Testing Out the Fitness Trends, by Kristen Schmidt

Earlier this year, we were thrilled with the arrival of baby #3. I’m counting my lucky stars that she is by far my most cooperative baby – she sleeps well, is easy-going and even with daycare and two germy older siblings, she has yet to get sick. So while our transition to three has been better than we could have hoped, this third pregnancy was not so cooperative on my body. It’s been difficult to shed the last 10 pounds, my energy level is low and I need to do some serious core strengthening after my abdominal muscles have been stretched for the third time. I’ve been needing some motivation to jumpstart an exercise routine, so I decided to test out some of the newer fitness classes to see what could work for me.

As with most “new” moms, it can be challenging to find time to squeeze in a workout and intimidating to try something new. Will they notice I can barely touch my toes? Am I going to feel like I have to come with a full face of makeup (because that’s definitely not going to happen!)? Is it too advanced for a beginner? I know if I’m going to stick with a class, it has to be fun, yet challenging, convenient, and not break the bank or my now wider hips. With that in mind, I tried out the classes below and graded each on the following criteria: cost, time, ease of scheduling, intimidation factor, and workout intensity.

PureBarrePure Barre: Barre combines small Pilates and ballet-type movements to build lean muscle without bulk. It enhances flexibility while improving balance. There are over 400 locations nationwide.

  • Cost: C – each class is $22 and a month unlimited is $199 – while they offer one other cardio type class, that’s a lot for such a limited offering
  • Time: A – each class is 50 minutes, which I felt was enough time to get a good workout but didn’t eat up too much of my day
  • Ease of Scheduling: A – online scheduling and multiple offerings throughout the week and weekends
  • Intimidation Factor: C – the instructors are fantastic but some of the stretches were intimidating for a beginner (i.e. the split stretch)
  • Workout Intensity: B – I loved that I left without being sweaty but was really sore the next day. It definitely targets your core, which is exactly what I’m looking for in a class. With that said, I still feel like would need to add cardio into my routine for a well-rounded fitness regimen

TitleBoxingTitle Boxing: Interval training that includes stretching; calisthenics (lunges, squats, the dreaded burpees, etc.); and punching or kicking a 100 lb. bag. There are 180 locations nationwide.

  • Cost: B – the first class is free; subsequent options include: $24 per class; 12-month membership commitment – $109 per month for unlimited classes; month to month – $129 per month for unlimited classes
  • Time: A – while I took the 60-minute class, which felt a little long, they also offer 30, 45, and 75-minute options. Godspeed to those that take the 75-minute class!
  • Ease of Scheduling: A – online scheduling and multiple offerings throughout the week and weekends
  • Intimidation Factor: B – there is a learning curve with the different punches (uppercut, jab, etc.) and I think it would take a few classes to feel comfortable with the language and keep up with the pace
  • Workout Intensity: A – while this is definitely a total body workout, it focuses the most on arms and core. My heart rate was elevated throughout the entire class and I was ridiculously sore the next few days. This was a great workout.

OrangeTheoryOrange Theory: Sessions are split into intervals of cardiovascular and strength training. You wear a heart rate monitor to track intensity and maximize metabolic burn. Cardiovascular work includes treadmill and rowing; strength training includes dumbbell work, planks, TRX suspension trainers, etc. There are over 800 locations nationwide.

  • Cost: B – the first class is free; subsequent options include: $28 a session, $99 for 8 classes p/month; or $159 for unlimited classes
  • Time: B – each class is an hour – this felt REALLY long, especially since it is an intense hour
  • Ease of Scheduling: A – online scheduling and multiple offerings throughout the week and weekends
  • Intimidation Factor: A – this class was HARD, but the instructor did a great job explaining everything in advance. You also control the intensity of your workout and there was a wide range of participants. Some were in fantastic shape and sprinted on the treadmill, while others were power-walking
  • Workout Intensity: A – this was a total body workout and I felt like Jell-O when I left. I loved how my heart rate was monitored and shown throughout the class; it forced me to push myself harder than I normally would, and I left knowing I had a great workout. They email your results to you as well so you can track your progress.

ExerciseCoachThe Exercise Coach:  The concept is a 20-minute workout just two times a week. They use computerized machines that calibrate your body’s needs. A trainer can watch your workout or analyze it later, noting exactly where you’re maxing out or you’ve hit a plateau, and intensify, soften, or modify your workout accordingly. There are 43 locations nationwide.

