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INSPIRE TO MOVE - Lifestyle Changes to Improve Cholesterol
NOURISHING YOU - Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Onions
HEALTHY HARMONY - Addiction and the Brain
GOOD DECISIONS - Prepare to Protect
EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT - Interview with Vice President Adrienne Nazon

Feedback - SOWellness@uillinois.edu
The System Office Wellness Committee strives to cite relevant information from reputable sources. Employees should always consult with their health care provider before making any kind of health decision or change.

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INSPIRE TO MOVE - Lifestyle Changes to Improve Cholesterol

Photo credit: UIS photoshelter - Picture of a person getting blood drawn to check for blood type and cholesterol levels.  

By Lydia Schillinger
Have you ever had your cholesterol checked? It is wise to know your numbers. High cholesterol is sometimes genetic, but lifestyle choices are a huge factor. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years, starting at age 20, which is when cholesterol levels can start to rise. It is helpful to know that there is both good and bad cholesterol, and how to increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol with a few lifestyle changes. Small changes now will yield big payoffs later.

The good and the bad.

I distinguish the two types by saying I want a LOW (L) amount of LDL and I want a HIGH (H) amount of HDL.

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein), sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or “good” cholesterol, absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Know your numbers.
Good cholesterol levels for adults are less than 200, but the lower the better. Borderline to moderately elevated is 200-239 and high is 240 or higher. Check out this chart for more in-depth details and numbers for children. 

Lifestyle changes.
A few super food choices for lowering LDL cholesterol are:

  • Whole grains like oats and barley. They deliver soluble fiber which can help lower the risk for heart disease.
  • Beans. They are especially rich in soluble fiber.
  • Nuts. Eating 2 ounces of nuts a day can slightly lower LDL, on the order of 5%. Nuts have additional nutrients that protect the heart in other ways.
  • Apples, grapes, strawberries, citrus fruits. Rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber that lowers LDL.
  • Soy. Consuming 25 grams of soy protein a day (10 ounces of tofu or 2 1/2 cups of soy milk) can lower LDL by 5 to 6%.
  • Fatty fish. Eating fish two or three times a week can lower LDL in two ways: by replacing meat, which has LDL-boosting saturated fats, and by delivering LDL-lowering omega-3 fats. Omega-3s reduce triglycerides in the bloodstream and protect the heart by helping prevent the onset of abnormal heart rhythms. The best fish choices in terms of lowering cholesterol are tuna, salmon, halibut, and swordfish. If you don’t care for fish, consider taking omega-3 supplements.

A few exercises for lowering LDL cholesterol are:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Resistance training
  • Swimming
  • Yoga

The theme here is just move. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises people to aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels.

Sometimes healthy lifestyle changes aren't enough to lower cholesterol levels. If your doctor recommends medication to help lower your cholesterol, take it as prescribed while continuing your lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes can help you keep your medication dose low.

No content in this article should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians. Please talk with an expert if you find out your LDL cholesterol is high. I want you to live a happy, healthy life.


NOURISHING YOU - Slow Cooker Pork Chops with Apples and Onions

  Photo credit: Mom Nutrition blog by Katie Serbinski

Recipe by Ben Taylor
Serves 4

With school back in session and fall activities ramping up, an easy, delicious slow cooker dinner hits the mark. And something about a good pork chop with fresh apples just feels like fall.

All this recipe takes is a few minutes to chop the apples and onions, and trim the pork chops (if needed). Then throw everything in the slow cooker and walk away!


  • 4 thick cut pork chops
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 large or one jumbo Honeycrisp apple (or another sweet-tart variety you have on hand)
  • ½ cup barbecue sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  1. Thinly slice your apples and onions and transfer them to the bowl of a 4-quart slow cooker with a high heat setting. Toss them together gently to combine and spread the mixture to cover the base of the slow cooker.
  2. Place the pork chops on top of the apple and onion mixture, spacing them evenly apart from one another.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the barbecue sauce and water.
  4. Pour the runny sauce over the pork chops, making sure each one is evenly coated.
  5. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours or until the juices run clear.

