Does Physical Activity have an Impact on your Mental Health or is it just a Myth? 

Written by Turja Chowdury 

It’s not a surprise that exercise helps to reduce several health risks, but is it all talk or is there truly science behind it all? Exercising in any form can have tremendous impact on your mental health and this does not mean that you need to be a gym fanatic to receive the benefits.

By staying active, you are giving your body the chance to become stronger and combat the issues that may come your way. There are countless ways that exercise can profit your mental well-being and here are a few:

  • Decreases Depression
  • Reduces signs & symptoms of postnatal depression
  • Improves self-esteem & cognitive function in young people
  • Reduces psychological distress

In recent years, mental health is a topic that has gained enormous traction because of its valued importance. We have begun to acknowledge the value of mental health and its correlation to our overall health.  The issues that arise from the psychological and emotional well-being can be caused by several factors depending on the person. This means that everyone has their own battles in life and we constantly seek ways to adapt and reduce the issues that may arise. This is why we search for the kryptonite.

Let’s make it clear that it isn’t easy – especially if you’re not an active person. But the first step is always the hardest, so you have to trust the process. Exercise will help to shrink the negativity and give you the strength to develop. But the question remains – where’s the science and how much exercise are we talking?

Physical activity has a direct relationship with the brain as it improves neuronal health, increases neurotrophic factors and neurohormones – an overall boost to the brain. These positive changes lead to improvement in your mood, self-acceptance and many more. The body will gladly accept the increase in dopamine – a neurotransmitter and hormone. This increase is only unique to you and your happiness, so your brain will understand when you’re physically active and how to react to it.

The amount of exercise depends on you and your personal goals. It’s up to you to decide the activity you want to do and how you want to approach it. However, its crucial to show up. Consistency of your physical activity can guarantee that positive benefits are extended throughout your journey.

Optimity understands the value of mental health and we want to encourage personal growth. Engage in your community by posting your workouts and meals, track your progress over the weeks and gain rewards for your accomplishments.

Establishing New Habits can be difficult and lengthy. However, small lifestyle changes and being persistent with your goals can have the biggest positive impact on your health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

Food for Thought: The Link Between Food and Mental Health

Written by Maxwell Li 

Your brain works around the clock to perform vital bodily functions to keep you alive. Similar to a sports car, our brains require constant premium fuel, in the form of nutrients from food for peak performance and in turn, good mental health.

The reason behind this lies in Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. Around 95% of its production takes place in your gastrointestinal tract, which happens to be filled with over a hundred million neurons. Furthermore, neuron functionality along with serotonin production are highly dependent on the presence of “good bacteria” in the gut. These bacteria protect your intestinal linings against toxins and inflammation, improve nutrient absorption, and activate direct neural pathways to your brain.

In short, the types of food you choose to eat have a profound impact on your short-term mental health!

A study conducted by flagship medical journal, BMC Medicine, found that depressed individuals assigned to a Mediterranean diet experienced substantial improvements to personal mental health. This is because “traditional” diets (e.g. Mediterranean) are high in unprocessed vegetables, fruits, proteins, and grains, which tend to be fermented and thereby promote growth of “good bacteria” in the gut.

Here are five nutrient-rich foods that will do wonders when it comes to improving your mental health:

1. Salmon

This pink fish is rich in Omega-3 and anti-inflammatory acids that protect brain cell membrane. It also contains Vitamin D, which helps manage depression and protect immune function.

2. Lentils

Lentils are rich in the B vitamin folate which is vital in the production of serotonin. They also allow your blood sugar levels to rise more gradually, for a consistent energy level throughout the day.

3. Bananas

Bananas affects tryptophan, another important amino acid that helps with serotonin production.

4. Kefir

Often described as a drinkable yogurt, Kefir is high in the “good gut bacteria”, more commonly known as probiotics.

5. Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes contain high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which protects against damage to brain cells and oxidative stress on DNA. Both processes have been linked to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

 

Here at Optimity, we recognize that a sudden dietary change is painful and often short-lived. That is why we have created a way to pursue a healthier lifestyle at the office or on the go, that is both effortless and rewarding for our users, through personalized daily health challenges!

