Life Hacks

First off, hi! It’s been a hot second since we’ve posted to the blog—we hope you missed us! Following the busy fall travel season, I’m settling back into the comfy confines of the Wellness office for the winter, so you can look forward to more posts, podcasts, videos and news about our 2019 Wellness program to start cranking out of this site at a steady pace.

In October, one of our challenges was to share a favorite “Life Hack” with us. We defined Life Hack as any tip, trick, shortcut, skill, or process that increases your daily productivity and/or efficiency, or that helps you stay consistent with a healthy behavior or habit.

As usual, our MUS population did not disappoint, and we wanted to pass back the treasure-trove of good ideas you all provided. We’ll start with some big themes and popular responses, and then plan to delve even deeper on one of our next podcasts or subsequent posts.

First, there were two very popular answers, one having to do with exercise habits, and one having to do with nutrition.

  • Exercise Habits: Laying out and/or packing the next day’s fitness outfit and footwear the night before. This eliminates the excuse of not having workout clothes, and is one less thing you have to do in the morning.
  • Diet & Nutrition: Many variations of meal planning, food prep, and batch cooking, all in the name of making weekday meals easy and healthy. I’m betting Cristin might have some commentary on this soon.

Simple healthy habits like walking and drinking water also came up quite a bit. Cristin and I were very proud of these popular responses, as we are a big proponent of these and talk about them often. The following were some more specific life hacks that were shared. Pick a favorite from the list below and try it out for yourself!

  • Take the stairs. Every time.
  • Tell fitness instructors “See you next week” as you leave class. It adds accountability.
  • Never eat straight out of a bag. Pre-portion what you want and put the bag away.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday (IPhone users, there is a function on your phone called Bedtime, which can help with this.)
  • Stretch in the shower.
  • Take a campus stroll when stress gets too high.
  • Make a daily To-Do list at the end of the day for the following day, so you come into the office focused.
  • Start off the day with gratitude.
  • Keep sweets out of the house.
  • Set up automatic bill pay.
  • If I notice I am getting distracted, I get up and stretch, take a short walk, or work on something more physical.
  • Keep a journal.
  • I recently started throwing a load of laundry in the washer as soon as I wake up in the morning. It’s ready to toss in the dryer when I leave for work…and then I’m not spending my precious evening hours dealing with laundry (or forgetting to dry it).

Great ideas! We’ll stop there to let those sink in for now, but we promise to share more soon!

Be well,


Creating a Positive Work Environment

The Wellness team’s office is on the 3rd floor of Reid Hall on the MSU Bozeman campus. Our office gets blistering hot in the summer and frigid in the winter, but is otherwise a great space. We have big windows that let in plenty of natural light, and these days, we have a perfect view of the owls that hang out during the day under the eves of neighboring Traphagen Hall.

We are also surrounded by really wonderful office neighbors, most of whom do nutrition and health-related work. I’ve known many of our 3rd-floor office-mates for years and have enjoyed getting to know them, and hearing about the work that they do. And yet, I will admit that all too often, I get into work-mode, close the door to keep out the sound of classes during the school year or construction during the summer, and only wave a brief hello when passing in the hallway.

So it was a pleasant opportunity this week when a few new employees on the 3rd floor of Reid arranged a “Meet and Treat” event. They provided fruit and coffee cake, and we spent some time getting to know one another or catching up. Despite it seeming a million degrees in the conference room, and having to use our plates as fans in an attempt to cool off, everyone stuck around for longer than I expected. I heard several people ask why we don’t do something like this more often, and at the end of the event, plans were tentatively made for another similar get-together (maybe outside in the shade next time!)

Coincidentally, I had spent time just that morning reading through responses to our latest One-Question Survey we recently asked through our Incentive Program, “What is one specific thing you could do to foster a more positive work culture or environment?” and one of the top responses was a variation of this: Interact more with my colleagues. Answers like these:

  • Consistently say good morning to co-workers every day!
  • Get to know new additions to the department
  • Encourage conversation
  • Make a visit to a different co-worker daily and say hi.
  • Ask the “How are you?” question in a way that gets beyond the reflexive “Fine” answer.
  • Ask two follow-up questions about how my colleagues are doing before sharing my own information.
  • Say hi to everyone I meet in the halls instead of keeping my head down.

No one is advocating here that we spend our time at work only socializing. Of course there’s work that needs to be done. We don’t even need to do formal get-togethers like the one that Reid Hall hosted this week, although many of you did say that more social functions, shared lunches, or team meetings would be helpful. But so many of you commented on what a difference it would make in creating a more positive work culture if we took just a moment to talk to coworkers, ask how they’re doing, greet others in our office, or simply smile.

