It Sounds, Smells, and Feels like December!

Oh, we love the sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays! Like the natural changes that distinguish New England’s four seasons, we eagerly anticipate favorite songs, familiar scents, and reconnections with old friends and family. There are family traditions, foods, and serving dishes that appear only for the holidays; decorations and numerous personal items that drive our nostalgia meters bonkers. Yet, as much as we share in this seasonal smorgasbord of life and renewal, each item evokes different memories and reactions for every individual, as well as stoking our personal emotional furnaces.

Scent and sound are especially powerful catalysts that help us travel back in time, at least figuratively. Fresh pine, cinnamon, mulled cider, candles, cookies and desserts…these all transport us to holidays past, possibly to our parents’ or grandparents’ kitchens, maybe to amily — now es long goneto holidays past, possibly to our grandparents’ies, each of us  appear only for the holidays, decorativisit family now long gone. That’s the double-edged sword nostalgia offers; we remember the good and the not-so-good, but it’s all valuable in helping to maintain our emotional health and reduce stress, and can revitalize us through hope, renewed friendships, and overall optimism.

Psychologist Krystine Batcho, PhD, is a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and an expert on nostalgia. Her research finds that people who are prone to nostalgia excel at maintaining personal relationships and choose healthy social ways of coping with their troubles. According to Batcho, nostalgia can be associated with a number of psychological benefits. Nostalgic reminiscence, for example, helps a person maintain a sense of continuity despite the constant flow of change over time.

“It is reassuring,” Batcho explains, “to realize how rich our lives have been — how much joy, hard work, success and excitement we have experienced. During difficult times, attention to our past can strengthen us by reminding us of how we survived challenges, loss, injury, failure or misfortune. When we are sad or discouraged, it can be uplifting to remember that we are still the person who had been happy, strong and productive at times in our past.”

Research has shown that our sense of who we are is closely related to how we see ourselves in relation to others. Nostalgia, Batcho stresses, can help a person cope with loneliness by enhancing the sense of social support that comes from knowing that each of us is someone’s daughter or son, mother or father, sister or brother. Nostalgic memories can help someone who is away from home or someone who is mourning the death of a family member by reminding us that the bonds we share with those we love survive physical separation.

Giving back at the holidays, through toy, food and clothing drives, volunteerism and donations also is linked to nostalgia, and has the added benefit of producing a euphoric response known in psychological circles as “giver’s high, which is the result of our bodies’ responding emotionally to our personal goodwill and gestures by producing endorphins, which make us feel good.

Additionally, like scent, music is especially evocative of emotion. Nostalgic song lyrics engage the listener in reverie and capture the bittersweet feeling of years past. “Songs focus us on how the passage of time inevitably brings change, or may remind us of our mistakes and painful aspects of life,” says Batcho. “But the distinctive bittersweet affect of nostalgia also can transform the sense of loss into a positive appreciation of how much we have enjoyed, how much we have survived and, most importantly, how much we have loved and have been loved.”

Nostalgia, Batcho concludes, engages us in reflection on who we once were and how we have arrived at our present selves. Whether secular or religious, shared traditions renew our sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves. By reminding us of events, customs, beliefs or rituals, holiday sounds, sights and scents can help us feel connected to others, even during times of stress or loneliness.

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Building Your Personal Wellness Plan

As the new year rapidly approaches, you’re probably looking at your holiday party calendar, deciding to cast caution to the winds for a few more weeks, and promising yourself that, come January, you’ll settle down and focus more on your health and wellness. Rationalizing and procrastinating are normal human reactions, and while a little guilt may accompany your reverie, don’t feel too bad if, in fact, you’ll keep that commitment to yourself to set a healthier course in 2013.

An important step in achieving that goal is to develop a personal wellness plan — and keep it where it’s always handy. Developing your wellness plan will require that you honestly assess your current health status, meaning that you become more conscious of your daily choices and the impact they have on your overall health. Next, you visualize what you’d like to change, improve or keep the same, over the short term and over the longer term. You should set action items that reflect your goals, and then adopt measurements for seeing how you’re doing.

Your personal wellness plan should take into consideration your health goal, your daily activities, your diet, and your own reward choices. Having a plan to follow helps you remain focused on your goals, and will allow you to more accurately track your progress.  Good intentions can be quickly forgotten if they are not well researched, planned out and then written down.