  • Cost: D – the first two classes are free; subsequent options range from $259-$335 a month, depending on the length of commitment, which covers 2 personal training session p/week. This seems REALLY high, even with the one-on-one interaction
  • Time: B – the session only lasts 20 minutes, which makes it very easy to fit into your schedule; however, I didn’t feel like 20 minutes was enough time for a full workout, especially only going twice a week
  • Ease of Scheduling: A – online scheduling and multiple offerings throughout the week and weekends
  • Intimidation Factor: B – the trainer had a science background and brought me in for a consultation before the workout – he used language I wasn’t familiar with, which didn’t create a great initial connection. The gym is small and it looks like they only have a couple of sessions going at once, so it is quiet and calm
  • Workout Intensity: C – I pushed myself on each machine, but I still felt like I had more left in the tank at the end of the session

The winner: Orange Theory Fitness and Pure Barre On Demand

In my opinion, Orange Theory Fitness provided the best workout and value for money. I’m continuing to complete drop-in classes at Orange Theory and would consider a membership in the future once I know I can commit to going at least twice a week. I’ve also found Pure Barre online classes. I love this option because it costs less and I can take the classes at any time from home. It follows the same format as the studio classes but there are options for the length of class – from as little as 5 minutes up to 60. This has been a great addition to my workouts and I can’t use the time excuse. Now if I can only address that ice cream habit!


A Look Back, by Rachel Sexton

In May, I celebrated twenty years with VPR. As I reflected on how fortunate I was to find a company that would challenge me and grow with me (I never imagined I would commemorate two decades at VPR and the birth of our fifth child on the same date!), I also spent some time marveling at how much our company has evolved in that time.

In 1998, our sole focus was VPR Creative Group: developing product launches, creating marketing campaigns and producing videos, primarily for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. My first launch, as a writer and producer, was for Allegra-D and included a rousing performance by a championship cheer squad and a demonstration from an Olympic table tennis star. As we worked with the Allegra marketing team in the years to come, a video interview with IRL race car driver Robbie Buhl (filmed in his crew’s Indianapolis garage) put into perspective the severity of what is often written off as the minor annoyance of seasonal allergies: in the time it took to close his eyes and sneeze, his car could travel halfway around a race track.

Robbie is far from the only celebrity we’ve had the pleasure of working with at VPR Creative Group. I never thought I’d be spending an evening at Kevin Costner’s home in Santa Barbara as we talked about the importance of raising awareness around deep vein thrombosis (DVT)… and neither did our client. The owner of VPR, Curtis Pickering, was actually doing creative work on an architectural project with Kevin when he got lost driving from the Costner estate back to his hotel. This was 2005 – GPS dark ages – so he pulled into a fire station to ask for assistance. The firefighters told Curtis what a great guy Kevin was and that he had recently visited the station to bring them a gift. Curtis mentioned this the next day when he saw Kevin, who said, “Well, those guys saved my life! I almost died from a DVT. You’ve probably never heard of it…” In fact, Curtis – and the entire VPR team – was well versed on the potentially lethal blood clots since one of our clients was an anticoagulant to prevent DVT. Over a beer and a handshake, Curtis convinced Kevin of the importance of sharing his story, and just a few months later, we were directing a video of the Academy Award-winning Director sharing his powerful story.

kevin costnerWhile there have been plenty of those “pinch me” moments over the years, the people who have made the most profound impression on me don’t have an agent or walk the red carpet. They are people like you and me who face the challenge of a frightening diagnosis and leave others inspired by their journey. Those people not only make me want to work harder and do better, they are at the beginning and end of everything we do at VPR Patient Outreach Program (VPR POP), the branch we started in 2010.

When we were approached that year and asked to participate in an RFP for a patient program, we told the prospective client that they were crazy; we were their creative boutique, their launch source…we didn’t develop patient programs. Our very insightful, soon-to-be client acknowledged that while we hadn’t yet developed a patient program, no one was better than VPR at sharing the voice of the patient – the Robbies and Kevins and so many others who weren’t household names but whose healthcare journeys were equally deserving of the spotlight. Eight years and 27,000 patient programs later, we have to agree with the old adage that the customer is always right!

