Monthly Archives: August, 2012

Step It Up is almost here – celebrate with a walk around Boston!

The kickoff of the Step It Up! walking campaign is almost here (September 4), and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the campaign’s launch than a walk around Boston.  Fall has always been my favorite season, partly because of the great weather in and around the city.  As temperatures start to get cooler, take advantage of the fact that you can walk at lunchtime and not work up too much of a sweat.  If you work in Boston, please join us on one of our kickoff walks around the city on September 4 and 5.  The walking schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, September 4
12:00 pm:  Depart Group Insurance Commission, 19 Staniford Street
1:00 pm:    Depart McCormack Building, One Ashburton Place

Wednesday, September 5
12:00 pm:  Depart State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza
1:00 pm:    Depart Executive Office of Health and Human Services, 600 Washington Street

Each walk will begin promptly at the time specified.  You will have the option of walking for 30 or 60 minutes, depending on your lunch schedule.  If you can’t attend one of the walks, or only make it into the city occasionally, there are still plenty of ways to explore Boston by foot on your own.  WalkBoston is an excellent (and free!) resource for planning walks around the city’s many neighborhoods and suburbs.  Their website provides free maps of pre-planned walking routes for over 50 locations in and around Boston, some of which have themes like art and “infamous” locations.  You can also sign up to join one of WalkBoston’s free guided walks.  Whether you have lived in Boston for decades or are new to the area, you are sure to discover something new about the city – and walk toward the goal of 10,000 steps a day while doing it – with WalkBoston!


What’s for Breakfast?

Breakfast, as I like to point out during my nutrition Lunch ‘n Learn seminars, really is the most important meal of the day.  It’s best to eat something within 2 hours of waking up to stabilize your blood sugar and replenish your body’s fuel stores because, believe it or not, you burn calories while sleeping!  Studies have shown that kids and adults who eat breakfast have more energy, are able to focus better, and actually consume fewer calories throughout the day.  So, skipping breakfast is not going to help you lose weight – it might do just the opposite!  Some people would rather not eat a “traditional” breakfast, instead choosing a sandwich or leftovers like cold pizza, and I don’t see many problems with this, as long as you’re eating something within 2 hours of waking up.  But in a perfect world, your breakfast would be around 300-400 calories and composed of the following:

  • whole grains
  • lean protein
  • fruit
  • a small amount of “healthy” unsaturated fat

So what are some examples of each of these breakfast components?  Feel free to mix and match from the ideas below, or share ideas of your own in the comments section:

Whole Grains:  whole wheat english muffin; whole wheat thin or mini bagel; one serving of high-fiber whole grain cereal (good choices are shredded wheat, Cheerios, bran flakes); one serving of oatmeal; whole wheat toaster waffle

Lean Protein:  one egg (any way you like it!); 6 ounces of lowfat, unsweetened yogurt (greek or regular); one 8-ounce glass of lowfat milk or soymilk; 3 ounces of turkey sausage or bacon

Fruit:  one banana; one cup strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries; 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice; one medium apple; 1/4 cup of dried fruit

Healthy Fat:  1 tablespoon of all natural peanut butter; a handful of nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, etc.); 1 tablespoon of flaxmeal

*Special thanks to Wellness Champion Lydia Mixco of DDS for the idea for this post!

Is Soda Bad News For Your Bones?

We had an interesting discussion about the relationship between soda and bone health during yesterday’s weight management Lunch ‘n Learn seminar at the Department of Environmental Protection in Wilmington, which inspired me to write this post.  A common recommendation for anyone trying to lose weight is to cut down on consumption of soda and other calorie-laden beverages.  Regular soda can contain a lot of unnecessary calories, so eliminating what may be a major source of empty calories is an easy way to work toward the goal of burning more calories than you consume.  For some people, an easy solution may be to switch to diet sodas, which are virtually calorie-free.  BUT, that doesn’t mean that diet sodas are “healthy,” and recent evidence shows that they may have more negative effects than we initially thought.  Obviously, the artificial sweeteners contained in diet sodas pose concerns due to their chemical properties, but that is a discussion for another post.  As we discussed during yesterday’s Lunch ‘n Learn, soda, whether it be diet or regular, can actually be detrimental to bone health, and frequent consumption of soda may increase a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis. 

The correlation between soda and osteoporosis is still being researched, but there are several schools of thought as to why soda is bad for your bones:

  • Many sodas, especially colas, contain phosphorus (listed as phosphoric acid on the ingredients list).  Phosphorus leeches calcium from bones, so consuming too much of it can strip calcium away from your bones, leaving you more susceptible to osteoporosis.
  • Cola also contains caffeine, which has been known to interfere with calcium absorption.  Calcium makes bones strong, and if it is not properly absorbed, your bones will not be as strong as they should be.
  • For some people, frequent consumption of soda replaces consumption of calcium-rich beverages like milk or fortified orange juice.  If this applies to you, it might mean that you are not getting as much calcium from food as you need.