Note: if you use thinner pork chops, you will probably only need to cook on high for 1 hour or low for 1½ to 2 hours.

Nutrition information (serving size 1 pork chop): Calories 369 | Carbs 28.5 g | Fat 20.2 g | Protein 18.6 g


HEALTHY HARMONY - Addiction and the Brain

Photo Credit: Christopher Ott of Unsplash - Man holding head  

By Jackie Billhymer
September calls attention to addiction by being recognized as National Recovery Month. Addiction can be connected to a particular substance, thing, or activity. A person can be addicted to drugs, alcohol, shopping, food, or technology, to name a few. Addiction can become a destructive force in life and affect not only the addict, but also their family, friends, and the community.

There is a biological element to how drugs and alcohol affect our normal brain function. The human brain uses a pleasure/reward system to motivate us to repeat behaviors that make us feel good. When you exercise, your body releases dopamine and endorphins in your brain to make you feel good. The more you exercise, the better you feel, which motivates you to continue healthy behavior.

The problem with addiction is that the brain’s natural pleasure/reward process works the same way with drugs, alcohol, shopping, or food. These things can temporarily make you feel good and motivate you to want more. A vicious cycle can ensue when you only feel good when you repeat the unhealthy behavior. Over time, drugs and alcohol specifically can cause damage to the decision-making center of your brain and threaten your ability to make decisions towards recovery.

It can be difficult to identify the signs of someone battling addiction. We often want to see the people we care about in the best light possible and this can prevent us from being able to recognize if they are struggling with substance abuse or addiction. According to the National Institutes of Health, warning signs of addiction may include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings (e.g., temper flare-ups, irritability, defensiveness)
  • A person not seeming like themselves (e.g., changes in their level of interest in life or being overly energetic)
  • Increased changes in the amount of medication needed or frequency of refills
  • “Doctor shopping,” (e.g., moving from one provider and/or to another in order to get multiple prescriptions for the same medicine)

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with addiction of any kind, it is important to get help. You can find information about the State of Illinois and University employee assistance programs on the System HR website and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a national helpline, along with many other resources for finding treatment options.


GOOD DECISIONS - Prepare to Protect

Photo Credit: Ready.gov - Family preparing around table  

By Christina A. Worthington
National Preparedness Month is recognized each September to encourage and remind the public to be prepared for natural disasters and emergency situations. Individuals and families can take this opportunity to prepare for situations you hope never happen. Having an emergency plan will help you and your family members remain as calm as possible and make sound decisions in stressful situations.

Make a plan • Keep in mind that your family may not be together if disaster strikes. This makes it even more important to develop a plan that your entire family understands and remembers. Think about things like where to meet for protection or if separated, who to contact for assistance, and reassessing the plan regularly as your family needs may change. Practice and review the plan with family members often to ensure everyone is familiar and comfortable with it. Ready.gov has communication plan templates available for kids, adults and emergency cards.

Build a kit • Each person or family’s kit will contain different items depending on their unique family needs, pets, and types of natural disasters they may be potentially exposed to. While it is important to prepare for staying safe during an emergency, you should also prepare for staying safe, fed and clean during the aftermath. Check out this Basic Emergency Supply Kit list developed by FEMA but consider adding additional items that would meet your specific needs.

Prepare for disasters • Disasters can happen in a moment’s notice. You can prepare for the unexpected by knowing the risks and hazards that may affect the community you live in. Risks factors in your community could include susceptibility to natural devastations brought on by inclement weather, nearby hazardous facilities, or loss of utility services. You may check with your insurance provider to proactively protect your belongs against some of these risk factors. FEMA has also created an in-depth guide to citizen preparedness, Are You Ready? The guide contains very detailed information on how to prepare for a variety of situations.

Teach about preparedness • Sharing knowledge is the best way to give back! You can help support your community before, during, and after a disaster. Contact your local emergency manager to learn about opportunities near you. Nonprofits, faith-based organizations, schools, and civic groups are all great places to begin your search.


EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT - Interview with Vice President of External Relations and Communications, Adrienne Nazon

Adrienne Nazon  

By Seth Yoder

Q. Could you briefly describe your new role with the University of Illinois System and what excites you most about the position?