 

To find out more about Optimity solutions, visit: www.myoptimity.com/our-solution

Eat Well to Live Well: Celebrating Nutrition Month (Webinar Recap)

Five friends cooking

Written by Brett MacDonald

We had a great webinar in March, in honour of Nutrition Month. I sat down with Optimity’s Client Success Advisor, Mira Levine, to talk about how cooking at home is good for not only your body, but also your wallet. You can watch the full webinar here. Here are a few key takeaway points from the webinar:

Understanding the big picture and how the world wide physical burden is influenced by our dietary choices:


worldwide physical burden

  • Report made by The Guardian summarizing Global Burden of Disease Study showed that 20% of deaths world wide are attributable to poor diet
  • The biggest concern from these poor nutrition eating habits is a diet high in sodium

Not only does poor nutritional eating habits cost us physically, but there is also a financial burden associated:

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  • In Canada, the economic burden attributable to poor nutrition is estimated to be over CAD$13.8 billion/year
  • In America:
    • Medical cost associated with obesity is estimated to be US$147 billion/year
    • Medical cost associated with diagnosed diabetes is estimated to be US$254 billion/year
  • It’s important to note the difference in these monetary values, as America has a larger population and a different healthcare system compared to Canada which influences these values. However, it’s clear that regardless of this there is still a financial burden associated to poor nutrition

 

It’s essential to understand that poor nutrition costs us both physically and financially. See what can you do to ameliorate your eating habits and what the benefits of home cooking are:

Harvard School of Public Health Healthy Eating Plate

healthy eating plate

This is an excellent guide to help you understand what a healthy eating plate looks like and how you can adopt these practices when preparing your own meals.

 

Top 5 Benefits of Home Cooking

  1. Saves Money
  2. Saves Time
  3. Healthier Ingredients
  4. Portion Control
  5. Social Impact

 

What to Look for When Grocery Shopping

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Optimity’s Zero Restaurants Challenge

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Optimity has a large library of activities and challenges related to nutrition such as our Zero Restaurants Challenge, where individuals try cut down their eating and spending at restaurants to zero for 30 days. We had a client from Linedrive join us during our webinar to talk about his positive experience with the challenge.

 

Establishing new healthy eating habits can be difficult at first. However, much like we learned from our January webinar on habits, small micro-changes to your diet and lifestyle will have the biggest impact on your health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

Recharge Your Diet: Our Secrets for a Healthy Lifestyle

TIME STAMP: 3 MINUTE READ

It seems like everyone’s talking about the real solution to weight loss. Every day it seems like a new diet craze is ready to make weight loss faster and easier than ever before. However, beware most fad diets generally go something like: “Take a few foods, give them magic power, and set a plan to convince people that eating this way and only this way will promote weight loss.” says Alexandra Caspero, R.D a nutritionist based in Sacremento, CA.

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In a society that is so image driven, it seems as though everyone’s talking about it, “THE secrets to get that summer body.” If you searched online for weight loss solutions you get 38 million results. How is anyone supposed to find the real solution? With this overwhelming amount of information it can be extremely difficult to get started on achieving your goals.

We’re here to help you debunk the 3 most searched for diets and discover whether or not they’re really worth it.

1. 20/20 Diet 

The Claim: Wait Doctor Phil? You have the answers to all of my life problems and now you want to help me loose weight? Even though he doesn’t promise you’ll loose weight, he says you “may” loose weight.

The 20/20 diet is a cycling diet plan and was online most searched diet of the year. It’s a 30-day cycling diet, with three phases every 30 days. The first two phases are 5 days long and the third is 20 days. The foods Doctor Phil recommends are supposed to help with thermogenesis, which is a state where the process of energy production in the body caused directly by the metabolizing of food consumed.

The 20/20 diet is about looking past your dieting efforts, failed attempts and what you can do to make up for it. He is trying to repent you from your dieting sins and tell you all of these failures are what eventually led him to create this plan.

Worth It? This diet requires you to stick to a rigid meal plan and eat every 4 hours, which could be time consuming. Be weary, of diets that have a start and stop date, after all there are no phases or end dates to a healthy lifestyle.

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2. Zero Belly Diet 

Wait but actually? Trying to take away my carbs? Sounds like a nightmare. They’re also telling readers they can magically turn off their fat genes.

The Claim: You can lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days. This diet and fitness program includes a list of nine foods that supposedly target and melt your fat cells.

Worth it? There is no way to turn off your genes to fast track weight loss. While hundreds of genes affect your overall weight in small ways, this isn’t to say that you can’t learn new healthy behaviors to adapt your lifestyle.

