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For a Healthy Lifestyle

Source: Many of these tips are adapted from the American Heart Association

    Ask your doctor if you’re due for any preventive screenings. Make sure your doctor knows about any family history of disease (like diabetes, cancer and heart disease) as that may change the scheduling of when you should have certain type of screenings.
    For starters, check out all the resources on the Learn More page. Also, your health plan’s website will likely offer a health risk assessment that you can take online.  If you are a UnitedHealthcare customer The UnitedHealthcare site does offer a health risk assessment. It’s confidential and helps identify your high-priority areas for lifestyle change and prevention. Answer all the questions honestly, and urge your spouse to take the assessment, too (if eligible). Ask your doctor for guidance in making healthy lifestyle changes. Be honest about your eating and drinking habits, physical activity levels, and other lifestyle factors when talking with doctor. It’s the only way he or she can accurately assess your risk factors, so you can manage them and stay healthy.
    Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. If you are trying to lose weight, aim for 30 to 60 minutes on most days. Consider seeing your doctor before beginning an exercise program, especially if you have existing health issues or haven’t been active in a long time. Start out slow and build up. If you’re sweating, you’re working your heart.
    Cut down on your "screen" time, including watching television, surfing the Web and playing computer games. After dinner, go for a walk around the block instead of watching TV. Or, exercise while watching TV.
    To get the nutrients you need, choose foods like vegetables, fruits, whole-grain products and fat-free (≤ 1%) or low-fat dairy products. Study nutritional labels and don’t be fooled by misleading marketing, for example, candies labeled as “low-fat” or “lite” cookies. While they may have fewer calories than other candies or cookies, it’s still better to choose fruits, yogurt, and other healthier choices when you crave something sweet.
    Eat baked, grilled, boiled fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout and herring) may help lower your risk of death from coronary artery disease.
    Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
    To reduce trans fat in your diet, cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats are a common ingredient in commercial baked goods — such as crackers, cookies and cakes — and in fried foods, such as doughnuts and French fries. Shortenings and some margarines also are high in trans fat.
    Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars. Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt (sodium). Aim to eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
    If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
    Smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States. In addition to cutting short your life, smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and is a major cause of heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema, and stroke. Tobacco damages women's reproductive health and has been linked to a variety of other health problems. (Source: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.)
    The EPA classifies secondhand smoke as a known cancer-causing agent. The 2010 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report concludes that even low levels of smoke exposure, including exposures to secondhand tobacco smoke, lead to a rapid and sharp increase in dysfunction and inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels, which are implicated in heart attacks and stroke.  Along with shortened lifespan, second-hand smoke causes coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort and reduced lung function. Each year in the U.S., second-hand smoke is responsible for up to 300,000 respiratory infections in children under 18 months and increases the number and severity of asthma attacks in up to 1 million children. (Source: American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org.)

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Exercise: What’s in it for You

Source: MayoClinic.com

  1. Exercise strengthens your cardiovascular and respiratory systems
    Regular exercise helps increase the "good" cholesterol and decrease the "bad" cholesterol in your blood. If you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure, exercise can help prevent it. If you already have high blood pressure, exercise can help lower it.
    Exercise strengthens your heart and lungs. Your blood travels more efficiently, bringing much-needed oxygen from your lungs and nutrients to the rest of your body. This is one of the reasons why you generally feel refreshed and more energetic after exercise.
  2. Exercise keeps bones and muscles strong
    Regular exercise helps prevent osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones. Strength training exercises — such as lifting weights or working with resistance tubes — are particularly helpful. Also important are exercises that bear your body's weight, such as walking and jogging. By strengthening your muscles and bones, you can improve your balance and coordination, reducing your risk of falls.
  3. Exercise keeps your weight under control
    Exercise helps you achieve or maintain a healthy weight by burning calories. Even after you stop exercising, your body continues to burn calories at a modestly increased rate for a few hours. The more intensely you exercise, the more calories you burn. Burning more calories than you take in reduces body fat, so you’ll look and feel better and have a reduced risk of obesity. Maintaining a healthy body weight eases pressure on your bones and joints, which can help prevent conditions such as arthritis.
  4. Exercise helps you prevent and manage diabetes
    More than 29 million Americans have diabetes, and more than 1/4 of them don’t even know it. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, blindness, nerve damage, and kidney damage. Regular exercise, coupled with a healthy diet, is an important way to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes (the most common form of diabetes).
  5. Exercise eases depression and soothes pain and stress
    Exercise fights depression by activating serotonin and norepinephrine, two brain chemicals that make you feel good and happy (neurotransmitters). Exercise also stimulates the production of endorphins, other neurotransmitters that work like natural painkillers and produce feelings of well-being. That’s why a brisk walk or workout is a great way to blow off steam.