Long-term wellness plans are personal plans that will focus on your daily health for six months or more. These plans will only change as your health changes or they may change based on new medical research or the results of your lab tests and annual checkups.  A short-term wellness plan would be one that targets a specific medical problem or issue. For example, a short-term plan would be used to lower cholesterol and then a long-term plan would be created to maintain your cholesterol once you have lowered it. Short-term and long-term wellness plans should be used together for overall personal health care planning.

Setting goals and executing your plan

Developing a health goal is critical. Are you at risk for cancer or other chronic illnesses based on family history or your own behavior? Are you thinking of trying to start a family in the near future? Do you tend to get sick a lot or suffer from stress, asthma or other conditions? Do you want to lose weight, stop smoking, cut back on caffeine, salt or alcohol, or generally improve your diet? If you have seasonal allergies, for example, you could develop a plan to help your body fight the allergies. A short-term wellness plan may even have a goal of dropping 10 pounds before a wedding that is four months away. But a longer-term plan will set milestones for losing a certain amount of weight, and for keeping it off.

Next you create wellness steps that will help you reach your goal. This part of your plan can be developed with your doctor, fitness expert, or nutritionist especially if you have a medical condition. Some things that it should include are:

  • Recipes for meals and snacks that will help you reach your goal
  • Exercise regimens and recreation and fitness ideas
  • Herbs, supplements or medicines for your symptoms, or for prevention
  • Stress-reduction techniques
  • An emotional health component through friendships, charitable giving, volunteerism, “you time” or other actions that make you feel good
  • Rewards that you will give yourself for staying on the plan

It is easier to maintain a health program if you build in rewards. This is especially important if you have had difficulty staying on a diet or exercise program in the past. The rewards should be smaller and more frequent in the beginning with a continuous buildup toward a big reward once major goals are reached.  A special vacation might be an ultimate reward.  New clothes, jewelry or other luxury items might be intermediate rewards. But you don’t get a reward unless you complete the plan and reach the goals you set for yourself. Of course, that would be its own reward, but it’s your health and wellness — work steady and hard, and then enjoy yourself!

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Put Down the Remote and Your Phone and Visit a Friend!

Holiday chaos getting to you?  Too much to do, too many places to be, people to see, cookies to eat?  Maybe you’re just not ready to hear Jingle Bells 20 times a day yet. Or the extra traffic, rushing around, and crowds are wearing you out. Well, if you’re feeling pressured, guilty or resentful, you’re not alone — for “the happiest time of the year,” December can be pretty darn stressful.

For some people it’s an abundance of friends and family coming out of the woodwork that has them down. In contrast, you may be alone, not have your family or friends nearby, and feel isolated. The holidays are very nostalgic, but for every good memory there also may be memories of family members and friends now deceased or living far away, and traditions no longer possible.

Spending time with difficult family members, grieving the loss of a loved one, feeling pressure to give gifts when finances are tight, and loneliness can leave people feeling sad, angry, or even depressed. And these feelings are aggravated by the shorter, colder days and reduced sunlight, which can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a psychological state that literally changes your biology and can cause or add to depression.

But psychologists point out that there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions such as depression, SAD, and anxiety disorders. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), depression occurs when feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or longer and when they interfere with activities of daily living such as working or even eating and sleeping. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless, and hopeless about changing their situation.

If the holiday blues seem to linger or become more intense, people may want to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, who can help determine if someone has depression and how best to treat it. The APA also cautions about the risks of turning to alcohol for comfort. Although it may seem to bring temporary relief, it is actually a central nervous system depressant and a diuretic. Alcohol use affects balance, increases the risk for falls, may not interact well with medications, and disrupts sleep, which has a number of health consequences. 

Take charge, and get out of the house

As the seasonal maelstrom rages around us, there are a number of steps we can take to reduce stress and depression, and to lift our spirits. To start, it’s always beneficial to try and continue our normal routines to help feel like we’re still in control. We can consciously try to not over-eat and make time for exercise and rest.

Additionally, personal outreach, especially socializing and connecting with old friends and associates is important for our emotional health. Today’s electronic world often allows us instantaneous messaging and the ability to “reach out and touch” someone far away, but virtual communication through email and tools like Facebook and Twitter can’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions. We humans are social creatures, and while digital outreach is valuable and sometimes our easiest option, the Internet tends to act as a buffer between us and real intimacy.

Relationships and effective communication are built on eye contact, touch, feedback and unspoken physical communication. When possible, make the effort to visit friends and neighbors, attend parties and gatherings, contribute personal time through charitable efforts and catch up with people in person. That kind of communication is far better for our emotional health — and our souls.

