Discover the Health Benefits of Swimming

As the fair weather returns, thoughts return to outdoor recreation and water sports. If you’re not already a swimming enthusiast, this might be a good time to discover the health benefits of swimming, and start building momentum for this comprehensive and healthy exercise. It can be practiced indoors or out and can also provide a welcome alternative to bored or injured runners.

Swimming provides a comprehensive workout

Swimming is a whole body workout. To swim for any sizable amount of time, you need to engage all your limbs or you risk getting quickly exhausted. As a consequence, all the muscles in your body are mobilized during a typical swim workout.

You will get an even better workout if you use several swimming strokes because you activate the muscles in several different ways. And as swimming engages all limbs in different kinds of motions, it promotes joint flexibility and allows you to participate in a great aerobic activity that often is easier on backs, hips, and knees than traditional track, court, and field athletic activities.

Good cardiovascular benefits, and low-impact exercise

The health benefits of swimming don’t stop there. Swimming is an endurance sport and one of the best cardiovascular exercises. Swimming exercise reduces your blood pressure, strengthens your heart, and improves your aerobic capacity.

When you swim, your body is supported by the water. The water has a much greater density than air, and this limits the speed at which you can move in the water. These factors make swimming one of the best low-impact exercises than can be practiced even when other forms of exercise aren’t possible. Swimming:

  • Can be practiced safely at any age
  • Can be practiced during pregnancy
  • Can be practiced as an alternative exercise for injured athletes
  • Is a good exercise regimen for overweight people

Weight control and recovering from injuries

There are other health benefits of swimming. As an endurance sport, swimming allows you to lose (or control) weight. It burns about three calories per mile per pound of body weight. To be effective for weight control, you need to swim at a continuous pace at least two or three times a week for at least half an hour.

Swimming also is an excellent sport that can relieve certain types of aches. It is often prescribed to patients experiencing back problems and pain. Swimming backstroke is an excellent exercise to loosen up and strengthen the back. Swimming is also an excellent exercise for people who suffer from arthritis because of the support and soft resistance of the water.

One caution. Even though swimming is a low-impact exercise, there is a possibility to develop certain swimming injuries, so consult your physician or physical therapist to be aware of these potential consequences.

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!

The Importance of Sunscreen: How to Select, Apply, and Use It Correctly

Now that the warm weather’s finally upon us, it’s important to remember that while we may love the outdoors, going to the beach and how we look with a tan, there are serious consequences when we get too much sun exposure. Overexposure to the sun causes sunburn, premature aging of the skin, wrinkling, and skin cancer, including melanoma. Here are tips to help you enjoy the outdoors without hurting yourself.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, and the leading cause of death from skin disease. Melanoma can spread very rapidly. Although it is less common than other types of skin cancer, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing.

The development of melanoma is related to sun exposure or ultraviolet radiation, particularly among people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair. The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, the disease also frequently affects young, otherwise healthy people.

Risks for melanoma include the following:

  • Living in sunny climates or at high altitudes
  • Long-term exposure to high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
  • One or more blistering sunburns during childhood
  • Use of tanning devices

Unprotected sun exposure is dangerous

Sunlight consists of ultraviolet (UV) rays, as well as related rays such as UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA rays are present throughout the day and are the most important cause of premature aging of the skin. In addition, UVA rays are responsible for photosensitivity reactions and also contribute to skin cancer.
  • UVB rays are most intense from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and are most responsible for sunburn and skin cancer development.
  • UVC rays are filtered by the ozone layer and do not reach the earth’s surface.

Increased exposure to UV radiation occurs nearer the equator, during summer months, at higher elevation and during peak daylight. Reflection from the snow, sand, and water increases exposure, a particularly important consideration for beach activities, skiing, swimming, and sailing. You can limit your dangerous exposure and help prevent burns and long-term damage by covering exposed areas when possible, wearing hats, and using the wide variety of sunscreens available in most stores and pharmacies.

When to apply sunscreen

  • Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before being in the sun (for best results) so that it can be absorbed by the skin and less likely to wash off when you perspire.
  • Remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming or strenuous exercise.
  • Apply sunscreen often throughout the day if you work outdoors, and wear hats and protective clothing.

