Fighting the Flu with Food

Although it’s too early to draw conclusions, data suggests that the 2018/2019 flu vaccine has been a good match against the main strains going around, and this year’s season is shaping out to be milder than last’s. Even so, the latest reports from the CDC show that the flu is still widespread across the U.S., and the season could extend until May. So we’re not quite out of the woods yet. Although my household has avoided the flu so far, we’ve still had our share of colds and stomach bugs in the past few months. Ugh.

That being said, we’re doing everything in our power to stay healthy, and eating well plays a significant role! While consuming a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and protein is the best strategy for getting the nutrients you need, research has shown us that some nutrients in particular are important for a strong immune system. These immune-boosting nutrients include zinc, selenium, iron, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B-6, and B-9 (folic acid). Probiotics have also been identified as potentially immune-boosting.

While it may be tempting to pop a multi-vitamin and call it good, the research is clear that when it comes to nutrients, whole food sources are best. So here is a list of 10 foods to include in your diet to ensure you are getting the nutrition you need to stay healthy during these long, cold winter months!

  • Spinach – This favorite leafy green is high in iron, selenium, folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Throw it into a smoothie if you’re not fond of it otherwise. 
  • Red bell peppers –  Did you know that red bell peppers are higher in vitamin C than an orange? Slice peppers into strips and eat raw with hummus or put into a stir fry for dinner.
  • Sunflower seeds – These little seeds make an excellent salad topping or trail mix addition, and are high in copper, selenium and vitamin E.
  • Garlic – The cold and flu-fighting benefit of garlic is thought to come from allicin, a compound that is formed when garlic is crushed or chopped. Studies suggest allicin may help prevent a cold or flu, and reduce its severity if you do get sick.
  • Almonds – A handful of almonds makes a perfect mid-morning snack. Like sunflower seeds, they are high vitamin E, copper, and also zinc.
  • Chicken or turkey – The notion that chicken noodle soup is good for a cold goes beyond the old wives’ tale. Poultry is an excellent source of zinc, selenium, iron, and B-6; all vital for a strong immune system.
  • Salmon – Great source of selenium, B-6, and protein. Cooking salmon in parchment paper is my favorite preparation method.
  • Broccoli – What’s a list of healthy foods if it doesn’t include broccoli? This darling of vegetables is high in vitamin C and folate.
  • Dried beans – Cold, wintry days often beg for a warm bowl of chili or white bean soup. Make a big batch to enjoy all week and you’ll be supporting your immune system with extra iron and folate.
  • Yogurt – Yogurt provides zinc, selenium, and probiotics, the good kind of bacteria that supports a healthy gut microbiome. Some flavored yogurts can be very high in sugar, so choose plain yogurt and stir in fresh fruit or a little maple syrup for sweetener. If you don’t eat dairy, get your probiotics from other sources like fermented vegetables or kombucha.
  • Bonus: Oysters. Probably not a standard food choice here in Montana, but oysters are an incredibly rich source of zinc and copper. They can be a popular choice for Valentine’s Day, so if you’re planning to cook a V-Day meal for your sweetheart, consider adding immune-boosting oysters to the menu.

In addition to the nutrients we should be eating, there are also a couple that we should limit if we want our immune system in top form: sugar and alcohol. While saying that sugar suppresses the immune system may be an oversimplification, it’s still a good idea to moderate your intake. The same goes for alcohol. So if you’re getting low on sick days, consider skipping that drink or dessert and eating an extra handful of broccoli instead!

Finally, while nutrition is important, let’s not forget the power of frequent handwashing, adequate sleep, and physical activity. It’s also not too late to get a flu shot. Getting vaccinated is still proven to be the best way to prevent the flu.

Be Well!


Wellchat Episode 11: These Go to Eleven

Eposode 11: Recorded February 5th. Neal and Cristin share their favorite goofy movies, which naturally leads into a conversation about exercise intensity. Happy American Heart Month!

For further insight into this week’s Wellchat, check out this clip.

The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!

Wellchat Episode IX: Making Success Simple & Easy

Episode 9: It’s a New Year, Cristin’s back, and the MUS Wellness team discusses resolutions and goals. Why do most quickly fall by the wayside, while a select few grow into transformations?

In Episode 9, we discuss the concepts of Starting Small, Making things Easy, and “Doing something today that your tomorrow self will thank you for.”

The Montana Moves & Meals Wellchat is available on Itunes podcasts! Subscribe and take us with you for a walk, run, or drive!


