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!


Wellchat Episode VIII: Injury Prevention

Episode 8: Neal shares some tips on how use exercise to reduce the risk of common injuries, and also how to exercise without getting injured.

Topics include:

  • Overuse Injury
  • The 10% Rule
  • Volume, Impact, and Surface
  • Warm ups and Cool downs
  • Self-Myofascial Release
  • Resistance Training
  • Rest & Recovery

For even more info on injury prevention and recovery, click here to watch one of our past webinars.

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

Basic Lifting Techniques: The Deadlift (Video)

Pop Quiz! What do the following things have in common?

  • A small child
  • A box of stuff
  • A barbell
  • A pencil
  • A suitcase or travel bag

Pause to think…

Did you get it? All of those things could be something we need to pick up off the ground at some point in our lives, or perhaps, quite often. Whether or not you go to the gym, we’re all weight lifters. It’s  something our bodies are designed to do. Unfortunately, a lot of people do it wrong, and doing it wrong leads to a lot of injuries every year. And believe it or not, yes, people have blown out their backs bending over to pick up a pencil off the ground—literally the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So check out the latest video from Montana Moves! In this video, I talk about a fundamental movement pattern, the hip-hinge, which everyone should practice and perfect. Then we move on to lifting things off the ground and putting them back down properly. When practiced in the gym setting or at home, it’s great for building strength and confidence.

One of my goals as the MUS Exercise & Fitness Specialist is that all of our employees know how to properly do a squat, and lift things off the ground properly. When we lift properly, not only do we minimize the chance of an injury, but we feel stronger and more functional as well.

Enjoy the video!

P.S. For those of you participating in our MUS Wellness Incentive Program, this video will be posted as a challenge on Friday!


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from MUS Wellness!

I’ve spent the morning reading success stories you guys are sending us through our “Share Your Wellness Story” challenge. It’s a great way to spend Thanksgiving Eve. Certainly, our health and the health of our family and loved ones is perhaps the greatest thing to celebrate and be thankful for. One thing I really enjoy while reading your stories is that many contain a common element, and that’s some form of hope or optimism. Regardless of the story, the fitness level or health status of the writer, or whether the year has been smooth or beset with injury and setbacks, there is an optimism about how healthy choices, even small ones, yield positive results. This morning I’ve read about improved lab numbers, weight loss, improved mental outlook, improved performance, and people generally feeling good about the path they’re on when it comes to their personal health and well-being. It makes me feel good too. Thank you to all who have shared their success!

I’m personally thankful to be part of a community of people who are striving to be better, and who pour so much of themselves into their students, their coworkers, their schools, and their communities.  Keep up the great work MUS! We’re proud of you!

So keep those stories coming in! We’ll be sharing many of them over the next few weeks right here on this blog. Even if you don’t participate in our online Incentive Program, you can still share your story by emailing us at mtchallenge@montana.edu.

Also, as a bonus, I’m re-posting below one of Cristin’s Thanksgiving articles from a few years back—it has some great nutrition tips for Thanksgiving day!  Enjoy!


Five Thanksgiving Challenges from Montana Meals

Wellchat Episode VII: The Late Night Binge

Episode 7: Recorded previously, Cristin discusses Bluezones, the myths and realities of late-night eating, and some strategies to curb binges later in the day. Plus Neal shares some latest news regarding the MUS Wellness Incentive Program.

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

Winter Wellness

We had a great webinar yesterday focusing on mental health through the winter and holiday seasons. A big thanks to Dr. Ryan Niehus, from MSU Counseling and Psychological Services, for sharing some awesome knowledge and advice with us.

Dr. Niehus also shared some online resources at the end of the webinar, including unique resources for Montanans.  Here is that list again:

And if you missed our webinar, here it is! Give it a watch when you have a chance!

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!


Seasonal Change

Phew. I’m back in the office for a while now, after eight consecutive weeks on the road. I almost beat winter home, but not quite. Let’s just say it was a long drive home from Kalispell yesterday. My knuckles were as white as the road at a few points.

The weather this year has at some times been extreme, and other times, unpredictable. We seemingly went straight from summer to winter in September, and then fall mercifully appeared in October.  November wasted no time declaring its wintry intentions as soon as it began.