Today, we enjoy the best of both worlds – offering full-service creative, production, launch development, marketing and even texting networks through VPR Creative Group; and recruiting, training and developing patient programs on the VPR POP side.
Twenty years ago, as I graduated from the University of Missouri, I may have not been entirely shocked to think that my shiny Bachelor of Journalism degree would give me access to an Indy car garage or land me an interview with a Hollywood legend, but I could have never dreamed that I’d be honored to play a role in helping others to live well with progressive and rare diseases. And that is not only what makes every day of the last 20 years more than worth it, it’s what makes thinking about the next 20 years so very exciting.

To learn more about what we do at VPR Creative Group and VPR Patient Outreach Program, please call me at 816-756-5999 or email me at rachel@vprcreativegroup.com.

Mindful Eating: Making Peace with Food, by Deb Schaefer

Recently, I shared a blog about skincare and how important it is to spend just a little time pampering our outer shells for that healthy glow as you age. Today I’d like to address the importance of mindful eating or what we put inside our bodies that makes a difference in how we look, how we feel and most of all, how our whole body reacts to the choices we make.

Many of us were raised to believe that three square meals a day are the norm. But are you really always hungry – or only hungry – in the morning, at noon or after five o’clock in the evening? If no two of us are alike, why do we collectively fuel our bodies at the same times throughout the day? Let’s look at what mindful eating can do for you to possibly help improve how we feel and maybe even how we look.

Simply put, mindful eating is learning to pay attention. Rather than putting food into your mouth unconsciously, you learn to exercise your senses so you can make choices that support health and well-being. For example, do you always eat because you’re hungry? Think about this for a minute. Many of us eat out of boredom, anxiety, stress or simply because the clock tells us it’s meal time. This is what I like to call an unconscious action – doing it out of habit. Instead, listen to your body; it will let you know when it needs to be refueled. And when that time comes, be mindful of what you choose to fill the tank.

I found the following tips to be helpful when making better food choices: Picture1

  • Learn to recognize physical hunger cues, instead of non-hunger triggers (such as boredom or stress) – eat with purpose.
  • Be aware of the effects that certain food choices may have on your emotions or even the after-effects on your figure.
  • Eat slowly (preferably with no distractions) and only until you’re full.
  • Pay attention to what you’re eating (sure, it’s easier to grab a few cookies for a quick fix, but your body may be asking for the proper fuel that comes from taking the time to prep a spinach salad with protein).

For roughly the first 54 years of my life, I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I didn’t pay too much attention to the why, when or what. I just ate…because, why not? However, over the last year or so I noticed that I could no longer tolerate certain foods that I had been enjoying all my life. Outside of some weight gain, which in itself is depressing, I also noticed changes in my skin, hair and even my bathroom habits. There was no question in my mind – my eating habits and food choices needed to change. For me, being mindful of the when and what has proven to make a tremendous difference.

Below are some guidelines that work best for me:

  • Concentrate on shopping the perimeter of the grocery store – incorporating more fresh fruits, veggies and fresh deli meats or fish.
  • Schedule ample time to read product labels when grocery shopping – focusing on higher protein and lower carb items.
  • Keep a food diary – write down everything you eat for one week and be sure to note how you feel (more energy, tired, sick, full, hungry, etc.). The not-so-good items will jump out on the page – trust me!
  • When it’s time to eat, put down your phone, turn off the television and walk away from your computer. Use this time for concentrating on the task at hand – eating.
  • Respect and appreciate the meal – sit down, relax, eat slowly and savor the flavor.

It didn’t take an enormous amount of time for me to see results. I have more energy (if that’s even possible) and no longer see food as a crutch for my emotions or stress level. I even lost a little weight! Now, don’t misunderstand me, I haven’t completely given up on pasta, pizza or even a piece of chocolate cake. But, I am making every effort to limit how often I consume these guilty pleasures because I know as much as I enjoy the taste, it’s rarely worth sacrificing how they make me feel.

Learning to transform your relationship with food isn’t easy. Our autopilot sways us in the same direction repeatedly – the mindlessness road. Being present for every moment will help break the not-so-healthy habitual patterns. Make peace with your food and take the mindfulness path to a healthier YOU.

What’s Our “Why”? by Rachel Sexton

I will never forget sitting in an Italian restaurant for dinner, surrounded by multiple myeloma survivors, as we prepared to launch a patient-to-patient speaker program in that area. Our team had been researching this rare blood cancer for weeks in preparation for this meeting, so when the gentleman next to me said, “I haven’t had one bad day since my autologous stem cell transplant,” I was stunned. Everything I had learned about the process described the “first 100 days” after transplant as being an often grueling and critical period. In an incredulous voice, I replied, “Really? You didn’t have any challenges during the first 100 days?” He immediately replied, “Oh, sure – some days have been much better than others, but any day I’m alive can’t be a bad day.”

