Dr. John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago and Dr. Steve Cole from UCLA, prominent social psychologists, are experts at determining effects of loneliness on health. They show people who are socially isolated have less protection against contracting and fighting off infections. They also have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, heart attacks and strokes than people with more social connections. This is partly due to an increased level of inflammation in the body, which causes lonely people to have higher blood pressure (up to 30 points!) and heart rate.

3 Tips for Building a Social Safety Net

1) Engage in a Weekly Activity
Join a club or engage in an activity that captures your interest. There are many organizations that meet weekly. Sports enthusiasts can join a recreational sports club. Social dance groups (i.e. salsa, swing, ballroom, etc.) benefit physical and mental health, in addition to providing a platform for meeting new people. According to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, dancing is also the only physical activity shown to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, plummeting the chance of developing either disease by a striking 76%! This effect was greater than that of other mentally stimulating activities such as reading, doing crossword puzzles and playing instruments.

2) Volunteer!
According to a Duke study, volunteering just 2 hours every week produces significant health benefits, including increased happiness and longevity, an added bonus! Pick a program that ties to your interests. Making friends with similar interests increases the chance of positive interactions, improves the emotional stability of the relationship and increases the likelihood of joint extracurricular activities!

3) Get Out With Your Dog
An increasing number of coffee shops and businesses are allowing people to bring their dogs on-site. Animals are great conversation starters and can help break the ice when meeting new people. If you have a social dog, visit the dog park or take your dog for a walk in a public place to encourage people to approach you. Alternatively, you can enroll in an obedience or agility class to meet other pet owners in a more structured environment (and improve your relationship with your dog)!
Fostering close friendships is crucial to increasing longevity and maintaining your health. By creating a social “safety net,” you can protect yourself from depression, anxiety and physical ailments to promote a long, healthy life!

Visit the Blue Zones website for additional Live Longer, Better tips!

Body Fat, BMI and Waist Circumference

by Greta Belanus, Senior Fitness Specialist

There are 2 kinds of body fat: essential and storage. Essential fat is found in your organs, bone marrow, and nerve coverings and is vital for your body to function. Men have 2-4% essential body fat and women have 10-12% essential body fat. Storage fat is the extra stuff. We get it from consuming more calories than we spend. It is used for temperature regulation, hormone production and energy and vitamin storage. For women, a healthy body fat percentage is between 14% and 31%. For men, a healthy body fat percentage is between 6% and 24%. Athletes, fitness gurus, and weekend warriors may find body fat percentage to be useful for goal setting and sport performance; however it is rarely used during medical exams as a biometric tool.

The distribution of body fat is perhaps more important than body fat percentage. Fat concentrated around the midsection places you at greater risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. Waist circumference is a good predictor of these disease risks. To obtain your waist circumference, place a measuring tape around the smallest part of your waist (usually above the navel). For women, a waist circumference greater than 35 inches is considered at risk and for men, waist circumference greater than 40 inches is considered at risk. 

Body mass index (BMI) is a ratio of weight to height (weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared). It is a great measure of health risk for obese individuals (BMI > 30 kg/m2) but because it does not include the amount of muscle mass or information on fat distribution it doesn’t give useful information to athletic or lean individuals. For individuals of average weight, waist circumference is a better measure of health risk because of the insight it gives on fat distribution.

Body fat percentage is a useful measure for athletes while BMI is useful for obese individuals, particularly in a medical setting. Waist circumference is useful for everyone. To find your BMI, use the BMI calculator at:  

Happy New Year!

By Ed Boyle, CEO

Happy New Year! It is the time of resolutions for the New Year and reflection on the year past. How did you do on last year’s promises? Like many, January and February were good; however, as the year progressed and the winter turned to spring, resolutions seemed to fade away…it happens every year!

I think an issue with resolutions is that the objective is just too big– they are just too grand to conquer and then very easy to abandon for another year. Resolutions require behavior change and behavior change should be tackled in small manageable parts. Don’t say, I am going to run a marathon this year – which is an enormous task – because the minimum recommended training schedule is 18 – 20 weeks – why not start out with I am going to get 1 hour of exercise 3 – 4 days per week and then go do it! Afterwards, set your sights on a 5K race – sign up and train for it; then a 10K race and so on. Try to think in terms of 5 – 7 weeks at a time with each new period having another new resolution.

My point being, make small incremental changes over time. Accomplish one, celebrate it and set your sights on a new level.

Remember, there are no quick fixes! As Stephen Covey wrote, you cannot talk your way out of something you behaved your way into – in another words, you cannot quickly change an unhealthy behavior that you’ve developed over many, many years.