Back in mid-September we received our first snowfall here in Bozeman. An overnight storm, it was enough to cover the ground. My 5-year-old came running downstairs with excitement, hopped into bed with me and said,

“Daddy, it snowed! Can we go skiing?”

I loved the enthusiasm. It was a little heart-breaking. So with empathy, I told him that despite the snow, ski season was still a long way off.

This time, it feels different. Ski season is close. Winter is coming. There’s a change in the air, that familiar change of seasons. I recently ran my last important race of the year, and by my own tradition, it’s time for a seasonal change in my training as well. I like to do an off-season strength and conditioning program during the winter months, and for the past couple of years, I’ve also incorporated sport-specific ski drills into the mix. After months of propelling myself around via running shoes, hiking boots, and bicycles; getting in the gym, getting strong, and getting ready to ski is a breath of fresh winter air.

Now might be a good time for you to think about changes to your exercise routine as well. Winter is a great time to build a base of strength and/or cardiovascular fitness in order to tackle those 2018 goals on the horizon. I always get a kick out of fitness magazine covers that come out in May saying things like, “Get that beach body now!” Nope. Too late. Those magazine covers should really be in the grocery store shelves today.

For all of you who share my and my son’s excitement for ski season, here’s a re-post of our ski training video we put out last year. With opening day at most ski hills only weeks out, and snow piling up on your favorite XC trails, sprinkling in some of these exercises will have you ready for fun on Day 1!


P.S. For those of you who are MSU Bozeman employees, just a reminder that the MSU Fitness Center has discounted employee single-day tickets to Bridger Bowl on sale through November 14th.

ski tix 17

Embrace the change!


A new addition to our Wellness family!

Our MUS Wellness and Employee Benefits Teams would like say a heartfelt congratulations to Cristin Stokes and her family as they welcomed their first child into the world on Wednesday, October 4th.

Meet Harrison Lane Stokes, born 7 lbs. 10 oz.


Mom, dad, and Harrison are now home and doing great! Cristin appreciates all of the support and well wishes from MUS employees during her pregnancy and birth.

Cristin will be taking a few weeks away to be with new baby.  We’ll miss her, but wish her and her family the best as they begin this exciting new endeavor!

Be Well baby Harrison!

Back-to-School Breakfasts!

School is back in session and for many of us, that means more responsibilities, tighter schedules, and often…less time for food prep. Breakfast especially can take a hard hit if school mornings are chaotic. Even if the start of school doesn’t change your schedule much, it’s rare to find someone who has time in the morning to sit down to a freshly prepared meal, especially as the weather starts to cool, the sun rises later, and your bed feels ever more cozy & comfortable in those early morning hours.

But rather than skipping breakfast or just grabbing a pastry at the coffee shop that will leave you hungry an hour later, do yourself a favor and prepare some healthy items ahead of time that are ready in a jiffy or that you can take with you on your way to work. While the internet is full of make-ahead breakfast ideas, I’ve rounded up some of my favorites to share with you all, plus a few additional recipes that actually sound realistic and manageable for the average working person with morning responsibilities.

Remember to include a source of protein with breakfast to keep you satisfied longer, and to spread your protein intake out throughout the day, which has been shown to be beneficial in helping your body utilize protein most efficiently.


  • Mini-Crustless Quiches in Muffin Tins. These are easy to adapt to your preferences with different veggies, cheeses, etc.
  • Freezer Veggie Breakfast Burritos. Make a big batch (i.e. half dozen or more) for the entire week. Take out of freezer in the morning and throw in the microwave for ~2 minutes. Use smaller tortillas (8” or so) for portability and cool the filling first before wrapping in a tortilla and freezing to prevent your burrito from becoming soggy. You can change up the recipe based on what ingredients you have available in your fridge; I always recommend going heavy on the non-starchy vegetables, and easy on the potatoes and processed meat (or skip those altogether).
  • English Muffin Breakfast Sandwiches. Again, easily adaptable based on what you have available.
  • Hard-Boiled Eggs. Ok, so you probably don’t need a recipe, but I wanted to make sure to include these on the list. Having hard boiled eggs prepped and ready in your fridge means you have a perfect, transportable protein source to take along with your fruit smoothie or oatmeal.