Simple Ways to Get More Exercise

Tips from the American Heart Association

At Home

  • Do housework yourself instead of hiring someone else to do it.
  • Work in the garden or mow the grass. Using a riding mower doesn't count! Rake leaves, prune, dig and pick up trash.
  • Go out for a short walk before breakfast, after dinner or both! Start with 5-10 minutes and work up to 30 minutes.
  • Walk or bike to the corner store instead of driving.
  • When walking, pick up the pace from leisurely to brisk. Choose a hilly route.
  • When watching TV, sit up instead of lying on the sofa. Better yet, spend a few minutes pedaling on your stationary bicycle while watching TV. Throw away your video remote control. Instead of asking someone to bring you a drink, get up off the couch and get it yourself.
  • Dance while you’re listening to music.
  • Stand up while talking on the telephone.
  • Walk the dog.
  • Stretch to reach items in high places and squat or bend to look at items at floor level.
  • Keep exercise equipment repaired and use it!

At the Office

  • Brainstorm project ideas with a co-worker while taking a walk.
  • Stand while talking on the telephone.
  • Walk down the hall to speak with someone rather than using the telephone.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator (or escalator). Or get off a few floors early and take the stairs the rest of the way.
  • Walk while waiting for the plane at the airport.

More Resources

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Why are health care costs rising?

In simplest terms, spending on health care is the product of two factors: price and utilization.

  • Prices charged by hospitals, physicians, drug companies and other health care providers have risen dramatically – more than the cost of goods and services in general (inflation).
  • Utilization of health care services is up. Despite rising prices, demand for services remains high. More of us are using health care services more often, for more conditions – including some that were not even treated in the past.

Why are medical prices going up, and why are we using more care? Here’s where things get complicated. Experts differ in their conclusions about what – or who – is most to blame, but there’s widespread agreement that certain cost drivers are at work.

Key Cost Drivers

Americans’ lifestyle choices are partly to blame. Unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, smoking, not getting enough sleep, alcohol abuse all put us at higher risk for a host of costly illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and more. Obesity rates in adults and children, while showing signs recently of leveling off, still remain high and suggest health care costs will continue their upward climb. In 2011-2012 approximately 17% or 12.7 million children and teens in the U.S. were obese. Extra pounds put children at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and other expensive health problems for their lifetime. (Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, February 26, 2014, Vol. 311, No. 8.)

Advances in medical technology have led to amazing breakthrough treatments. The research and development costs behind these new technologies must be recovered somewhere – typically through the general cost of medical goods and services. And we’re all paying the high price. Still, Americans want the latest treatment at their disposal, whether it means an expensive bone marrow transplant that may be yet unproven as treatment, or a heart bypass operation at age 85. Our society’s devotion to technological discoveries ensures that costs will continue to rise. No matter what employers do to manage costs, the impact of technology on spending will continue.

Prescription drug costs are rising even faster than medical care overall. Some of the most exciting – and most expensive – developments in medical care involve prescription drugs, specifically specialty drugs. Specialty drugs now account for approximately 20-25 percent of pharmacy spending and the cost of these drugs is expected to quadruple between 2012 and 2020.

Many claim that direct-to-consumer drug ads are prompting patients to request the newest (most expensive) brand-name drug, even when a generic or over-the-counter drug may work just as well. Another concern is that drug ads rarely mention the lifestyle changes or other, non-drug solutions, which are often just as important as drug therapy in improving outcomes. For example, a patient may resist when his physician insists on discussing a low-fat diet, stress management, or allergen avoidance rather than writing a prescription.

Whatever the reason, employees’ usage of prescription drugs, and the cost of those drugs, has significantly increased recent years and is expected to continue rising.

Did you know?

The U.S. and New Zealand are the only countries that allow direct-to-consumer drug advertising that includes product claims.

Source:Abel GA, Penson RT, Joffe S, et al. Direct-to-consumer advertising in oncology. Oncologist. 2006;11(2):217–226

An aging population needs more care. In 2010, there were 40.3 million people aged 65 and older, 12 times the number in 1900. By the year 2030, the older population will number approximately 73 million.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, report issue June 2014.

What’s the significance of these statistics? Often, as people age, health problems increase. There are more people getting treatment for the types of one-time problems that accompany middle age, such as gallbladder surgery. Just as important, more people now need ongoing care for the types of chronic conditions that may develop with age, such as back problems or adult-onset diabetes. Often, that treatment includes expensive prescription drugs.

The costs associated with older people will not diminish anytime soon. Today’s youngest Baby Boomers will still be in the workforce 15 years from now. As a demographic group, their health costs will balloon as they age and use medicine to live long, active lives. Advances in health care are part of the reason we’re living longer, which in turn is driving our national health care spending even higher.

Did you know?

Approximately one-third of health care treatments, costing $750 billion annually, are unnecessary. Millions of patients receive unnecessary treatments each year, leading to complications, reduced productivity, and significantly higher costs.

Source: Institute of Medicine Report, September 2012.

Consolidation in the health care marketplace means less competition. That gives employers less leverage to negotiate favorable pricing. As a result of consolidation, many health care systems have transitioned services from a not-for-profit to for-profit status, adding the cost of “profit” to medical charges. In addition, there continues to be a great deal of opportunity to streamline the wide range of administrative processes used today in order to eliminate waste from the system.

Governmental factors also play a role in health care cost inflation. Hospitals and doctors receive limited reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid for patients in those systems. To keep operating at a profit, they must recover those “losses” through the prices they charge commercially insured patients, most of whom have coverage from their employers. Ultimately, it’s the employer and covered employees who end up footing the bill for low reimbursement levels by Medicare and Medicaid and the uninsured.

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