A. I am the inaugural Vice President of External Relations and Communications. In my role, I am working with colleagues across the University of Illinois System and its three universities to build, broaden, and protect the University of Illinois brand reputation and advance its priorities with a goal of fostering a broad-based understanding, support, and investment in the institution to ensure the transformative power of the system grows and impacts lives at scale. It is a pivotal time to be in higher education, and over the next decade it will be imperative that we continue to evolve, shape and enhance our societal value in the larger marketplace. The University of Illinois System plays a critical role in the future of the state of Illinois and beyond, and I am excited by the opportunity to come back to my home state and play a role in shaping that future.

Q. Have you had an opportunity to work on developing communications/branding for an employee wellness initiative in any of your previous roles?

A. I had the opportunity to work with the Chief Wellness Officer in my previous role on a number of wellness-related initiatives. The initiatives were primarily geared around increasing understanding of and participation in wellness and its many dimensions as well as increasing awareness of how wellness impacts individual staff and the organization overall.

Q. [Follow-up to question 2] Could you tell us about what you learned from that experience?

A. The first thing that I learned from those experiences was the nine dimensions of wellness and although I have worked in this business for a long time, it was the first time I considered wellness as a part of branding. A big component of branding is culture and developing an understanding of how culture is reflected both inside and outside of an organization is critical. It quickly became apparent to me that incorporating the dimensions of wellness in the culture of an organization could play a big role in attracting and retaining top talent.

Q. What role do you see an employee wellness initiative playing in developing the overall university brand?

A. As I mentioned previously, I see branding as a way to manage and influence the organization’s reputation as an employer for job seekers, employees, and stakeholders alike. I truly believe that brands are built from the inside out and you can only build reputation outside that is commensurate with what authentically happens on the inside. By extending that principle, the focus on wellness as an important part of the culture that you build becomes critically important to current and prospective employees as well as our other internal and external stakeholders.

Q. Do you incorporate any aspects of wellness (mental, physical, spiritual, nutritional, etc.) into your workday routine and would you be willing to share about the activities and the impact they have on you?

A. I spend a good deal of time working on my intellectual wellness by reading both personal and professional books. Someone once told me that if you spend one hour a day developing your craft within five years you will be a guru. I am not so sure about the guru part, but there is something to be said about spending time working on your craft and being intentional about it that helps you stay connected to the work you do, where it is expanding, and how you can continue to shape and mold your role and the role of the entity you support in that space.

I also try to spend some time meditating in the morning. You never know where your day is going to go and starting off with meditation helps keep me centered. I often do my meditation on an early morning walk when it is really quiet out. During my walks, I can concentrate on the tenor of my day more than anything else. I try not to spend time thinking about what is on my calendar, but rather, what I need for myself so that I can be clear and fresh for my day.

Something else I do is journaling and, in particular, gratitude journaling. During the pandemic I bought gratitude journals for my entire team at Ohio State and tried to encourage them to concentrate on the things they were grateful for during what was a very difficult time. I enjoy journaling in the evenings and think about the things that inspire me, as well as challenge me. The things that make us uncomfortable or stretch us, while they may be unpleasant, often teach us the greatest lessons about ourselves. It is important to acknowledge and recognize all things that impact us, whether good or bad.

Q. What is your favorite wellness-related habit or tip?

I find that my morning meditation walk is my favorite because I am able to combine both my mental and physical wellness in one activity. I find these walks really help me start my day off on a positive note, as well as provides me with the opportunity to reflect and put things in perspective so that negative energy does not have the opportunity to build. I was a health athlete at Ohio State and during the program, I learned a lot about how to manage my energy and the importance energy has on our overall wellness. My big takeaway from the program was how I viewed my stress levels. We were taught that stress does not always have to be viewed negatively; in fact, stress can help facilitate growth and learning. The key to this is developing mechanisms that allow you to recognize stress and identify when you need to release stress. By appropriately regulating stress with release strategies, you can leverage it and convert it to positive energy. I see my morning walk as one of the mechanism to do that and balance my energy.