It’s been more than 5 years, but I can still smell the marinara sauce and recall every detail of that conversation when someone asks me ‘why’ I chose this career. That inspiring perspective is something we see across all our peer programs – from diabetes to rare disease – and it’s what motivates every member of the VPR POP team in everything we do. Training Specialist Jordan Sexton sums it up when he says, “I consider working closely with people who have chosen to respond to some of the most difficult aspects of their lives by sharing their experiences, to be a genuine privilege. The courage and dedication they show in helping others inspires me daily, and I feel fortunate I am able to help them share their knowledge with those who are in need of it most.”

For some of our team, pursuing a role in patient-to-patient education was personal. Director of Program Coordination, Traci Rogers, shares, “I was drawn to peer mentoring because of my Aunt Rosalie. Rosalie took a prominent role in my life following the death of my mother when I was 8. Rosalie was diagnosed with diabetes in a small town that followed the antiquated approach to ‘just take a pill and avoid sugar’. Insulin was a punishment for not losing weight or eating differently. Had she had access to a program like those we have created for diabetes, she might have better understood the importance of blood sugar control and that insulin may have helped her avoid complications.”

The seed for Training Specialist Victoria Gunbatar’s ‘why’ was planted more than 15-years ago and half a world away. “In 2003, I volunteered at a Chinese orphanage where I met a frail little girl who stole my heart and jumpstarted my adoption journey. I relentlessly raised money for her medical care and soon learned she had been diagnosed with Moyamoya disease as well as tuberculosis in her brain. I tracked down the world’s leading expert on Moyamoya at Harvard University, who told me not only is Moyamoya rare but, in combination with cerebral TB, it is virtually unheard of in the Western world. Worse yet, he said that, had she been diagnosed and treated earlier, she would likely have had a more positive prognosis. I have never forgotten “Celina” and how getting the right information in the right hands at the right time can forever alter one’s path in this life. I am now very thankful that I get to help tell the stories of people who know first-hand the tremendous impact of patient empowerment.”

From sharing a platter of pasta in Kansas City to bonding with a baby in Asia, the ways we have been touched by patients is as diverse and unique as the patients themselves. Not only have those moments left a permanent imprint on us, they are also what keep us going. Each time we schedule one of the 4,000+ patient-to-patient programs we host each year, it is with the knowledge that for a woman struggling with a cancer diagnosis in Omaha or the parent of a child looking for rare disease resources in Orlando, this program might be their ‘why’…the message that changes their perspective or puts them on a better path. And to paraphrase the words of a wise man, any day that you have the opportunity to be a part of a change like that can’t be a bad day.

“You’re So Skinny!” By Becky Lodes

“You’re so skinny!” Sounds like a compliment, right? But for a teen with body image concerns, it’s most definitely not. There are many types of body image issues that can have a negative impact on someone’s emotions and confidence, and I’m going to share how my family has been affected.

When I hear my 15-year-old daughter, Jordyn, talk about how kids are telling her that she’s skinny, it’s difficult not to respond with, “There are so many girls who would love to hear that!” But she doesn’t love to hear it. And I know that a response like that would be discounting her feelings and the fact that this truly is an issue for her.

IMG_4314I’m not sure how long Jordyn has had body image issues. My husband, Jason, and I noticed a few months back that she was looking online for information about healthy foods, and we thought it was great that she was interested in improving her eating habits. But then we started to see signs that it was about more than just wanting to eat better. At her annual check-up with her pediatrician, Jordyn was more interested than usual in her weight and how it compares to others her age. She started to spend a lot of her free time working out, and I would frequently see her pull out the scale to weigh herself. Then there was the request to buy her a cream that makes your butt bigger (I didn’t even know that was a thing!). When she came home from school crying one day because several friends were commenting on her body shape, we knew what we had started to suspect – Jordyn had issues with how she viewed her body and it was having a serious impact on her.

Our approach to helping Jordyn has been focused on two areas. First, although body shape and size are mainly determined by genetics, we wanted to explore healthy ways for Jordyn to gain a few pounds and considered this from the point of view that this could help her as an athlete. In addition to researching exercises that build muscle, we also learned about healthy ways for a teen athlete to gain weight through diet. She now has two pieces of bread instead of one with her sandwich at lunch. Her backpack is full of snacks she eats throughout the day, including peanut butter and crackers, fruit, and nutrition drinks. Although she’s only gained a few pounds over the last month, she’s pleased to see her efforts are making a difference.

