Kara Urkoski and her youngest son Blake pictured on vacation in Florida.

Kara Urkoski, provider executive II at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE), credits her success in leading an active lifestyle to being involved in sports when she was a kid.

“I played soccer a lot when I was younger, I was on competitive teams and I went to the Cornhusker State Games,” said Urkoski. “That’s helped me in my adult years to stay active.”

Sixteen months ago, Urkoski realized she wasn’t as active as she needed to be when she completed her Vitality Check, which is a biometric assessment that helps identify potential health problems, like diabetes or heart disease. It includes physical measurements and a blood draw to determine fasting blood glucose levels, blood pressure, total cholesterol and body mass index (BMI).

The Vitality Check assessment is part of the Vitality Today mobile app provided by BCBSNE through its employee wellness program, which engages and rewards employees for prioritizing their health and well-being.

“I got my physical and blood work done; everything was in check, but my cholesterol was off the chart; it was over 300,” she said. “I have hereditary high cholesterol and I wouldn’t have gotten checked without the Vitality app.”

The high number meant Urkoski had to go on medication, but it also encouraged her to become more active.

“I’ve been on an upswing with my wellness,” she said. “It’s very important to create an environment conducive to our success.”

She believes that starts with challenging yourself.

“Whether that’s competing with myself and how I did yesterday or the previous week or competing in step challenges with my Apple Watch,” said Urkoski.

Urkoski’s friend group helps her stay accountable with her nutrition.

“I’ve got a really strong group of friends who support each other,” she said. “Society has made it okay for women to have wine time after work or have Wine Wednesdays for being stressed and worn out. There’s always an excuse to drink. We folded that into our wellness journey with nutrition and making sure that everything is in moderation.”

Her children remind her to push harder to reach her target.

My kids know, they’re like, ‘Mom has to get her 10,000 steps today, otherwise she only gets five points,’” said Urkoski. “It’s silliness but it helps, and it pushes me and I love it.”

Urkoski inspires and challenges her children to be active.

“I have four children, two older daughters and two younger sons – they’re very active,” she said. “They see Mom getting up early in the morning and working out. So, I’ll send them challenges with my Apple watch.”

She appreciates that leadership at BCBSNE supports her efforts in reaching 10,000 steps a day.

“They have said put it on your calendar,” said Urkoski. “If you look at my calendar, you’ll see there’s several days where I have 30 minutes dedicated to walking.”

Urkoski’s hard work and dedication to physical exercise finally paid off when she no longer had to take medication to manage her high cholesterol.

“I checked it again this April, and my doctor took me off the statin drug I was taking because I brought it down just by exercising,” she said. “That’s another benefit because I hate taking medication.”

The reduction in her cholesterol levels impacted her overall wellness.

“My Vitality age dropped five years on the Vitality app and so did my BMI,” said Urkoski. “The Vitality app helps you compartmentalize everything. They’re looking at your BMI, alcohol consumption, stress and anxiety levels and physical activity.”

Urkoski participates in other company-sponsored wellness activities and motivates her peers to join.

“If there’s a walking challenge at work, I’m like we’re doing it,” she said. “If there’s a 5K, I’m like who wants in on this one?”

Before coming to BCBSNE, Urkoski worked closely with health care providers and learned firsthand the importance of putting words into action and the impact it can have on others.

“Being able to really walk the walk and talk the talk,” she said. “While working in health care, it would make me sad when providers were telling you how to be healthy and all these targets to hit. Yet when you looked at them, you knew they weren’t taking care of themselves.”

While conversating with her close friend and after hitting all her Vitality targets for 11 days straight, Urkoski noticed positive impacts on her physical and mental health.

“Now it’s like the flip side, I struggle to take a day off, and my body just craves activity and being healthy,” she said. “Whereas before when I was not in this routine and not used to these healthy habits, it was like dragging myself out of bed.”

Helping and encouraging others to be a better version of themselves is rewarding for her.

“A coworker called me the other day out of the blue and said, ‘I got a treadmill, and I’ve been walking on it and I’ve lost 10 pounds.’ Hearing the joy in her voice and knowing that she’s been putting herself first and focusing on her health was inspirational,” said Urkoski.

For those thinking about making a wellness change, she recommends starting immediately.

“We always say we’re going to start on Monday, next week or next month,” said Urkoski. “Start today and track it; technology is your friend.”

Urkoski suggests taking advantage of the resources you have available and finding substitutes for the ones you don’t.

“Fight your excuses and get creative,” she said. “Use what you have. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Going outside for a walk could easily get you 10,000 steps or parking further away.”

To read more stories like this one, visit Health and Wellness.

*Wise & Well is a monthly wellness series highlighting BCBSNE employees and their dedication to health and wellness.