Hefren-Tillotson Step Challenge Takeover!

By:  Hefren-Tillotson Team

Hefren-Tillotson is taking over! We’re back to defend our title as top Medium Size Company for the SparkPittsburgh 2nd Annual Company Step Challenge. Last challenge, participating employees took 16,058,430 (almost 7,603.5 miles)!

Our company values play a large part in our culture.  We believe in respect for the individual, integrity in thought and action, teamwork supported by a family oriented culture, and a relentless commitment to excellence.  We strive to provide our employees the same level of care and concern we give to our clients.  The health and wellbeing of our employees is a top priority, without them our firm would not be the same.

Since 1948, our family-owned firm focuses on providing clients with unbiased advice relating to all aspects of their financial situations.  Founder Willard J. “Bill” Tillotson had the foresight to recognize that in order for clients to achieve their long-term financial goals, they’d need a step-by-step, detailed plan.  And as such, the MASTERPLAN® approach was born!

Hefren-Tillotson is one of the oldest and largest full-service wealth management firms headquartered in Western Pennsylvania.  We were recently named among the “Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania” by the Pittsburgh Business Times in 2011, 2015 and 2017.

We are proud supporters of numerous charitable, arts, and cultural institutions throughout the Pittsburgh region, spawning our dedicated community outreach program HT Cares.  Our employees serve and work together to make lasting contributions to the lives of others in our community through volunteering and community service.

One way we seek to achieve this is by offering a wellness program with events and challenges that address specific concerns and interests of our employees.  Some of our wellness opportunities include health fairs, flu shots, biometric testing, lunch and learn presentations on various topics, and physical fitness challenges.  In each of our branches we have wellness captains who help promote the wellness program, answer questions, and encourage employee participation.

We are fortunate to have a workforce of active and health conscious individuals, so the SparkPittsburgh challenge was of great interest to us.  The activity allowed our firm to work together, encourage each other to get in daily steps, and also have a fun and friendly competition.  Understanding the health benefits of physical activity encouraged employees to participate in the step challenge.  We saw groups going out on walks together during lunch time, heard conversations comparing steps achieved, received inspiring emails to keep stepping, and watched the total steps continue to climb for our group.

Our employees are excited to participate in the SparkPittsburgh challenge again this year and ready defend our title for the medium company category.  We are confident our employees will “step” up to the contest and hope to beat our total steps from last year.  We would like to wish the best of luck to all the participating companies.

Happy stepping!

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A Freelancing Guide to Health Care

By:  Lynsey Bish

Freelancing is a self-employed person offering services, usually to businesses and often to multiple clients at a time. Nearly every type of service a business would need could be provided by a freelancer, including (but not limited to) marketing, such as social media marketing, copyrighting, technological support, graphic design and being an owner of a business rather than an employer.

Freelancing is so flexible, you can set your work hours, working full-time or part-time on projects of your choice.  However, there are some major advantages to working in a salaried position, one being access to employer-sponsored benefits like health insurance.

Paying for your own health insurance out-of-pocket can be costly, but the benefits provided by health plans outweigh going uninsured when it comes to cost. At BABB Inc., we strive to help individuals who are in need of coverage and not sure where to start.

Marketplace, available at HealthCare.gov, is operated by the federal government and helps provide enrollment in affordable health insurance plans.  The Marketplace provides health plan shopping and enrollment services though websites, call centers, and in-person help.

The advantage to Marketplace is the premium tax credit and possible cost sharing reductions. When you enlist in Marketplace health insurance, you can have the Marketplace figure an expected credit based on your reported income that is paid to your insurance agency to bring down what you pay for you month to month premiums. Low income families could also be eligible for cost sharing reductions with lowered deductibles and/or copays. On the other hand, you can have propel installments of premium tax credit made for your benefit, and accommodate the sum paid ahead of time with the credit you register when you file your tax return

The premium tax credit is intended to help qualified people and families with low or moderate income afford the cost of medical coverage.

Irs.gov goes into detail about premium tax credit facts from basic questions, eligibility, computing the about, reporting, claiming, and reconciling.

The premium tax credit has benefited many, but comes with a few disadvantages to freelancers. It requires people who get the tax credit to accurately project their incomes for the upcoming year.  Being a freelancer it is a challenge, because payments can be irregular. One month you might have record earnings, and the next you might experience your own personal financial crisis. Please note that any over or underpayments of premium tax credits will be reconciled when you file your taxes for the year. You could owe or receive a refund.

If Marketplace is not a fit for you or your family it is best to go direct to a carrier. Highmark Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual plans are available on the Marketplace, for most areas. Highmark plans are also available for many local insurance brokers, like BABB Inc.