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Set yourself on a course for success by taking small measurable steps to change. Success breeds success.

My resolutions:

  • Gluten free for 3 months
  • Alcohol consumption to 1 – 2 drinks per week
  • No less than 12 visits to the gym per month; mixed cardio, cross training and strength training
  • Drop 5 pounds
  • Evaluate in April and recalibrate

What are yours?

Your Family’s Greatest Gift is You!

By Mary Kruse, President

My Mom loved to entertain and Christmas was a time for the extended family and friends to reunite. Christmas Eve was about catching up, good food, party libations and laughing a lot. Christmas Eve was one of my fondest memories.

It was Christmas Eve and I was 12. I was abruptly woken to my Dad having a heart attack. Rather than tearing into presents Christmas morning we spent it at the hospital with my Dad.

Although I was young, I learned quickly that Christmas wasn’t about presents; it was about having the ones we love in good health and by our side. That emotional Christmas was 40 years ago; it still feels like yesterday. The greatest gift you can give your family is taking care of “you” and making your health a priority.

Power in Planning

By Carolyn Peterson, Account Manager

There is power in planning. Most of us have felt the excitement and energy around a well-planned event, whether at work or at home. We almost can’t wait for it to happen, because we are ready! Wellness planning can have that same feel – it allows you to take a step back, connect with your wellness team and set goals that are important to your organization. Here are some guidelines to help you with planning your 2014 wellness program.

  1. Collect data from your health assessment, claims information and previous program evaluations. Use this information to see what is most important to improve employee wellness and to determine interests.
  2. Review past programs to determine what worked and what did not work with your employees.
  3. Meet with your leadership to determine what their goals are for the wellness program. Discuss the wellness programs in the workplace along with the company’s strategic goals.
  4. Set three to five health goals with metrics. This can include participation rates, health outcomes, satisfaction rates and/or self-efficacy goals.
  5. Put your plan to paper and create a calendar or list of upcoming employee wellness programs.

Consider a comprehensive approach to your plan that includes health awareness, behavior-change programs, risk or group specific approaches (such as tobacco cessation or training for a 5K) and environmental changes in your workplace. Don’t try to do too much, but work on having your staff wellness program become more visible in your organization on an ongoing basis.

3 Tips for Choosing a Wellness Provider

By Ed Boyle, CEO

Thinking about incorporating a wellness plan into your workplace? Here are 3 points to consider prior to starting:

  1. Search out and find a compatible employee wellness provider that will spend time on the front end getting to know your company and its culture; moving too fast could impact employee engagement and utilization
  2. Spend cautiously - you cannot spend your way out of a problem that you got yourself into - and make it a journey!
  3. Build a strategy - gain consensus from all stakeholders – develop a multi-year plan.

These are tips we share every day with our clients – it is why we are a trusted resource.

3 Stress Techniques to Survive the Holidays

By Emily Westlund, Program Coordinator

Ready or not, the holidays are upon us. If the thought of what’s to come (shopping! relatives! enormous family dinners!) leaves you feeling less than warm and fuzzy, try one of the techniques below. Some suggestions might jive with you more so than others, and that’s okay. The key is to find what works for you so that you can slow down and enjoy yourself during what is often a stressful time of year.

1. Positive Self-Talk

Change negative self messages to positive ones.  If your head is stuck on negative messages that play over and over, turn those messages around.


  • Begin by noticing negative messages you say to yourself and others. Now change those negative thoughts to positive. For example, change “I should have…” to “Next time I will…”
  • Focus on positive ways to think and say things. Try some of these affirmations:

I am learning to let go of worry. If I can do something I will; otherwise I’ll let go.

I am a valuable and unique person.

I am worthy of others’ respect.

I am learning to be kind and forgiving to myself.

2. Envision a Pleasant Place

When family gatherings feel chaotic, take a mini vacation. Think about a favorite spot where you have been or would like to go. What makes it so inviting?


  • Close the door or go somewhere quiet.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Take four deep breaths.
  • Put yourself in a favorite spot. For example: take a walk on the beach, feel the warm sand, smell the ocean, hear the calming pulse of the water.
  • Allow yourself to see the scene, smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the sensations.
  • Open your eyes and gradually return to the “real world.”

3. Self-Massage

Exhausted after hours of holiday shopping? Massage will help relieve tension in tired or achy parts of your body such as your head, feet and shoulders.