Other top responses were similar, in that nearly all of the suggestions are (relatively) easy to do, require very little time, money, or effort, and yet can make an incredible difference in overall work culture. Here’s what you said:

  • Communicate. This includes actually listening to what others are saying. Listen to understand, instead of listening just to respond. Open communication. Don’t make assumptions.
  • Stop gossiping.
  • Complain less. Look for solutions instead of complaining. Help shut down complaining when it starts.
  • Acknowledge others’ jobs well done. Recognize and draw attention to specific achievements. Let coworkers know their work really DOES matter, more often. Show gratitude.
  • Be kind.
  • Keep a positive attitude. Look for the positive in every situation. When a challenge comes up, be the light that mentions what benefit the adversity will play for our department.

I think we can all agree that it’s much more pleasurable to work in an office where communication is open and encouraged, gossip is nonexistent, a positive attitude is the norm, hard work is recognized, and people are kind to one another. Doesn’t that sound nice? How about we collectively agree to work towards this? Even if your boss or supervisor doesn’t do much to foster a positive work environment, each individual’s attitude and actions makes a difference. A few extra minutes to actively listen, or to encourage a coworker, or to ask how someone is really doing can make work a happier, healthier place for everyone. 

I purposefully left one top response off the list above, but if all else fails, you can do what many of you also suggested and…bring donuts! (Which, ok, I get it, but as Nutrition Specialist for the MUS Wellness Program, may I kindly suggest bringing in healthy treats instead?! People like fresh fruit too!)

Be Well!



Here at MUS Wellness, we certainly don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all concept of wellness. We’re all different: different goals, different interests, different motivations, etc. Variety is the spice of life right?

That’s why one of our favorite annual Montana Moves challenges is the Wildcard challenge. It gives our participants a chance to play their fitness wildcard. For some, it’s a chance to go to their wheelhouse, and be rewarded for doing their favorite things.  For others, it’s a nudge to get out of the box a bit either by trying something new, or setting a specific goal they’ve been thinking about for a while.

I always enjoy reading how creative our MUS population is, and I find the wildcards to be very motivating. Here are a few highlights. Way to go MUS!

  • Rain, sleet, wind or snow didn’t keep me from achieving my October goal of walking or hiking outside every day in the month. And I maintained 10,000 steps or more each day in October. Yippee! Also, I went to yoga classes every week in October at least 2 times a week. My body and my future self thanks me.
  • 38 day streak of 10,000 steps or more.
  • Have been working on strength training and am now able to squat more weight than I ever have and increased my 1RM by 20%!
  • I kayaked a 24 mile section of river!
  • I’m playing volleyball again! I’ll be attending every week and bringing my A game! I haven’t played for about 10 years, but it’s all coming back to me!
  • Agreed to dance in the Nutcracker. Strapping the pointe shoes back on and rehearsing 3 days/week.
  • Yesterday I had my first consult with my new personal trainer – a first for me is having someone who is keeping me accountable on lifting.
  • After months of walking and building my strength back up, I made it to the ‘M’!
  • Did 4 great hikes in Zion and Bryce Canyon over the weekend, which has been on my bucket list for years!
  • Registered for a half marathon!
  • Doing a 30 day squat challenge. Some form of squats every day for 30 days.
  • I hiked the Wonderland Trail around Mt Rainier – 96 miles in 6 days
  • I am going for a 15 x 15 challenge. 15,000 steps for 15 days. Wish me luck.

Streaks, bucket-list items, registering for new events, or resuming an old activities seemed to be repetitive themes this year.  Hopefully the streaks and new habits are still alive as we head into the holidays!


Everything you always wanted to know…

Confused about cholesterol and eggs? Want to know more about sugar substitutes? Wondering if you should follow a gluten-free diet? If yes, you’re not alone! Those were a few of the big questions that emerged after combing through the nutrition questions that were sent in for this month’s Montana Meals Challenge of the Month. Join us on Tuesday, April 14th at 12:05pm for our webinar titled “Everything you wanted to know about Nutrition but we afraid to ask” as we discuss the current research regarding those questions, along with several other intriguing nutrition topics.  Although I can’t promise I’ll cover everything you want to know about nutrition, I will do my best to cover a variety of topics based on your questions including fish consumption, multi-vitamins, coffee, juicing, and boosting metabolism. Register for the webinar here today!

Also, because so many of your questions were a variation of “What is the best balance of carbs/fats/proteins? And what are the best & worst sources of each?” we’re devoting an entire upcoming webinar to the topic! Date TBA soon. Stay tuned!


