With the cold weather and the holidays approaching, local health experts suggest now is the time to start lowering your body mass index and improving your health.
Doing so will not only make you healthier, it might also affect the insurance premiums you pay.
Edward G. Klein, director of compensation and benefits for the Human Resources Department at Methodist Hospitals, says many employers are introducing wellness programs, or population health management programs, that require employees to complete a number of healthy lifestyle activities in order to obtain access to the health plan, or obtain a less costly plan, or obtain a plan with higher benefit levels or avoid surcharges.
“There are many different plan designs in wellness, all meant to better match the culture of the employer’s environment,” he says.
The goals of the healthy living initiatives are to help employees and their covered spouses discover problems before they become critical or emergent health events, like screening programs. Some ensure those identified with chronic conditions are following the medical best practices to maintain their health.
Many of the screening programs are manditorily covered under health plans, the goal being to remove the cost barrier from the employee’s consideration in seeking care.
“The whole point is to maintain employees and their covered spouses health at the lowest risk level that can be obtained,” he says. “Regular physician visits and supporting screenings are considerably less expensive than an emergency room visit and hospitalization on both claims costs and human emotions.”
Lori Granich, clinical dietician with Midwest Bariatric Institute at Franciscan St. Margaret Health, says many healthcare providers use the body mass index (BMI) as a calculation to assess a patient’s health risk.
The BMI is a calculation used to assess a person’s weight status based on their height and weight.
A normal BMI is a value between 18.5 and 25. A BMI less than 18.5 suggests a person is underweight, and over 25 suggests a person is overweight. A BMI over 30 suggests a person is obese, she says.
Those with a BMI over 25 are at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers.
“BMI does have its limitations in that it can overestimate body fat in those with a muscular build and investigate body fat in those who have lost muscle,” she says.
Methodist Hospitals Diabetic Center’s dietician Kristina Greene says BMI shouldn’t be exclusively used as a diagnostic tool.
“For example, a person may have a high BMI. However, to determine if excess weight is a health risk, a healthcare provider would need to perform further assessments,” she says. “These assessments might include skin fold thickness measurements, evaluations of diet, physical activity, family history and other appropriate health screenings.”
Granich suggests losing weight to lower your BMI by consistently eating a healthy diet filled with fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low fat dairy.
She also suggested drinking plenty of water and having a consistent exercise routine.
“Walking, swimming and biking are great ways to increase your heart rate and burn calories,” she says. “Even losing a small amount of weight can help lower the risk of developing the diseases associated with being overweight.”
In addition to lowering your BMI, Debi Pillarella, manager at Fitness Pointe, says it is important to discuss with your doctor which health screenings are right for you and why and when you should have them. Or, start with the Mayo Clinic website at www.mayoclinic.com/hScreening to get a customized recommendation for screenings.
There are a variety of screenings that are appropriate at varying times.
Blood pressure should be checked at least every two years, or more often if your blood pressure tends to run higher.
Cholesterol should be checked regularly for women starting at age 45, and men should have theirs checked every five years beginning at 35.
Colorectal cancer tests should begin starting at age 50, or based on your doctor’s recommendation.
Diabetes should be screened for regularly, not only a fasting glucose test, but also a test called A1C.
Women also need mammograms beginning about age 40, and osteoporosis tests starting at age 65, or when a doctor recommends it. Women should have Pap smears every one to three years.
“The ‘one size fits all’ approach to health screenings does not consider your gender, age or family history,” she says. “Screenings can help detect health problems, which is part of the key to receiving successful treatments. Tests including mammograms, Pap smears and colorectal cancer tests can find diseases and conditions early when they are easier to treat.”
Pillarella says it is important to maintain activity, even during the busy holiday months and when the weather is cooler.
She recommends standing as often as possible, and trying not to become sedentary.
“Get active during every commercial break,” she says. “Walk around the house or go to the kitchen for a drink of water.”
Even using household items like towels, paper plates and brooms can provide inspiration for fitness.
“Purchase or rent a beginner’s workout DVD,” she says. “Or use household items as exercise props and turn boring housework into workouts that keep you fit.”