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give the Gift of Health and Wellness

As the year wraps up and you contemplate all the ways of thanking and giving back to your staff for their time, effort, hard work, and contributions to your organization’s success, don’t overlook the gifts of health and wellness. That doesn’t mean you have to cancel the office party or return the eggnog! But when it comes to long-term value, appreciation, positive morale and team building, demonstrating a proactive commitment to areas of your employees’ lives that matter outside of the office or workplace are priceless.

As wonderful as this time of year may be, the holidays are typically a time of overindulgence. We eat too much rich, fattening food, drink more alcoholic beverages than usual, don’t sleep or exercise enough, run around like fruitcakes, and generally wear ourselves out. We know this about ourselves, however, which is why many people make their year-end “resolutions” to eat less, sleep more and exercise regularly in the New Year. Savvy employers can play a role in helping their employees achieve these goals through encouragement, open communication, setting team goals, and offering rewards for healthy behaviors.

You can start by encouraging employees to complete an online personal healthcare assessment. Available for free as part of CBIA Healthy Connections, these assessments are simple screening tools that don’t involve any testing or medical intervention, and help people set benchmarks and identify wellness and health items they’d like to improve. Based on their assessment, people can set goals and determine steps for improving key health items like reducing weight, eliminating smoking, exercising more regularly, improving their diets, reducing stress, and more.

Depending on staff size and location, you can consider having healthcare screenings done onsite for verifying cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and related key indicators. You also can encourage your staff to set goals publicly among the team, then work together to achieve those goals. This could be through fitness center memberships, exercise classes, dance, yoga and a variety of recreation activities.

Altruism and volunteering are also valuable contributors to emotional health and wellbeing and to physical health as well. Supporting your employees’ efforts to donate time, money, and work for causes they believe in will help them feel better about themselves, help the community, and benefit everyone involved. That also benefits your company’s bottom line through enhanced morale, productivity, and teamwork. So, as the advertisements say, “give the gift that keeps on giving” by becoming actively involved in employee health and wellness.

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To enjoy 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!

Breathe more easily as winter approaches

Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Certain mold spores are more prevalent in the autumn, and many who are susceptible are exposed to them while outdoors walking, working, or raking leaves. Changes in temperature can exacerbate breathing problems for people with asthma or respiratory illness, as can dry heat found indoors from central heating systems. Air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. And the negative effects of smoking tobacco products aggravate health and breathing more intensely for smokers and nonsmokers, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses and offices are closed up.

November is COPD Awareness Month

The primary cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Other causes include exposure to occupational dust particles and chemicals, as well as a rare genetic mutation called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with COPD, the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a staggering number; more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed.

COPD, also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. COPD is not curable; however it is preventable, and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early. People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a simple and painless spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

Here is a short list of signs you should watch for if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from COPD:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough”
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

If you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are several steps you can take to improve your health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately. Based on your doctor’s recommendations, you should take medications as prescribed and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath. It’s also important to educate yourself. The American Lung Association has a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand how your lungs work, and about COPD. You can reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www. lung.org.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Additionally, The American Cancer Society is marking the 37th Great American Smokeout on November 15 by encouraging smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life —  one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. However, more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes.

Quitting is hard, but you can increase your chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society can tell you about the steps you can take to quit smoking and provide the resources and support that can increase your chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give your skin a helping hand

We love the predictable nature of our seasons, including the smells, colors, and customs that accompany each transitional period. But variables in the weather also bring changes that affect our bodies, like seasonal allergies, breathing problems, and temperature-related challenges. Many of us experience one set of these changes as soon as the cool weather arrives, combined with turning up the heat in our homes —  the skin on our hands, face and feet becomes dry, flaky or raw, our lips become chapped, our eczema flares, and our perennial hangnails reappear.

When our skin feels dry, our natural inclination is to run to the drug store and peruse the skin cream and moisturizers, but there are many to choose from, and cost doesn’t necessarily equal quality or effective results. Turning to a dermatologist is a good step, since he or she can help determine if you’re experiencing typical seasonal dryness or a more serious skin condition, and prescribe the most efficient remedies. But for those of us who will self medicate, there are some key features to consider.

For example, you may use or find a moisturizer that works just fine in spring and summer. But as weather conditions change, so, too, should your skin care routine. Find an “ointment” moisturizer that’s oil-based, rather than water-based, as the oil will create a protective layer on the skin that retains more moisture than a cream or lotion. Many lotions labeled as “night creams” are oil-based, but choose your oils with care because not all oils are appropriate for the face. Instead, look for “non-clogging” oils, like avocado oil, mineral oil, primrose oil, or almond oil.