The second, and more important, part of our approach has been on the emotional aspect. Jordyn’s body will most likely never be exactly how she would like it to be – at least at this time in her life – so what can we do to help her have a healthy body image? We know that there isn’t one magic thing we can say that will make her be OK with her body size and shape. But it has helped a lot for me and Jason to accept that this is a problem for Jordyn and to acknowledge how it makes her feel. That’s opened the door to ongoing communication, which we know will be the key in working through this together. And just as important as what we say is what we don’t say – I try not to make any negative comments about my size or shape, and we’ve avoided telling her that she just needs to be happy with how she was made. But at the same time, Jordyn is so much more than how she looks, so although she continues to weigh herself, we focus on her being healthy and strong and having confidence in who she is.

There will always be things that will impact Jordyn’s body image. We can’t control the messages in the media about the perfect body, but we can help her develop tools to she can use when others say something to her about her size and shape. We’ve encouraged her to have discussions with friends, letting them know that their comments hurt her feelings. She’s come to understand that her friends aren’t intentionally trying to hurt her, but just don’t realize that telling her she’s “so skinny” makes her feel bad about herself. Knowing that it’s OK for her to let others know that it’s not OK to talk about her body has been helpful for Jordyn and given her confidence.

I know that many teens have body image issues, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t anticipate that Jordyn would have a problem with it. I’m thankful that Jordyn has been open to acknowledging the problem and sharing it with me and Jason, and we’ve been able to address and work through it as a family.

Storytelling; A Powerful Way to Share Your Ideas, by Rachel Sexton

Our family of patient speakers is as wonderfully diverse as any other large, boisterous family: we have PhDs and high school students; stay-at-home dads and full-time lawyers; newly diagnosed patients and seasoned influencers. Yes, each of our 400 speakers is decidedly unique, but they have far more in common than a diagnosis: they all have an inspiring story to tell.

When introducing ourselves to a new client, “storytelling” isn’t exactly something we lead with. In an industry accustomed to measuring ROI, it can take some time to see how R-O-Y (or John, or Joe, or Mary) can make an impact on your bottom line by simply sharing his personal narrative. But, not only can Roy’s powerful story move his peers to action, it can even have a direct impact on their health.

Scientist and author Paul Zak, PhD researches the neurological effects of narrative. In a recent interview, he shared that listening to a good story triggers a cascade of events in the brain and body that can increase heart rate as the listener’s attention is piqued and cause the brain to secrete oxytocin, which lowers blood pressure and eases gastrointestinal distress (Goldman, L. 2018, February. Tell It Like It Is. O Magazine, volume 19, pp. 67-69).

While storytelling may indeed be a natural remedy, many of our clients have their own therapies – and want us to find those speakers who can tell a motivating story that includes their experience with that therapy – which is why it’s important to also emphasize the emotional benefits that come when peers connect and stories are shared: “90% of patients who heard an inspirational story about another patient said they became more hopeful, which spurred them to take action, such as trying a new treatment, going to a doctor, exercising or eating healthier.” (Robinson, R. 2017, March. Patient Stories. PharmaVOICE).

We see and hear anecdotes that support that statistic every day at VPR POP; in fact, one of the most common things we hear from HCPs who recommend that their patients attend a patient-to-patient program is “I’ve been talking to them about making this change for so long, but it really didn’t sink in until they heard it from a peer.” While there’s no doubt that a peer’s story can make a big difference for someone living with a chronic or progressive disease, not every story is created equal, which is where we come in.

Our training team works with each patient speaker to make sure their story is authentic, impactful and compliant. Here are 3 tips to ensure that a patient story packs a punch and motivates someone to take action:

  1. Editing – it can be so hard to leave any detail on the cutting room floor when you think about your arduous journey of diagnosis, treatment and living with a disease, but you have a finite amount of time to engage the audience and get your message across. It’s often cathartic to start with the full War and Peace version of your story so that you’re sure you’re doing justice to your memories, and then work with a partner on the training team to whittle it down to the most crucial points.
  2. Relatability – the beauty of a peer-to-peer program is in identifying with someone who has been in your shoes. While it may be tempting to draw attention to the things that make you one-in-a-million, it’s best to save the humble brags for social media and keep the focus on the aspects of your life that are more relatable.
  3. Theme – there’s a fine line between a “hook” and “hokey”. It’s important to find a theme that the patient speaker is truly passionate about (a favorite quote or hobby, for example) and use it effectively but sparingly. It should punctuate and personalize the story without cannibalizing the main message.

