By Steven Burdick, senior vice president, UnitedHealthcare
Committing to a healthier lifestyle is something that all of us struggle with everyday. We all think about it, but it’s doing something about it that’s the challenge most of us face.
The goal of UnitedHealthcare wellness programs is to provide support to railroad employees and their dependants to meet these challenges by offering a full range of benefit options to achieve and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Unhealthy lifestyles are the primary contributors to the leading causes of death in the United States. They account for more than 70 percent of all deaths.
Factors that affect health are principally behavioral and are often preventable. We are all aware that smoking and excess weight alone are two substantial health risks that take a personal toll on our lives.
By offering UTU members and their dependants the assistance and various tools available through the wellness programs, they can begin to tackle changing some behaviors that pose serious health risks.
Railroad employees, regardless of which medical vendor administers their benefits, have unlimited access to the UnitedHealthcare wellness programs, all delivered by a railroad-dedicated team.
Programs in healthy weight and tobacco cessation offer personal health coaches to help members progress towards their specific health goals and achieve a healthier lifestyle.
UTU members can also complete a health assessment to identify potential suggestions for a healthier lifestyle. Most important, participation in the wellness programs may help prevent more serious diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
The success of the UnitedHealthcare wellness programs for railroad employees and their dependants speaks for itself. More than 5,500 individuals have been coached over the past 21 months.
As a result of their resolve to make a change to a healthier lifestyle, they have achieved tremendous success. Railroad members who participated in the Healthy Weight Program lost an average of almost 10 pounds per individual — almost 9,000 pounds in total!
Just as notable, participants in the QuitPower Program cut back on their cigarette consumption, on average, by more than 300 packs per person per year, which is more than 158,000 packs per year for all participants! A healthy new direction is within reach for all of us. The UnitedHealthcare wellness programs are focused on educating, engaging and encouraging all railroad members to take the initiative to live a healthier life.
Health care coverage isn’t just about providing coverage to members when an illness occurs. It’s also about providing members with the right programs that support and inspire them to stay healthy. Helping members become aware of their modifiable health risks and engaged in their own personal health can be a great way to affect life-long change.
UnitedHealthcare members may obtain more information or join a wellness program by calling (877) 201-4840; Aetna members may call (800) 842-4044; and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield members may call (866) 267-3320.
Hold the ketchup. Did you know that ketchup contains fructose, a processed sugar? I’ll get back to this shortly.
Many of our common diseases are aggravated by — or even caused by — the way we live, especially how we eat, how much we exercise, and if we use tobacco.
Michelle Obama repeated what her daughters’ pediatrician said: “Your girls are carrying more body fat than is truly good for them.” She is now urging an improved diet for all Americans, and good for her.
A recent medical study determined that people who eat better quality diets (less meat, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grain bread), have a lower body mass index (a measure of the waist compared to height), exercise regularly and do not smoke have a significantly lower incidence of heart disease, strokes and cancer, and live a longer life.
Medical studies document that table sugar and high-fructose sweeteners, such as are found in many processed foods, including ketchup and soft drinks, appear to play a role in triggering weight gain and the onset of diabetes as they create a continuing craving for more calories. My theory is that this is because the molecules in table sugar, and its chemical cousin, fructose, race right from your intestine to your blood stream.
Of course, we all receive a pleasant jolt of energy and optimism after eating sugar. If we burn it up in a workout quickly, then fine — our bodies won’t have so much work processing it, or turning the leftovers into fat. But the truth is most of us don’t burn up table sugar and high fructose sweeteners quickly in a workout.
Medical studies also document that if we reduce daily salt intake by one-half a teaspoon, we can reduce the incidence of strokes and heart attacks as much as restricting the intake of cholesterol (from meats) and tobacco products.
A lot of our salt, which can raise blood pressure, comes not only from the salt shaker, but also from processed foods, soft drinks including diet drinks, and restaurant meals. High blood pressure contributes to many body problems over time, as we all know.
We are surrounded by so much good tasting food, along with advertising to remind us, that we have to work very hard every day to improve the quality of our diet. It’s drudgery to improve our diets, but the result on improved health and a longer life span is good reason to eat what we need to stay healthy rather than what is fun to eat.
Yes, I hear you saying, “Okay, okay, if I do everything you are telling me, I will live to be 100, but I will be miserable.” Excellent. Now I have your attention.
Let’s make a deal: meet me half way. You become one-half perfect on this program of improving the quality of your diet, but also include some foods that are fun to eat. Strive for a life span of 85 years rather than 100. In doing so, I promise you will feel better in your mind and body on the way there. It’s not easy. I struggle every day to meet my own goals halfway.
Improving our life styles is hard work, but we can do it, and be happier for it over the long haul. I want UTU members to be in the front of this newly forming American parade, not bringing up the rear.
Please think about it. The life you save will be your own. And your loved ones will be grateful for your effort.
Baseball legend Mickey Mantle once joked, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”
I wish more of us, including myself, would look into their crystal balls of the future and find themselves saying this old half joke to others, years from now. I want to try to convince you that your efforts today – no matter what your current age – will pay off for your own health and happiness in future years.
Some interesting scientific studies recently reported very significant facts:
People who exercise regularly land in nursing homes less often.
People who exercise and lose weight are less frail.
People who are more active physically are less at risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
How do we get ourselves into life-style patterns of more exercise and less weight?
It is not easy, based upon my own personal experience and experience of working with thousands of patients over the years as they made the valiant effort.
There is another study worth mentioning – one of people working to lower their cholesterol levels. All were scanned with an electron beam that identifies cholesterol plaques in their arteries. Each was told of their cholesterol level before starting a program of diet and medication.
Those who had the most severe accumulation of cholesterol plaques were almost twice as likely to be faithful to their diets and medication as those with the least plaques.
Do you have to be frightened to stick to a blood-vessel healthy life style? Maybe, but I hope not – especially if you start early in life to become aware that putting undue stress on your body now may make life a lot less fun for you later.
Extra calories, particularly cholesterol-laden ones – and especially if accentuated by excess alcohol – put extra stress on your blood vessels and heart system, to say nothing of your bones and joints. Reducing the calorie intake and exercising are a huge benefit.
Now, a word about smoking. Leaving aside the risk of smoking triggering a cancer problem, we also know that smoking may affect the arteries. Many experts believe that the expected weight gain after stopping smoking is less harmful than smoking itself, so please think about this fact and stop if you can – and work on the weight later on. I know that many of you have already quit, so more power to you!
Many studies have shown that emotional stress, depression, or unhappiness in general may correlate with physical medical disorders – so-called psychosomatic diseases.
My goal for each of you is to work toward a healthy life in both body and mind – which are, in fact, inseparable.
Just the fact that you have taken the trouble to read, and get to the bottom of this column, tells me you are on the right path. So, keep it up. Your families need you to be as happy and as fit as possible for as long as possible.