5 healthy habits to help prevent colon cancer

5 healthy habits to help prevent colon cancer | UPMC Health Plan

We’ve all been told time and time again how important a healthy lifestyle is in preventing death and disease — especially cancer. In a study published last month, researchers from the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke found that five key healthy behaviors are tied to a lower risk of developing colon cancer. In both men and women, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Every year about 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease, and more than 50,000 die from it.

The 12-year study analyzed the data of 347,237 men and women from 10 countries. Researchers composed a healthy lifestyle index that included five lifestyle factors. They assigned study participants corresponding numbers of zero if they did not have these factors, or one if they did. The points were then summed to give each participant a cumulative score. Over the course of the study, 3,759 cases of colorectal cancer were detected and recorded.

Researchers discovered when analyzing the data that the more healthy lifestyle factors a person had, the lower their risk of colorectal cancer. People who had two, three, four, or all five healthy lifestyle factors had a 13, 21, 34 and 37 percent lower risk, respectively. The researchers also noted that their analysis showed no difference between men and women.

So what can you do to lower your risk according to these findings? The healthy lifestyle index was composed of these five healthy habits:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Reduce abdominal body fat.
  3. Participate in regular physical activity.
  4. Limit alcohol consumption and do not smoke.
  5. Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, yogurt, nuts, seeds, high fiber foods, and low amounts of processed meats.

If you’ve got even one of these healthy habits covered, that’s great. But the real difference in risk came into play when study participants included two to five of these habits in their lifestyle. Picking up healthy habits is easier than you might think. For example, adding just one 30-minute walk several times a week will get you to the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity to reduce risk.

If you’re a UPMC Health Plan member, get stared or stay on track with help from a health coach. They can help with weight management, nutrition, and physical activity. Some employers — like UPMC — offer credit for participating in wellness programs. Check with your employer to find out if you can receive Take a Health Step (TAHS) points for participation. 

What healthy habit will you start working on today?

Smoking and heart disease

Smoking and Heart Disease | UPMC Health Plan

If I was to ask you what health problems you can expect to get from smoking, what would your top three answers be? Many people would say:

  1. Lung cancer
  2. Emphysema
  3. Chronic bronchitis

These three are easy to think of; after all, you use your lungs to smoke. But if you know someone who smoked who never developed any of those three, did they “win?” Not likely.

According to the CDC and NIH, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable/premature death. How is it that so many smokers don’t get lung cancer, but it’s killing so many people?

Smoking causes heart disease. And heart disease is the leading cause of the death in the United States (and world).

How does smoking cause heart disease?

  • Chemicals damage the lining of blood vessels, causing inflammation.
  • That damage and inflammation causes the walls of coronary arteries to thicken, harden and gather plaque. As a result, the arteries narrow.
  • There is a dose effect: The more you smoke, the more damage you do.
  • Smoking a cigarette causes a nearly instant spike in your blood pressure.
  • Smoking causes clots to form in the blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack or a stroke.
  • Smoking also decreases HDL (good) cholesterol.

Heart disease is not the only bad result you could encounter. In fact, there are too many to list here. If you smoke, you may be doing damage to yourself that you cannot detect yet. The best thing to do is to quit as soon as possible.

Find out if your insurance plan has incentives to quit smoking at 1-888-876-2756. Your employer may have discounts for smoking cessation products, including over-the-counter medicines like nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches. UPMC employees, for instance, can get Take a Healthy Step credits by participating in one of our many tobacco cessation programs.

Are you a UPMC Health Plan member getting ready to quit smoking? You can get information and support by calling a health coach at 1-800-807-0751. Your health coach can discuss options and resources that fit what you need.

5 simple ways to prevent cervical cancer

5 simple ways to prevent cervical cancer | UPMC Health Plan

Did you know there are steps you can take to reduce or prevent your odds of getting cervical cancer? Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable gynecological cancers and you can get started as soon as today! No single step is a guarantee; the best way to protect yourself is to do everything you can. Here are five things to do now:

