in the spotlight

Alcohol Awareness Month

Drinking too much alcohol increases people’s risk of injuries, violence, drowning, liver disease, and some types of cancer. This April, during Alcohol Awareness Month, Healthy Saint Paul encourages you to educate yourself and your loved ones about the dangers of drinking too much.
Experts make a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism (also called alcohol dependence). Unlike alcoholism, alcohol abusers have some ability to set limits on their drinking. However, their alcohol use is still self-destructive and dangerous to themselves, can progress into alcoholism and they need help.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse include:

Repeatedly Neglecting Responsibilities: Because of drinking, repeatedly neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school. For example, neglecting the children, performing poorly at work, poor or failing grades in school, or skipping out on work, school, or social commitments because you’re hung over.
Alcohol Use in Dangerous Situations: The use of alcohol in situations where it can be physically dangerous, such as drinking and driving, mixing alcohol with prescription medication against the advice of your doctor or operating machinery while drinking.
Legal Problems Due to Drinking: If, due to drinking, you are experiencing repeated legal problems. For example, getting arrested for fights, drunk and disorderly conduct, domestic disputes, driving under the influence.
Continued Drinking Despite Relationship Problems: Alcohol is causing or making problems worse in your relationships with your friends, family or spouse, and you continue to drink. For example, fighting with your family because they don’t like how you act when you drink or going out and drinking with your buddies even though you know your wife will be very upset.
Drinking to De-Stress: Many drinking problems start when people use alcohol to relieve stress. Because alcohol is a sedative drug, over time, you will need more alcohol to have the same effect. Getting drunk after a very stressful day, for example, or reaching for a bottle after you have an argument with your boss, a friend or your spouse more frequently.
NCADD Self-Test: What Are the Signs of Alcoholism
Are you concerned about the role alcohol plays in your life? With 26 questions, the NCADD is a simple self-test intended to help you determine if you or someone you know needs to find out more about Alcohol. Visit for more information.

What can I do if I or someone I know has a drinking problem?

Consult your personal health care provider if you feel you or someone you know has a drinking problem.

If you are worried about cost, screening and counseling for alcohol misuse are covered under the Affordable Care Act. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you.


EMPLOYEE STORY: Tell us about yourself or a co-worker!

We are looking for stories of City of Saint Paul employees to feature in our monthly newsletter and on this website. Do you know of an employee (or are you an employee) who:
– has adopted a healthy lifestyle;
– reached a fitness or health goal;
– trained and competed in an athletic event;
– or whose journey would inspire others to NOT GIVE UP?
We’d love to hear from you (click here to read past employee stories). Contact us at Featured employees will receive a Healthy Saint Paul hooded sweatshirt.
Read below a story we ran last year about an employee whose biometric screening results revealed a health issue he was able to get under control before it became a serious problem.


Last year, like so many other employees, I was participating in the Healthy Saint Paul Well-Being program so I could earn the incentive. I signed up for the onsite screening. My results came back and showed I had higher than normal cholesterol levels and off the chart blood glucose level.
I made an appointment with my doctor figuring he would yell at me about my diet, give me a pill to assist with the high cholesterol and get me on the right path.
Well, I was right about having him yell at me and giving me a pill – he put me on cholesterol medications. What I didn’t expect to hear and what shocked me was that I was diagnosed with diabetes. That was a real wake up call for me. I now needed to get serious with my diet – eating the good carbs vs the bad carbs, watching the sugars, making better choices with a real eating plan. Additionally, I began to inject insulin and also take diabetes meds.
The good news is I lost about 25 lbs. I’m running and working out every day. I know that is important to stay with it, too.
I’m still having my bad days with the low carb/low sugar diet but I’m plugging along. I owe a great deal to the screening process because it forced me to deal with my numbers and also got me on the right meds. It also got me hooked into leading a healthy lifestyle.

in the spotlight

Bite Into A Healthy Lifestyle

March is National Nutrition Month and an opportunity to focus on how healthy your diet is – or isn’t. Based on the results of the recent biometric screenings, high cholesterol is an issue for many of our employees. The good news is, for most people, making even small changes diet can help improve cholesterol level and reduce the chance of developing heart disease.
Check out some of these good-for-you, yet tasty foods provided by HealthPartners yumPower that can help prevent heart disease.



Oatmeal: Oatmeal can be a quick and easy way to get your omega-3 fatty acids and potassium. Oatmeal is also rich in fiber and can help lower levels of bad cholesterol, helping your arteries stay clear.
Berries: Sprinkle them in your yogurt or eat them plain; berries are full of polyphenols which can help reduce blood pressure.



