NEW ULM, Minn. (WCCO) -- People in New Ulm are eating more fruits and vegetables, and exercising more, too. The number of heart attacks has dropped by 24 percent since the Heart of New Ulm Project started last year. However, project coordinators said they don't take all the credit for that decrease.
Several people who live in New Ulm and several businesses are part of the project, including J & R Schugel Trucking Company. The company is owned by the family of WCCO's James Schugel.
J & R has a fleet of trucks that crisscross the country, delivering goods and picking them up.
There's not much down-time for the trucks themselves, but there is a lot for the truckers and the staff at New Ulm headquarters. That's where Angela Domeier works.
"Just walking up and down the steps here at work, I'd get to the top and I'd be tired and out of breath," Domeier said. "I do sit all day, eight hours a day, then in (a?) car coming here and going home."
Domeier was at risk for heart attack and stroke, with high cholesterol and high triglycerides. She vowed to change her unhealthy lifestyle for her family, knowing her own mother died of cancer when Domeier was 18 years old.
"I know what it's like to not have a mother growing up, so definitely stay healthy for the kids," she said.
Domeier wasn't alone. The company has a high number of employees overweight or obese. Some smoke, while others have high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
"I was looking on the Internet one day and saw it was National Run to Work Day," said Rick Schugel, the company's president.
That's when he decided to kick-off a wellness program, hoping to change health and change attitudes. It started with a 5K-run in September last year.
"Ever since then, it kind of evolved and turned into a good thing, and we're seeing a lot of good results and things happen," said Schugel.
J & R also teamed with the Heart of New Ulm Project, in conjunction with Allina Hospitals, Minneapolis Heart Institute and New Ulm Medical Center.
Culinary competitions got employees eating healthier. Bonuses went to those who sat on a stability ball at their desk. Vending machines got a healthy upgrade with fruits and sandwiches.
Domeier helped organize a "Biggest Loser" competition, motivating fellow employees to lose weight. And the efforts have worked.
Domeier and a dozen others have dropped a total of 110 pounds.
The company is now tobacco-free and fewer employees smoke during work hours. The number of health insurance claims has also gone down significantly and many employees are exercising regularly.
"Feel definitely better, yes," said Domeier. It's a feeling she shares with colleagues.
J & R's employees are now headed in a different direction -- a healthier one.
WCCO-TV's James Schugel Reports
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