How to apply sunscreen

  • Shake well before use to mix particles that might be clumped up in the container. Consider using the new spray-on or stick types of sunscreen.
  • Be sure to apply enough sunscreen. As a rule of thumb, use an ounce (a handful) to cover your entire body.
  • Use on all parts of your skin exposed to the sun, including the ears, back, shoulders, and the back of the knees and legs.
  • Apply thickly and thoroughly.
  • Be careful when applying sunscreen around the eyes.

What to look for when you buy sunscreen

  • Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
  • Read product labels. Look for a waterproof brand if you will be sweating or swimming. Buy a non-stinging product or one specifically formulated for your face.
  • Buy a brand that does not contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) if you are sensitive to that ingredient.
  • Try a sunscreen with different chemicals if your skin reacts badly to the one that you are using. Not all sunscreens have the same ingredients.
  • Use a water-based sunscreen if you have oily skin or are prone to acne.
  • Be aware that more expensive does not mean better. Although a costly brand might feel or smell better, it is not necessarily more effective than a cheaper product.
  • Be aware of the expiration date because some sunscreen ingredients might degrade over 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!

Tips for Exercising Safely in the Heat

As temperatures soar, there are important tips that people of all ages can follow to enjoy physical activity and exercise and also reduce the risk of heat illness that may occur from activity in the heat of summer. June is Men’s Health Month, and while we can experience high temperatures as summer approaches, this awareness is especially timely in July and August when participating in summer activities, outdoor recreation and sports.

“Many cases of heat illness are preventable and can be successfully treated if such conditions are properly recognized and appropriate care is provided in a timely manner,” said athletic trainer Brendon P. McDermott, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “We’re hoping to educate athletes, coaches, parents and health care providers about what can be done to prevent and treat heat illnesses.”
 

Watching for certain factors is key to safe summer activities

To guard against heat illnesses, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) recommends following these easy steps:

  1. Gradually increase activity in terms of intensity and duration in the heat. This prepares your body for more intense, longer duration exercise in warm conditions, and helps prevent injury and heat illness.
  2. Intersperse periods of rest during activity and assure adequate rest between exercise bouts. Rest breaks are an important defense against heat illness, and proper sleeping habits decrease your risk as well.
  3. Begin outdoor activities only after you’re properly hydrated. Drink water or sports drinks throughout physical activity in the heat.
  4. A darker urine color is a quick indicator of dehydration. Your urine should look more like lemonade than apple juice.
  5. Exercise during cooler portions of the day (early morning or late evening), if possible.
  6. Do not participate in intense exercise if you show signs of an existing illness (i.e., fever, diarrhea, extreme fatigue, etc.). These can decrease your body’s tolerance for heat and increase your risk of a heat illness. Back off on exercise intensity or duration if not feeling well (walk instead of run, cut the session short, etc.)
  7. Athletic events should employ an athletic trainer for coverage to assure proper medical supervision, recognition and treatment of possible injuries and heat illness.

Heat-related ailments – what to watch for

“We are not invincible when it comes to exercise in the heat,” said McDermott. “In extreme cases, if medical care is not provided in a timely manner, long-term damage can occur.”

Following is an overview of the heat-related ailments to be aware of when working or playing in the heat:

  1. Exertional Heat Stroke is an extremely serious illness that can result in death unless quickly recognized and properly treated. Signs and symptoms include an increase in core body temperature (usually above 104°F/40°C); central nervous system dysfunction, such as altered consciousness, seizures, confusion, emotional instability, irrational behavior or decreased mental acuity; nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea; headache, dizziness, or weakness; increased heart rate; decreased blood pressure or fast breathing; dehydration; and combativeness.

    What to do: It’s very important that treatment for exertional heat stroke be both aggressive and immediate, provided adequate medical personnel are on site. Key steps to take when exertional heat stroke is identified include immediate whole-body cooling, preferably through cold-water immersion, followed immediately by medical treatment in an emergency room or trauma center.