Avocado: Spruce up your sandwich or your salad with some avocado, which lowers your bad cholesterol and ups your good cholesterol!
Legumes: From lentils to chickpeas, legumes are loaded with nutrients than can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. You can include legumes in soups and salads – or mix with other beans for a side dish!



Salmon: Salmon is known for being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce blood pressure and blood from clotting. Other heart-healthy fish include mackerel, tuna and herring.


Spinach: Pair your dinner with a side spinach salad to up your daily vegetable intake and lower your risk for heart disease. Spinach is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and B vitamins.


Snack time

Nuts: Walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts are full of the good fats your body needs. Eating nuts can lower the LDL (low density lipoprotein, also known as “bad” cholesterol) in your body. High levels of LDL are one of the leading causes of heart disease.
In general, pile your plate with yumPower approved fruits and veggies. Add lean proteins but limit carbohydrates, dairy, and salty, processed foods. Your heart will thank you for it.


You can find more tips for healthy eating and delicious recipes on


Sara Nurmela

WinterSkate at Landmark Plaza

You can find Sara Nurmela at the Wells Fargo WinterSkate rink nearly every weekday in the wintertime. Instead of staying indoors for lunch, Nurmela bundles up and heads out to the Landmark Plaza in downtown St. Paul to ice skate.
“The two months the rink is up makes for my favorite lunch breaks of the year,” remarked Nurmela, a Woodbury resident who works for the city of St. Paul. “Unless my schedule is too busy or the weather is too cold, I’m out there! I appreciate that I’ve met people from different companies downtown and become friends with them over the years. The Winter Skate staff is also fantastic, I feel like I’ve gotten to know them, too.”
“The scenery is beautiful!” Sara said. “Almost prettier at night with all the lights, but the urban landscape is also gorgeous on a sunny day.”


“The rink is great motivation for me to get outside and away from the office and my cubicle,” Nurmela said. “And even though coworkers pick on me for having rosy cheeks for the rest of the day, truthfully I’d rather be skating than going for a walk on my lunch break.”
The Green Tree team. Nurmela is  the one with her fist raised.


Nurmela plays on one of those corporate broomball teams, the Green Tree team. Seven years ago, one of the Green Tree Servicing team regulars asked her to play, and she’s been on the team ever since.
“Broomball is closely related to hockey—but is generally less expensive,” said Nurmela. “It’s a fun team sport that people of all different abilities and sporting backgrounds can be involved in. Having coed teams helps to make it fun, as well. Running on ice levels the playing field, which makes the game about passing and teamwork.”
She started playing broomball in college at Michigan Technological University in northern Michigan. A rink set up by the dorms meant that broomball was a popular activity nearly everyone was involved in — “almost a rite of passage for living in the dorms,” recalled Nurmela.
“Although broomball makes me miss hockey, I really appreciate being able to be involved in a team sport,” she said. Nurmela played on her college women’s hockey team, serving as captain her junior year and president of the club her senior year. For Nurmela, skating can be either leisurely or a good workout depending on how you feel that day.
REPRINTED with permission from REDCURRENT

in the spotlight

Resolutions Slipping Away?

Reset, Recharge, Remain Positive –

You started the New Year with ambitious plans to be healthier and lower your cancer risk: you swore you’d give up desserts, exercise daily or lose 15 pounds in a month. Now it’s three weeks into 2015 and you realize your resolutions may not have gone as planned. What do you do now?
It’s easy to set New Year’s resolutions that are overly ambitious, vague, or unrealistic, as described in AICR’s recent Resolve This; Not That. If working long hours has prevented you from going to the gym, that same barrier is probably still going to limit your progress in the New Year.
Instead of harping on what you haven’t achieved, focus on the positive. Remind yourself of the healthy behaviors you have engaged in over the past couple of weeks. Research shows that just thinking positively is enough to make you more successful and likely to achieve your goals. Even if you’ve hit some road bumps, challenging times can help us reassess our goals and avoid the same setbacks in the future.
The number one tip I give my patients when setting goals and resolutions is to avoid using the words “always” or “never,” and instead focus on something small and realistic. If you decided you’d never snack in the evening but already caught yourself sneaking a few bites in front of the TV over the past couple weeks, it’s easy to feel like a failure. Instead of giving up, re-examine that goal. What made it hard? Maybe you’re used to eating something crunchy or sweet while watching TV and that food you’re craving is just a few steps away in the kitchen.
Once you have recognized what made meeting your goal hard, set a new goal that can help address those barriers. For example, decide to have one small, planned snack after dinner if you’re still hungry. Plan out some snacks that you’ll feel good about – maybe a small bowl of frozen grapes or mango, or a Greek yogurt. Make sure to also keep any “trigger” foods out of your house (like chips, sweets, or even something healthy like nuts if you find you’ve been overdoing it). Make it easier to make the healthy choice.
When you achieve your goal of snacking less or choosing something healthier, you’ll feel motivated and empowered to continue to adjust the challenge. Remember, you don’t have to do it perfectly the first time. Being healthier and reducing your cancer risk isn’t about starting January 1st, or Monday. Every moment is an opportunity for change; accept your setbacks and learn from them. Most importantly, remain positive.
– Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center.
Reprinted from