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Food for Thought

We’ve been posting a lot of individual success stories lately; but today, we thought we’d share a campus success program from Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) in Kalispell.

MUS Wellness provides funding for initiatives that promote Wellness on a local, campus level. In the spring of 2014, a group of FVCC employees, including Chef Malcolm Orser, Dr. Heather Estrada, Human Resources Director Karen Glasser, and Campus Farm Manager Julian Cunningham came up with a brilliant idea for promoting more healthful eating on campus through a Farm to Café venture they named Food for Thought.

Food for Thought linked the FVCC campus farm with Eagles Nest Café, an on-campus café that is a popular choice for breakfast and lunch among employees. Each Wednesday during the summer of 2014, Chef Orser and employees at Eagles Nest Café provided a healthy, locally produced menu option featuring a fruit or vegetable from the campus farm. Examples of lunch specials included Spicy Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Tilapia, Roasted Red Pepper & Cauliflower Soup, and Salmon with Cucumber Mango Salsa served with a tangy Tomato, Cucumber, and Onion Salad. Other featured produce items included Swiss chard, peas, basil, and spring lettuce mix. Yum! And, as part of the Food for Thought program, employees could also save their meal receipt from lunch and receive a free item from the campus farm stand.

FVCC is fortunate to have an organic farm associated with its campus. Established in 2012, the farm serves as a learning laboratory for students in the FVCC Integrated Agriculture & Food Systems program. Organic vegetables from the farm are distributed through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and are sold at a farm stand on campus. Food for Thought provided an additional avenue for employees to access fresh produce, and perhaps more importantly, served as wonderful inspiration to eat more fresh veggies as Chef Orser demonstrated the delicious dishes that could be made using fresh farm produce! Nutrition information and recipes using the weekly featured item were also provided for participants.

Here’s what Karen Glasser had to say about the program:

“The link between our Campus Farm and the Eagles’ Nest Café was so successful that it has been proposed to be adopted as an annual event!  Frequently, our Food for Thought day was sold out and generated more revenue for the café than any other weekday.”

Way to go FVCC!

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Baby It’s Cold Outside

Here’s a Re-Blog from last January. The big cold came earlier this year, so I thought I’d repost! Stay warm out there!

Montana Moves & Montana Meals

One of my friends from New York City enjoys texting me Montana weather reports like this one when it’s particularly cold and nasty out. bozeman weather2

But Montanans are tough, and we can’t let a little cold stand in the way of us staying moving and getting outside.  This weekend, despite the fact that it was zero degrees, I still got out and ran, and was relatively comfortable, thanks to the right combination of layers.

If you want to be active in the cold—running, walking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing—think in threes.  Three layers: Base, Warmth, and Shell.

Base Layer

Your base layer is the layer of clothing that rests directly against your skin.   This layer should be a relatively lightweight, wicking fabric.  Synthetic materials like nylon & polyester blends work well.  There are some lightweight, high-performance natural options as well—Merino wool is one of my favorites.  Again, the main purpose of the base layer is to…

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Hey! Focus on that Food!

This month’s Montana Meals challenge, Enjoy Your Food, is designed to encourage mindful eating using strategies promoted by Intuitive Eating experts and dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. You can check out the full challenge details here.

As part of the challenge, and for an extra prize drawing entry, we are asking participants which strategy is most difficult for them and why. We have started to receive completed challenge logs, and while there are a wide variety of interesting answers to the most difficult strategy question, a common answer has been eliminating distractions, including TV, books, computers, phones, tablets, etc. In a culture that values multi-tasking, this is not surprising. Why just eat, when you can eat and catch up on unread emails or Facebook, watch the news, or check out scores from the latest sports games, all at the same time?

I am definitely guilty of distracted eating at times too, especially if dining alone, but a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a few reasons why we should focus on our food instead. Researchers divided the study participants into two groups. One group played online solitaire while eating lunch; the other group was fed the exact same lunch, but without the computer distraction. At 30 minutes post-meal, both groups were asked to participate in a taste test of biscuits where they could eat as many or as few biscuits as they liked. Compared to the group that ate their lunch without distractions, the distracted, solitaire-playing group, which included both men and women:

  • Reported feeling less full after lunch (despite being fed the exact same meal)
  • Ate more food when given the opportunity 30 minutes later
  • Could not remember details about their lunch as well as their non-distracted counterparts
  • Previous studies have shown that distracted eating increases the number of calories consumed at a meal, but this study suggests that being distracted during a meal can even have an effect on subsequent intake. Yikes!

