Stretching and Relaxing Your Way to a Fitter 2012

As most Americans wrap up the year and the holiday eating frenzy that began with Thanksgiving and stretches until New Years, it’s typical to think about losing weight, exercising, and a return to more sensible, healthy habits. Exercise benefits everyone in a variety of ways, from weight loss and toning to stress reduction, but depending on your age, weight and physical condition, certain types of exercise are more difficult to practice or sustain. Maybe it’s time to consider a popular alternative to traditional workouts.

Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, with more than 11 million Americans enjoying its health benefits. Most Westernized yoga classes focus on learning physical poses. They also usually include some form of breathing technique and possibly a meditation technique as well. Some yoga classes are designed purely for relaxation. But there are styles of yoga that teach you how to move your body in new ways. Choosing one of these styles offers the greatest health benefits by enabling you to develop your flexibility, strength, and balance.

Yoga and flexibility

Many people think of yoga as having to stretch like a gymnast. That makes them worry that they’re too old or unfit to do yoga. The truth is you’re never too old to improve flexibility. Yoga poses (called asanas) work by safely stretching your muscles. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use and causes stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. In addition, yoga increases the range of motion in joints. It may also increase lubrication in the joints, increasing ease and fluidity.

Yoga stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles. And no matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time.

Some styles of yoga are more vigorous than others. Practicing one of these styles will help you improve muscle tone. But even less vigorous styles of yoga, which focus on less movement and more precise alignment in poses, can provide strength and endurance benefits. This becomes crucial as people age. The standing poses, especially if you hold them for several long breaths, build strength in your hamstrings, quadriceps, and abdominal muscles. When practiced correctly, nearly all poses build core strength in the deep abdominal muscles.

Yoga helps posture and breathing

With increased flexibility and strength comes better posture. Most standing and sitting poses develop core strength. That’s because you’re counting on your deep abdominals to support and maintain each pose. With a stronger core, you’re more likely to sit and stand “tall.” Another benefit of yoga is the increased body awareness. This heightened awareness tells you more quickly when you’re slouching or slumping so you can adjust your posture.

Additionally, because of the deep, mindful breathing that yoga involves, lung capacity often improves. This in turn can improve work and sports performance and endurance. But yoga typically isn’t focused on aerobic fitness the way running or cycling are. Most forms of yoga emphasize deepening and lengthening your breath. This stimulates the relaxation response — the opposite of the fight-or-flight adrenaline boost of the stress response.

Even beginners tend to feel less stressed and more relaxed. Some yoga styles use specific meditation techniques to quiet the constant “mind chatter” that often underlies stress. Other yoga styles depend on deep breathing techniques to focus the mind on the breath, in turn calming the mind. 

The chemistry of yoga

Among yoga’s anti-stress benefits are a host of biochemical responses. For example, there is a decrease in catecholamines, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Lowering levels of hormone neurotransmitters — dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine — creates a feeling of calm. Some research points to a boost in the hormone oxytocin. This is the so-called “trust” and “bonding” hormone that’s associated with feeling relaxed and connected to others.

The same is true with mood. Nearly every yoga student will tell you they feel happier and more contented after class. Recently, researchers have begun exploring the effects of yoga on depression, a benefit that may result from yoga’s boosting oxygen levels to the brain.

In addition, one of the most studied areas of the health benefits of yoga is its effect on heart disease. Yoga has long been known to lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. A slower heart rate can benefit people with high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. On a biochemical level, studies point to a possible anti-oxidant effect of yoga. And yoga has been associated with decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as a boost in immune system function.

So as you weigh your body — and your resolutions for the coming year — consider yoga as a health alternative or supplement to traditional exercise, and have a healthy new year!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Washing Your Hands of Germs and Viruses

It’s cold and flu season and, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As you touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines, and desks. Additionally:

  • 52.2 million cases of the common cold affect Americans under the age of 17 each year alone…and many of these germs are passed to adults and others.
  • Nearly 22 million school days are lost due to the common cold alone.
  • Students don’t wash their hands often or well. In one study, only 58% of female and 48% of male middle and high school students washed their hands after using the bathroom, and numerous studies measuring adult hand-washing habits show similar patterns.
  • A study of Detroit school children showed that scheduled hand washing, at least four times a day, can reduce gastrointestinal illness and related absences by more than 50 percent.