in the spotlight

Know Your Numbers!

By now you have seen the emails or posters promoting the upcoming biometric screening in February for City employees. We have included this screening in the Well-Being program as it provides valuable information to you about your health. Blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and blood glucose are all factors that contribute to a person’s risk of heart disease. Heart disease is the No 1. cause of death for all Americans. In fact, every year, 700,000 Americans die of heart disease; that is, 1900 people per day! By being aware of your numbers, you can take action to reduce your risk.
There are other risk factors too that can increase your risk. Some are beyond your control, like family history, your age, gender, and ethnicity. However, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, activity level, smoking and weight can be controlled. Read below to see what you can do to stay healthy.

Control cholesterol.

The risk for heart disease increases as your total amount of cholesterol increases. In general, your total cholesterol goal should be less than 200 mg/dl. A diet low in cholesterol, saturated and trans fat, and simple sugars will help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease. Regular exercise will also help.

Medications are often needed to reach cholesterol goals.

Control high blood pressure. About 60 million people in the U.S. have hypertension, or high blood pressure, making it the most common heart disease risk factor. Control blood pressure through diet, exercise, weight management, and if needed, medications. Control diabetes. If not properly controlled, diabetes can contribute to significant heart damage, including heart attacks and death. Control diabetes through a healthy diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking medications as prescribed by your doctor.

Quit smoking.

Smokers have more than twice the risk for heart attack as nonsmokers. If you smoke, quit. Nonsmokers who are exposed to constant smoke (such as living with a spouse who smokes) also have an increased risk.

Get active.

Many of us lead sedentary lives, exercising infrequently or not at all. People who don’t exercise have higher rates of death and heart disease compared to people who perform even mild to moderate amounts of physical activity. Even leisure-time activities like gardening or walking can lower your risk of heart disease. Most people should exercise 30 minutes a day, at moderate intensity, on most days. Exercise should be aerobic, involving the large muscle groups. Aerobic activities include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and jogging. If walking is your exercise of choice, use the pedometer goal of 10,000 steps a day.

Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts significant strain on your heart and worsens several other heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and triglycerides. Research is showing that obesity itself increases heart disease risk.
Making changes in your lifestyle is a proven method for reducing your risk of heart disease. While there are no guarantees that a heart-healthy lifestyle will keep heart disease away, these changes will certainly improve your health in other ways, such as improving your physical and emotional well being.
Excerpted from WedMD


Kathleen Conger

Our featured employee this month is Kathleen Conger. Kathleen currently works as manager of the Dayton’s Bluff library. A fifteen-year City employee, Kathleen is also a founding member of the Healthy Saint Paul Well-Being Committee.
You can find Kathleen on her bicycle riding to work most days from April-October. Her philosophy is: “If it isn’t raining, I ride.” She enjoys not only the exercise but the time it provides her to wind down on the way home. Plus, it’s a great way to avoid traffic jams and saves money on gas; not to mention that it helps in reducing cars on the road.
Kathleen’s recent trip to Europe was a reflection of her active lifestyle. It began with a Groupon she found for a seven day river cruise that followed the Danube River from Passau, Germany to Budapest. When she saw that the cruise offered a bicycling option, that appealed to her as a great low key option, so she booked the cruise.
As it turned out, the reality was that people took this cruise to bike – there’s not much else to do on the boat. The average age of the passengers was 65 – and out of the 91 passengers, about 85 took advantage of the bicycling option. There was a wide range of biking abilities, like Michael from Germany who looked like an Olympian and liked to say, “Water, what’s that? I only drink beer;” and Tara, a 65+ year old bodybuilder from Brooklyn who was the navigator and always chose the long route.
Bicycling routes were mapped out with points of interest marked. For five of the seven days on the cruise, Kathleen bicycled through towns in Germany, Austria, and Slovakia.
Kathleen was in Europe for two additional weeks visiting Nuremberg, Fussen and Munich. She also had an opportunity to spend a day hiking in the Swiss Alps. Her impression overall was that European cities are very walkable, have great public transportation – and lots of people playing accordions!

in the spotlight

Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is SAD?

