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Changing Diets, Waistlines and Lives
Durham, NC - At the beginning of 2010, Jim Allen reached a crossroad in life. He weighed 235 pounds - about 40 pounds overweight - and could barely fit into his work clothes. He was eating too many Hershey's Kisses and mini Butterfingers from a bowl on his desk and his meal portions were too large.
"I was going to make a commitment to losing weight or get rid of my clothes and buy larger sized suits and pants," said Allen, director of Accounts Payable.
With the help of Shape Up Duke, a health and fitness challenge sponsored by LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke's employee wellness program, Allen pledged to improve his personal fitness. Over the last two years, he lost 42 pounds and joined the Duke Run/Walk Club, another LIVE FOR LIFE initiative.
"If you're looking to make any changes in your lifestyle, LIVE FOR LIFE is the program for employees to use because anybody can take advantage of what they offer," Allen said. "Sometimes that extra motivation is all you need to get started."
Since LIVE FOR LIFE started at Duke in 1989, thousands of staff and faculty like Allen have participated in free or low-cost wellness benefits and programming to get more active, lose weight, quit smoking, and eat healthy. LIVE FOR LIVE aligns its programs to target issues that are prevalent among Duke's workforce. According to data submitted by Duke faculty and staff to LIVE FOR LIFE, 94 percent of employees have two or more health risks like high blood pressure, physical inactivity or obesity.
At Duke, costs for health issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression among employees and their dependents has grown by more than $25 million in the past two years.
But studies have shown that wellness benefits offered through programs like LIVE FOR LIFE make for healthier and happier employees, and that can mean savings on health insurance, experts say.
"Our goal is to provide all Duke employees with a cost-efficient, easy way to not just assess their health, but a way to prevent future health problems and improve overall fitness," said Julie Joyner, manager of LIVE FOR LIFE. "It's about creating a positive culture of health that leads to a better work environment and healthier employees."
With health-related resolutions in the New Year, here are a few stories of how LIVE FOR LIFE has changed lives at Duke:
One 'Step' at a Time
Nakia Hawley had a tough time finding motivation to do something about her weight - even after a doctor told her she was at risk for high blood pressure and cholesterol. A staff assistant in the Department of Ophthalmology, Hawley suffers from anemia, a condition in which the body doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells and can lead to a lack of energy.
She visited with a LIVE FOR LIFE nurse in February for a HealthCheck, a free, confidential health assessment for Duke faculty and staff. The assessment measures cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and helps employees develop healthy strategies. Hawley learned that between her height and weight, her body mass index made her "obese," according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"I had been paying attention to my weight for about four years, but I guess it was time to face the issue," Hawley said. "It was the motivation I needed."
She signed up for LIVE FOR LIFE's "Steps to Health" program, in which participants work toward quarterly measurements and predetermined health goals with the help of LIVE FOR LIFE staff.
"I started a healthier diet by getting rid of sugars and starches, drinking lots more water, and I also started exercising 30-minutes a day four days out of the week," she said.
Hawley has lost about 20 pounds and has more energy. Along with Hawley, about 800 Duke employees joined "Steps to Health" in 2011. Of those employees, 156 completed the program between January and October with positive result:
- 57 percent decreased blood pressure
- 87 percent decreased their cholesterol
- 80 percent lost weight
"In the world today, it seems like if you want to be healthy, it's so expensive," Hawley said. "I like the fact Duke is helping employees be healthy for free."
Calling it quits
Free programming is the reason Lisa Miller decided to quit smoking five packs of cigarettes a week.
"Knowing that I didn't have to pay for medication pushed me even more," said Miller, a patient transporter with the Duke University Hospital's Patient Transport department. "People from the program even called me every other day to check on me and make sure I was OK. That was really cool."
Tobacco cessation participants can also use CHANTIX, a tobacco cessation prescription drug, and receive physician counseling to discuss personal health risks and rewards of quitting.
According to LIVE FOR LIFE data, about 8 percent of Duke employees smoke cigarettes. Smoking doubles a person's chances for coronary heart disease and stroke and increases the chance of developing lung cancer by up to 23 times over a non-smoker.
Miller said that instead of spending about $100 a month on cigarettes, she spends that money to spoil her granddaughter, Cadence, with pocket books and backpacks from Cadence's favorite TV show, Dora the Explorer.
"This is something that you really can't say `no' to," Miller said. "Knowing that you've got someone to back you up makes you really want to go for it."
Corner the market on healthy eating
Susan Semonite Waters makes a quick trip to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens each week to take part in Duke's Mobile Farmers Market.
The market is open year-round to the Duke community. This past spring and summer, more than 600 Duke community members participated in the Mobile Farmers Market. Duke also runs a traditional farmers market for six months from the spring to fall every year
"The nice thing about having these markets isn't just that Duke promotes and supports local agriculture, it's the fact that they offer fresh, seasonal food that we should be eating more of," said Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center.
During her four years as a member of the mobile market, Semonite Waters has grown more engaged with the food she eats, talking with local farmers about recipes for cabbage soup or the benefits of eating local eggs and milk. That curiosity has spread to her family.
"My son is 6 years old, so he's actually grown up with this box of fruit and vegetables that shows up every week," said Semonite Waters, assistant director of admissions for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. "I don't open our weekly box until Connor is with me so we can pull everything out together to look at it and talk about what we can make with the produce."
Running into shape
After success with Shape Up Duke, Jim Allen, the director of Accounts Payable who lost 45 pounds, wanted to keep using LIVE FOR LIFE programs to get into even better shape.
He joined hundreds of employees who gather each week during the spring and fall to exercise as part of the Run/Walk Club.
When Allen started the Run/Walk Club in 2010, he eased his way into running, walking one minute, jogging the next minute, around East Campus. Eventually, Allen improved his running enough to join the Run/Walk Club at Wallace Wade Stadium, where more advanced runners participate.
At each location, Run/Walk participants form groups according to fitness level. Each group follows plans to help participants improve fitness and lower stress.
"When you're running in a group, you don't tend to focus on the running because there's a great social aspect to the Run/Walk Club," said Allen, who now runs three to four miles. "I saw the progression of my work with everyone, going from one minute of running to eight and then 10."
To keep tabs on his exercise routine, Allen uses LIVE FOR LIFE's free, Internet-based eHealth system, where he maintains an online journal of his workouts.
"I lost weight, have more stamina and feel better about myself," he said. "Now I'm able to wear clothes I hadn't been able to wear for years."
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