Whether you are concerned about your bone health, weight, or both, it might be a good idea to cut back on your consumption of all types of soda.  Try to drink more water, milk or non-dairy alternatives (like ricemilk or almondmilk), 100% fruit juice (in moderation, as even 100% juice still contains calories!), or unsweetened iced tea.  I am a reformed diet-soda drinker who now drinks unsweetened iced tea almost exclusively.  I received an iced tea maker as a gift (you can buy one at department or home stores for about $20), and use it several times a week to brew different types of flavored herbal (and caffeine free!) teas.  It takes time to kick a soda habit, so try to gradually decrease your soda consumption by slowly switching to one or more alternative beverages.  Your body (especially your bones)  will surely thank you!

Walking – A Great Form of Exercise

It seems like the Commonwealth of MA is not alone in promoting walking as a great form of exercise.  The Boston Globe recently ran an article on easy and fun ways to add more steps to your day, and a lot of the article’s suggestions mirror the ideas behind the upcoming Step It Up! walking campaign.  Step It Up!, which begins on September 4 (although registration is open now!), challenges participants to add 10,000 steps (or the equivalent of 5 miles) to their day, and as we (and the Globe article) like to point out, this doesn’t necessarily mean walking five miles straight.  It’s easy to add extra steps to your day by doing one or more of the following:

  • Park your car at the furthest spot in the parking lot
  • Get off one or two T stops early and walk the rest of the way to work
  • Take the stairs whenever possible (you’ll even burn more calories this way)
  • Get up and walk to your coworker’s desk instead of calling or sending them an email

You can also add more casual or leisure activity to your day in the form of household chores (vacuuming, gardening) or sports such as swimming or tennis.  Experts recommend getting 45-60 minutes of activity most days of the week, and the good news is that you don’t need to fit this activity in all at once.  It’s okay to split your activity into smaller increments, like taking three 15-minute walks,  and you’ll still receive the same health benefits. 

 Step It Up! participants will receive a free drawstring bag and a pedometer to track steps.  You can also count other activities toward your daily step total by using our online step conversion tool.  I think you’ll be surprised by how many steps you actually take each day, and hopefully you’ll be encouraged to add even more!

Hurley Building Health Hike & Hunt

It’s all too easy to spend the entire work day inside, sitting at your desk, especially if you don’t seem to have any real reason to leave.  Thankfully, employees at the Hurley Building in Boston recently had a great excuse to step away from their desks during their lunch break and get outside and explore the city – the first ever Hurley Building Health Hike & Hunt.  Wellness Champion extraordinaire Leslie Seifried of the Department of Career Services had the excellent idea of creating a scavenger hunt of sorts that incorporated walking around one of Boston’s hilliest neighborhoods, Beacon Hill, to solve a series of clues that led to three area landmarks. 

Below are the clues the first group of Hunters had to solve – do you know where these landmarks are?

It is such a Joy to take a walk on a summer’s day, even if it is up hill.  Boston is a city filled with Heritage (African, Italian, Irish & others) and historic Trails.  Many Meetings of great importance have been held at various locations in the city.  Some historic locations are still in existence today!

Americans pride themselves on moving onward and upward.  In some cases there is conflict and differing opinions.  There’s a House in this State that’s been, and still is, a location of debate and decision making affecting us as residents of Massachusettsguiding us like a Beacon on a Hill).

Working and/or living in Boston, when the day heats up with the summer sun, sometimes we all have the same thing in Common – we just need to go down to the old Pond to cool off and maybe find a Frog or two before getting back to our busy day.

Participants were able to complete the Hunt during their lunch hour on either August 8, 9, or 10, and were instructed to take a picture of themselves at each of the three locations as proof of their participation.  In all, 16 employees, in 6 different teams, from 3 different agencies, successfully completed the Hunt in 35 minutes or less.  At a post-Hunt celebration on Monday, participants got together over some healthy snacks, and everyone in attendance raved about how much fun they had, how great it was to get some exercise (especially in the form of walking up hills!) and have an excuse to leave their desks for a little while, and how they couldn’t wait for the next Hunt.  Leslie is hard at work on putting together another Health Hike & Hunt that will hopefully take place in September, and I personally can’t wait to participate in it.  Leslie’s great idea can easily be replicated at other agencies – a Hunt can be completed during lunch time, encourages healthy behaviors during the work day (like adding extra steps – a key principle of the upcoming Step It Up! campaign), and is great for employee morale.  If you’d like to host a similar event at your worksite, please send me an email.  Thanks again to Leslie for all her hard work, and I look forward to sharing details of the next Hunt!