Speaking of favorite quotes, one of mine is from author Robert McKee who said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” To learn more about how storytelling can help get your ideas into the world, call us anytime at 816-756-5999.

Skincare: 60 Can Be the New 40, by Deb Schaefer

It is an undeniable truth – we are all getting older. But, that doesn’t mean we have to look our age. After all, they say 60 is the new 40, right? As I rapidly approach the 60’s club, I find that taking better care of my skin is crucial. Not only does our skin lose elasticity as we age, it’s also quite challenging to bring it back to its normal state once the aging process has started.

As we mature, our skin loses proteins called ‘elastin and collagen’, which are found in the dermis layer of the skin. These proteins allow the skin to stretch and bounce back. In addition, we also lose fat below the layers of skin, which causes the outer layer to thin, droop and form wrinkles.

Younger-Older Skin

Courtesy of: Consumer Health Digest

In some cases, genetics will determine whether or not wrinkles will be in your future. However, there are many factors that aid in the early onset of dry skin that leads to wrinkles, such as sun damage, poor skin care, diet and even the use of some medications. Unfortunately for me, I fell into three of the four categories listed above. I had to change my ways!

Aging is a part of life, but you do have some control over how you’ll look as you go through the process. What you do or don’t do for your skin on a daily basis affects what you look like and how people see you. Below are some ideas that I found helpful for protecting my skin:

Sun exposure: We all know it’s not possible to avoid the sun completely, but you can preserve your skin by applying face and body lotions with a 15 or higher SPF sunblock. It’s best to choose sunscreens with ‘broad spectrum’ on the label and reapply every two hours if you’re planning to be outside all day. For women, applying a tinted moisturizer or foundation with the same SPF parameters on top of the lotion is a dual benefit. This routine works well for me. I do this every day. The chart below is a great guideline for the best protection from the sun’s rays.

SPF Guide

Courtesy of: Banana Boat

All-Over Skin Care: In my younger days, I never paid much attention to my skin below the neck, other than simply applying lotion (any kind of lotion) now and then. Now, I find that showering in warm water (rather than hot steamy water) and using a gentle, soap-free body wash followed by a hydrating lotion is a must! Any cleanser with added moisturizers will help to avoid stripping your skin of its natural oils – especially areas like the elbows, knees and heels. While face and body lotions work best when applied to moist skin, reapplying throughout the day is beneficial. The more you do this, the better the results!

Benefits of Exfoliation: Exfoliating is the process of removing dead skin cells from the outer protective layer of your skin. Our skin is constantly repairing and replacing itself, leaving layers and layers of dead skin behind. Removing these dead skin cells will reveal healthier, brighter skin – immediately. While there’s no rule to how often exfoliating should be done, I do it once a week to keep my skin as radiant as possible. For the body, use a loofah or body sponge with a hydrating body scrub applied in a circular motion – leave on for a couple of minutes, then rinse. The same process can be used for the face and neck; however, using a washcloth for a gentler approach is recommended along with products specifically meant for the face. And of course, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize afterward.

Healthy Diet: Believe it or not, the health of your skin can improve from the inside out – another lesson I’ve recently learned. Eating foods that are rich in healthy oils and antioxidants, such as fish and leafy greens, can supplement the skin in so many positive ways. Drinking plenty of water (eight 8-oz. glasses daily) will also keep the insides and outsides of our bodies well-hydrated. On the flip side, caffeine and alcohol can dry the skin from the inside. Cutting back on your daily caffeine intake or incorporating a glass of water in between cocktails can make a big difference.

Taking care of your skin at every age is vital to looking and feeling your best. I learned that just a little extra TLC every day can protect my skin from dryness and help it glow.

What would make a person send a stool sample through the mail? By Traci Rogers

I admit it – I mailed poop. Now before you judge too harshly, let me explain.

Around the time that Jamie Lee Curtis started selling yogurt, terms like ‘gut health’ and ‘probiotic’ were starting to make the rounds on the health blogs. Of course, today ‘gut health’ is a buzzword and everyone is drinking Kombucha or eating Kimchi. I didn’t pay much attention to any of it until I heard a dietitian talk about a study that linked gut health with weight issues. My ears perked right up when I heard that. But what did ‘gut health’ even mean and how could I know if my gut was healthy or not? I immediately went to Google for the answers and what I found – well, it wasn’t all that clear.