While many of these measurements document hand-washing habits in young adults and children, the findings are applicable to older adults, as well, and especially important for seniors who may lack capacity to fight germs and infections as readily as youth and younger adults.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don’t require water, are an excellent alternative to soap and water. If you choose to use a commercially prepared hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

As a general rule, always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food
  • Eating
  • Treating wounds or giving medicine
  • Touching a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses

Likewise, always wash your hands after:

  • Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Using the toilet
  • Changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes or waste
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands or a tissue
  • Treating wounds
  • Touching a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage or something that could be contaminated, such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes.

Of course, it’s also important to wash your hands whenever they look dirty, but as you can’t see germs, err to the side of caution and help prevent illnesses from ever taking hold.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Resolve to Build an Attainable Personal Action Plan

If you’re like most Americans, you’re excited about the holidays. But the other side of this perennial coin is that many adults also face higher levels of depression and stress, eat poorly, and feel badly about themselves. It’s a difficult time of year, emotionally, physically and financially, for many of us. Let’s take the “glass half full” approach, though, and assume you’re looking forward to the days ahead and trying to balance your good intentions with healthy behaviors, rather than giving in to the seasonal demons that taunt us all.

This is not another article on setting resolutions, that annual exercise in frustration that only leaves us angry or frustrated with ourselves and more likely to just spitefully eat that extra cookie and drink another glass of eggnog. Instead, the best advice is to go easy on yourself:  Drink, eat and celebrate in moderation, allow yourself some excess as expected, but say “no” when you can, keep away from the foods that hurt you the most, and don’t neglect regular exercise or routines that help you keep stress at bay.

Adopting an effective strategy for controlling excess, and setting reasonable expectations for yourself are your smartest options. Focus on short-term goals, such as eating vegetables and fruit at parties and not taking second helpings. Have a cookie and stop. If you imbibe, realize that alcohol and holiday beverages contain a lot of sugar and calories, interfere with your sleep and judgment, and may leave you with a price to pay the next day.

Resolutions should be ongoing. Yes, going back to the gym, avoiding smoking, and eating in more healthful ways are important, but you can resolve to make those changes today, and set simple, achievable, daily goals for yourself. Maybe it’s eating vegetables three times a day, or walking or exercising for 20 minutes daily — you’re not trying to change the world, just working to retain control. Write down your goals, tell a friend or family member what you’re planning, encourage them to check in on you and, if possible, team up for improved motivation and collaboration.

When it comes to purchases, learning to say “no” and practicing financial restraint are difficult challenges, but the more you cede control to impulses, the more it costs you, emotionally and financially. Make lists and a budget, tune your radar to recognize unwise spending, and plan your day carefully. However difficult, make some time for yourself daily, rather than waiting for “when things calm down.” That can include quiet time for reading or reflecting, taking a walk or a swim, going to the gym, calling a friend or whatever routine helps keep you calm and focused. Time, we all come to realize, is the greatest gift we can give ourselves, and we’re worth it.

And finally, when it comes to stress and seasonal angst, the best advice is “don’t despair.” You’re not alone, and there are people, programs and services to turn to for guidance and support. Recognize your own limitations, set reasonable boundaries, and seek help sooner rather than later. We all tend to ignore our successes and beat ourselves up over our perceived failures. Recognize what’s working well and what isn’t, and address those issues calmly and with others, including medical or behavioral health professionals.

Remember, the goal is long-term change and healthy behaviors, not short-term fixes. Surviving the holidays is like plodding through a snowstorm that lasts a full month. You put your head down, walk into the wind, and keep moving forward toward your goals, a step at a time.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Walking the Talk Pays Dividends for Cheshire Employer

For many small employers, measuring their return on investment (ROI) in health and wellness programs in the workplace is a matter of intuition and faith. While there’s a vast measurement pool for large employers, detailed, long-term studies are not yet readily available for small companies, especially those with fewer than a dozen employees. But there is now a growing library of anecdotal case studies and examples that demonstrate clear returns on time and resources invested in employee wellness. And over the coming decade, more specific measurements are likely to document what most of us already know:  Investing in our employees’ health and wellness improves morale, service, and productivity, and reduces healthcare costs.

The following profile is just one example of how investing in wellness makes a difference.

When Joanne Couceiro heard her company — Hobson Associates, a national executive recruitment organization based in Cheshire — was going to participate in CBIA’s wellness program, CBIA Healthy Connections, she was happy. When she heard that her employer would appoint her as wellness champion to help manage wellness efforts and employee involvement, she was thrilled.

Couceiro, who does marketing and sales support, was already on the fitness bandwagon. She had a personal trainer, and was working to become a Certified Group Fitness Instructor. The president of the company, Danny Cahill, also was deeply committed to fitness and wellness, and wanted his staff to have every opportunity to pursue healthy lifestyles.