Some people experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is a type of depression. It usually lifts during spring and summer.

What are symptoms?

Not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms. The symptoms include:

  • Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Prevention and Management of SAD

Because SAD is linked to decreased exposure to light, it is recommended that you do what you can to increase your exposure. Open up blinds in your home and sit close to bright windows at work. Get outside for a long walk – even on cold days the outdoor light will help. It has been shown to be most helpful if you can spend time outside within the first two hours of getting up in the morning. Getting regular exercise, taking time to relax and making healthy food choices are all good ways to manage stress – which can lead to SAD. Socializing with people whom you enjoy being around can make a difference as well. If possible, take a trip to a location that is sunny and warm.
Everyone can experience days when they feel down. However, if that feeling persists for days at a time, if your sleep patterns are disrupted, or you’re having feelings of hopelessness or suicide, seek professional help with your doctor.
Excerpted from:

in the spotlight


Diabetes kills more Americans each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. In fact, in the next 24 hours, over 5,000 new cases of diabetes will be diagnosed, and 200 people will die from it.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.
With Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. Over time, however, it isn’t able to make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels. Type 2 diabetes can lead to other problems like heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, and kidney or eye problems.
Below are some common myths about diabetes.

MYTH: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.
FACT: Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger its onset; Type 2 is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. Being overweight increases your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain. Research has shown that sugary drinks are linked to Type 2 diabetes.
MYTH: People with diabetes can feel when their blood glucose level goes too low.
FACT: Not always. Some people cannot feel or recognize the symptoms of low blood glucose, or hypoglycemia, which can be dangerous.
MYTH: It’s possible to have “just a touch” or “a little” diabetes.
FACT: There is no such thing as “just a touch” or “a little” diabetes. Everyone who has diabetes runs the risk of serious complications.
MYTH: Diabetes doesn’t run in my family, so I’m safe.
FACT: Family history is only one of several risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Learn more.
MYTH: You’ll know if you have diabetes by your symptoms.
FACT: Not always. Type 2 diabetes often goes undiagnosed because it usually has few or no symptoms when it first develops.
MYTH: People with diabetes need to follow a special diet.
FACT: People with diabetes benefit from the same healthy diet that is good for everyone else: plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables, with a limited amount of fat and refined sugar.
To find out if you are at risk for diabetes, take the Type 2 Diabetes risk test here: – Risk test.
Get tested for diabetes at biometric screening that will be held at various locations throughout the City during the month of February. Watch for more information on specific dates and locations.


Dave Gontarek

This City employee has made a remarkable achievement. Dave Gontarek has run and completed every Twin Cities Marathon since 1982! When he decided to join his father-in-law in that first marathon, he didn’t expect to make this an annual event for the next 33 years. However, as he explains it, his father-in-law kept going, so he wasn’t going to quit. He is a member of the Twin Cities Marathon Charter Club, a group of 30 individuals who have run and completed every Twin Cities Marathon. (photo: Dave with daughter-in-law Lauren)
Running marathons has become a family affair for the Gontareks. Dave’s wife has run two marathons, his youngest son has run three and his daughter-in-law will join him in the Twin Cities Marathon in 2015. Dave will admit that running a marathon can be hard on the body and maybe not necessarily so good for you – but to live the lifestyle that allows you to finish one per year is good for you.
Dave was not always a runner and admits he’s really not built to be one. He can claim to have been a competitive golfer and cross country ski racer at one time, finishing 49th out of 3000 skiers. To keep in shape the rest of the year, he took up running. He doesn’t run much in the winter at all; he still cross country skies, snowshoes, and walks the City skyways during lunch. He thinks walking is good for runners, too. He believes the healthiest thing to do is exercise for mental and physical well-being.
In talking with Dave, he shared the following tips on exercise and running:

  • You don’t have to run fast – run so you can enjoy it.
  • The first mile is the hardest.
  • Without the back of the pack, there can’t be a front.
  • Set a goal to keep yourself on track and write it down. A Fitbit works great.
  • When running, you may have to walk at times – no embarrassment there.

Dave has worked for the City in PED as a principal project manager since 1977. He has been married for 34 years to his wife, Mary and they have two sons, Andrew and Bryan.

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