Shea oil, or butter, is controversial, because it can clog facial pores. Avoid home remedies like vegetable shortening, which just sit on the skin and are very greasy, and look for lotions containing “humectants,” a class of substances (including glycerin, sorbitol, and alpha-hydroxy acids) that attract moisture to your skin.

Healthy skin requires more than good moisturizers. It’s also important to remember to use sunscreen in the winter months, not only in the summer. Winter sun combined with snow glare can still damage your skin. Try applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your face and your hands (if they’re exposed) about 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply frequently if you stay outside a long time.

Another important reminder is to remain hydrated even in the winter, not as much to avoid dry skin, but for your overall health. Don’t bathe more often than necessary, and avoid strong soaps and detergents, as they will dry out your skin.

Here are several related tips for keeping your skin moist and healthier in the cooler months:

Watch what you’re wearing. The skin on your hands is thinner than on most parts of the body and has fewer oil glands. That means it’s harder to keep your hands moist, especially in cold, dry weather. This can lead to itchiness and cracking. Wear gloves when you go outside. If you need to wear wool to keep your hands warm, slip on a thin cotton glove first, to avoid any irritation the wool might cause. Also, remember that wet gloves and socks can irritate your skin and cause itching, cracking, sores or more serious skin ailments, so remember to wear cotton and change your socks and gloves regularly, especially since your feet and hands sweat and gloves and socks retain moisture.

Consider using a humidifier. Remember how our grandparents kept saucepans of water on their radiators? It was to offset the negative effects of dry heat in their homes. Central heating systems, as well as space heaters, blast hot, dry air throughout our homes and offices. Humidifiers get more moisture in the air, which helps prevent our skin from drying out. Humidifiers can be added to forced-hot-air heating systems, or are freestanding. If possible, place several small humidifiers throughout your home to help disperse moisture more evenly. And remember that wood stoves and fireplaces also dry the air and reduce the moisture in your skin.

Keep feet greased. To keep your feet soft and avoid excessive dryness, use lotions that contain petroleum jelly or glycerin. Use exfoliants to get the dead skin off periodically; that helps any moisturizers you use to sink in faster and deeper.

Avoid face “peels.” Switching gears to your face, avoid using harsh peels, masks, and alcohol-based toners or astringents, all of which can strip vital oil from your skin. Instead, find a cleansing milk or mild foaming cleanser, a toner with no alcohol, and masks that are “deeply hydrating,” rather than clay-based, which tends to draw moisture out of the face. And use them a little less often.

Avoid really hot baths and showers. No matter how good they may feel the intense heat of a hot shower or bath actually breaks down the lipid barriers in the skin, which can lead to a loss of moisture. You’re better off with just warm water, and should try staying in the water a shorter amount of time. Additionally, a lukewarm bath with oatmeal or baking soda can help relieve skin that is so dry it has become itchy, and remember to keep reapplying moisturizer.

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Add some healthy spice to our lives

We love the smells of autumn. Seasoned wood burning in fireplaces, hot mulled cider, pine- and harvest-scented candles, apple and pumpkin pies cooling on window sills…it’s a preface for the great sensory explosion awaiting us as Thanksgiving and the holidays approach. But beyond priming our salivary glands and triggering nostalgic memories of years past, scents — and specifically the spices that complement our cooking and fill the air in our kitchens and dining rooms — have valuable health and healing properties.

Nutritionists and researchers are constantly exploring the healthy properties of spices and herbs. Benefits include protection against a range of illnesses like heart disease and cancer, reducing inflammation, support in our weight-loss efforts and much more. Spices and herbs are botanically classified as fruits and vegetables. Since they are often used when dried and no longer contain the water that makes up a significant part of fresh produce, spices and herbs offer an even higher level of antioxidants.

We’re not talking exotic spices, either. For example, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon has the equivalent level of antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries and one cup of pomegranate juice. We put cinnamon on cereal, cakes and cookies, and it’s found in many other common recipes. Cinnamon also is rich in natural compounds called polyphenols. Research suggests that these compounds may act like insulin in our body to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Using more herbs and spices is also an easy way to boost the nutrition of our diet because with the added flavor, we can cut the salt, fat, and added sugar in our recipes. Here is more data to flavor our thinking:

Many common spices, in addition to cinnamon, contain antioxidants. Antioxidants can protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium and vitamins A, C, and E.

