Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Staffers lead the way in pursuit of health

At CoxHealth, it’s our mission to improve the health of the communities we serve. With the launch of our Healthy Living program last fall, CoxHealth employees are working together to make sure that we’re not just caring for our community, but also caring for ourselves. 

Staff members throughout the health system are already working to maintain or improve their own health through our Wellness program and at our fitness centers. These people know first-hand that making real wellness gains means long-term change, not a quick fix.

We sat down with several employees who are already making strides with wellness. They’ve used the resources CoxHealth has available and they’ve developed relationships in their departments, at the gym and at home that support them in the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. Their stories show how small steps in taking care of ourselves can make a big difference in our lives. 

When she discovered she was on the brink of diabetes, Anna House of Materials Management committed to changing her diet and working out regularly at the Republic Fitness Center. Now, she’s working with trainer Adam Grube and exercise has become a habit. “I used to dread going to the gym, but you always feel better after you do it and you get the blood flowing. Every little bit of exercise helps; it’s a lot better than watching TV for three hours.”

Anna House, 
Materials Management

Anna House had long been aware of her risk of developing diabetes. Her parents both had the disease and it had been in the back of her mind for years as she often thought to herself, “I could stand to lose some weight.”

In the spring of 2011, she visited her doctor for a checkup and found out that what she feared had indeed caught up with her. Her physician told her she was on the bubble for developing diabetes. Looking back, she says that news was her incentive to start making changes.

“I told myself from day one that I’m not going to make excuses, I’m going to go to the gym every other day,” she says. “You really have to want to change your life – I decided not to be a diabetic because I want to live and be healthy.”

She met with Cami Stanley through the Healthy Partners program and then got in touch with wellness coach Kathleen Johnson-Herr, dietitian David Dade and trainer Adam Grube at the Republic Fitness Center. That team of experts would be key to her success.

“It keeps me motivated, having that many people watching and helping,” she says. So far, she’s lost 62 pounds. She began by doing the 12-week FitLife program and working directly with Grube and Dade.

“Adam has been great with the fitness, he pushes you and changes up the workouts to keep them interesting. Dave keeps me in line on what to eat and he motivates me.”

In addition to making a habit of going to the gym, she changed her diet – watching portion sizes closely, keeping a journal of what she’s eating and counting calories any time her weight loss stalls. House says she’s especially aware of the challenge of maintaining weight loss – several years ago, she lost 40 pounds and she regained it.

“That’s a fear, you don’t want to gain it back,” she says. It can be tough to watch calories, but House says the good effects of being healthier are a “night and day difference.”

“It’s amazing how much of an effect being overweight has on you,” she says. “Now I feel better and I have more energy. I think my overall outlook is better – it really boosts your spirits.”

She visited her doctor this spring and got good news: her blood sugar was normal, her cholesterol is down and her BMI is greatly improved. She’s back to a much smaller dosage on her blood-pressure medication, almost medication-free.

The changes do have their downsides: “I have to go clothes shopping a lot and that can get expensive,” she says with a laugh.

House wants to lose about 15 more pounds and she’s well aware that the final few pounds will be among the toughest to shed. She says when you first start to lose weight the results on the scale are their own motivation. It’s at the stage she’s at now, where the progress is slow and there are plateaus to be pushed through, that the support of the wellness team, dietitians and trainers is vital.

“We have a good thing going here. I’d highly recommend anyone get involved with our wellness resources. I’m as stubborn as anybody and this has been a real help to me,” she says with a grin. “Out of all of the benefits CoxHealth offers, this is the best one.” 

Bill and Patty Costello have made a habit of walking and running at the track at Miller Park near their home in Republic. The couple has made significant gains in their health since working with Weight Watchers and making a point of exercising.

Patty Costello, 
Physicians Billing 

This summer, Patty Costello and her husband, Bill, vacationed in Colorado, camping at 10,000 feet and regularly hiking 4-7 hours into the nearby peaks. That’s something Patty says wasn’t possible the last time they visited the mountains, just three years ago.