  • Overnight Kefir Oats. These are really yummy, plus you can start your day with a boost of beneficial probiotics.
  • Steel Cut Oats: Given their heartier texture, these stand up to being made ahead of time. You can cook a big bowl on the weekend or whenever you have a chance, then add some milk or water when you warm them up. I love throwing a nut/seed trail mix on top, with a spoonful of honey or jam if you want to sweeten them up.
  • Homemade Muesli: Muesli tends to have less sugar and more fiber than granola, especially when homemade and you can limit the dried fruit and any added sweeteners (which I would suggest on the recipe linked above). Can be soaked overnight or added to yogurt/milk in the morning.
  • Homemade instant oatmeal: Most instant oatmeal purchased from the store is loaded with sugar and artificial flavors. Instead, make your own at home! This recipe comes from MUS employee Jane Wolery’s blog, who adapted it from the Iowa Extension’s Spend Smart Eat Smart blog. Thank you Jane!


  • 4 cups rolled oats or quick cook oats
  • Optional mix-ins:
    • Chia seeds
    • Dried fruit
    • Nuts
    • Cinnamon
    • Pumpkin pie spice
    • Brown sugar (could also add honey or maple syrup right before serving)


Put rolled oats in blender or food processor. Blend for a bit, until you get some fine powder and some regular oat shapes. You could probably powderize about 1 cup of oats and then add 3 cups regular or quick cook oats to that powder. The powder should make a creamier and faster cooking product.  

If doing different flavors of packets, take about ½ c. of the oats and put in snack-size bags or containers.  Add about 1 tsp of sugar, dried fruits, nuts, chia seeds, etc.  If doing all the same, mix “extra” dry ingredients into one large container with oats and then portion out 2/3 c. or so into snack-size bags.  You’ll have to experiment with the sugar for a bigger batch or just add it to each portion.  When ready to use, pour contents of packet into a bowl, add hot water and let sit until oatmeal is creamy.   


  • Yogurt Parfaits: These can be made several days in advance, and then if you want a little crunch, you can sprinkle a whole grain cereal on top just before eating.
  • Chia Seed Pudding With the chia seeds as a natural thickening agent, it’s possible to make chia seed pudding without yogurt, but in my opinion, the texture if far superior when you do add yogurt.

Baked goods

  • Breakfast Muffins. The key to a healthier breakfast muffin is portion size (no oversized muffins please!), less sugar, and hearty ingredients like nuts, seeds, and vegetables to increase prortein and fiber content.
  • Tina and Michael’s Nutritional Breakfast Cookies. Thank you to MUS employee Michael Bloom for sharing this recipe!


  • 1/4 cup butter, softened                                               1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup peanut butter                                                      1/4 cup chopped figs
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar                                       1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract                                                       1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 large eggs                                                                      1/2 cup craisins
  • 1/2 cup cider or cold coffee                                          1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour                                                  1/4 cup flaxseeds
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour                                               1/2 cup coconut
  • 2 cups whole oats
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda


  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray or lightly grease baking sheets.
  2. In a large bowl beat together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until creamy.  Beat in eggs and cider or coffee.
  3. In a medium bowl stir together flours, oats, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda.  Mix flour mixture into peanut butter mixture. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  4. Drop by ice cream scoopfuls (or 1/4 cup measuring cupfuls) 2-1/2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets.  Flatten slightly.
  5. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden but still soft.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.


  • Snickerdoodle Green Smoothie: If made ahead, the avocado may discolor, but a quick stir before eating will make it unnoticeable.


  • 1 handful spinach
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ½ small avocado
  • ¼- ½ cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

Directions:  Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth. Serves 1. Adapted from https://rabbitfoodformybunnyteeth.com/

  • Make-ahead Smoothie Packs. You can package ingredients for individual smoothies in ziploc bags, then let a bag chill in the refrigerator overnight and add the liquid to blend in the morning.
  • You can also prep entire smoothies a couple of days before and store in mason jars to transport. They will require a shake/stir to remix ingredients that may have settled, but they will be all ready to go!


  • Mini-Tofu Quiches: Don’t turn up your nose so quickly at the mention of tofu for breakfast! These are delicious and packed with protein.

Happy Breakfast Eating!