Having a universe of health and fitness programs at your fingertips is more important than ever as everyone hunkers down at home to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, the pandemic that’s ravaged hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.
Many of us are shifting our real-life worlds onto digital and video platforms to stay productive and connected, and Blue Shield of California is no exception. Our award-winning Wellvolution program helps to connect members with personal coaches and apps that provide more than 50 health, fitness and lifestyle-medicine advice and tools at no additional cost. Wellvolution launched in June of last year and logged more than 10 million member interactions in its first six months. We’re proud to say that our Wellvolution partners have been nimble as they shifted to meet new demands for a challenging new time.
Marcia Menefee saw great success with her first foray into Wellvolution. She lost 30 pounds and regulated her blood sugar by making better food choices and exercising. When she had the recent opportunity to sign up again to help get her blood sugar back on track as it inched a bit higher, she jumped. But this time, in the midst of pandemic stay-at-home orders, it’s a little different.
Though San Francisco is her home, Menefee has decided to shelter in place in her RV in Palm Springs, near the university where she’s been doing research. Though she’s in mostly good spirits, walking and exercising at home, she’s mindful of new, additional stresses. “Any time our rhythms are shifted, it's going to give us a sense of loss,” she said.
She’s noticing the craving for comfort food, as she has in the past, but now she’s trying to reframe what that is. “You want to reach for the stuff that will give you a really short burst of feel-good. But then if you're eating sugar and that kind of thing, you're going to crash even harder,” she says. “Now I look at comfort in terms of relationships rather than terms of food. I would say that's the biggest challenge for me.”
She’s lucky to find herself parked under a grapefruit tree, which is handy for her go-to breakfast every morning. And even though she’s not around people in real life, she’s got a solid virtual community through the Betr Health program under the Wellvolution umbrella. Any time she wants to connect with her others on a similar journey, she can reach out and find support.
‘We help support members where they are’
“Community-building and staying connected is our top priority during a time of high anxiety," said Betr Health’s founder and CEO, William Ferro, D.C. To help facilitate stress relief and a better microbiome environment in the gut (both of which contribute to weight loss and overall health), Betr Health added live meditation, yoga, and cooking demos. In addition, Betr Health relaxed its members-only policy and is allowing people to invite family members to join calls and follow along.
Staying healthy is especially important now. Additional stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic present additional hurdles as more people than ever are facing financial insecurity. There’s a higher likelihood of developing unhealthy habits and a more sedentary lifestyle, which presents a greater risk for weight gain, said Agatha Constance, a naturopathic doctor and vice president of Health Coaching for Yes Health, a Wellvolution provider. She said that over the past few weeks she’s noticed a shift in what members want, and is happy to provide it—including more exercises that can be done at home with the family.
“If we can help encourage families to exercise together, it also instills healthier habits in the younger generation and can be a fun experience. We also focus on logging active minutes, with a goal of at least 150 minutes per week,” she says. “Fitness can be broken into smaller time periods—dancing to a song, doing squats during commercial breaks, a pushup challenge, strength training or following a cardio workout video. We help support members where they are.”
Exercising and social distancing
Virta Health is another Wellvolution provider, which focuses specifically on diabetes reversal through nutrition and medical consultation. Virta physician and Medical Director Jeff Stanley, M.D., said that while doctor visits are already 100% online, there have been other adjustments to better serve member needs. “We created specific shopping, meal prep, and activity recommendations that take into account that many of our patients are sheltered in place, or at least practicing social distancing,” he says. Now, blood draws are done only when absolutely necessary to limit the risk of exposure, all prescriptions are phoned in for mail-order or drive-through pickup, and patients can be triaged over the phone for diabetes and other conditions whenever possible.
“We know that patients with diabetes appear to be affected more severely with COVID-19, so we are working closely with our patients to maintain excellent blood glucose levels. We also know that money is very tight for many of our patients, so we are able to safely de-prescribe expensive medications such as insulin once they have achieved normal blood glucose. We also understand that for some people, this is too difficult a time to maintain a lifestyle change, and we are able to help people do what they can, in a non-judgmental fashion,” Dr. Stanley said.