As an increasing number of companies take an active role in their employees’ health, many do it through wellness programs that encourage and reward good health. But you don’t need to work for a Fortune 500 company to practice wellness. Instead, try creating your own program.
The Hemophilia Outreach Center (HOC) in Green Bay, Wisconsin, offers a good model. Its wellness program launched in 2010. Patients design individual plans to better their health by bringing together physical therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists and other experts to guide them toward a healthy lifestyle. “Everyone’s involved,” says Debbie Armbruster, HOC’s executive director. Mary Ann Tellock and her son, Jason, of Hortonville, Wisconsin, both benefit from HOC’s wellness program. Jason, 20, has mild hemophilia A, as well as autism, diabetes and other health issues. He and his mother have attended nutrition classes at HOC. Further, the center helped organize a fitness program for Jason that includes swimming, stationary cycling and walking.
“Between fitness and nutrition, the wellness program has helped him lose 11 pounds,” says Mary Ann. “The personal contact with them and the individualized program really help.”
Your own HTC can offer similar assistance, says Heidi Lane, PT, DPT, PCS, a physical therapist at Intermountain Hemophilia and Thrombosis Center in Salt Lake City. “The comprehensive care you get at your HTC is in and of itself a wellness program,” she says. “And your HTC can provide links to wellness resources and community programs.”
Creating Healthy Habits
Choice is a crucial part of any plan, Armbruster says. Patients prefer taking ownership of their wellness program. “If they are involved in designing their own program, they’re more likely to stick with it,” she says. Long-term adherence is critical to the success of any wellness plan, says Lane. “We want wellness to become a habit, just like brushing your teeth,” she says.
All it takes to commit to the new routine is 30 days, Lane says. After that, your new workout becomes part of your regular routine. The trick is to start gradually so you can follow through for the full four weeks. Doing too much at first increases your risk of injury, as well as frustration if you fail to keep up. Both can sap your resolve. “I tell my patients who don’t already exercise regularly to begin with a 5-minute walk around the block,” says Lane.
If walking does not excite you, try cycling, playing golf, swimming or yoga, Lane suggests. “Pick any low-risk exercise in the NHF’s booklet, Playing It Safe: Bleeding Disorders, Sports and Exercise,” she says. “That guide applies to everyone: children and adults.”
Before you start any new sport or exercise, talk to your PT about your plans. If the sport or exercise you like falls into a higher-risk category, don’t despair. Your PT may be able to suggest ways to modify it, says HOC physical therapist Shanie Polasik, MPT.
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“We try to let our patients decide what they want to do and then support them,” says Polasik. For example, HOC coordinates with local fitness centers to offer appropriate fitness programs for people with bleeding disorders. These include karate classes, in which students punch and kick lightweight, air-filled bags and X-ray paper instead of heavy punching bags to reduce impact. Sparring is led by instructors who are both black belts in karate and nurses knowledgeable about bleeding disorders.
Reaping the Benefits
Your personal wellness program will provide several perks. Exercise will improve your joint strength. It can also help you lose weight, a relief for joints burdened by extra pounds. Thirdly, talk to your HTC staff about developing a healthy diet to further your weight loss goals and power your workouts.
Still, changing your habits takes time. To see benefits, you have to stay committed. Polasik advises her patients to keep a journal, especially in the beginning. “Write down what you do,” she says. “That way, you can see how you have improved.” You may be able to increase the number of repetitions when lifting weights, or ride farther and faster on your stationary bike. Even small boosts in your abilities will encourage you to keep going—and give you a reason to celebrate.
Lane also recommends pedometers, which count the number of steps you take. They can be programmed to alert you when you’ve gone your pre-determined distance, or tell you how much more you must walk to meet your daily quota. Smartphones can also come in handy. Free apps like Fitocracy help you track your goals and connect you with others via online forums.
If you find exercise a bit dull at times, entertain yourself with a good audiobook during solo workouts, Lane suggests. Otherwise, recruit a friend, family member or neighbor to be your exercise partner. “Adding in a social component can be really helpful,” she says.
Short- and long-term goals will keep you motivated over time. If you’re new to exercise, aim to work out every other day for about 15 minutes. Make your weekly goal a 10% increase in intensity, says Lane. Your overall goal should be to get fit enough to follow the federal government’s exercise guidelines, which call for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity each week.
Still, having a bleeding disorder can make that goal seem difficult or out of reach. The best advice: Start slowly and focus on activities you enjoy. Together with your PT or HTC staff, you can craft a wellness program that makes you work but is also fun.