New Ready. Set. CO health program aims to vault Colorado back to the top among healthiest states

Aug. 2, 2023
UCHealth teamed up with the City of Loveland and the National Fitness Campaign to bring Colorado’s first court to Loveland in 2019. Photo Courtesy of National Fitness Campaign.

For years, Colorado ranked in the top tier of healthiest state in the nation, but that is no longer the case.

Colorado has dropped in the rankings. But a new challenge called Ready. Set. CO aims to restore Colorado’s status as the healthiest state in the union.

As it stands, Colorado now ranks as the nation’s 10th healthiest state. The state still boasts relatively low obesity rates, ranking second leanest behind Hawaii. A high percentage of Coloradans are physically active and fewer have diabetes and cardiovascular disease than in other states. But more Coloradans could be healthier if they had help reaching their goals.

That’s where Ready. Set. CO comes in. It’s a new health challenge launched by UCHealth in collaboration with like-minded Colorado companies to drive awareness, education and engagement, and to encourage and support the health and well-being of Coloradans through:logo for Ready. Set. Co., a program that aims to boost Colorado to the top of healthiest states.

  • Fitness
  • Nutrition
  • Mental/behavioral health
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Community involvement
  • Self-care
  • Medical care

Ready. Set. CO aims to help Coloradans become healthier in all aspects of their lives.

“We want to think unconventionally,’’ said Tomas Estrella, an innovation strategist at UCHealth. “We don’t just view ourselves as a health system. We’re also a lifestyle resource. We are providing Coloradans with resources they need to stay healthy and outside of the hospital.

“We don’t necessarily want people to come to us, we want to keep them healthy so that they can enjoy living their best life,” Estrella said.

Rankings of healthiest states are derived from data from U.S. News & World Report, United Health Foundation and Sharecare Community Well-being Index. Rankings are based on healthy behaviors, presence of disease, deaths from illness, public health, community and social bonds, access to health care, housing and transportation and smoking rate.

UCHealth launched Ready. Set. CO in November with the Colorado Rapids soccer team and a website in March. This fall, UCHealth and partners will unveil an app that contains resources from Ready. Set. CO.

Dr. Robert Lam, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth in southern Colorado and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said one of the best ways for Colorado to return to the top of the list of healthiest states is to incorporate physical activity with social activity, thereby promoting mental health.

“Most us who live in Colorado understand the benefits of physical health. I feel like we’ve always been told you have to be physically healthy to live at a healthy weight. The areas that are probably more neglected are the emotional health and the social connection,’’ Lam said.

Lam said that when it comes to emotional well-being, studies show that many of the benefits of taking a big trip or a big vacation come from the planning stage and the anticipation of having something grand to look forward to.

Lam says it doesn’t always have to be as elaborate as a trip to Turks and Caicos. In Colorado, you can take a mini vacation in your own neighborhood. A big fan of what he calls “micro adventures,’ Lam said it can be as simple as planning a quick walk in the mountains with a friend, meeting a mentor or mentee for lunch, or meeting another family at a park where the kids can play.

“There’s no reason why we can’t embrace both avenues (physical and mental health) at the same time. So if we set a date when we go for a walk with a friend, we are trying to address the physical and mental health and social connection at the same time,’’ he said.

“We want to build a coalition with other Colorado companies that are also doing great things, not just in health care but companies that are striving to make a difference in all aspects of health, and taking that holistic approach to health and building that coalition so we can help Coloradans achieve their goals, regardless of what their goal is,’’ Estrella said.

Lam says that having social connection is a key aspect to living a healthy lifestyle, reflecting what the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, is talking about in his campaign about loneliness.

“There have been significant changes in the way we interact with each other. We started to see that before the pandemic, and Dr. Murthy began raising the alarm before the pandemic began.

“Even though we live in such a connected time, even though we are connected electronically, we still have this perception of loneliness that exists no matter what our life stages are. Despite the fact that it is easier than ever to connect electronically, there is something that is lacking in terms of the meaningfulness of that connection,’’ Lam said.

The surgeon general says loneliness – lack of social connection – has a detrimental effect on health that is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Lam believes that Colorado may have slipped in the rankings of healthiest states because of population growth and the inability of communities to keep pace with infrastructure that supports health.

“Colorado has been an especially popular place, a destination for people all around the country and that’s a very positive thing because it shows that a lot of people appreciate the benefits that we have and the lifestyle that we have in Colorado,’’ Lam said. “But with that comes changing cultural values, in some ways. Some people bring their own cultural values and that shifts our traditional Colorado cultural values of being into the outdoors and healthy eating. So that’s a change.

Along with leading the University of Colorado Buffaloes football team, Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders has accepted an informal role with UCHealth: “Chief Motivation Officer” for the Ready. Set. CO challenge. Read more.

“In some ways, our growth has impacted the ability of our infrastructure to keep up with some of these health indices. As we grow as a population, it becomes harder and harder to have easy access to the outdoors, even though we have top-notch parks and outdoor places. … It’s harder for people in Denver to get out and see Breckenridge or the Front Range because traffic is so bad on the interstate.’’

Lam believes that as the state’s population continues to grow that residents should advocate for improved infrastructure that promotes a healthy lifestyle. Most of all, Coloradans should make it a priority to care for themselves.

“When you’re on the airplane, and you’re flying with one of your children and they say, ‘Put your own mask on before you help others,’ that’s good advice. We have to remember to put our own health and well-being first so we can best be in a position to help others.

“If you care for a family member or if you are a parent, you have to put your own health first. And, sometimes, that means we have to schedule that time when we are being active physically, when we are connecting with our community and the people that we care about. We’re going to secure our mask, put ourselves first, so that we can help others. I kind of like that mindset.’’

Ready. Set. CO is a health challenge for everyone in Colorado to improve their health and return the state to the healthiest in the United States. That means we’ve all got to do something to improve physical and mental health and build stronger and new relationships with others.

“We just have to tend to our well-being like a garden,’’ Lam said.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.