30-Day Nutrition Upgrade — It’s Back!!

Last April, we offered a pilot program of the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade to 130 MUS Benefits Plan members. The 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade, developed by nutrition expert Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, CNS, is a simple, yet highly effective way to reshape your eating habits and boost your nutrition. The program requires only about two minutes a day and can be effortlessly incorporated into any daily routine. It’s not a diet or a detox, and there are no forbidden foods.

At the conclusion of the pilot program, we collected feedback from our MUS participants, and here’s what we found:

  • 97% of participants made a positive change to eating habits as a result of the program!
  • The most commonly cited dietary changes that participants made included:
    • More veggies
    • Better snacking
    • More legumes
    • Better planning
    • Less sugar
  • Many participants reported more energy/improved mood, fewer digestive issues, enjoying their food more, and weight loss (even though weight loss is not a focus of the program). 

In addition, here’s what two participants specifically said about the Upgrade:

  • “…I am always wary of diets and so many extreme approaches to nutrition that are out there. I’ve wanted more structure to help improve my nutrition, but have been afraid of falling into the obsessive diet traps. I loved the balanced and non-restrictive nature of the program.”

  • “I felt that the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade was an amazing experience. It’s a wonderful addition to the MUS Wellness Program, and I would recommend the Upgrade to anyone!”

Due to the success of the pilot program, we are thrilled to announce that the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade for MUS is back! We will offer the program again this fall, beginning Friday, October 12th at a cost of $10/person (savings of $30 off the regular price). Included in the program:

  • Live one-hour online kickoff, plus access to a video recording of the session afterwards
  • Nutrition GPA app for iOS or Android
  • Downloadable handouts and other program materials
  • Two live check-ins midway through the program
  • Frequent communication and support from program leaders, Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, and Cristin Stokes, RDN, LN
  • Private Facebook group for Montana University System participants for ongoing connection and support

To learn more about the program, and read about Cristin’s personal experience, click here.

The program is open to all MUS Benefits Plan members, including spouses and dependents over 18 years old, and registration opens Tuesday, October 2nd. Mark your calendars and watch for an email from your campus Human Resources or Wellness contact on that morning! If you have questions about the program, check out the information here or email me at cristin.stokes@montana.edu

New Exercise Library

For our latest MUS Wellness online resource, we’ve added a new Exercise Library. You can access the library by clicking the link above or by navigating there via the drop-down on the Events & Media tab located at the top-right of these pages. Currently, the library contains 40 exercises grouped into the following categories:

  • Dynamic Warmups
  • Lower Body Bilateral (Both legs)
  • Lower Body Unilateral (Single leg)
  • Upper Body Push
  • Upper Body Pull
  • Core (Movement)
  • Core (Anti-Movement)
  • Agility/Finisher

This resource is intended to be a reference-type tool to:

  1. Help you select some basic exercises to incorporate into a resistance training routine.
  2. Learn/reinforce correct technique for these exercises.
  3. If you’re comfortable, build your own workout by selecting one to two exercises from each category, which would give you a full-body workout utilizing your major muscle groups and joint actions.

This is the first draft of this library, so we’d love to hear any feedback you have so that we can constantly update and improve it.

This library is not comprehensive. There are literally hundreds of movements and exercises you can do at the gym or at home. This library includes some basics and some of our favorites. Please select exercises to match your current fitness ability and health status. Consult a personal trainer for more help, or to customize a personalized fitness program.

For further resistance training resources from MUS Wellness/Montana Moves, check out the following webinar:

…or browse our Montana Moves video library to find more detailed descriptions on certain exercises and movements.

Be Well (and strong)!


Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving break is here. It’s snowing as I write this. I’m drinking coffee and Cristin and I are pouring though the hundreds of 2015 Wellness stories you guys are sending our way. Life is good.

As we read your success stories, it makes us feel really grateful to work with and for such a diverse group of people, all with different goals and dreams. You guys make our jobs fun (most of the time, anyway 😉 )

Your Wellness Team is wishing all of you a restful, relaxing, and festive Thanksgiving! In December you can look forward to us sharing many success stories with you.

We’re also actively planning our 2016 programming, and are excited for another year of fun challenges, education, and all the time moving toward better health and well-being.

For all of you participating in a Turkey Day race of some sort—stay warm out there! You might want to check out one of our posts about cold weather:  Baby it’s Cold Outside.

Enjoy the Holiday!

Neal Andrews & Cristin Stokes



If you have kids, or spend time with kids, you are familiar with “Owies” and “Boo-Boos”. The nice thing about owies is they are usually short lived. Kids are resilient. After a few tears, they routinely shake off epic crashes and collisions that would probably lay us up for days.