  1. Partner with your doctor. The best way to prevent any type of disease is to make regular visits to your doctor for annual exams, screenings, and well visits. They can alert you as to when you’re due for an important test or screening and help to catch early signs of disease. If you have UPMC Health Plan insurance, you can even earn Take a Healthy Step deductible credit dollars for this type of visit! 
  2. Get regular screenings. Depending on your age, there are different screening recommendations for your Pap test. Ask your doctor what is appropriate for you. There is also a HPV test available for women 30 years old and older that can be done at the same time as your Pap test. You can earn Take a Healthy Step deductible credit dollars for recommended preventive exams like this one. 
  3. Don’t smoke, or quit today. Women who smoke are two times more likely to develop cervical cancer compared to nonsmokers. According to The American Cancer Society, tobacco byproducts are believed to damage the DNA of the cervix cells, contributing to the development of cancer. Smoking also can also leave the immune system vulnerable to HPV infections if exposed. 
  4. Practice abstinence, monogamy, or use protection. The best way to prevent a sexually transmitted infection (like HPV) is to refrain from all forms of sexual activity. If you choose to be sexually active, having sex with just one partner can reduce your risk. So can using protection, such as condoms.
  5.  Get vaccinated. If you are 26 years old or younger (boys and girls), there are vaccinations that are licensed, safe, and effective in protecting against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. Talk to your doctor about options for you or your child.

Don’t wait — tell the important women in your life to take action and lower their risk for cervical cancer. All it takes is a phone call to schedule an exam with your doctor. If you are looking to quit smoking, give our expert health coaches a call today at 1-800-807-0571!

8 easy swaps for healthier holiday parties

8 easy swaps for a healthier holiday party | UPMC Health Plan

It’s that time of the year — the season of weight gain and resolutions to lose it. The holidays certainly come with a unique set of challenges to healthy living.

But maybe the problem is not the holiDAY. Consider this for a moment: Studies show the average person may consume around 4,500 calories throughout the day on a holiday. That’s a lot of calories! The average person needs about 2,000 calories per day, so that’s around 2,500 extra calories. But mathematically, that’s not enough extra to gain one pound (you would need 3,500 extra calories to gain a pound).

So how do people end up with the reported five- to 10-pound per year gain? The answer lies in all those other days leading up to and following the holiday. Those holiday parties, a few cookies here and there at work, a glass of eggnog with dinner, that peanut butter fudge your friend gifted you. All those things combined with physical inactivity add up to create the perfect storm of weight gain.

This year, try making a point to thoughtfully indulge on the day of the holiday (or other important day of your choosing), and stay on track the rest of the month with these easy party swaps:

  1. Say no to chips and dip. Opt for a small handful of tortilla chips and salsa instead of nacho cheese. You’ll save about 125 calories per serving!
  2. Choose the cocktail shrimp. Shrimp is much lower in calories than most other appetizers, but watch that cocktail sauce. Four tablespoons can set you back 110 calories.
  3. Skip the nuts. While nuts can be a healthy snack, it’s easy to eat way too many. A small handful can be around 200 calories (even more if they’re covered with sugar or chocolate!). Opt for popcorn instead for only about 50 calories per cup.
  4. Pass on the eggnog and cocktails. Sip champagne or a mix half wine with half sparkling water instead. Alternate one alcoholic drink with a glass of water, iced tea, or diet soda to cut calories even further. This trick also helps you avoid overindulging due to alcohol-induced spontaneity.
  5. Mushrooms instead of meatballs. You can eat about four stuffed mushrooms for the calories in a single meatball!
  6. Sample and switch. Try a few pieces from the meat and cheese tray, but then switch to the veggie tray for the rest of the night. Vegetables are very low in calories, and will leave you feeling more satisfied because of the fiber.
  7. Hummus is a tasty winner. Instead of spinach artichoke dip, try the hummus. You’ll save almost 100 calories in just two tablespoons!
  8. Opt for meringue cookies. While two chocolate chip cookies can cost you 300 calories or more, two chocolate meringue cookies are around 50 calories.

If you stand next to the buffet table, you might be tempted to pick from it all night. Try and stand farther away. Make the evening more about socialization than eating. And if you’re not sure if there will be healthier options, bring a healthy dish to share. Most hosts won’t turn that down!

If you’re a UPMC Health Plan member, stay on track with help from a health coach. They can help with weight management, nutrition, and physical activity. Some employers — like UPMC — offer credit for participating in wellness programs. Check with your employer to find out if you can receive Take a Health Step (TAHS) points for participation.

What healthy swaps do you use to keep yourself on track during the holidays?

Are e-cigarettes safer than cigarettes?

Are e-cigarettes safer than cigarettes?

What are e-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes. Some models even look like regular cigarettes. They’re also called “personal vaporizers.” People who use these devices may call it “vaping” instead of smoking.

E-cigarettes vs. regular cigarettes

What’s different:

  • E-cigarettes contain no tobacco.
  • They don’t burn. Instead they heat a water, glycerine, nicotine, and flavor mixture into a vapor that can be inhaled. The water and glycerine mixture is similar to what is made into fog at concerts and Halloween parties.

What’s the same:

  • Both deliver nicotine — which is very addictive.