Now, you may be wondering why I didn’t just ask my doctor about this. I did ask – and was told that there wasn’t enough research yet to answer all my questions. I respect my doctor’s need to be cautious, but that answer didn’t satisfy, so I went looking for more.

What is gut health?
Gut health, from a scientific point of view, isn’t clearly defined. Typically, when gut health is discussed in non-medical blogs or publications it is referring to the absence of GI complaints. To oversimplify – someone with a healthy gut doesn’t have stomach issues or “bathroom problems”. But if you look deeper, the health of your gut affects so much more than that.

A person’s gut is made up of a group of organs. Together, they play a large role in keeping the digestive system running smoothly, supporting a strong immune system, and balancing hormone levels. This is accomplished by the gut’s ability to communicate with the brain and act as a home for beneficial bacteria. I could fill pages and pages with information about how the gut functions, but for this blog post I’m going to focus on the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut – mostly because it relates to why I mailed poop.

The gut is teeming with beneficial bacteria that support the immune system by preventing pathogenic organisms from affecting the body. Beneficial gut bacteria can even help improve mental health by regulating our hormones. Did you know that depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders have all been linked to intestinal problems? I didn’t. 90% of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that helps regulate our mood or emotions, is produced in the gut. Researchers in France have even shown that mood disorders may be controlled by a “bottom-up” approach using two strains of probiotic bacteria. The gut also reactivates estrogen so that it can be reabsorbed by the body. Low estrogen levels have been linked to osteoporosis, PMS, water retention, severe menstrual cramps and heavy flow. Finally, studies show that when the wrong bacteria have control of the gut it can influence the foods we crave and by doing so, function as an underlying cause of obesity and heart disease.

How do you know if your gut is healthy?
This is another area where Google wasn’t clear. There are various articles about what to watch for: a change in bathroom behaviors, being overly gassy, unexplained bloating, reflux or a white tongue are the most common signs of an unhealthy gut. There are also less obvious signs like low energy, dark circles under your eyes, blotchy skin or restless sleep. However, none of this answered my original question: is MY gut healthy?

It turns out that all the Googling unexpectedly worked to my advantage. Facebook’s algorithm started showing me promotional posts for UBiome, a company that sequences gut bacteria. I was all in! A collection kit was mailed to me after I completed an online questionnaire. From there, I registered my kit online and followed simple instructions to easily and cleanly collect a stool sample. I mailed my sample to UBiome in a prepaid padded envelope and waited for my results. A few weeks later I received an email alerting me that my 10-page personal analysis was available.

The results are in
I finally had my answer; my gut was normal, but I have areas that could be better. UBiome provided lots of detail that took time to review and understand. Two examples are below.



This example shows that at the time of collection, the bacteria commonly associated with IBS issues weren’t present (“Associated” section).  However, one of the bacteria strains that is commonly present for someone who doesn’t have IBS (“Inversely associated” section) is low.




In this example, several of the bacteria strains in my gut that are commonly present in people who don’t have weight issues are below the normal averages (“Inversely associated”).


What now?
Armed with information, where to go from here? First, keep perspective. The results were based on one sample, and they shouldn’t replace the guidance of a medical professional. From there, adjustments to your lifestyle might be beneficial. I’ve listed a few suggestions below, but you should research what is best for you.

• Avoid over-using antibiotics
• Consume probiotic foods like yogurt, sauerkraut or kimchi
• Take a high-quality probiotic supplement
• Avoid over-using antibacterial cleansers
• Avoid increased consumption of carbohydrates

Note about probiotics: In the past few years, the probiotic market has exploded with options and there are some duds out there. When you are shopping for a probiotic, consider the price, the potency (make sure they have live cultures), the total count of bacteria present and the strains of bacteria. The top 5 brands as tested by Consumer Health Report are listed below.
1. BlueBiotics Ultimate Care
2. Ultimate Flora Critical Care
3. Garden of Life RAW Probiotics
4. InnovixLabs Multi-Strain Probiotic
5. Vitamin Bounty Pro 25

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that mailing poop was a good idea! I know I don’t regret it. Just remember, everyone is different and it’s important to work with a healthcare provider before making major lifestyle changes. Best of luck to you all.

