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When it comes to health and wellness issues, the Bucks-Montgomery County schools are not messing around.

They want their people fit, and they want their people healthy. They’ve gone to great lengths to accomplish that. 

More than 11,000 employees are eligible to take part in the Bucks and Montgomery County Schools Health Care Consortium, and there are health and wellness resources to choose from.

But some schools and their districts also choose fun projects and challenges. One of the more intriguing challenges is coming up in March: the Strive for Five. 

“The ‘five’ is five servings of fruits and vegetables,” says Caitlin Kennally, a senior wellness program consultant for Health Advocate, which helps coordinate these challenges. “Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet. They should make up half of your plate at each meal.” 

So each day in March, the goal is to have five servings of fruits or vegetables each day. Kennally says participants will track the amount of servings they eat through a wellness website.   

“We picked March because it also happens to be National Nutrition Month,” she says. “It runs March 5 through April 1. The members are on the honor system and if they log their servings at least once per week, we consider them an active member of the challenge. They will earn 25 points for that activity once it’s completed.” 

The Consortium offers points for several activities and challenges. 

“At the end of the year, people with the most points are eligible for Consortium-wide drawings,” Kennally says. “The prizes are usually gift cards. That’s an incentive offered and some schools offer additional prizes.” 

According to Health Advocate, a serving equates to one of the following: one cup of chopped fruit, one medium-sized piece of fruit, a half-cup of dried fruit, eight ounces of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, one cup of raw or cooked vegetables or two cups of leafy greens.

Some tips that anyone, not just those taking the challenge, can implement include stashing non-perishable fruits and vegetables such as dried fruit, fruit cups or a can of 100 percent juice in your desk at work.

For those short on time, frozen fruits and vegetables can be good as fresh.

Other suggestions include a meatless Monday or go vegetarian for a day; maybe try a new fruit or vegetable each week. Another piece of advice offered is to swap your mayo for spreading some avocado. You can also mix tuna or chicken salad with avocado. You’ll still get the creaminess, but with greater nutritional value. 

The inspiration for the Strive for Five, now in its second year, came from data. 

“They have had our services for the past several years and based on what we know about our population, we have an aggregate report that gives us an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the population,” Kennally says. “There is an online assessment that the members are able to take. We ask members to give us feedback on their nutrition and eating habits. We discovered they could benefit from improving their nutrition.”

There are several other challenges that some school districts take advantage of including a SleepWell Challenge, Step up to 10,000 and the Post Holiday Hustle.

“The committee wanted challenges to be a key component of the wellness program that they wanted to push out to the different school districts,” Kennally says. “We try to do at least one to every school district each year to try to get them engaged in the program.” 

Last year, just one school opted for the Strive for Five. This year, it has ballooned to six schools.

Post-holiday hustle

The Post-Holiday Hustle is a Bucks-Montgomery County School Health Consortium challenge that is open to members from Jan. 8 through Feb. 4. 

The holidays are a nightmare for those trying to get fit. Parties, dinners and other events are tempting for overindulgence. This challenge is for those to try to get back into shape feel less sluggish and possibly lose some weight.

The challenge is to exercise for 150 minutes each week and track your time on a challenge website. This can be a cold and snowy part of the country at the time of the challenge, so there are some tips offered.

First, there are plenty of exercises that can be done indoors, such as lunges, crunches, jumping jacks, yoga or walking in place. For those who belong to a gym or health club, use a treadmill and lift some weights. Make sure you drink water before, during and after your workout.

Winter activities such as ice skating, snowboarding, ice hockey and skiing also count toward the 150 minutes. And shoveling snow is fair game.

It’s suggested that you work out with a partner — preferably someone else who is trying to get in shape after the holidays.

Step up to 10,000

Step up to 10,000 was a Bucks-Montgomery County School Health Consortium challenge in which 132 members participated from Oct. 23 through Oct. 31.

The idea was to walk 10,000 steps on the final day. For some, that’s a very high number, but there was a guide that can be followed even by those who have not taken the challenge.

On the first day, it’s suggested to aim for 7,000 steps. On the second day, try for 7,500 steps. On the third day, strive for 8,000 steps. On the fourth day aim for 8,500 steps. On the fifth day, see if you can increase it to 9,000 steps. On the sixth day, go for 9,500 steps. Finally, on the seventh day that 10,000-step number won’t seem so daunting.

It was suggested to walk for 30 minutes, but for those who can’t accomplish that, the next best thing is to break it up into chunks. You can walk 10 minutes in the morning, another 10 before or after lunch and the final 10 after dinner.

Another tip is to strive for smaller, faster steps rather than longer strides. Smaller steps are more effective in increasing speeds while long strides can result in injury.

SleepWell

SleepWell was one of the Bucks-Montgomery County School Health Consortium challenges in which 187 members participated from Nov. 6 through Dec. 3.

As with proper nutrition and exercise, health and fitness experts urge that the proper amount of sleep is important, as well. As you sleep, your body restores itself through tissue, cell and muscle repair. A proper amount of sleep also recharges the brain and releases important hormones.

During the challenge’s four-week stretch, participants were to attempt to sleep eight consecutive hours per night. Naps taken in the day did not count in this schedule.

Some of the tips for members, which can also be used by those who didn’t take the challenge, include taking technology out of the bedroom. TVs, cell phones and computers tend to distract and take precious time away from sleeping. Practicing relaxation techniques and setting a regular schedule for sleep can also help.

Another tip is to be aware of the air temperature in the bedroom. Good sleep usually occurs when the room is between 60 and 67 degrees. However, if you find those parameters to be too hot or too cold, choose a consistent temperature that is comfortable.

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