  2. Heat exhaustion is a moderately serious illness resulting from fluid loss or sodium loss in the heat. Signs and symptoms include loss of coordination; dizziness or fainting; profuse sweating or pale skin; headache, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; stomach/intestinal cramps or persistent muscle cramps.

    What to do: Heat exhaustion patients should immediately be transported to a cool, shaded environment with feet elevated, and fluids should be replaced. If their condition worsens or does not improve within minutes, they should be transported to the emergency room for evaluation and treatment. Those suffering from heat exhaustion should avoid intense activity in the heat until at least the next day. NATA also recommends a trip to the doctor to rule out any underlying conditions that predispose them to heat exhaustion.

  3. Heat cramps are often present in those who perform strenuous exercise in the heat. Conversely, cramps also occur in the absence of warm or hot conditions, which is common in ice hockey players. Signs and symptoms include intense pain (not associated with pulling or straining a muscle) and persistent muscle contractions that continue during and after exercise.

    What to do: People suffering from heat cramps should cease activity, consume high-sodium food and stretch the affected muscle. They should also be assessed by an athletic trainer to determine if they can return to activity. If cramping progresses in severity or number of muscle groups, patients should be transported to the emergency room for more advanced treatment.

  4. Hyponatremia is a potentially fatal illness that occurs when a person’s blood sodium levels decrease, either due to over-hydration or inadequate sodium intake, or both. Medical complications can result in cerebral and/or pulmonary edema. Signs and symptoms of this illness include excessive fluid consumption before, during and after exercising (weight gain during activity); increasing headache; nausea and vomiting (often repetitive); and swelling of extremities (hands and feet).

    What to do: Hyponatremia cases that involve mental confusion and intense headache should be seen by a physician so proper treatment can be administered. A physician should also be consulted prior to resuming outdoor activity in the heat.

Always listen to your body. If you are participating in any fitness routines or general activity in the heat, and you start to feel ill or strange, you should stop immediately and seek medical attention, as needed. Have fun, but be safe in the heat!

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!

Maximizing Return On Investment (ROI) for Worksite Wellness Programs

The work site is the ideal place for health and wellness programs. Employees spend more than half of their waking hours at work. According to the Wellness Councils of America, the amount of ROI that can be expected from a wellness program depends on the type of program being implemented. They refer to three different types of programs: (1) Quality of Work Life (QWL) Wellness or “Wellness for Fun and Pleasure;” (2) Traditional or Conventional (ToC) Wellness or “the Safe Approach;” and (3) Health and Productivity Management (HPM) Style Wellness, or “Serious Wellness.”

QWL wellness programs focus primarily on improving the morale of employees. They are intended to add quality to work life and to improve camaraderie and relationships between employer and employees. This approach to worksite wellness involves entirely voluntary activities that are generally selected for the positive effect they are likely to have on employees. The ROI for this type of program is quite low with a cost/benefit ratio from zero to 1:1.5.

ToC wellness programs focus primarily on the passive offering of a more extensive set of interventions than the QWL program model. They are intended to offer a wide range of activities in a smorgasbord-style approach where about half the eligible participants will usually initiate the use of one or more program activities. The intention is to offer, on a voluntary basis, many different worksite-based wellness activities and to have something for everybody. The ROI for this type of program is moderate with a cost/benefit ratio of 1:1.5 to 1:3.5.   

HPM wellness programs focus primarily on the proactive offering of a highly structured and substantial set of interventions than either the QWL program model or the ToC program model. They are intended to provide an infrastructure of health-management activities offered to a large portion of the workforce and their spouses. The core intention of the HPM model is to offer an organized, intentional process of health improvement and health-risk reduction for all participants. The ROI for this type of program is higher than that of the other two program types with a cost/benefit ratio of 1:3.6 to 1:7.0.

Regardless of which model you choose, the ROI on worksite-related wellness activities succeeds on multiple physical, emotional and cultural levels, helps reduce health-care related costs, and increases morale and productivity.

We’ll continue to bring you wellness ROI stories each month, but also encourage you to share your stories with us. Please let us know what you’re doing, how it’s going, and if we can mention your efforts in a future issue of this newsletter. Send your note to Daryn.marchi@cbia.com.

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!