3.Mediterranean diet

This diet emphasizes a primarily plant based foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood and nuts – coupled with physical activity. It suggests avoiding a list of unhealthy foods and ingredients such as processed food and added sugars.

The Claim: This diet will help you eat your way to optimal heart and brain health. Additionally it claims increased longevity and living a longer and healthier life. When there is a reduction in developing heart disease or cancer, there is a 20 %reduced risk of death at any age.

Worth it? YES, this diet can have positive long-term effects on your over all health. Benefits include keeping you agile, preventing heart diseases and strokes and reducing Alzheimers.

Don’t be too hard on yourself; life is demanding. Between jobs, kids and everything else, life can get difficult. Give yourself a break, dieting shouldn’t be about extreme weight loss, it should be about slow and steady implementation of healthier habits that will lead to an over all healthier lifestyle.

Sign up here to start leading a healthier life and claiming rewards!

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An Upstream Approach for a Healthy Heart

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Posted by Tasneem Panchbhaya

In honor of heart awareness month, we will be discussing why it’s important for employers to focus on an upstream approach to a healthy heart.

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Heart disease is costing companies billions of dollars in loss of productivity and absenteeism.

Workplace wellness program can help prevent heart disease for their employees and in return bring down cost.

It’s essential to understand that heart disease can easily be prevented by making small behaviour changes.

See what can you do to prevent heart disease:
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Physical Activity

  • Physical activity elevates your heart rate, which is essential for keeping your heart in shape.
  • Something as simple as taking the stairs, does wonders for your heart. To read more on helpful tips on how to get physically active, especially in the colder months, check out our blog post here on exercise.

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Nutrition

  • Nutrition is key to a healthy life.
  • Some helpful tips in eating healthy is avoiding the foods that are big contributors to heart disease. Processed foods are high in sugar, fat, and sodium, so these should be kept to a minimum.
  • Cook your own food, it allows you to eat as clean as possible when using raw ingredients to make your meal.
  • Eating with others makes you more mindful of what you’re eating, and how much you’re eating. For more information on healthy eating for employees, check out one of our popular webinars on nutrition and mindful eating the workplace for more insightful tips.

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Stress Less

  • Identify your stressors in order to avoid them or create coping mechanisms that work for you.
  • Physical behaviours such as stretching and yoga can help relieve stress.
  • Change your thinking: see if your stressor is actually rational or if you’re just blowing it out of proportion. Try to make your thinking more positive.
  • Meditation is a great technique that can be done just about anywhere, and is proven to reduce stress. Here is another great webinar we’ve done on mindfulness and meditation in the workplace.

It’s cheaper to prevent heart disease than to treat it! Simple lifestyle changes can have the biggest positive impact financially and on the individuals health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

Or sign up here to start leading a healthier life and claiming rewards!

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How to Build Healthy Habits for a Healthy New Year (Webinar Recap)

new years snapshot

We had a great webinar in January, in honour of New Year’s Resolutions. I sat down with Optimity’s Client Success Advisor, Mira Levine, to talk about how to promote healthy habits in the New Year. You can watch the full webinar here. Here are a few key takeaway points from the webinar:

Understanding why we do what we do and how habits are formed through The Habit Loop:
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  • 45% of our everyday habits are automatic. You are the sum of your habits.
  • Optimity can help you establish new healthy habits through micro activities and reminders.

 

 

 

It’s essential to understand that bad habits can be broken by making small behaviour changes. See what can you do to break those habits:

The 4 step process

  1. Identify the routine: The routine is the habit you want to change. It can be action that can be mental, physical, or emotional.
  2. Experiment with rewards: Rewards can be powerful because they satisfy our cravings. To figure out which cravings are driving out habit, we have to experiment with different rewards.
  3. Isolate the cue: The cue is anything that triggers the habit and causes your brain to go into automatic mode. A cue can originate from: a location, a time, an emotional state, other people, or an immediate preceding action. Discovering what triggers your habit is an important step.
  4. Have a plan: Once we’ve uncovered what our cue is, identified our routine, and discovered which reward satisfies our craving, we can write down a new plan for when that cue quicks in that we will adopt as a new habit.