As active adults, we get our fair share of pain as well, but unlike our kids, it seems that the older we get, the longer our aches and pains persist. So being proactive with pain prevention and treatment becomes essential as we age, especially if we aspire to keep moving well.

Here are a few simple tips to keep the pain away in the first place. As the old adage goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Warm Up and Cool Down. As I get older, my warm up gets longer. A good warm up prepares the body for movement, and can include:

  • Foam Rolling or other Self-Myofascial release
  • Dynamic movements that incorporate full range of motion around major joints
  • Light to moderate carido to increase blood flow to working muscles and raise core body temperature
  • Light stretching

I usually don’t have a set amount of time that I warm up for.  I just warm up until I feel ready for the main part of the workout.  A good warm up will feel like it flows into your workout.  It’s a build up. Your post-exercise cool down works much the same way, but in reverse. It helps slowly bring us back down to our baseline, and often includes more stretching.

Mobility & Strength. These two elements of fitness are weak links for many who focus primarily on cardio. Assess yourself, or make an appointment with a good personal trainer for an assessment. Then look to loosen and lengthen tight areas through stretching, mobility exercises, or yoga; and strengthen weak areas through resistance training. It’s a good bet that you’ll feel better, perform better, and will be less injury prone.

Don’t do too much too soon. This may very well be the #1 source of most adults’ pain and injury when it comes to exercise. We just do too much—especially if we’re coming off a long layoff from exercise. You can’t get in shape in a day. Instead, get fit slowly and methodically.  Doing a little everyday is so much better than doing a lot at once and then having to take several days off because you’re so sore or have injured yourself.

Finally, simply Listen to your body and don’t forget to get enough quality rest!

Many of you asked a question related to pain or injury as part of our recent “Ask an Exercise Question” Challenge. Our first webinar was last week, and Part 2 is coming up in October. During the October webinar, we’ll be answering some of your pain, treatment, and injury related questions! Below you’ll find a registration link, as well as a recording of Part 1 of the Ask an Exercise Question series, in case you missed it!

Have fun getting in shape slowly!


Register for “Everything you wanted to know about Exercise…Part 2!  October 28th at 12:05pm

Last week’s “Everything you wanted to know about Exercise” webinar.

Everything you always wanted to know about Exercise but were afraid to ask. from Montana University Sys. Wellness on Vimeo.

Great Falls Fitness Video

Last spring MUS Wellness had the opportunity to help Great Falls College upgrade their Employee Fitness Room. The following video demonstrates exercises that can be done with the new free weight equipment at GFC. For those of you not at GFC, the equipment utilized can be found in most gyms, or purchased for home use. These exercises are examples of basic movements that can be incorporated into a resistance training routine.

Here is a list of exercises demonstrated in the video:

  • Kettlebell
    • Deadlift
    • Front Squat
    • Single Arm Row
  • Body Bar/Barbell
    • Deadlift to toes
    • Bent Row
    • Overhead Press
    • Squat to Overhead Press
  • Medicine Ball
    • Front Squat
    • Front Squat to Overhead Press
    • Lifts
    • Shuffle
    • Jumping Jacks
    • Overhead Press to Knee
    • Toe Taps
This video demonstrates exercises that can be incorporated into a resistance training program. It is for educational purposes. It is not intended to be a stand-alone exercise program or prescription. Please consult a physician if beginning an exercise program, exercise within your limits, and progress slowly. Consult a certified personal trainer for tips on exercise prescription and correct form.

Water, Caffeine, and Happy Hydration

Our new Wellness platform & incentive program is off to a great start! Many of you have joined this month’s Montana Meals Drink (Water) & Be Merry challenge on the platform & it’s great to see you using this tool to track your water intake. As a reminder, while only employees have access to the online platform at this time, spouses and adult dependents over 18 can still participate in and win prizes for the Montana Moves & Montana Meals Challenges of the Month! All of our other Wellness programs including Take Control, Ask-an–Expert, webinars and workshops, will continue to be free and available to spouses and adult dependents on the MUS insurance plan as well. So, if you are an employee, please encourage your spouse to get or to stay involved!

When this month’s challenge was announced, I included the following statement in the challenge description, “Coffee and tea are not dehydrating as once believed, but water is still your best drink option!” I got an email response from someone wondering then, if coffee and tea are non-dehydrating as once believed, why are caffeinated beverages not recommended?

First, unless someone is sensitive to the effects of caffeine, I don’t necessarily discourage caffeinated beverages. Numerous studies suggest benefits to caffeine including decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. Most of the studies look at coffee consumption specifically, and the association is strongest for people drinking 3-5 cups per day. 3 cups per day is usually considered moderate intake.

However, caffeine can significantly disrupt sleep, so according to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s best to stop drinking caffeinated beverages 4-6 hours before bedtime. In addition, too much caffeine can make you jittery, cause headaches, and be habit-forming.