Patty and Bill had struggled with weight for several years, following the familiar pattern of making progress only to backslide before working to improve again. In early 2011, they joined Weight Watchers and committed to daily exercise. By the end of 2011, they were both in better shape: Patty was able to get off medication for cholesterol and blood pressure and she lost 45 pounds, a change she has maintained since then.

“My daily energy level is a lot better now. It used to kill me to get out and walk, but now I can definitely tell how your energy level varies when you exercise,” she says.

Weight Watchers helped them cut back on sweets, avoid fried foods and limit meats to the leanest cuts. Patty joined the Wellness program at work, where her coach, Rebecca Tough, introduced her to a variety of new exercises and worked to keep her motivated. She says the Wellness program makes you more mindful of nutrition and exercise.

“Wellness makes you more aware of what you should be doing,” she says. “Eating the right things is always in the back of your mind.”

The Weight Watchers “points” system made her more aware of the value of food – she quickly learned to fill up on vegetables and fruits and cut back on other foods that are calorie-heavy but nutrient-slim.

The Costellos live near Miller Park in Republic, where the walking track is a convenient spot for an evening workout. Patty was already a regular walker and since her weight loss she’s started running – preparing for a 5K later this month.

She also got a phone app to track her running and walking progress. She’s been using it since the beginning of 2012 and so far she’s completed more than 300 miles.

“It’s such a habit that if I can’t exercise in the evening, I feel guilty,” she says. “Even if I get home late and don’t want to go run, I try to go anyway.”

Her advice to those starting a wellness journey is simple: “Watch what you eat and exercise. You’ll feel better, physically, mentally and you’ll feel better about yourself from a self-esteem standpoint. It feels good when people say you’re doing a good job.” 

“Having a workout buddy is very important. I’ve made a lot of friends who miss you if you aren’t at the gym and that’s a motivator. Now, three to five times a week,, The Meyer Center is my place to hang out!”

Pam Shirrell 
Patient Financial Services 

Pam Shirrell of Patient Financial Services had been participating in the Wellness program for a few years, but she was at a plateau: not gaining weight, but not reaching her goals.

“I was in the habit of working out, but I was eating the same,” she says. “I heard about the FitLife program and I talked with a girlfriend of mine and we decided to try it together. I was tired of being tired and overweight.”

She’d had one knee replacement nine years ago, and she was preparing to have the second knee done. She wanted to lose 45-50 pounds before that surgery, to speed her recovery time and help take care of her joints. In January 2011, Shirrell began meeting with a trainer, a nurse and a dietitian to look at all of the factors influencing her wellness. Over the next 12 weeks, she transformed her daily life.

“They say you have to eat differently and exercise – that’s no myth,” she says.

Dietitian David Dade had her create a detailed food journal, which they reviewed together. Early on, he determined her diet was too low in fruits and vegetables and too high in red meat. She began eating more fresh and frozen vegetables and more fruit instead of sweets. She cut back on beef and ate more lean chicken and fish. When she made those changes, she began to see more results from her exercise routine, which, in turn, made her even more committed.

“You really get hooked on exercise. Friends ask if I want to do something after work and I tell them, ‘I have to work out first and then I’ll meet you.’”

She says the days of leaving work and picking up fast food on the way home are over. Now, it’s straight to the fitness center and then home to eat the right things.

“I like vegetables – I go to Sam’s Club each week and stock up on tomatoes, bell peppers, blackberries and strawberries. I like to eat everything in salads; bell peppers are my candy.”

She says that at first she felt like she would be going without: no candy, hamburgers or casseroles. But she soon started focusing on what she was gaining: Feeling better, sleeping better, going to her doctor six months in and being told “you’re doing great, keep it up.”

“You get over what you’re ‘giving up.’ The cravings stop after a while and you find yourself getting hungry for the good stuff. Feeling good and eating well, that’s what’s important.”

Shirrell had her knee replacement and even though it slowed down her workouts for a bit, she watched her diet carefully and didn’t gain a pound during her recovery.