“We’re ‘doers,’ working in a fast-paced, high-energy culture, constantly going with little ‘down time,” Couceiro explains. “Danny is a health buff and advocate, and wanted his team to learn more about exercise, diet and overall wellness. This was a perfect fit for us.”

A broad cross-section of Hobson’s staff, which ranges in age from 20 to 60, joined fitness classes coordinated and taught onsite by Couceiro. She created an alternating high- and low-impact aerobics step and weight-lifting class, which meets twice a week, and then added a ‘fitness boot camp’ class, as well. Employees meet after work in Hobson’s large training and conference room, averaging eight employees in each class.

Couceiro also encouraged the entire team to complete their online Health Assessments and become better engaged in a comprehensive wellness mentality. Their boss, she stresses, was right there beside her, cheering on his staff.

“We’re a family here,” says Cahill. “You can’t force people to focus on their health, but you can be encouraging and offer them opportunities. These classes help with team building, boost morale and, ultimately, increase productivity. We’re changing attitudes and the spillover effect has been terrific — it’s making a difference.”

Cahill conducted a seminar on nutrition and healthy eating, and also sponsored an onsite wellness clinic to test blood pressure, cholesterol, and to establish baseline measurements for body fat. The team discussed the risks associated with sugar and salt, tobacco, and alcohol use. Those who were interested established personal goals — whether weight loss, smoking cessation, or a commitment to regular exercise — with support and encouragement from their fellow staff members.

Cahill is convinced this commitment to wellness — supported in the workplace as well as in employees’ personal lives — is paying back in spades. “We’re changing attitudes, demonstrating that we care, and showing respect for individuals,” he says. “There’s a lot of confusing, paradoxical information out there on health and wellness, which we’re trying to clarify. Joanne’s classes are popular, with strong educational, physical, and collegial aspects that also promote teamwork and improve camaraderie. On the job, call levels are high even at 3:00 p.m, a traditionally difficult time block for generating higher energy and increased production. This has been and continues to be a good solution for us.”

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Balance, Moderation, and Variety Define Healthier Holiday Eating

It doesn’t seem possible. We’ve hardly put away our swimsuits and sandals. But the annual season of feasting and overindulging is rapidly approaching. This seemingly endless trick of temptation starts with Halloween candy and continues with Thanksgiving, the holidays, through New Year’s and beyond to Super Bowl festivities and Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. But it’s more than just overeating, because exercise becomes collateral damage, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (~60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating and under-exercising during this season of gluttony? It begins with understanding: Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. They include:

  • Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and family, enjoying food and drink. And on special occasions, such as holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases, raising the temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, as we don’t want to put a damper on the merrymaking or disappoint loved ones who have toiled to present good treats. And the alcohol served at many social events can also destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
  • Stress. As if there weren’t enough stress in everyday life, holiday obligations and expectations add to the strain. There’s much to do and accomplish in a short period, and that extra work can be overwhelming. It can add to stress, and the stress can lead to overeating.
  • Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. And when people are tired, they’re more likely to overeat.
  • Emotional eating. Some people use food to soothe sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration as an excuse to overindulge. Holiday marketing of food and consumerism contributes to the excess as well, and even people who have been trying to eat healthy throughout the year may give in. Comfort and nostalgia play roles, as well.
  • Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink when the mercury dips.

The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical inactivity. And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout intentions.

Keys to survival and a healthier holiday season

To make the feasting season a healthier one, experts say, it’s important to practice awareness, manage your stress and emotions, and plan in advance.

Practice Awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of dishing up a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar and preservatives.

Experts agree this is a good season to be realistic, rather than the best time for weight loss. They recommend trying to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective. You don’t have to indulge every minute for three months. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.

Manage Stress and Emotions. One way to keep stress at a minimum is to lower your expectations about holidays. Ask for help to lighten your holiday schedule. Host a potluck holiday meal instead of cooking dinner. Or serve it buffet style instead of having a sit-down meal. Learn to say “no,” in a courteous manner, to activities and food that aren’t in your best interest. And at social events, don’t fill silence with food. Talk and make new friends, and even if you’re sad, try turning to people for comfort instead of food.

Plan in Advance. Eat a little before you go to a holiday gathering; hunger can undo the best intentions. Also, avoid sources of temptation whenever you can. After visiting a buffet, leave the room that’s filled with food. If there are sweets in the office break room, don’t go there. If you’re given unhealthy food as a gift, bring it to the office to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks at the grocery store before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.

Think about what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, then let go of the rest, and find time to fit in walks and exercise wherever and however you can.