In terms of hydration, caffeine itself is a diuretic, which means it causes your body to lose fluid through increased urination. If you were taking straight caffeine pills, and not replacing the lost fluid, dehydration could become an issue.  But, if you take that caffeine in tea or coffee, the fluid helps make up for caffeine’s diuretic effect. And, if you are accustomed to drinking coffee, studies show that your body will actually adapt to minimize the diuretic effect as well. Some experts have said that drinking a 12 oz cup of coffee when you are used to caffeine is about equivalent, in terms of hydration, to drinking an 8 oz glass of water. (But note that for this month’s challenge, water is still the only beverage that counts!)

Another issue that comes up with caffeinated beverages is that unless you drink your coffee or tea black, you might be getting a hefty serving of sugar along with the caffeine. Other caffeine and sugar-containing beverages like Mountain Dew, Coke, Starbucks Frappucinos, etc., or even a handful of sugar packets added to your brewed coffee, can provide hundreds of calories from straight refined sugar. In short, water is still best!

One other note about this month’s challenge: Water needs vary significantly by the individual, and also depend on activity level and outside temperature. The 8 cups of water (64 oz) per day rule is simply a general recommendation that has existed for decades, and perhaps without much scientific backing. 8 cups might be a little too much for some people, but might not be enough for others. Another general way to estimate the amount you need is to consider drinking half of your weight (in pounds) in ounces of water each day. For example, a 160 lb person could aim to drink 80 oz of water per day. Despite a lack of exact guidelines for amount of water needed each day, there a countless reasons why drinking water remains important for health. Your body is made up of almost 60% water. Water is essential for life and for many functions in the body, including:

  • Temperature regulation
  • Joint lubrication
  • Saliva production
  • Kidney and urinary tract health
  • Optimal exercise performance (as demonstrated by Neal’s Boston Marathon account)
  • Digestion, absorption, and transportation of nutrients
  • Weight control
  • Healthy skin

Happy Hydrating!


Weekend Race Report Part 2 (Grizzly Tri)

Cristin Stokes competed in her first triathlon last Saturday in Missoula, and did quite well! Not only did she accomplish her first goal of not drowning, she actually finished 3rd among females competing in the 500m swim option (There were two swim distances, 500 and 1000m. The bike was 20k and the run 5k). Great job Cristin! Here is Cristin’s personal account from her first tri, and official submission for the Montana Moves April Challenge:

Wow, Neal’s inspiring account of this year’s Boston Marathon is a tough post to follow. However, since the Montana Moves Challenge of the Month for April is to complete a personal best, I thought it was still worth sharing the story of my first triathlon.

After finishing a half marathon last summer, I was looking for a new fitness-related challenge. I had heard positive things about the Grizzly Triathlon in Missoula, and with the event date in April, I thought it would provide some nice motivation to keep moving and exercising during the winter. There was just one problem: I’m not a swimmer. I had taken lessons as a kid, but never really enjoyed swimming. High school gym class was the last time that I had swam for any other reason besides cooling off in a lake during the summer.

But with my sights set on the triathlon, and with access to the swimming pool at the Hoseaus Fitness Center on the MSU campus, I bought an inexpensive swimsuit, borrowed some goggles, and made it one and a half lengths of the pool, about 35 meters, before I had to stop for a break. My lungs were burning and I felt a little panicked that I might just sink to the bottom and require a lifeguard rescue.  The thought of doing a 500m swim for a triathlon seemed more than daunting; it seemed impossible. Still, with 7 months to train, I signed up for swimming lessons, got a friend to take lessons with me (thanks Val!), and practiced. A lot.

Over the winter, my swimming slowly improved. I was able to increase the distance I could swim without stopping and felt more comfortable and relaxed in the water. I officially registered for the race, recruited my husband (new to triathlons as well) to sign up and train with me, and got Neal to write me an awesome training program. By the time that April arrived, after lots of swimming, miles of cold-weather runs, and time spent on an indoor spin bike with a few outdoor rides as the weather permitted, I was feeling mostly ready.

Waking up nervous on the morning of the race, I reminded myself of the goals that I had set prior:

  1. Don’t Drown.
  2. Have Fun.

With one lap to go in the swim, I had the wonderful realization that I was going to accomplish goal #1 – hooray! Thanks to adrenaline, my time wasn’t bad either. Goal #2 was easy with the weather being sunny and beautiful, and plenty of spectators out supporting the racers. Plus, my husband and I ended up being in the same heat, so it was fun to be in transitions with him and cheer for each other along the way. Surprisingly, I would even say that I had fun during the swim!

For those of you considering doing a triathlon for the first time, the Grizzly Tri is a fantastically organized race and great for beginners since the distances are short and the swim is held in an indoor pool. This year, more than a third of the racers were competing in their first multi-sport event. All abilities and ages were represented. I had good company, and the atmosphere was fun and supportive.