2017 Montana Report Card

Just in time for finals and the end of the semester, America’s Health Rankings just published their 2017 Annual Report, so it’s time to see which areas Montana is head of the class, and where we need to work a little harder in order to be among the healthiest states in the land. (I’m not a competitive person at all 😉 )

Montana ranks this year as the 22nd healthiest state, up from #23 last year. Hey, we’ll take the improvement, but there’s still a lot more to do. I mean, North Dakota beat us y’all. C’mon.

Top 5: 1. Massachusetts. 2. Hawaii. 3. Vermont. 4. Utah. 5. Connecticut.

Other western states in the Top-10 include Colorado (#7), and Washington (#9).

Bottom Tier: The entire south, including my homeland of Arkansas (#48), and West Virginia.

The annual rankings are based on six broad categories which include 35 total health-related  sub-categories.  Let’s take a look at some highlights and needs-improvement areas for Montana in each category.  Keep in mind, lower rankings are better (1-50 scale, with 1 the best and 50 the worst).

Behaviors (#16)

Head of the Class: Obesity. We rank 6th in adult obesity, with a rate of 25.5%. The national average is a scary 29.9% (an all-time high), and rates across the south average in the mid-to-high 30s.

Head of the Class: Physical Inactivity. We rank 10th in this category. 19.9% of adults reported doing no physical activity or exercise other than their jobs in a 30 day period. The national average is 23.1%. My Montana Moves High Five reflect this philosophy: Move more, sit less; Play Outside, Have Fun. 

Needs Improvement: Smoking and Excessive Drinking. These two categories are a big reason Montana is not in the Top-20 or better when it comes to the overall rankings. We rank 44th in excessive drinking, with 1-in-5 adults reporting either binge drinking or chronic drinking in a 30 day period.  With smoking, we’re 33rd, with 18.5% reporting smoking every or some days.

Community & Environment (#23)

Head of the Class: Air Pollution. What a blessing to live in a state with clean air. We’re #9 in this one. Now if we could only get those wildfires under control…

Needs Improvement: Pertussis. We rank 49th in incidence of whooping cough. This one’s linked to immunizations—stay tuned for this in the next category.

Policy (#41)

This category really hurt our overall ranking, and it has everything to do with immunization rates.

Head of the Class: Public Health Funding. Montana comes in at #11 with $111 state dollars per person dedicated to public health. The federal government gives $86 per person through the CDC and Health Resources Services.

Needs Improvement: Child Immunization. We’re #48, with only 63.6% of young children receiving recommended immunizations for infectious diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis, measles, mumps, polio, influenza, etc.  Adolescent Immunization rank isn’t much better, at #43.

Clinical Care (#19)

Head of the Class: (Tie—close enough) Preventable Hospitalizations (#13), Low Birthweight (#14), Mental Health Providers (#16), Dentists (#19).

Needs Improvement: Primary Care Physicians. We rank 44th with only 113 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents. The national average is 149. More physicians means more access to care, and more personal, high-quality care.

Outcomes (#12)

Head of the Class: Diabetes. We rank 5th, with only 8.1% of adults being diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes is a huge driver of healthcare cost, and can lead to many negative heath outcomes, so to rank so high here is awesome.  Kudos to our friends at Take Control, for all they do to help with this one.

Head of the Class: Disparity in Health Status. This category measures how education impacts self-reported health status.  In Montana, it doesn’t as much as it does elsewhere. We’re #7.

Need’s Improvement: Premature Death (#36), and Frequent Physical Distress (#30).  The measure for premature death is a little hard to wrap my head around, so I’m just going to trust that we can do better. Whereas 12.1% of adults reported their physical health was not good 14 or more days in a 30-day period.

Montana’s Top drivers of positive and negative health outcomes.

The sub-categories that impacted Montana in the most positive ways statistically were:

  1. Air Pollution (#9)
  2. Obesity (#6)
  3. Disparity in Health Status (#7)
  4. Diabetes (#5)

The sub-categories that impacted Montana in the most negative ways statistically were:

  1. Child Immunizations (#48)
  2. Pertussis (#49)
  3. Primary Care Physicians (#44)
  4. Smoking (#33)

If you’re a statistics and numbers nerd like me, and want to delve into the report yourself, just click on the links in the introduction of this article. There’s so much great info packed in there.

So Montana, are we up to the challenge of cracking into the Top 20 in 2018?  I think we can do it. Let’s prove we’re the Last Best Place.