“When you lose weight, a lot of pain goes away: pain in the knees and back. I can do yard work now without getting tired and I can take the stairs,” she says. “It’s so important to have someone to talk to and to motivate you. You have to be able to ask for help and not just go it alone.”

During a lunch break, David Watson (left) and Nathan Matney run intervals on the treadmills at the Cox North Fitness Center. David and Nathan say training together has been key to staying motivated. On a day when one of them doesn’t feel like working out, the other is there to drag them along. Once they’re in the gym, they say, they never regret it.

Nathan Matney and David Watson
Patient Financial Services 

For Nathan Matney and David Watson of Patient Financial Services, the team environment created in their department has kept them motivated to maintain their healthy habits.

The guys have been working out together for a couple of years, since they joined co-worker Shana Krol’s exercise group, which meets at the Cox North Fitness Center most days of the week. Nathan says he’s struggled with his weight his whole life. When his daughter was born in March 2010, he had a new, focused motivation: “I wanted to get healthy and be a better example for her as she grew up.”

David played high school sports and was looking to get back into working out when he joined the group. He didn’t have a lot of weight to lose, but the regular workouts and attention to diet soon helped him drop about 30 pounds. In the time since, David and Nathan have expanded their workouts, sometimes doing interval training with the group and sometimes working on their own, alternating cardio and weightlifting. In both cases, though, they push one another to get in the workouts, no matter how busy they are.

“Here at work, David was my support system to get me to the gym,” Nathan says. “I had a lot of success.”

David agrees: “He says I was his motivation, but it went both ways. There were days when I wouldn’t have gone to the gym, I would have found an excuse, but then Nathan comes by with his bag on his shoulder or he emails me and says ‘what are we doing today?’”

For the Patient Financial Services team, having a fitness center on site at Cox North has been key to fitting exercise into their busy schedules. Fitness center operations manager Tony Stokes created short, effective workouts that make the most out of a lunch break.

The department’s team has also found success in setting small, attainable goals. They had a board posted in the office with the names of everyone in their workout group. Next to the names, they would post stars for each pound lost, or, if necessary, write the amount gained at a weigh-in each week.

“No one should be disappointed by losing just a pound or two,” David says. “When you look back at the boards when we lost weight, all the amounts look so small, but they add up.”

On the diet side, Nathan and David both say they’re benefitting from the cooking skills of their significant others. Nathan’s wife, Lindsey, has made substitutions at home, finding low-sodium and low-calorie alternatives. And David recently got engaged to Shea Hill, a Communications staffer he met in the cardio interval class. David says she’s a creative cook and a health enthusiast – the couple has done 5Ks together and they both know that a commitment to wellness will be a part of their married life.

Nathan says a healthy family life has big rewards.

“My daughter loves fruits and vegetables. I think I take more pride in her choosing to eat cucumber slices, grapes or strawberries over junk food than I do in my own weight loss.”

Recently, as he started back to school in the evenings, Nathan fell out of his workout routine and some of the weight he had lost began to creep back. But he’s worked at wellness long enough to know that setbacks aren’t failures, they’re bumps in the road that you can learn from. And they should never keep you from looking forward.

“I’ve been to the top of the mountain and back down and now I’m going back up and starting to have success again,” he says.

David and his co-workers are right there with him, supporting and providing a push for one another and a reminder that small steps in the right direction will add up.

“There are days when you’re not feeling like going to the gym,” David says. “But there’s never been one time when I went to the gym and thought ‘I wish I hadn’t gone.’ I’m always glad I went. Even when it’s hard, you feel so good about the fact that you’re there and that’s one more day you have under your belt with exercise and doing the right thing.”

Nathan says that making those regular, small steps a habit is key to staying motivated, even when the workouts get difficult and the progress is slow.

“Don’t think about the aches and the difficulty of working out. It’s worth it. Being able to spend an extra 10 years with your grandkids, that’s the end result you want to push for. So when it seems hard, keep going. It will get easier.”