The bottom line, the experts say, is to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle both in and outside of the fall/winter feasting season. Constant weight gains and losses can be harmful to your health and your psyche. Keep in mind that celebrations are really about family and friends, not food. Balance, moderation, and variety are keys to better health.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Awareness of Diabetes Triggers Now Can Prevent Problems Later

Diabetes continues to pose a growing national health concern, with 3.6 million Americans currently afflicted, 79 million having pre-diabetes, and 1.6 million more individuals diagnosed each year.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world, creating an enormous, and costly, strain on the U.S. healthcare system.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, this is a good time to take stock of your diet and exercise routines.

Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent. To help you achieve these goals, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.

While watching your nutritional intake and snacking is important, walking and moderate exercise every day or every other day also plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give Yourself the Gift of a Less Stressful Holiday Season

As much as we enjoy the holiday season, it also can be an extremely stressful time of the year for many people. Stressors include time constraints, traveling, cooking, overindulging, family reunions and spending too much money on gifts. In addition, loneliness can add to stress, as people without family or friends can become depressed due to lack of relationships and social interaction. And adding to this potent mix, financial challenges are amplified during this season. Being aware of these issues is important, and maintaining perspective and creating time for yourself to relax helps you control or reduce holiday stress and better equips you for the fast pace of the upcoming season.

Maintaining healthy habits throughout the holidays is an important step for helping you feel in control and able to better cope with seasonal chaos. Do not allow the holiday season to become a free-for-all. When you overindulge in rich foods and drinks, you invite stress and guilt into your life. Enjoying a healthy snack before attending a holiday party prevents you from going overboard on unhealthy food and high-calorie drinks. In addition, continuing to get enough exercise and plenty of sleep helps to reduce stress and allows you to enjoy your holidays better.

Set your budget and stick to it. Prior to embarking on gift or food shopping, determine how much money you can afford to spend, and stick to this amount. Never attempt to buy happiness by overspending on gifts. Effective alternatives to spending too much money include donating to a favorite charity in the recipient’s name, starting a gift exchange and giving homemade gifts instead of store-bought gifts.

Learn to say “no.” Consistently saying “yes” at times when you should really be saying “no” can cause you to be overwhelmed and experience feelings of resentment. Your friends, family and colleagues will understand if you choose not to participate in each activity that they want to include you in. If you are unable to say no to your boss when he requests you to work overtime, eliminate another planned activity from your agenda, which will make up for lost time. Setting reasonable boundaries will help you manage your rest and health when you need it the most.

Set aside differences and practice tolerance. Getting together with family and friends can sometimes evoke feelings of stress and discord. Accepting friends and family members as they are promotes closeness and harmony, which allows you to set aside your grievances temporarily. In addition, be understanding if other people get distressed or upset when something goes wrong. Remember that they might also be feeling the same effects of stress and depression brought on by the holiday season.

Make time for yourself. You need to take a breather and create time solely for yourself. By spending 15 minutes alone, without any distractions, you allow yourself to become refreshed enough to handle the things you need to do. Taking walks, meditating, napping, exercising and listening to soothing music are examples of activities that can help clear your mind, restore your inner calm and reduce stress levels.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to manage the chaos and challenges that accompany the holiday season. Our personal wellness is the best gift of all.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give Your Employees the Gifts of Health and Wellness

When you operate a small business, every employee makes a significant contribution to service and results. If even one employee experiences frequent sick days, low productivity or an extended absence, it can lead to significant challenges and potential lost revenue or unhappy customers. It also damages morale internally when other employees are forced to pick up the slack.

Small businesses have jumped on the wellness bandwagon, once the purview of large employers only. Employers realize that employee wellness programs can reduce healthcare costs, lessen worker’s compensation claims, decrease absenteeism and employee turnover. Health and wellness initiatives supported in the workplace also increase productivity, reduce stress, and improve workers’ attitudes.

Investments in an employee wellness program can be well worth an employer’s initial cost outlay. Large companies have seen amazing returns on their investments as a result of their corporate wellness programs. According to a case study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a company-wide employee wellness program can save $2.43 for every $1 spent. And according to a report from U.S. Corporate Wellness, a commitment to an employee wellness program can result in a 20 percent to 55 percent reduction in healthcare costs.

As the end of 2011 rapidly approaches, this is a good time for employers on the wellness fence to consider learning more about implementing wellness initiatives that are readily available, simple to execute and can return significant results in stress reduction, customer service, productivity, employee morale and revenue.