Spices contain anti-inflammatory properties. Certain herbs and spices contain unique protective properties that help reduce inflammation, which is a precursor to many chronic diseases such as heart disease, allergies, and Alzheimer’s. Spices and herbs can be included in an anti-inflammatory diet to add flavor and also to assist in healing.

Spices help contribute to weight loss. Spices can boost metabolism, promote satiety, aid weight management and enhance the overall quality of a diet. For example, the capsaicin in peppers is believed to have metabolic-boosting properties. In addition, if the food we eat is flavorful and satisfying, there is a good chance we will eat less and consume fewer calories.

Many spices and herbs appear to have some beneficial effects, whether used fresh or dried. Researchers are exploring which are enhanced or diminished through the process of heating and cooking, but here are some prime examples featuring the greatest health-enhancing potential:

  • Oregano is among the highest in antioxidants of the dried herbs, and is used in many familiar, everyday foods, including sauces, stews, salads and sandwiches.
  • Rosemary includes compounds which appear to help reduce inflammation in the body, which is a trigger and indirect risk factor for many chronic diseases. Rosemary is also being studied for its role in heart health.
  • Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly found in curry powder. Researchers are examining the role of turmeric in brain health and for protecting against cognitive decline associated with aging. In addition, curry is a heart-healthy condiment often found in egg, chicken and tuna salads, dips and dressings, cooked vegetables and poultry dishes.
  • Thyme offers antioxidant advantages, and may play a role in improved respiratory function. It can be added to salad dressing and creamy dips, used on vegetables and fish, and included in sautéed or stir-fried dishes.
  • Ginger is found in a variety of sweet and savory glazes, sauces and Asian-style dishes, and is often used on fish and vegetables. One teaspoon of ground ginger has similar antioxidant levels as one cup of spinach, and the compounds in ginger are thought to have a positive effect on reducing pain and nausea, as well as addressing other digestive issues.
  • Dried red peppers are believed to enhance metabolism, increase satiety and stimulate fat burning, making it a dietary friend to anyone watching his or her weight. Spices derived from red peppers include cayenne, crushed red pepper and paprika.

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Help employees help themselves improve their health and wellness

If you read CBIA Healthy Connections or any other wellness-related information regularly, you know that every month brings a variety of wellness, disease awareness, and health-related special events, activities and recognition. These represent some of the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” in your efforts to encourage and reward employee wellness for your workforce.

The benefits of staff wellness are many, including improved morale, productivity, and quality. Sick days are reduced, illness can be avoided or better managed, and the efforts can be rewarding both for enhanced quality of life and healthcare cost reductions. And if you time your internal outreach to the national tides of wellness material being communicated through the media, you’ll find the resources and educational information robust and easily available.

In November, for example, we recognize National COPD Awareness Month and the annual Great American Smokeout. Both offer you the opportunity for staff outreach, for setting goals, and for partnering in helping your employees achieve improved wellness. We’re also closing in on cold and flu season, so reminders about proper hand hygiene and encouraging employees to get flu shots are simple and offer a significant return on your investment. And as the holidays approach, reminders about proper eating, goal setting, and general fitness are a great gift!

Consider COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. The primary cause of COPD is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. More than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed. While COPD is not curable, it is preventable, and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early.

There are a variety of simple, accessible resources for helping employers communicate the risks of consuming tobacco products, and you have the opportunity to limit or ban them in your workplace, or to direct your staff to smoking cessation programs as an example of your commitment to the health of smokers and non-smokers.

The following are proven tips and resources from the American Lung Association that have helped thousands of people give up smoking for good. You can review this yourself, and make this information available to your staff, if you choose. Another simple idea is to link it to The Great American Smokeout, which is November 15th.

Tips to Help You Stop Smoking

  1. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the various types of treatments and different over-the-counter and prescription medications that are available to help you quit smoking.
  2. Look into the different options available to help smokers quit. Visit www.lung.org/stopsmoking or call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) for suggestions.
  3. Take time to plan. Pick your quit date a few weeks ahead of time and mark it on the calendar. If you can, pick a day when life’s extra stresses are not at their peak, such as after the holidays. Mark a day on the calendar and stick to it. As your quit day approaches, gather the medications and tools you need and map out how you are going to handle the situations that make you want to smoke.
  4. Get some exercise every day. Walking is a great way to reduce the stress of quitting. Exercise is proven to not only combat weight gain but also to improve mood and energy levels.
  5. Eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.
  6. Ask family, friends and co-workers for their help and support. Having someone to take a walk with or just listen can give a needed boost.
  7. You don’t have to quit alone. Help is available online and in your community. Consider joining a stop-smoking program like Freedom From Smoking® (www.ffsonline.org) from the American Lung Association.