The positive about going direct to a carrier is that they do not go as in-depth into income as Marketplace. Depending on where you live, you may also have more options shopping outside the Marketplace. Note, if you do qualify for government financial savings, you will not be able to apply it directly to the carrier.  Government financial savings are only to be used for plans purchases on Marketplace.

Unfortunately, the open enrollment period for buying individual and/or family health insurance has closed.  You will most likely need to sit tight until the 2018 open enrollment period to purchase health insurance.  The only way you can buy into the 2017 health coverage is if you qualify for a 2017 Special Enrollment Period.

Life change information for the Special Enrollment Period includes:

  • If you have experienced family or household changes, such as, recently married, entered into a domestic partnership, or had a change in number of child dependents
  • Job, income, or residence change that resulted in loss of minimum essential coverage or lost eligibility for tax credits.
  • Loss, issues, or changes with your insurance may have changed because of death, divorce, or eligibility.
  • American Indian, Alaska Native, or changes in citizenship. This could be if you recently became a U.S. citizen or if you are part of a federally-recognized tribe. (This coverage is not available through the Highmark site)

Health Insurance can be confusing, attempting to discover if a pre-existing condition(s) limits your choices, what your plan covers, or how to estimate household income. Insurance brokers may be your best route. Brokers are generally licensed and experienced with a number of plans that will benefit you as a freelancer.

For help with your health care needs, don’t be afraid to call the experts at Babb, Inc.  They will gladly assist you in navigating the confusing waters of insurance and help you get covered.

Slow Cooker Spinach Artichoke Chicken

Are you a fan of Spinach Artichoke Dip?  Do you wish you could have it as your entrée?  Then you are going to love this delicious Slow Cooker Spinach Artichoke Chicken recipe we found on skinnyms.com.

This recipe has all the great parts of the dip and turns it into a full-fledged meal for you and your family.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups loosely packed spinach, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4 (6-8 ounce) whole chicken breasts (bone-in with skin)
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese, reduced-fat but not fat free
  • 4 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 (14-ounce) can preservative-free artichoke hearts OR 6- 8 artichoke hearts from a jar, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup chopped grape or cherry tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a 4-quart slow cooker, pop in the spinach, chicken, and chicken broth.  Sprinkle garlic, salt, onion, and pepper on top of everything.  Place the cover on top and cook for approximately 6-8 hours on low, or if you’d like, 4-6 hours on high.

Right before you serve this dish, remove the chicken from the slow cooker and set them on serving platters.

In a separate bowl, stir together cream cheese, artichokes, and Parmesan cheese.  Keep stirring until it becomes a creamy mixture.  Spoon over the chicken breasts.

Top it all off with the tomatoes and extra Parmesan cheese, if you so desire.

 

Why Your Steps Matter

By:  Lynsey Bish

Marathoners are the thoroughbreds of high performance, but even if you are a slow and steady jogger or walker, a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that even five or ten minutes a day of low-intensity activities can be enough to extend life by several years.  This minimal healthy “dose” of exercise is smaller than many might assume.

Running is a widespread and convenient physical activity with a steady growth, despite some public concerns about the possible harmful effects of running[1]. It is well-known that physical activity has significant health benefits. The World Health Organization and the U.S. government have recently released evidence-based Physical Activity Guidelines, recommending at least 150 min. of moderate-intensity or 75 min. of vigorous intensity aerobic activity per week[2].

This also applies to those who enjoy a brisk walk in the park with pets or friends. Without a doubt, making a decision to even start exercising – whether it’s walking, jogging, cycling, or using an elliptical machine – will pay dividends in the long run.

Although running can trim away some of your existing risk of cardiovascular disease, it doesn’t completely eliminate it. The combined effects of lifestyle, diet, and family history still contribute to your lifetime risk.

Mood Enhancement

If you’ve ever gone for a run or workout after a stressful day, chances are you felt better afterward. But the effects of physical activity extend beyond the short-term. Research shows that any form of exercise can also alleviate long-term depression[3]. Some evidence comes from broad, population-based correlation studies, and there is epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people.

Fight-or-Flight

Researchers have also explored running as a tool for treating – and perhaps preventing – anxiety[4]. When we’re spooked or threatened, our nervous systems jump into action, setting off a cascade of reaction in our body. People with heightened sensitivities to anxiety respond to those sensations with fear.

The book, Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression  and Enhancing Well-being, by the Anxiety Research and Treatment program at Southern Methodist University, reasoned that regular workouts might help people prone to anxiety become less likely to panic when they experience fight or flight like symptoms. The science behind this theory states that your body is producing many of the same physical reactions as anxiety like heavy perspiration or increased heart rate.

There lies a problem with only prescribing exercise for mental health. Researchers don’t yet have a handle on which types of exercise are the most effective, how much is necessary, or even whether exercise works best in conjunction with other therapies. The is potential exists, but further research needs to be conducted.