Be Well!


Introducing: The RAM.

“We’re really doing it Harry!”              —Lloyd Christmas

Cristin and I spend a lot of time talking about goal setting, and then how to apply healthy behaviors to help achieve the stated goal. It’s kind of our shtick. Every January, your Wellness Team practices what we preach by writing down some professional, personal, and athletic goals for the year. If I’m being honest, I probably get most excited about the athletic goals 🙂

This year, and I don’t know exactly where it came from, I had a crazy idea. You might call it a stretch goal, and I’m talking about a big stretch. But I wrote it down. As I like to say, “It’s not really a goal until you write it down.” After I wrote it down, I started talking about it to my close friends and family, and I was surprised by their excitement and support. Then I started thinking about it logistically. How would I do this? What would it look like? How much help would I need? Could I make it? Then I started training for it. And now, I’m saying it publicly, so it gets even more real.

This summer, I’m going to ride my road bike across Montana. (Yikes!)

I’m calling it the RAM (Ride Across Montana), and I’m really excited about the challenge and the adventure; and I’m especially excited to share it with you! I’m lucky enough to tour this amazing state of ours via automobile as part of my job, and there isn’t a spot I visit that I don’t enjoy. So why not go by bike, and connect some amazing dots?

I won’t give away all the details yet, but I will tell you that I will be crossing and visiting several MUS locations on my trip. There is also plans for a video, plus lots of photos and stories, which I’ll be sharing here and via twitter. Oh, and Going-to-the-Sun Road. Yeah. I’m riding that.

The RAM is happening in late June/early July. I hope you’ll come along for the journey!



Montana Moves Ski Training Video

Happy Ski Season everyone! This fall Montana Moves debuted a new Ski Training workshop. We were inspired by the workshop to make a supplemental video, and here it is, just in time for the season!

Happy skiing!

Montana Moves Ski Training from Montana University Sys. Wellness on Vimeo.

Disclaimer: Many exercises and drills demonstrated in this video are advanced, and include ballistic and high impact movements. Make sure you have a good foundation of general strength and conditioning before utilizing some of these movements. Exercise reps/times in the video are suggestions only. Reps/times should be based on the individual’s fitness level and training history. This video is intended to demonstrate individual warm-ups and exercises that can be utilized as part of a training program, it is not intended to be a stand-alone, guided exercise routine.

Doing Work (HR)

…measuring our heart rate is an excellent tool for measuring exercise intensity. Simply put, your heart rate doesn’t lie.

Last week we kicked off American Heart Month by sharing some fun-facts about your heart and also talked about simple ways to measure exercise intensity.

In this post, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into heart rate (HR), and how you can use your HR to measure intensity.

First, let’s talk about what your heart does. Your heart’s job is to pump blood without oxygen to the lungs to pick up oxygen, and then to pump the oxygen-rich blood back out to your brain, muscles, organs, and even back to the heart muscle itself, all in a constant effort to keep you alive. And we don’t even have to think about it. It just happens automatically. Phew.

The heart beats in a tempo that satisfies your body’s need for oxygen. At rest, it beats just enough to get your brain and body the oxygen required to function and thrive. If more oxygen is needed, the first response of the heart is to beat faster.

One system that can require a lot of oxygen if called upon to do work, is our muscular system. For muscles to produce enough energy to sustain work, oxygen is required, along with energy from the food we eat, like carbohydrates and fats. The food-fuel molecules are burned through complex biochemical reactions right in your muscle cells, and oxygen is delivered via an intricate capillary system to aid in these reactions. The super-hero oxygen molecules swoop in riding red blood cells, freshly pumped from the heart. I like to envision them wearing capes.

You have around 4 trillion RBCs per liter of blood, every one of them carring O2 to where you need it most. And yes, that’s trillion, with a T.

All of this is to say that when we work hard, our hearts follow suit by beating faster in order to pump more blood and deliver more oxygen. Because of this phenomenon, measuring our heart rate is an excellent tool for measuring exercise intensity. Simply put, your heart rate doesn’t lie.

You can measure your HR several ways: with a simple finger to neck or wrist (count your pulse for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4), or by using a HR monitor you wear, that is built into a piece of cardio equipment (usually hand holds), or even through a smart phone app (there’s one called Instant Heart Rate that I like).