Who uses e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are becoming very popular with smokers who:

  • Would like to be rid of cigarettes, but are still addicted to nicotine.
  • Crave “that feeling” of smoking with their hands, mouths, throats, and lungs.
  • Feel insecure about being without cigarettes.

Do e-cigarettes help people quit smoking?

There is currently no scientific evidence that shows they help. If the goal is to quit smoking cigarettes by vaping, and then quit vaping, it doesn’t look good. So beware of unproven claims by e-cigarette companies. Their devices are nicotine delivery systems, just like cigarettes. You can become addicted to nicotine no matter how it’s delivered. The manufacturers are counting on that.

Are e-cigarettes harmful?

Maybe; it’s too early to tell. If you consider vaping an option, keep in mind that:

  • Water and glycerine fog mixes are generally considered safe, but there is no science studying the effects of taking in a concentrated dose several times daily over an extended period.
  • Even if a mixture is shown to be safe (and it will take a long time to determine that), there are currently no regulations in place to make sure that the mixtures are standardized. They could vary by manufacturer. They could even change by mistake or at the whim of a manufacturer.
  • There is no standardization of the devices, either. Some kinds of e-cigarettes have been known to explode or catch fire. In some cases the chargers failed or were mixed up with other devices. In other cases the devices themselves were faulty.
  • Nicotine, along with being addictive, is toxic. The vaping cartridges often come as colored liquids, which are attractive to young children. In 2014, poison center calls related to e-cigarettes averaged 215 per month.
  • Users often complain of sore mouths and throats, as well as nausea and vomiting.
  • The action of vaping still looks like smoking. It will likely be met with the same social disapproval, since people around you still have to smell and inhale the product.

That’s a lot to think about. Now consider the fact that many nicotine replacement products, like the patch, the gum, or the lozenge, are also sold over the counter. They also reduce nicotine withdrawal, but without the sharp spikes in nicotine delivery. These nicotine replacement products are designed to help you become free of nicotine, not keep you coming back for more.

If the feeling of holding something in your hand and inhaling from it is what you have a hard time giving up, consider a nicotine inhaler. They are hand-held and shaped like a cigarette. They require a prescription, so talk to your doctor. Again, the inhalers are designed to help you ultimately quit using nicotine.

Find out if your insurance plan has incentives to quit smoking at 1-888-876-2756. Your employer may have discounts for smoking cessation products, including over-the-counter medicines like nicotine gum, lozenges, or patches. UPMC employees, for instance, can get credit toward Take a Healthy Step by participating in one of our many tobacco cessation programs.

Want more information and support for your quit attempt? Call a health coach at 1-800-807-0751.

5 ways to fight the flu

 5 Ways To Fight The Flu | UPMC Health Plan

“Oh boy, I can’t wait to get the flu” — said no one, ever. But the CDC estimates that between five and 20 percent of people in the U.S. do come down with the flu each year. The virus can be serious, too. Its complications send more than 200,000 people to the hospital during the average flu season. Worse, the flu evolves much faster than we do. So you never know when a strain might come along that can get past your defenses — even if you beat last year’s flu.

Can you get through flu season without the flu? There are no guarantees, but you can improve your odds with these safeguards:

1. Try not to have close contact with sick people.

Easy to say, not so easy to do. You can’t exactly barricade yourself in your room all winter. It’s still worth mentioning, though, because staying away from germs is an effective way to avoid catching them. If you do get sick, you can help others avoid your germs by staying home until at least 24 hours after your fever has gone away on its own.

2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

The flu only makes you sick when it’s inside your body. And these openings on your face are the entrance it often uses. Which brings us to:

3. Perfect your hand-washing skills.

Sometimes you have to care for a sick loved one, or scratch an itch on your nose. You can’t really control those things. But this flu safeguard is literally all in your hands. The key is to wash them often and thoroughly. If your hands get dry from soaps or cold weather, use moisturizer. That’s important; you don’t want the skin on your hands to crack.

4. Keep yourself (and your immune system) in good shape.

What this means: Eat a healthy diet that is rich in vitamins. Get enough sleep. You will not only help your body stay in top form to fight off the flu, you’ll feel better all around.

5. Get a flu shot.

There are many reasons to do this. You can protect yourself from getting sick, and also people around you. Very young children and people with chronic health conditions have a higher risk of getting seriously ill from the flu. The vaccination may make your symptoms milder if you do get sick.

Bonus: Some employers — like UPMC — offer credit for getting a flu shot as part of their employee wellness program. If you’re a UPMC employee, getting a flu shot before the Nov. 12 deadline is a quick way to earn Take a Healthy Step (TAHS) points.And you can still get TAHS points whether you get your flu shot at your PCP’s office, employee health clinic, or local drug store.Check with your employer to find out if and when flu shots will be available to employees.