Going Green

Go green, minimize your carbon footprint, recycle, are all common words and phrases that are often used in relation to the environment. There are countless opportunities to get out and exercise. More than just a training environment, it turns out that people who exercise outdoors, in their natural settings, are benefiting from more than just their sweat efforts.

Research has shown that time spent in nature has numerous benefits for a person’s well-being, from reduced feelings of tension and anger to overall improvements in mood[5].

So why do we feel so much better? One theory is that by spending time in natural environments, our concentration and overall functioning is restored. By comparing this to our indoor environments, which are full of mentally fatiguing stimuli (TV, phones, computers), our outdoor environment requires effortless attention.

If you’re new to exercising outdoors, take time to adapt: start with a few minutes at the end of your workout to do some cool down stretches, relax, and enjoy your surroundings.

Sign your company up today for the SparkPittsburgh Company Step Challenge and prove that you are committed to being one of the healthiest and most active companies in Western Pennsylvania.

To sign your company up visit sparkpittsburgh.com.


Resources:

[1] Statistics. Running USA. Available at: http://www.runningusa.org/statistics. Accessed July 19, 2017.

[2] Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. World Health Organization. Available at:http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_recommendations/en/. Accessed July 19, 2017.

[3] Journal of the American College of Cardiology Sep 2012, 60 (12) 1064-1066; DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2012.05.015

[4] Journal of the American College of Cardiology Nov 2010, 56 (20) 1681-1682; DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2010.07.022

[5] 1. Brown K, Stanforth D. Go green with outdoor activity. ACSM Health Fitness J. 2017

NASA Guide to Air-Filtering Houseplants

By:  Lynsey Bish

Surprisingly modern furnishings, synthetic building materials, and even your own carpet carry more chemicals than expected and can make up to 90 percent of indoor air pollution. NASA researchers Clean Air study found that plants can play a major role in effectively removing benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, ammonia, and xylene from the air. This list of chemicals have been linked to health effects like headaches and eye irritation.

So how do houseplants clean the air? Carbon dioxide and some particulates for the air are processed into oxygen though photosynthesis, but that’s not all! Microorganisms associated with the plants are present in potting soil, and responsible for much of the air purification. Beyond air purification indoor plants have shown to boost our mood. For example, patients who were placed in a recovery room after surgery with plants were more positive and had lower stress and blood pressure.[1]

For those of us who don’t really have a green thumb, I’ve selected five indoor houseplants that are almost impossible to kill.

Spider Plant

(Image from lovethegarden.com)

Spider plants are one of the easiest plants to take care of. So, if you forget about watering it for a few days, it’s okay! If you do notice that it is particularly dry, hang them in the bathroom while you’re in the shower. Spider Plants are non-toxic to pets and children. They love bright, indirect sunlight and can grow in any soil.

Pollutants removed: formaldehyde and xylene

Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue

This plant is one of the hardest houseplants to kill, just make sure that you water it occasionally. Although, this plant does prefer drier conditions and some sun.

Pollutants removed: formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and benzene.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is one of my personal favorite houseplants, in addition to being easy to care for; aloe has some hidden additional benefits. This plant is full of a clear liquid that is packed with vitamins, enzymes, and amino acids that have wound-healing, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Pollutant removed: formaldehyde

Peace Lily    

You may not think that a Peace Lily will really make a difference with air purification based on its size, but it packs a punch with some major air-cleaning abilities. They enjoy shady areas and a moist soil. Just be mindful that they do bloom throughout the summer which can contribute some pollen and floral scents.

Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene

Garden Mum

The Garden Mum is the air-purifying champion! This plant is inexpensive and available at local garden stores. Mums love light and lots of water. They are simple to grow and to propagate. Mum’s bloom through the months when other plants are completely spent. Take advantage of this unique plant and spruce up your home or office with an array of colorful Mums.

Pollutants removed: ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene

 


[1] Park, Seong-Hyun, and Richard H. Mattson. “Ornamental Indoor Plants in Hospital Rooms Enhanced Health Outcomes of Patients Recovering from Surgery.” The Journal of Alternativeand Complementary Medicine 15.9 (2009): 975-80. Web.

 

Designing a Healthful Diet

By:  Lynsey Bish

What exactly is a healthful diet? A healthful diet provides the proper combination of energy and nutrients. It has four characteristics: it is adequate, moderate, balanced, and varied. No matter how young or old, overweight or underweight, healthy or ill, if you keep these characteristics in mind, you will be able to select foods that provide you with an optimum combination of nutrients and energy each day.

What tools can help you design a healthful diet?

