March! I thought you’d never come!

I know I can’t be alone in wishing for spring. The vernal equinox is around the corner, and with it, days that finally stretch longer than nights. The arrival of March signals the first breath of beautiful and snow-melting spring, when we can finally begin the long thaw. Winter has taken a toll on both my physical and mental health, so as part of my “spring cleaning,” I have been looking for ways to energize and refresh myself, inside and out. While the weather slowly warms February’s heaping snow piles, I’ll be taking baby steps toward a happier, healthier me. I’d love to share some of the ideas I’ve found – maybe we can work together on a few small changes. Here are 4 areas that I’m working on, and plenty of little tips to work them into both of our schedules:

1. Shake up mealtime!

There is a lot of bang in the buck when it comes to changing your eating habits. But you don’t have to make drastic changes to see positive results. I love the idea of just adding an extra fruit or vegetable to every meal – sneaking in a smoothie here and there is an easy way that I’ve found to trick myself into eating more spinach. Even my kids love the smoothies! Including a probiotic in or out of your smoothie, like yogurt, kefir, or kombucha, can also improve digestive health and restore some of the important gut flora to help keep your system moving.

Add a little “good fat” to your diet for a big health boost!

Also, think about this – are you including “good fats” in your diet? Found in avocado, nuts, eggs, and other sources, these fats can help you feel satisfied and help to lower LDL cholesterol. You’re looking for unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. The extra fat is the good news, but now I’m getting to the tough stuff – limiting added sugar and refined white flour is a great way to cut out “empty” calories. Yes, sugar and white flour like the stuff found in brownies, cookies, ice cream, and most of the other things that I dream of when I start trying to “eat healthier.” But don’t stress about this – if you’re working in the other tips here, you’ll feel less cravings, and a little indulgence here or there isn’t all bad.

Speaking of “do as I say, not as I do” advice… here’s my favorite tip. Pack your own lunch every day. It’s really tough to get a healthy meal if you’re eating out! Even a salad can be loaded with calories depending on the dressing and toppings. You’ll be much more likely to eat healthy if you only pack healthy foods. You’ve had time to think about the ingredients, the portions, and the balance of the meal. And maybe a little snack once in a while wouldn’t hurt, either.

If you’re struggling for lunch ideas, here’s a fabulous one – work with a buddy to create lunches together! It keeps a little mystery in your lunch, and together, you can stay motivated and healthy. Two lunch eaters are much more creative than one! For example, at HealthStar, we’ve had a salad club in the past. It’s easier in summer, when produce is cheaper, but the idea can be modified for any season. You don’t have to do salads – you can get creative with different recipes. With a partner or two, sandwiches, wraps, or any number of side dishes can be converted to a delicious, nutritious, and surprisingly crave-able lunch menu!

2. Get moving!

Keep it moving!

For those of us who sit a lot (HealthStar office staff, this one’s for you!), hip openers can be done when you wake up and right before bed, to help keep your hips and waist refreshed. Yoga and Pilates are a couple of great low-impact workout types that can be done by all different ability levels. Even just a few simple stretches a day can help get you moving easier and give you a serotonin boost!

This can be a really tough one for so many of us. I sit at a desk all day, so for me, a reminder to get up and move around every so often is really helpful. I’ve known friends who swear by doing squats every time they go to the bathroom. 5 minutes of fast walking per hour can get you near the recommended weekly exercise recommendations, if you add a bit of workout time on the weekends (mayo clinic recommends 75 to 150-minutes per week). When I’m stuck on a project, just taking a walk around the office can help clear my mind and give me a spark of energy to finish strong.

The point is, you don’t have to do a P90x workout to see health and wellness benefits – any of these ideas can get your blood moving, boost your energy level, and lift your mood! Just pick a realistic goal that you can feel successful at, and stick with it. Once you’ve incorporated some simple exercise in your daily routine, maybe it won’t seem so daunting to add something more vigorous!

3. A smile a day keeps the doctor away!

There is plenty of research to show that our interpersonal relationships have a great impact in our physical and mental well-being. When you connect with someone, you both benefit! So in this very early spring, take some time out and spend it with an old friend, or maybe even make a new friend. You might also do something active together, like taking a nice walk through the Como Conservatory (it’s free!). Exercising with a buddy can be great for motivation!

Smile! It’s contagious 🙂

Another great way to add some warm, fuzzy feelings, is to get involved in your community. HealthStar’s caregivers are already part of something greater than themselves, becoming a part of a Client’s life and working together towards the Client’s health-related goals.

The joy that comes from helping others can be very rewarding. There are lots of ways to get involved at all levels of commitment. Maybe you want to start a book club, volunteer at an animal shelter, or plan a game night with your neighbors – anything you can do to connect with others on a meaningful level will give you plenty of “feel-good” energy!