This information is not meant to serve as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about getting the flu shot, make sure you speak with your doctor. Or call our 24/7 advice line at 1-866-918-1591.

What is a biometric screening?

What is a biometric screening?

You might hear the term “biometric screening” a lot. It’s a part of UPMC’s Take a Healthy Step wellness program, and your doctor probably recommends having one every so often. But what exactly is a biometric screening?

A biometric screening is a quick test session that provides you with key health information. Your doctor will measure your blood pressure, height, and weight, and also calculate your BMI. And that’s not all — you will have a fasting blood draw to measure total cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterols, triglycerides, and blood glucose levels.

Conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes often do not have any symptoms at all. Regular biometric screenings can help you take control of conditions before they damage your health further. Most health guidelines suggest having a biometric screening at least every five years, or as often as your doctor recommends.

Some employers — including UPMC — provide credit for completing a biometric screening as part of their employee wellness program. If you are due for a biometric screening, be sure to refer to your Take a Healthy Step guide or call our Member Advocate Team at 1-888-876-2756 for specific instructions on scheduling your appointment.

So what do your results mean? Here are the desirable levels:

  • Total cholesterol
    • Less than 200 mg/dL is desirable
    • 200 – 240 mg/dL is borderline high
    • Above 240 mg/dL is considered high
  • HDL cholesterol
    • Women
      • 60 mg/dL or above is optimal
      • 50 – 59 mg/dL is healthy
      • Below 50 mg/dL is unhealthy
    • Men
      • 60 mg/dL or above is optimal
      • 40 – 59 mg/dL is healthy
      • Below 40 mg/dL is unhealthy
  • LDL cholesterol
    • Less than 100 mg/dL is desirable
    • 100 – 159 mg/dL is borderline high
    • 160 mg/dL or above is high
  • Triglycerides
    • Less than 150 mg/dL is desirable
    • 150 – 200 mg/dL is borderline high
    • Above 200 mg/dL is high
  • Blood glucose
    • Below 100 mg/dL is normal
    • 100 – 125 mg/dL is considered pre-diabetic
    • 126 mg/dL or above is considered diabetes
  • Blood pressure
    • Below 120/80 is desirable
    • 120/80 – 140/90 is pre-hypertensive
    • Above 140/90 is hypertensive
  • Body Mass Index (BMI)
    • Below 25 is desirable
    • 25 – 30 is overweight
    • Above 30 is obese

Once you have your results, you may have questions about them. Or maybe you are ready to take action and improve your results. Either way, our staff is here to help! Health coaches are available to UPMC Health Plan members. Your health coach can review your results with you, and help you set specific goals for your numbers.

Contacting a health coach may also earn you additional credits in your employee wellness program! Our health coaches also specialize in weight loss, healthy eating, exercise, stress management, and tobacco cessation. They really can help you manage all areas of your health and wellness. To talk to a health coach, call 1-800-807-0751 Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This information is not meant to diagnose any condition. If you have any questions or concerns about your individual test values, make sure you speak with your doctor. Or call our 24/7 advice line at 1-866-918-1591.


Step up to the plate!


Be sure to register for Home Run for Health. This brand new baseball-themed program helps you increase your physical activity, improve your health, and earn Take a Healthy Step (TAHS) deductible credit dollars. You’ll also be eligible to win Pirates baseball tickets! The challenge goes from May 12 to July 11, and you need to register by May 5.

How you play
Use My Activity Tracker* to log your activity. You earn one home run for every 10,000 steps that you record. (Many activities in the tracker count as steps.) The more active you are, the more home runs you earn. The more home runs you earn, the fitter you become. The program goes for nine innings, with each inning lasting one week.

The payoff pitch
When you complete the program by logging your activities in the tracker for 27 days (an average of three days per week), you’ll earn 75 deductible credit dollars. Better still, after nine short weeks, if you’re diligent about hitting those home runs, you’ll be fitter, healthier, and more energized.

That’s a steal!
Need incentive to play hard? You’ll be entered in a weekly drawing for two tickets to a Pirates game at PNC Park when you log steps three or more times during the week. Log an average of three times a week during all nine weeks of the program and you’ll be eligible for the Grand Prize: two tickets to the September 20 game and the On-Field Batting Practice Experience before first pitch!

Batter up
Register now to reserve your place on the team. Go to: My HUB > Human Resources > MyHealth OnLine > MyHealth Central > Health Tools > Wellness Event Registration > Home Run for Health.

Contact us at HomeRun@upmc.edu.


*Follow this path to access My Activity Tracker: My HUB > Human Resources > MyHealth OnLine > MyHealth Central > Health Tools > My Activity Tracker.