Distracted eating can become an ingrained habit (i.e. you click on the TV as you sit down to eat without even a second thought) and one that is tough to break, so write yourself a note or two to leave on the kitchen table, in your car, on the front of the refrigerator, on the TV, or anywhere that it could serve as a useful reminder when you are tempted to reach for your iPad or phone, or turn on the TV during dinner.

Lastly, keep in mind that our emotions, particularly stress, can make a big impact on what and how much we eat. Don’t let work emails or upsetting world news influence your meal choices. Allow meals to be a break in the day—a time to relax, take a deep breath, and focus on the pleasure of eating.

Happy Undistracted Eating!


Oldham-Cooper RE, et al. Playing a computer game during lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake. Am J Clin Nutr 2011 93: February 308-313.

Blass EM, Anderson DR, Kirkorian HL, Pempek RA, Price I, Koleini MF. On the road to obesity: Television viewing increases intake of high-density foods. Physiol Behav 2006; 88: 597-604


Building Successful Architecture

…given a choice, humans follow the path of least resistance…we like easy.

Our March Challenge involves setting up your surrounding environment to help you achieve your goals.  This is sometimes referred to as behavioral or choice architecture.

According to Dr. B.J. Fogg, who is a world leader on this subject, human beings can be summed up by three descriptives. Dr. Fogg says human beings are:

  • Lazy
  • Social
  • Creatures of habit

Now hold on! Before you get defensive about being called lazy, let me make an example.  Have you ever, upon entering a building with several doors, changed your path to follow someone through a door that’s already open, rather than going through a closed door directly in front of you? I know I do this all the time. This is a form of laziness. More times than not, given a choice, humans follow the path of least resistance. Maybe that’s the more sensitive way to put it—we tend to follow the path of least resistance.  We like easy.

Simply being aware of this human tendency can help us make some “architectural changes” that will give us an advantage in creating those desirable behaviors and habits we know will lead to health, but are sometimes hard to follow.

Here are a few of the real architectural adjustments that our members have shared thus far as part of the COTM, and commentary on each:

  • Programming Outlook Tasks with Pop-up “Move” messages every 1/2 hour.
    • This is known as a “trigger”.  Triggers initiate behavior.  A phone ring is a perfect example of a trigger.
  • Keeping my cross-country skis on the front porch so that I can quickly go outside and ski around in my yard whenever I get a chance.
    • This is an example of taking a desired behavior (skiing/exercise) and making it easy and convenient to do.  Plus, seeing the skis on the front porch acts as a trigger.
  • I will bring veggies to work and put them in a nice mason jar at my desk so I can see them and munch instead of buying pop tarts from the vending machine.
    • This architecture involves replacing an undesirable nutrition choice with more desirable choice.  Again, the veggies in a clear jar act as a trigger, and they are easily accessible.
  • I will use the bathroom on Level 5 [2 levels up]
    • This choice creates a new habit (Humans are creatures of habit) and sneaks in a great exercise—stairs—several times a day (depending on your bladder!)
  • [I will] Pack my lunches the night before in order to avoid having to purchase something from the cafeteria.
    • A time investment the night before will yield a big payoff in the morning, which for many of us can feel more stressful because we are on a schedule and may have other demands from family or pets.  This choice makes the morning easier, saves time and money, and leads to better nutrition choices.
  • [I will] Pack all of my clothes/toiletries the night before I work out and have my work out clothes ready
    • Same thing: a small time investment the night before makes the next day easier.

If you haven’t made any changes yet this month, there’s still plenty of time to do so. If you’re really stumped, or want an extra challenge, check out Dr. Fogg’s Tiny Habits program. The program will walk you through some exercises to establish 3 new habits within a week!

Keep up the good work!


Great Falls Fitness!

Your Wellness team spent the past couple of days at Great Falls College, helping upgrade their Employee Fitness Room.  GFC has spent some of its existing Wellness funds over the years to provide employees a place to exercise, and recently purchased some new equipment for resistance exercise.  After helping rearrange the layout of the room, we also ran five short workshops to help employees become familiar with the new equipment.  We plan to produce a video featuring the new, functional space at Great Falls College, but until then, we thought we’d share some photos from our time there. We also need to thank the GFC HR department and maintenance team for all their help and for providing the resources to make this project possible!

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We helped create some functional space for yoga, stretching, and resistance training.
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Some of the new functional equipment, including medicine balls, a bench, and a TRX.
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Neal coaching some medball exercises.
“Now drop and give me 20!” Just kidding! Neal was not berating this employee–rather, she is approaching a kettlebell and getting set for a deadlift.
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Core training with resistance bands.
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Cristin trying out the new TRX suspension trainer.