4. zzzzzzzz (shh, I’m “health” sleeping)

This one speaks to me on a very deep level. I am not myself if I don’t get enough sleep! It’s harder to concentrate, I’m irritable, my body aches, and all I can think about is crawling back into bed. Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep is critical for all of these reasons. (For me, it’s more toward the 9 hour mark.)

If you were looking for an excuse to take a nap today…

Sleep alone isn’t going to bring all of your body and mind to perfect health. Quality of sleep is also important. Taking a few minutes before bed to meditate, do deep breathing, or go through a relaxation technique can help you to fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. Mindfulness activities can also help you reduce stress and re-center yourself throughout the day – if you find a technique that works, try adding it at lunch time. A short mental break might be just what you need to keep going through the afternoon slump!

Put it all together

It’s not realistic to think that we can do all of these things. But we can do a little bit today, and see what feels right. Adding little bits of change over a long time will slowly ease us into bigger changes. If you need some ideas built just for you, HealthStar’s mental health department and therapies department are great places to start! Between those two departments, you can find great experience to put the pep back in your step. Anything from help with mental health struggles to post-surgical range of motion exercises.

And what will I be doing different, you ask? Little things, for sure! For example, today, I have split pea soup for lunch. (Yes, I brought it from home) Tomorrow, maybe I’ll remember to do the 5 minutes of walking per hour. And that brings us to Wednesday… maybe I can work in a breathing exercise that day for my mental health. Little by little, I’ll work my way up to P90x.

Or, maybe not…

https://www.rd.com/health/wellness/changes-health-reduce-diabetes-risk/

https://chuzefitness.com/2018/01/small-changes-make-big-impact-health/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/7-ways-to-jumpstart-healthy-change-in-your-life

https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diet-nutrition/changing-habits-better-health

https://www.rd.com/health/diet-weight-loss/how-to-sneak-in-fitness/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201504/4-lifestyle-changes-will-boost-your-mental-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201410/9-lifestyle-factors-can-affect-your-mental

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140509074114.htm

https://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/anxiety-news-33/quitting-smoking-linked-to-better-mental-health-in-study-684786.html

https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/02/18/lifestyle-changes-as-treatment-for-mental-health-concerns-depression-anxiety/23670.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916

https://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20477647,00.html

https://yurielkaim.com/yoga-hip-openers/

24ECC program: Building the HealthStar Family

HealthStar’s 24ECC program is different than other Corporate “touchy-feely” programs.

Many companies search for ways to increase cultural competency and employee engagement, but very few truly succeed. With the 24ECC program, HealthStar has nailed it.

Developing the 24ECC program

In 2009, HealthStar invited clients and community members to participate in focus groups tasked with identifying the qualities of good caregivers. These result: a long list of ideal characteristics for caregivers, providing great insight into HealthStar’s culturally diverse client base.

HealthStar then narrowed the focus group’s list to twenty-four crucial elements. The new 24 Expressions of Company Culture, or ECCs, fit nicely within the categories of HealthStar’s top four core values: Servant Leadership, Empathy, Altruism, and Integrity. Almost 10-years later, and the 24ECC program still lives on!

24ECCs in action

Each month, 24ECC trainers identify one of the 24ECC values to highlight. They design activities that help staff to discuss and dig deeper into the importance and impact of the chosen value. Through these activities and discussions, we gain a better understanding of the ideals that our Clients identified. We also examine the cultural differences in how values are expressed or perceived. The same values are often interpreted very differently depending on cultural background!

What the 24ECCs do for our team

One of the unexpected benefits of the 24ECCs is that they provide a tool to better understand and communicate with team members. The 24ECC program is a constant reminder that even though someone may do things differently, that doesn’t make it wrong! We learn balance – if you do too much of one value, you might end up not representing other values which are equally important. In conflict, the 24ECCs guide us to consider each other’s point of view without judging or jumping to conclusions. We use the 24ECCs as consistent language to express ourselves, and to discuss and work through concerns.

But for me, the best part is getting together once a month to get to know each other through a new 24ECC activity. I love the creative ideas that our 24ECC planners come up with! 24ECC Bingo, collage making, skits, and gift baskets – and sometimes a 24ECC snack. When we build a team that communicates and has fun together, we also develop something more than just a place where people go to complete tasks.

What 24ECC “Work Love” can do for you

HealthStar is more than a group of people who work together. We are a team that supports each other and truly cares about each other.  We are a work family, spread across three states. HealthStar people get excited to see each other at quarterly meetings – it’s like family coming to visit, including the cooking, the hugging, and the chatting.

Best of all, when HealthStar needs to get a project done, we all jump in and do what we can. We appreciate and capitalize on the things that make us different, because we know that’s part of building a great team! By fostering this Work Love relationship in our offices, we automatically extend the same level of care to our Clients. It’s not always easy, but with the 24ECCs, we have the foundation to build on. It is a great base to support great care!

Check out our website for more information about this program and how it helps us provide the best possible care!