Map Your Walk

Since registration for Step It Up! begins one week from today, I thought it would be fitting to mention one of my favorite ways to make walking more interesting –  using gmap-pedometer to track how far I’ve walked.  All participants who register for Step It Up!  will receive a free pedometer with which they can track their steps, but for those who would like to kick things up a notch and track mileage, plan out their routes ahead of time, or see a satellite view of their walking path, this tool is a great resource.  All you need to do is plug in your starting destination (I usually try to enter a specific address), zoom in on the map, and use the cursor to draw out your walking path.  The pedometer tool will then calculate how many miles you have walked, either one way or round-trip.  I like to use it in one of two ways:  to plan a walking route with a particular amount of mileage in mind, or to see how far I’ve traveled after I’ve returned from a walk.  I often find the results surprising, as it’s very easy to over- and under-estimate the amount of miles you walk on a given trip.
Since Step It Up! encourages participants to walk 10,000 steps, or the equivalent of 5 miles, each day, the gmap-pedometer tool will come in handy if you are trying to figure out how far you should walk to get those 10,000 steps in.  Remember that you don’t need to walk 5 miles all at once (you can break up your walks into shorter time or mileage increments), and you can sneak extra steps into your day by doing things like parking your car in a far-away spot, getting off a stop of two early on the T or bus and walking the rest of the way to work, or getting up to talk to your coworkers rather than call or email them.  Find ways to add extra steps to your day that interest you – I’d love to hear about any ideas you have via email or in the comments section.

Celebrating Salad

I will admit it up front – I am not a salad person.  So, I was a little unsure of how to respond when I was invited by Liz Layton, one of the GIC’s many champions of wellness, to participate in a healthy salad potluck lunch.  Being that I represent the GIC’s wellness initiatives all across the Commonwealth, and that I like any event that Liz plans, I couldn’t turn her offer down.   I figured I could manage to eat a lunch that consisted only of salad for one day, and I’d have some fun making my own salad in the process.  I was very surprised by how tasty every salad I tried was, and how a good “salad” doesn’t necessarily have to include lettuce.  I even discovered that I like beets, which was an extra bonus of attending the lunch. 

Healthy potlucks are a great opportunity for agencies to encourage camaraderie, healthy eating, and an actual lunch break spent away from one’s desk.  Salad potlucks are also a great way to encourage eating a few extra servings of fruits and vegetables, which can often be difficult, especially when eating out, as many people so often do.  I am a big advocate of eating a serving of vegetables with lunch and dinner, and offering numerous salad choices is a great way to get in several different servings of vegetables in the same meal.  Adding lean protein like chicken or quinoa, or whole grains in a whole wheat pasta, cous cous, or bulgur salad, can lend variety and extra nutrients to the meal as well.  And, let’s not forget about “dessert.”  If you’re like me, you might not feel satisfied if you haven’t had something sweet with each meal.  The healthiest way to satisfy a sweet tooth?  FRUIT!  So of course it makes sense that my contribution to the potluck was fruit salad.

I managed to sneak an extra treat (and some calcium) into my salad of cantaloupe, red grapes, and mango by accompanying it with homemade cannoli cream, made with low-fat ricotta cheese.  Now that I think of it, salad isn’t so bad after all!

Eat Like an Olympian

Since all I’ve been watching on tv for the past week has been the Olympics, and since a good amount of my time for the past two months has been consumed with talking about nutrition and weight loss (two of my favorite topics!), I thought it was perfect timing when my sister emailed me a link to an article entitled Eating Healthy for Energy.  This article offered tips from a sports nutritionist and three Olympic athletes on the best foods to eat, whether you’re an athlete or just a casual exerciser who wants to feel a little more energized.  A lot of the suggestions in this article have come up in conversation during recent Lunch ‘n Learn seminars, and I think it’s important to know which foods are the best to consume both before and after exercising, no matter what your fitness level is. 

As attendees of the Lunch ‘n Learn seminars on nutrition know, one of my favorite facts related to food and exercise is that the best “food” to consume after working out is chocolate milk.  Surprisingly, there are actually studies out there to support the fact that chocolate milk contains the perfect ratio of carbs to protein essential for a post-workout food.  The carbs in the milk and chocolate syrup help restore the body’s fuel sources (mainly in the form of glycogen) that have been depleted during exercise; the simple carbs in the chocolate syrup provide a quick energy boost; and the protein in the milk starts immediately repairing muscle tissue that was damaged during the workout.  I’d recommend you choose low-fat chocolate milk, and limit your consumption to just one glass, but you can feel good about drinking chocolate milk post-workout.

As for other foods to choose before and after exercise, the article points out that a balanced diet rich in fruits and veggies is never a bad idea, and it’s important to eat a mix of protein, fat, and carbs and choose lean protein, unsaturated fat, and complex carbohydrates whenever possible.  Foods like bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, oatmeal, and dried fruit are all part of a healthy diet for athletes, and non-athletes can certainly benefit from eating these  foods, too.  Just be sure not to fall into the common trap of using exercise to justify overeating; make sure you burn the same amount or more calories from physical activity than you consume from food in order to maintain or lose weight.  You can track your calories consumed and burned by keeping a food and exercise journal, and the WellMASS website has a neat calories burned calculator that tells you how many calories you burn doing all sorts of exercise and leisure activities.  And if you’re looking to add more physical activity to your day (and you’re a GIC-covered employee of the Executive or Legislative branch or Constitutional Offices or an early retiree or spouse), be sure to log onto the WellMASS site starting August 20 to register for the Step It Up! pedometer campaign, which will challenge you to walk 10,000 steps a day.  Who knows, you may decide you want to exceed this challenge and give some of the Olympic stars a run for their money!