If all this heart rate/exercise intensity talk is new to you, the first step is simply starting to get in touch with how you feel at different HR numbers. Learn where your HR usually lands at rest, for light activities such as walking, for moderate aerobic activities that you can sustain, and for vigorous work that leaves you breathless. Getting in touch with our HR can be a great step in raising the awareness of our exercise intensity, and it’s not just to get people to work harder (although most of us can benefit from adding more intense minutes to our routine). Some of you warrior-like, Type-A’s who train hard, who are driven to great efforts by your goals, can actually use heart rate to pull in the reigns every now and then. Rest days are good for the consistent or heavy exerciser. Easy days help our bodies recover. Many coaches who work with endurance athletes will tell you that both recreational and professional athletes alike tend to go too hard on easy days, and sometimes not hard enough on the challenging workout days. These coaches often rely on HR monitors to make sure athletes are giving solid effort when necessary, and at the same time not overtraining when they should be taking it easy.

Next week, for those of you who are interested and want more, I’ll demonstrate how to crunch some of your HR numbers as we delve into the next level. For those of you just beginning to experiment, simply getting in touch with your HR can yield some great insights and excellent biofeedback regarding your exercise.

Have fun with it, and go play outside this weekend!



Race Recap: Grand Teton Half Marathon

teton half1
                             Congrats on a job well done!

In November 2014, Kayte Kaminski of MSU Bozeman heard about the inaugural Grand Teton Half Marathon, and began recruiting a team to run it.  The Grand Teton Half Marathon is part of the Vacation Races Series that currently runs annual half marathons near eight National Parks. The Inaugural Grand Teton Half Marathon was on June 6, 2015, and offered stunning views of the Grand Tetons on a challenging but overwhelmingly beautiful course. The 13.1 mile course started at Wilson, WY at a little over 6,100 ft and finished at the Spring Gulch Golf Course at an elevation of over 6,300ft.

The team started with ten MSU and MSU-connected runners just to save $10 (teams with six or more runners got a discount) but as time went on the team evolved and developed camaraderie. Several of the runners dropped off due to injury or summer events that came up. However, the core 6 remained, trained, and headed to the Tetons ready to run on June 6th. All six runners finished the 13.1 mile race. The team also surprised themselves by placing 4th out of 18 teams and one team member took 5th place in her age category! Well done!

A few notes/quotes from the MSU team members:

“I was training for a full marathon being held two weeks after this race, but decided to sign up for the 1/2 marathon team as my marathon training was very solitary at times. Being a part of the team was an enjoyable way to get in my training and also support other runners achieve their goals. The event itself was more challenging than I expected due to it being uphill and at higher elevation that Bozeman. The funniest part of the race was when one of team members overtook me on a hill and yelled “Suck it up, buttercup!” which is one of my own mantras! It was a great finding out when we’d finished that we’d got 4th place out of 18 teams!”    —Sarah Hendrikx, Extended University

teton half2.PNG
                                                                    Everyone needs a good Mantra.

“Back during my master’s program I was running sprint triathlons and had always wanted to complete my bucket list goal of completing a half marathon but I hadn’t revisited the idea in many years until last November. With an amazing group of teammates and great support from friends and family I was so proud to cross the finish line—with all my 13.1 mile mantras written on my hand— “Make your mom proud”, “look up!”, “Run the mile you’re in”, and of course what has quickly become our team mantra— “Suck it up buttercup!” A great day, a great race, beautiful views, and a bucket list item checked off!    —Kayte Kaminski, MSU College of Letters and Science

“Over the last three years I had taken up running a 5k or two a year and found running a great way to relax and de-stress.  I was thinking about challenging myself to run my first half marathon before my 50th birthday and when Kayte told me about the Grand Teton Half it seemed perfect.  The team element was particularly fun with all of us motivating one another to meet our individual goals. Race day was beautiful and our team mantras and camaraderie were particularly memorable.”      —Tami Eitle, MSU College of Letters and Science

“I just wanted to see 13.1 miles of the pretty mountains.”     —Mike Wright, MSU College of Letters and Science

We had such a wonderful time training and running as a team that some of our team members are planning on running the Zion Half in this same series in March 2016.  Please let us know if anyone wants to join our team!

Bike to Work Week!

It’s Bike to Work Week!  Check out what’s happening this week in your community to celebrate, as many local businesses will have perks for commuters. Here are some weblinks for events in Helena, Missoula, and Bozeman for events this week and all month long for National Bike Month. If you live in another community, check your local news or businesses for more events!

National Bike to Work Week 2015! from Montana University Sys. Wellness on Vimeo.