Many people feel it’s not possible for them to eat a healthful diet. They mistakenly believe that the foods they would need to eat are too expensive or not available to them, or that they’re too busy to do the necessary planning, shopping, and cooking.

Although designing and maintaining a healthful diet is not as simple as eating whatever you want, most of us can do with a little practice and a little help. Here are some tools to help get you started.

Dietary Guideline for Americans

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a set of principles developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health to promote health, reduce the risk for chronic diseases, and reduce the prevalence of obesity among Americans though Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity[1].

They include twenty-three recommendations for the general population, but you don’t have to remember them all! Instead, they encourage you to focus on the following four main ideas.

Balance Calories to Maintain Weight

An important strategy for balancing your calories is to choose nutrient-dense foods (foods that provide the most nutrients for the least amount of calories). For example, skim milk is more nutrient dense than whole milk, and a peeled orange is more nutrient than an orange soft drink. At the same time, being physically active for at least 30 minutes each day can reduced your risk for chronic diseases!

Limit Fat and Sugars

Fat is an essential nutrient and important part of a healthful diet but, because fats are energy dense, eating a diet high in total fat can lead to becoming overweight. Less than 7-10% of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat, and you should try to consume less than 300mg per a day of cholesterol[2]. You can achieve the goal by replacing fats, like butter and lard, with plant oils, and replacing full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheeses with low-fat or nonfat versions.

Limit foods and beverages that are high in added sugars, such as sweetened soft drinks, cookies, and cakes. Many foods that contain added sugars often supply calories, but no essential nutrients and no dietary fiber. Sweetened foods and beverages can be replaced with those that are low in or have no added sugars. Sweetened beverages can be replaced with water and unsweetened beverages[3].

Consume more Healthful Foods and Nutrients

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Each day, try to eat a variety of dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, along with beans and peas.
  • Make sure that at least half of all grain foods (breads, cereals, pasta, and so on) that you eat each day are made from whole grains.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, which include milk, yogurt, cheese, and fortified soy beverages.
  • When making protein choices, choose protein foods that are lower in solid fat and Calories, such as lean cuts of beef or skinless poultry. Try to eat more fish and shellfish in place of traditional meat and poultry choices. Also choose eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Choose foods that provide an adequate level of dietary fiber as well as nutrients of concern in the American diet, including potassium, calcium, and vitamin D. These nutrients help us maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce our risks for certain diseases. Healthful foods that are good sources of these nutrients include fruits, vegetables, beans and peas, whole grains, and low-fat milk and milk products[1].
  • Follow Healthy Eating PatternsThere isn’t a healthy eating pattern that everyone should follow. The best recommendation made in Dietary Guidelines is designed to accommodate diverse cultural, ethnic, traditional, and personal preferences that still fit into your food budget. MyPlate.gov is free for everyone to help find a healthy eating style and build it throughout your lifetime. MyPlate will focus on helping you make healthy food and beverage choices and include all five food groups. It’s about making small changes to create a healthier eating style.

    Overall, the Goals of the Dietary Guideline are to promote health, reduce the risk for chronic diseases and improve nutrition and physical activity.


[1] Abou-Samra, R., et al. 2011. Effect of different protein sources on satiation and short-term satiety when consumed as a starter. Nutrition Journal 2011, December 23(10):139.
[2] Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The science of nutrition. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.
[3] 2010 Dietary Guidelines. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2017

Spring Activities Around Pittsburgh

This past Sunday, thousands participated in the Pittsburgh Marathon and half marathon.  Racers from all over the world took to the streets of Pittsburgh to show us all that dedication, perseverance, and endurance can get us all across our personal finish lines.

But, if you are suffering from the post marathon blues, or are just looking from some great ways to get out and active in the Pittsburgh area, we have curated a list of great opportunities for you to do just that.

Kayaking, North Shore Location

Do you like to kayak or want to try something new?  Located right next to PNC, you can rent a solo or tandem kayak, and spend an hour or two exploring to the sights along the Allegheny River, from Point State Park to Washington’s Landing.

Yoga in the Square

If you like yoga or are interested in beginning, Yoga in the Square might be right for you.  Every Sunday morning, starting May 28th, local yoga instructors take turns leading an hour long yoga class that yogis of all levels will enjoy.

Skydiving Over Pittsburgh

Looking for an adrenaline boosting thrill?  Then skydiving is definitely for you.  At Skydiving Over Pittsburgh, you will get to experience a tandem skydive with a seasoned professional while getting the most amazing aerial views of the Steel City.

Moraine State Park

Sometimes it’s great to get out of the city and spend some time in nature.  Moraine State Park offers a plethora of outdoor activities that will delight you and your friends and family.  From biking and picnicking along a beautiful trail to spending the day on the water swimming, fishing, or boating, there is something for everyone at Moraine State Park.