Wellness Summit provides usable tips for leaders

The Humana Wellness Summit, presented by BizTimes Media on March 28, provided company leaders with health and wellness insights to help lower overall health benefits costs and increase employee productivity.

Four expert speakers addressed the areas of cardiocare, exercise and fitness, nutrition and emotional and mental health. Each provided three tips for health and wellness in their fields.


Dr. Bijoy Khandheria, a cardiologist at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, discussed the most effective testing and prevention methods in cardiovascular care. For heart health, the first step is knowing your current status and then customizing a plan based on the results, Khandheria said.

“The heart is the organ that supplies energy and nutrition to all the body,” he said. “You can have the best functioning kidney, but if your heart doesn’t work, your kidney doesn’t work.”

Khandheria’s three main tips for heart health:

  • Know your heart health status. That means going beyond the standard cholesterol testing usually offered at a doctor’s appointment. Patients should also ask for a fasting blood sugar test and an exercise capacity test. Those over 45 should receive an Ankle-Brachial Index test, which tracks blood pressure in the ankle and arm to measure peripheral artery disease.

“Everybody pays attention to somebody having a heart attack or chest pain, but not many people pay attention to having calf muscle pain,” Khanderia said. It could be an early indicator of blockage in the blood vessels, which would be measured with the ABI.

Those over 60 should have the abdominal aorta screened. Patients should also consider the CIMT test, which measures vascular age and predicts the risk for stroke and heart attack.

  • Create a customized approach. If the additional testing shows a healthy heart, the patient and doctor should create a customized approach to keep it healthy. And if not, there should be a customized approach to improve heart health. Some of the main steps to take are quitting smoking, moderate exercise (about 150 minutes per week), and eating a good diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber.
  • Manage risk factors. Diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, diet and exercise can all have a major impact on heart health. These factors need to be closely managed to maintain or improve cardiovascular wellness.


Connie Roethel, president of Core Health Group in Mequon, is a nurse and dietary expert. Her company provides comprehensive worksite wellness programs.

Environmental factors, access to healthy food and the skills to prepare it are major factors in impacting a dietary change, she said.

Her nutrition points:

  • Learn about the impact of food and nutrition on obesity and chronic disease. Research has shown many diseases, including diabetes, alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease, start with inflammation. It’s important to go beyond calories and fat content, and evaluate the impact of food on the inflammation process.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that our bodies are almost like plants,” Roethel said. “If you don’t get enough water, if you don’t put healthy foods in like you would fertilizer for a plant, the plant dies or the plant is sick. The quality of food, not just the calories that you put into your body, has a huge impact on our health.”

  • Integrate nutrition and education activities and interventions in workplace wellness. The employer should work to impact behavior change as it relates to what people are eating or not eating. Create an environment in the workplace that supports healthy eating by implementing programs like a healthy food policy.
  • Offer specific workplace wellness interventions related to diet and nutrition. Design a program that helps employees make the right choice. Focus on not just fat and calories, but on the quality of food that people eat. Encourage activities that can help employees and their families earn rewards for being healthy.

“It’s so hard for people to change their behavior when the people around them aren’t involved as well,” Roethel said. “We have to provide motivation for people to make those changes. We do all kinds of nutrition challenges, but they seldom include the family.”

Employers can also evaluate workplace food policies and provide healthy food for meetings and in the vending machines. They can encourage access to local foods by offering a Community Supported Agriculture program and provide “lunch and learn” cooking classes to teach employees how to cook healthy meals, she said.

Exercise and fitness

Jason Warwick, manager of personal training for YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, spoke about the keys to establishing an effective workout routine to achieve fitness goals.

“There is nothing more important than your health,” Warwick said. “Most people only realize that when something significant happens that alters their health.”

It’s important to find your true motivation for working out and learn how to work out quickly and effectively. Here’s how he suggests doing that:

  • Keep a food log. Most people, if asked what they ate last, will name the most recent healthy food they ate. If someone ate a salad for lunch but junk food the rest of the day, it should be noted. A food log can help people see patterns in what they’re eating, keep them honest and help them cut out some foods.
  • Set goals and plan them out. Make a realistic goal. It’s going to take months of sustained physical activity to lose some weight or gain some muscle, since it took years to put on the weight. Set microgoals for the end of the week or month to stay on track. Have a plan in place to work around children, work schedule, vacation and holidays. When you wake up in the morning with a plan for when and how to work out, it helps motivate you to get out of bed.
  • Consistency and accountability. Stay committed and work hard toward your goal. Telling family, friends and co-workers keeps you accountable and lets people know when not to bother you. Try working out with a partner to keep each other motivated.

“You can’t expect lofty goals working out twice a week, it’s just not going to happen,” Warwick said. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Emotional and mental health

Karen Vernal, president of Milwaukee leadership and organizational firm Vernal Management Consultants LLC, focuses on “igniting the spirit and skills of leaders.”

She discussed the importance of emotional and mental health to overall wellness. Emotional and spiritual health serve as the foundation for leaders to make decisions, manage conflict, communicate and build teams. Her thoughts:

  • Intention vs. impact. Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to recognize and manage his or her own emotions and recognize that emotions drive behavior. It also helps employees recognize each other’s emotions and behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions, but others by the impact their behavior has on us.
  • Emotional hijack. A physiological response, resulting in fight or flight. This results in reduced ability to think. A full hijack can take up to 18 minutes to recover from. During the process of the hijack, toxins are released into the blood and don’t dissipate for three to four hours.

“If we are emotionally hijacked and we have a reduced ability to think, then clearly the decisions that we make are not necessarily at full capacity,” Vernal said. “What we want to be clear about is that we’re able to recognize and understand and manage our own emotions.”

She recommends the S.O.S.S. strategy to manage and interrupt an emotional hijack in progress: stop, oxygenate, strengthen appreciation and seek information.

  • Spiritual health. Appreciate that we are all connected to something bigger than who we are. This is not about religion, but the interconnectedness of the human race. In that awareness, there is a common human experience around the hunger for meaning. As people discover what is meaningful in their lives and make choices about what is meaningful, it strengthens spiritual health and well-being. Vernal encouraged attendees to resist “sleepwalking” through life.

Following the expert speakers, Lisa Mrozinski, total rewards manager of benefits and vice president of Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc., gave a keynote address on Baird’s robust employee wellness program.

Mrozinski, a member of the board of directors of the Wellness Council of Wisconsin, shared insights about launching and growing a wellness program, with examples of the impact that Baird’s program has had on its employees and its bottom line.

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