  • Temple release. Place palms on your temples, with fingers meeting at top of head. Gently apply pressure to palms while massaging in a circular motion.
  • Shoulder press. Reach across the front of your body to your opposite shoulder. In a circular motion, press firmly on the muscle above your shoulder blade. Repeat using the other arm.
  • Sinus-tension release. Place your forefingers at the bridge of your nose and slowly slide them down your nose and across the top of your cheekbones to the outside of your eyes.

These techniques, which are taken from our behavior change program “Creating Life Balance,” work best if practiced regularly. Pretty soon you’ll find you are able to relax within moments of starting the technique of your choice.

Happy, healthy holidays from all of us at HealthSource Solutions!

It All Starts with a Plan

By Annie Ketcher, Account Manager

Recently I had the opportunity to lead a planning meeting with a new company we are working with. This client is a busy law firm located in downtown Minneapolis. They have done several wellness initiatives in the past, but haven’t quite made the shift to a more comprehensive wellness program.

At the wellness committee meeting it was clear that this group was ready to take their program to the next level. We reviewed the HealthSource Solutions program model which encourages a comprehensive program to include awareness messaging, behavior change programs, targeted programs, environment and culture changes, assessments, data collection and evaluation.

We discussed the benefits of having a brand for their wellness program (name and logo) as well as a mission statement. The wellness committee agreed that this would help formalize their program and they were ready to move forward with putting these items in place right away. It was decided that they would gather suggestions from employees on what to name the program and then have all employees vote on their favorite. This helps employees feel like they are a part of the process and gets them involved early on.

They also liked the idea of setting wellness goals that would help them evaluate their program at the end of the year. Their initial goals will be created based on data gathered from an employee interest survey and their past medical claims.

This initial planning is a fun and exciting time for a wellness committee and it definitely plays a big role in setting the tone for the company’s wellness program. I encourage committees I work with to take the extra time when first launching their wellness program to put these important infrastructure pieces in place. This will start them down the right path for a successful wellness program!

Midwest Health Promotion Conference Follow-Ups

Thank you to everyone who attended this year's conference! We had a record-breaking year with 460 attendees and exhibitors. Please see below for follow-up handouts and links:

  1. For notes from Chez Raginiak's keynote presentation, Operation Appreciation, click here.
  2. For a handout by Brian Luke Seaward, "Life at the Speed of Change," click here.
  3. For the presentation notes from, "Who's Got Your Back: Build a Support Network for Better Career Well-Being", click here.
  4. For suggested Lean In Circle Topics, click here.
  5. For results from the networking activity around where you volunteer your time, click here.
  6. For results from the networking activity around where/how your company supports volunteerism, click here.
  7. For results from the networking activity around where you would volunteer your time if you had unlimited resources, click here.
  8. If you are looking for credits/CEUs, you can email to request a copy of the certificate of completion. Participants are responsible for applying for approved credits within their certification/s.
  9. To take the post-conference evaluation, please click here. We appreciate your feedback!
  10. Take a break and practice along with the  Tai Chi video below, taken during the conference movement break.

Thank you again for being a part of our conference! We look forward to seeing you next year!

Tai Chi with Jean Jentz

6 Things You Need to Know About the Midwest Health Promotion Conference

The Midwest Health Promotion Conference is Thursday, November 7th! We’re looking forward to seeing everyone, sharing ideas, and re-energizing professionally. Here’s what you need to know ahead of time:

  1. Check-in and Breakfast: Check-in starts at 7:15 a.m. There will be directional signage throughout the RiverCentre to guide you. After you have checked in at the registration tables, enjoy some breakfast and networking with exhibitors!
  2. Parking: The parking ramp is located across the street from the St. Paul RiverCentre. The cost is $10 and you can pay by credit card, cash or check. For additional parking options, visit
  3. Spare Change: This year we will be collecting money from all participants who wish to donate. Everyone who contributes will be put into a drawing. The winner of the drawing gets to choose a local charity to receive the donations. Please be generous and remember to bring some money with you! You can also donate ahead of time by clicking here.
  4. Attire: We recommend business casual attire for the day. Bring a sweater too – climate control in large spaces can be tricky, and it is often cool in the ballroom!
  5. Tweet with us: We will be posting on Twitter throughout the day and encourage you to interact with us! You can send pictures, quotes, questions or feedback to our handle: @HealthSource_MN. The conference hash tag is #MidwestHealth. You can also check-in to the conference via our event page on Facebook.
  6. Cancellation/Substitution: You can substitute a registration at any time. The deadline for getting a refund due to cancellation was November 1, 2013.

If you have any questions about the day, please contact Emily Westlund at (763) 287-0742 or

See you on Thursday!