 

SMART Goals

  • Specific, Measurable, Attainable, and Time-Based goals
  • Ask yourself these questions if you can’t stick to your New Year’s resolution:
    • Is my goal specific enough?
    • Is my goal attainable?
    • Do I have ways to track my progress?
    • Do I have a plan to deal with things that’ll stop me?
  • If you’re looking for more info on how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions, check out our blog post here.

 

Establishing New Habits can be difficult and lengthy. However, small lifestyle changes and being persistent with your goals can have the biggest positive impact on your health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

How to Handle Escalating Employee Health Costs

Posted by Jane Wang 

Employee benefits in the workplace are becoming increasingly costly for employers in North America. In the US, according to the 2015 Kaiser and HRET survey: The average premium for single coverage is $521 per month, or $6,251 per year. The average premium for family coverage is $1,462 per month or $17,545 per year. Based on the Conference Board of Canada’s latest benefits benchmarking report, the average cost of providing employee benefits is $8,330 per full-time employee. For the average company, this equates to spending approximately 10% of gross annual payroll.

Businesses are experiencing the reality of the aging workforce, and burden on their profitability from the continuously rising health premiums, cases of stress leave as well as increased absenteeism from their employee population. Year after year, CFOs continue to see increased business costs as the result of poor employee health and habits, but some are reluctant to revisit the funding and strategy of current health and wellness programs because most wellness programs cannot report ROI.

This is changing.  More data-driven and evidence-based wellness programs like Optimity are able to provide sound financial analysis for the reasons driving these changes in business costs, as a direct results of strategic wellness programs. A strong business case can now be made to invest in proactive health programs. The ROI can be realized quickly and certainly for these cost-effective, digital-first programs that support the employees in making smarter choices everyday, because it always leads to better health outcomes.

 

Innovative and employee-centric businesses who are changing their processes and opting into data-driven and evidence-based wellness programs, are benefiting both from a happy shift in culture (which helps their HR department recruit and retain talent easier), and are saving up to $6.50 for every $1 spent on wellness by implementing a sound cost-containment strategy that flattens the year over year cost increases of their employee benefits costs.

Unhealthy employees cost businesses more every year. According to Linda Lulli, Associate Vice President for Human Resources at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., an inactive person spends $1,500 extra on health costs per year. However, the costs go beyond the direct health spends, they also manifest themselves in the 9.3 days of absenteeism and 10% increase in drug claims. One in 6 U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative, a new study found (read more). The goal of any wellness program is for employees to become healthier, and when they become healthier they end up spending less for doctors, hospitals and prescription drugs, says Paul Sollitto, Chief Financial Officer at EngagementHealth.

 

A recent study by Willis Towers Watson found that the primary driver for nearly half (44%) of companies with employee benefits is to control and improve their claims data to help with ongoing cost management. This is up from a quarter (24%) in last year’s study. Mark Cook, Director at Willis Towers Watson said, “There has been a clear evolution in the rationale for companies to include employee benefits in their cost management strategies. The initial motivation is often the simple desire to save money on the ever increasing cost of providing employee benefits.”

 

This is why digital based programs are becoming so popular. Digital based apps are scalable, sustainable, great personalized tools for working professionals to improve their quality of life. They are able to deliver content and able to coach behaviors to employees who work from home, on the road, and have different needs.

These digital-first wellness programs and apps when infused with evidence-based science and learn-action-test pathways have proven to positivey impact health outcomes and stabilize costs for employers. We simplify the process to start their personalized journeys: employees can easily download our health and wellness apps that not only provides a personal space for them to schedule and track their progress, but also has the ability to provide the critical data analysis that can help to tailor a more complex program.

 

Follow us on twitter to stay current on the top cost-containment wellness strategies.

For more information on Optimity, evidence-based wellness strategies, or to schedule a demonstration, visit www.myoptimity.com

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About Optimity
We believes in 3 things: living well should be easy, energizing and fun; small actions can go a long way in leading you to success; and a culture of health is imperative to highly productive teams.

Working with physicians, trainers, nutritionists, and researchers, Optimity mindfully connects you with your habits on day to day making it fun to engage in self-improvement and self-actualization regularly. Optimity has created a way to make choosing a healthier way of life at the office and on the go both effortless and rewarding, by providing our users with personalized daily health challenges.

Our mobile apps are THE wellness-optimizing tool working to turn office potatoes into corporate athletes. To find out more about Optimity solutions, visit: www.myoptimity.com/our-solution