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Hear This: Understand and Limiting Hearing Loss

Listen up. This is one of those good news/bad news stories. First, the bad news. No matter how hard you try, there isn’t much you can do to prevent hearing loss. Age-related hearing loss affects approximately one-third of all people aged sixty-five and older. Age-related hearing loss is due to the changes that occur in the body as we grow older. Circulatory disorders, for example, which limit the flow of blood throughout the body, as well as to the brain and auditory system, are common in later years.

There are any number of reasons why circulation slows down as we grow older, among them heart disease, hardening of the arteries, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyles. And there are a number of lifestyle and work-related activities that aggravate hearing loss. However, this actually is the good news part:  You can do something to help prevent or limit unnecessary and premature hearing loss.

Nature will run its course

Over a lifetime, both the external ear and the inner ear experience changes. In the external ear, the ear canal narrows, which can cause an easily remedied buildup of earwax that can temporarily impair hearing. The most common age-related hearing loss, however, occurs from changes in the inner ear. At birth, people have about 15,000 sensory “hair” cell receptors lining the cochlea, the spiral-shaped cavity of the inner ear that contains nerve endings essential for hearing. As people age, these sensory cell receptors degenerate or are damaged, causing a form of hearing loss called sensorineural.

Some people lose up to half these cells. This type of loss (also called nerve deafness) can be caused by infections, hereditary problems, trauma and benign tumors, but it is most often a result of aging. The loss usually begins in middle age, occurs in both ears simultaneously, and progresses slowly, beginning with high-frequency sounds such as speech, and slowly stealing the ability to distinguish between sounds.

For the aging baby-boom generation, research shows exposure to loud music may be exacerbating the age-related hearing loss. Experts have known for many years that exposure to too much loud noise produces hearing loss. This condition, known as noise-induced hearing loss, affects construction workers, farmers, musicians, airport workers and people in the armed forces, among others. Sometimes repeated exposure to loud noise causes a ringing, hissing or roaring sound in the ears, called tinnitus. Loud music, personal music technology (phones, MP3 players, etc.) and other prolonged or cumulative noise exposure has shifted causes of hearing loss from war and heavy industry to recreation.

Take steps to reduce hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. Clinicians note several ways to protect and preserve hearing. First and foremost, wear protection in loud situations. The general rule is that if it’s too loud to carry on a conversation without raising your voice, then it’s too loud for your ears. Experts recommend wearing ear protection when using power lawn mowers, listening to live music or firing guns.

In addition, good nutrition and vitamins can help. Niacin, for example, causes vasodilatation, a widening of the arteries, and that helps circulation, as does exercise. It’s important to maintain good blood circulation to protect the hair cells. Limiting caffeine and nicotine intake also can protect hearing and reduce tinnitus.

More good news is that technologic advances are improving options for those with age-related hearing loss. A decade ago, hearing aids did little to help with the earliest stages of sensorineural hearing loss. However, changes and advances over the past several years have allowed many patients with age-related hearing loss to benefit greatly from new hearing aid technology. With the advent of micro-circuitry, hearing aids are now being designed with computer chips that allow multiple programs to be placed in a single hearing aid. These “programmable” hearing aids can be customized to give an individual the best response. The various programs allow the user to select a specific setting for different listening situations, from a quiet conversation to a noisy meeting place.

These and other advances in the auditory sciences will benefit all of us, eventually. But we can start by taking charge of our hearing health now.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate; Knowledge and Action Saves Lives

While the threat and dangers of breast cancer are now well known, thousands of American women (and hundreds of men) are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Early detection and treatment are key to treating and containing this disease. In addition to knowing your family history, getting regular exams and avoiding known cancer-causing foods and activities, there are a variety of natural preventive measures you can take to decrease your chances, including proper diet and exercise, not smoking tobacco products, and drinking in moderation.

When detected early before it can spread to other parts of the body, breast cancer can be treated through radiation, drug therapy and surgery, and many cancer survivors live long, healthy lives.

If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Fortunately, eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. But women sometimes stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, and scheduling regular mammograms.

However, men need to tune in, as well. Each year it is estimated that approximately 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die. While this percentage is still small, men should also give themselves regular breast self-exams and note any changes. Men should speak with their doctor if they find suspicious lumps, abnormal skin growths, experience tenderness or experience other changes in their breasts.

For women, a mammogram remains one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. If you have a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother who had breast cancer, you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis, or starting at age 35.

Don’t let tales of other people’s experiences keep you from having a mammogram or from visiting your physician. Base your decision on your doctor’s recommendation and be sure to discuss any questions or concerns with a medical professional. Breast cancer remains insidious and scary, but you can play an important role in preventing or limiting its spread in you, your children and friends and family by tuning in and knowing the facts.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!