The best part of the race was that it made me excited for my next triathlon. I know I won’t be breaking any swimming records, but finishing my first triathlon has given me confidence to try a longer distance or maybe even one in open water. Plus, it’s always a good feeling to set a Personal Best!


Swimmers competing at the UM Grizzly Pool.


Wellness Road Warrior Report

Greetings from Missoula!  Your MUS Wellness team has been burning up the road in October:  Kalispell, Yellow Bay, Dillon, Butte, Helena, and Missoula thus far.  Next week we’ll be off to Great Falls and Havre for the next leg of our Fall Wellcheck tour.  Let’s catch up shall we?

Delicious salad and chicken scallopini served up at our Meal Planning Made Easy workshop.
Cristin prepping food and dispensing time-saving cooking tips at “Meal Planning Made Easy” on the UM campus.
Ready Position! Neal teaching proper movement mechanics at “Strong Back, Healthy Back” with the Facilities Services Team at the UM.  It was one of three sections we taught of this popular workshop.
We hardly saw a cloud all week in Missoula, and the UM campus is especially gorgeous this time of year.
Montana Moves! Had some free time last week and a perfect fall day to get into the Pioneer Mountains between Dillon and Butte.
No trip to Dillon is complete without a trip (or two) to the Taco Bus!
Neal posing in front of Sawtooth Lake and Mountain in the Pioneer Mountains.  It was only a moderate 3 3/4 mile hike up to this great spot. 
On top of the World! Cristin on the ridge of Great Northern Mountain outside of Kalispell, taking a peak toward Glacier National Park.
We had a visit from Higher Education Commissioner Clay Christian at the UM Wellchecks in Missoula.



We’re back!

What a crazy month!  Over the last 30-something days your Wellness team has visited 11 campuses around the state for our Spring Wellchecks, and conducted 13 Wellness workshops on those campuses.  Oh yeah, and somewhere in the middle of that Neal ran a marathon.  We had a tremedous time on the road, meeting many of you at Wellchecks and interacting with you at our workshops.  Now it’s nice to be back in the office where we have a lot of catching up to do as we share some good stories and get back on track keeping you up-to-date with Wellness news.  Here’s what you can look forward to from Montana Moves and Meals over the upcoming days:

  • Full Boston Marathon report from Neal.
  • A great success story about our Montana Moves Quarterly winner.
  • Updates from our last round of workshops, and information about upcoming summer events.
  • April COTM winners and our May Challenge of the month.
  • More great fitness, nutrition, and health information to get you ready for SUMMER!!!
Cristin showing off some nice greens in Kalispell.
Cristin showing off some nice greens in Kalispell.
Meal Planning Made Easy!
Meal Planning Made Easy!

‘Tis the Season (for Fruits and Veggies!)

In a recent post (Home Grown Montana), I suggest considering seasonality when planning meals.  Neal’s response to my suggestion?

“The only foods that I know when they’re in season are watermelons in August–because there was a Watermelon Festival in Arkansas when I was growing up– and pumpkins around Halloween.”

While amusing, Neal’s response reminded me that it’s not easy to know when produce is in season.  Consumer demand continues to support transporting our food thousands of miles from warmer climates or growing veggies with the help of climate-controlled conditions.  So a vegetable such as zucchini, which I’ve only seen grow in Montana during the hot summer months, is still available here in grocery stores year-round.

One way to determine what’s in season is by using a seasonality chart.  Charts vary by region and are only approximations, dependent upon weather conditions and produce variety.  Here are two of my favorites:

The first is a chart that is specific to Montana, from the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition in Missoula.  It is also found at the bottom of this post.


And the second is a more inclusive, general chart.  It’s specific to California, but still makes sense for those of us living in Montana since we receive much of our grocery store produce from California.


In addition to the charts above, price and appearance can be indicative of when produce is in season. When farms and grocery stores have an abundance of certain fruits or vegetables, they are usually willing to sell at a lower price.  However, keep in mind that grocers will discount certain fruits and vegetables for other marketing purposes too, so prices aren’t necessarily an accurate indication.  When produce is in-season, it also usually looks better. Asparagus stalks in the spring (when asparagus is in season) are small and thin, bright green, and beautiful.  Asparagus stalks in December? Usually thick, tough and pale green in color.  Asparagus is an obvious one; but not all appearance differences are quite as dramatic.

Hopefully by taking a look at the charts above, as well as considering prices and appearance, you can get a better idea of what’s in-season.   Also don’t be afraid to ask the grocery store staff or farmers at the local farmers market – they’re usually happy to help.

It’s officially spring, and thus a great time to be excited about an abundance of frest fruits and veggies for your Montana Meals!