Swain Summits health program nears halfway mark

Chelsea Burrell, community health educator with Harris Regional and Swain Community hospitals, is pictured at the February Heart Health event at Swain County Health Department.

The path to a healthy lifestyle isn’t a short one, but participants in the countywide health and wellness program, Swain Summits, know it’s a journey that they aren’t taking alone. About 230 people signed up in September and are reaching the halfway check-in point in March.

Swain Summits is modeled after an employee wellness program where participants compete as team members but has been expanded to the entire community and is free to all who sign up. Those who didn’t start the program in September but want to give it a try can sign up for to be members of a six-month program team next month.

Three screening days are scheduled: March 11, 6 a.m.-2 pm. at the Swain County Health Department; March 16, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and March 17 from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. at the Administration Building (former federal building).

The screenings are anticipated to take just 5-10 minutes for returning participants. New people can also sign up at the events.

In addition, Swain Summits is offering a free health coaching session that would otherwise be costly. “We’ll help you meet your year goal,” said Chelsea Burrell, community health educator with Harris Regional and Swain Community hospitals.

The goal is for people to maintain or improve in the screenings. “Come to the screening so we can see if you’ve maintained or improved," she said.

Swain Summits has two monthly and one week long challenge meeting the following three criteria: physical activity, nutrition or mental health/stress reduction. Each
participant also keeps track of 7 daily points for the following: water consumption, fruit consumption, vegetable consumption, physical activity (30 minutes a day), stress reduction (15 minutes a day) and sleep (7-9 hours a day).

“The whole premise of the program is if you’re doing it and you’re enjoying it and having fun, you will see some improvements in some way, just in yourself and your energy,” encouraged Trish Hipgrave, Swain County Health Department public health educator.

The program was born out of the Community Health Assessment and a goal to reduce obesity because disease of the heart is the number one killer in Swain County. The first of its kind that is countywide, Burrell said other counties are following suit.

Aside from the screenings, participants keep track and log in points through the app called Challenge Runner. Those entering information into the program are entered into a drawing for monthly prizes. At the end of the program, teams and participants will qualify for cash prizes. Progress is based 80% on maintaining or improving in the health screenings and 20% is based on participation through the digital platform.

Recording seven areas of healthy habits a day can seem like a lot, but both Burrell and Hipgrave said they’ve had positive feedback. For example, one person gave Hipgrave a high five and told her he loves vegetables again because of Swain Summits. Hipgrave is participating in the program too.

“Me personally, I’m not a fruit eater, so I’m trying new fruit and I’m seeing others are trying new things too,” Hipgrave said.

The 7 daily habits help emphasis that health isn’t just about diet and exercise.

For example, mobility helps people leave a longer and healthier life. Stress reduction, too is something that a lot of people don’t incorporate into their daily lives.

“It’s about that awareness to strive to do it,” Burrell, said. For example, if you didn’t meet your vegetable goal one week, you can set that as your focus for the next week.

People may not take into account all these different aspects that create a healthy lifestyle, added Hipgrave.

The monthly and weekly challenges also focus on the three principles of the program: mental health, physical health and nutrition. Challenges range from practicing gratefulness in the month of November to a sugar scavenger hunt in January. There’s also a monthly pop-up challenge, such as attending the Health Forum in February.

Burrell and Hipgrave agree the challenges have been informative and fun. “I’ve gotten great feedback. People say this is fun and they love it,” Burrell said.

“I loved the sugar scavenger hunt last month,” Hipgrave shared. She even took to searching labels of food in the cookie aisle at Ingles to find the last sugars on the list, which included things like cane sugar and other sugars.

“The point is reading the labels,” she said. “Healthy food might still have ingredients like date paste or molasses; those are natural but it’s still sugar. It’s bringing awareness and also adding an element of fun.”

Burrell said they designed the program to make the challenges fun and engaging and not feel like another task.

She said she received a lot of feedback on the weekly challenge in Janaury, which was to stay off social media for a week.  “For the most part, I’ve seen really good feedback from it,” she said. “People thought, ‘I don’t I could do it, but now I realize how much I’m on it.’ It’s another one when people reflect on it, they say ‘I spent more time with family.’”

The program is shaped to make it accessible to everyone. One stumbling block for some in Swain County can be transportation or financial. With activities like this month’s challenge of 10-minute workouts at home, Burrell and Hipgrave hope to encourage everyone to be active.

“This was a way to be able to reach more in the community. One barrier is transportation and affordability. If nothing else, this program has offered people a free health screening for cholesterol and glucose and once a year body fat and blood pressure twice a year,” Hipgrave said.

Both believe the program is on its way to meet its goal of reducing obesity and increasing physical activity and good nutrition in Swain County.

“We want the program to work for everybody, that’s an overarching goal to promote everybody’s health and reach everyone,” Burrell said. “Even if you’re the fittest person in the gym, it’s providing something that helps you be a happy and healthier you. We feel like we really are meeting everyone where they are and feel like Swain Summits does that.”

Hipgrave agreed, saying it’s designed to meet people where they are today. “If you haven’t gotten up to walk to your mailbox, you’re starting there. If you’re doing marathons, how about adding some weight training? It’s finding that way to make everyone feel comfortable they can stat where they are today.”

Hipgrave added that your teammates are also a resource to reach out to for support.

The Soul Sisters team is an example of shared success through teamwork.

“They are just so supportive of each other, which is just so amazing,” Burrell said, adding that they check in with each other and are engaged about each others’ progress. “I think that’s a powerful thing, to be engaging and have that support group. A big shout out to Soul Sisters!”

Burrell and Hipgrave also reminded Swain Summits participants to reach out if they have questions or are looking for guidance to meet their health goals.

“The thing people often lose sight of is that although they might feel like they are alone or doing it by themselves, they have us as a resource,” Burrell said. “We’re here and we want to help and we do care. We want people to thrive.”

She encourages participants to revisit their goals and to plan to attend the screening in March.