So Much More Than Live, By Rachel Sexton

Typically, when a prospective client reaches out to us, it’s to talk about the value of “patient programs”. It just makes sense: it’s the most familiar form of patient outreach, it’s literally in our name and – most importantly – it works. But while VPR Patient Outreach Program will manage more than 4,000 live patient-to-patient programs in 2018, traditional programming is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leveraging the “power of peer”.

Our patient advocates would agree; once they have become part of the family and invested their time in our training, they want to share their message in any way that will make a difference.

Let’s take a look at a handful of the other channels we use and how they stack up:

1) Webinars – We all know the downsides of this common platform: accountability (“Eh, I’ll sign up for the next one”), distraction (so many browsers, so little time), and the horror of seeing yourself in webcam lighting. No, webinars are not a perfect substitute for live programming, but they do have their place. For patients in rural areas, those who are homebound or who work long hours, and those desiring anonymity, a webinar may be the only opportunity for true peer-to-peer interaction.

2) Phone Programs – Two patients sharing a branded conversation over the phone? Until a few years ago this seemed as risky as a tightrope act without a net, but with the right training and proper safety measures like an optional warm transfer to an HCP, this is one of the most powerful, organic ways to foster patient dialogue.

3) Patient Thought Leaders – one of our favorite sayings at VPR POP is “the patient is the greatest resource we have in healthcare”. We can learn as much from those who walk-the-walk as their peers can. Internal meetings – town halls or annual sales meetings – are great venues for sharing a patient’s journey. These vocal, passionate advocates also make great market research participants. And, when a new executive joins the team, what better embodiment of patient centricity than a phone call or meeting with those who are at the ultimate end of everything you do?

4) External PR/Marketing – Picture it: you’re watching a beautiful DTC ad, inspired by the powerful voice of the patient on the screen when your eyes are drawn to the little caption in the corner: Not An Actual Patient. You can almost hear the record scratch; the connection is lost. We pride ourselves on providing real people who are making a real difference. These external opportunities are ideal for those who may not meet all patient speaker criteria but are still excellent representatives of those living with the disease.

5) Social Media – On one hand, it’s a no-brainer: we know patients and care partners turn to the Internet to find those who have experienced what they’re going through and as good healthcare stewards, we love being able to provide them with useful, responsible information. On the other hand, we know how challenging it is to go through the internal efforts of message approval to only yield a half-percent engagement response. We’ve learned that content is key to social media success. Making every message count is what helps VPR POP achieve an average engagement rate of more than 10%. It may mean putting the branded message aside to focus on education and advocacy, but it comes with the high reward of increasing the number of people who look to you as a disease state expert and resource.

Supporting Someone with Chronic Illness, by Traci Rogers

Chronic Illness can’t always be seen, but to the person living with it – it’s always there. Unfortunately, sometimes good intentioned words like, “But you look so good,” or “You’re so lucky to have the good parking space,” do more harm than realized.

Here are a few things that may be more effective to show your support to someone living with a chronic illness.

  1. Learn about their illness: Be informed! The expectation isn’t that you will become the subject matter expert on their illness, but rather understand the symptoms and triggers of a person’s condition.
  2. Don’t police behavior: As you learn more about a person’s chronic illness, you may be tempted to offer unsolicited advice about their activities or nutrition. DON’T DO THAT! It may be well-intentioned, but it probably isn’t welcome.
  3. Just be there: Simply letting the person know that while you don’t fully understand what they are experiencing, you are there for them can sometimes be enough. It isn’t necessary, or even possible, for you to ‘fix it’. Your willingness to listen is invaluable.
  4. Be a sounding board: Some chronic illnesses can cause cognitive issues or ‘foggy’ brain. Help your friend or family member make sense of complicated paperwork or tasks. BUT – and this is important – offer to help, and then wait for your offer to be accepted; don’t just take over.
  5. Be flexible: Understand that a person’s chronic illness may force a last-minute change of plans. Trust me – he/she feels bad that they had to make the change.
  6. Offer to help with errands or household tasks: If you are going to the grocery store, check-in to see if they need anything. Have a recent snowstorm? Check-in to make sure they can get out of their driveway.
  7. Keep connected: A chronic illness isn’t going away and you might feel yourself developing friend fatigue where it’s easier to stay away than to deal with the illness. Stay connected – your friend or family member needs you!

What are some of the ways you’ve shown support to someone living with a chronic illness?