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To enjoy 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!

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

About one in eight American women, close to 12 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2011, approximately 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in U.S. women, along with approximately 58,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. Additionally, more than 2,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in men. Breast cancer results in close to 40,000 deaths in the United States alone, annually. While primary causes of breast cancer are genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, there are a number of steps we can all take to help reduce the chance of contracting this dangerous disease.

Knowing your family history is important for understanding your risk for inheriting many genetically linked illnesses or potentially life-threatening diseases, but close to 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. It’s important to know your risk, to get screened appropriately, to know what’s normal for you and your body, and to make healthy lifestyle choices. You also should have a physical every year. If any unusual symptoms or changes in your breasts occur before your scheduled visit, do not hesitate to see your doctor immediately.

Here are 10 healthy lifestyle choices you can make that may reduce your risk of breast cancer:

1. Maintain a healthy weight. Gaining weight after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. In general, weight gain of 20 pounds or more after the age of 18 may increase your risk of breast cancer. Likewise, if you have gained weight, losing weight may lower your risk of breast cancer.

2. Add exercise to your routine. Exercise pumps up the immune system and lowers estrogen levels. With as little as four hours of exercise per week, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. Physical activity involves the energy that you release from your body. It not only burns energy (calories), but may also help lower the risk of breast cancer. This is because exercise lowers estrogen levels, fights obesity, lowers insulin levels and boosts the function of immune system cells that attack tumors.

If you have been inactive for a long time, are overweight, have a high risk of heart disease or some other chronic health problem, see your doctor before starting an exercise program. Do whatever physical activity you enjoy most and that gets you moving daily. All you need is moderate (where you break a sweat) activity like brisk walking for 30 minutes a day.

3. Maintain a healthy diet. A nutritious, low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.

4. Limit alcohol intake. Research has showed that having one serving of alcohol (for example, a glass of wine) each day improves your health by reducing your risk of heart attack. But many studies have also shown that alcohol intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. In general, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, try to have less than one drink a day.

5. Women, limit postmenopausal hormones. For each year that combined estrogen plus progestin hormones are taken, the risk of breast cancer goes up. Once the drug is no longer taken, this risk returns to that of a woman who has never used hormones in about five to 10 years. Post-menopausal hormones also increase the risk of ovarian cancer and heart disease. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.

6. Breastfeed, if you can. Breastfeeding protects against breast cancer, especially in pre-menopausal women. There are benefits of breastfeeding to the baby as well.

7. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Although the link to breast cancer is not clear, you do your body a world of good by avoiding tobacco. If you do smoke, ask your doctor for help in quitting. Although there is no strong evidence that smoking causes breast cancer, smoking has been linked to many other types of cancer and diseases. There are health benefits from quitting at any age.

8. Focus on your emotional health. Researchers continue studying the relationship between our physical and emotional health, but there is conclusive evidence that people who are stronger, emotionally, are more resistant to illness and certain diseases. It is also important to keep a healthy attitude. Do things that make you happy and that bring balance to your life. Pay attention to yourself and your needs. Read books, walk in the park, have coffee with a friend. Find what works for you– many things can help you be healthier and feel better about yourself in spite of whatever is going on in your life.

9. Schedule regular mammograms.  Even though many women without a family history of breast cancer are at risk, if you have a grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, this does put you in a higher risk group. Have a baseline mammogram at least five years before the age of breast cancer onset in any close relatives, or starting at age 35. See your physician at any sign of unusual symptoms.

10. Give yourself a breast self-exam at least once a month. Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, a lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, or a discharge from the nipple. 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. However, 8 out of 10 lumps are benign, or not cancerous.

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Separating the chaff from the grain: Gluten-free diets

Have you noticed that when you walk into one of the large chain supermarkets, it seems there’s an aisle for almost everything: Seasonal items, international foods, pharmacy, pet food, organic sections and, now, gluten-free products?

Thanks to the wonders of the internet and daytime television, stomach sufferers have more to worry about these days than ever before. Between the mysteries of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and new advances in identifying and treating ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, salivary stones, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s Disease, and heart burn, our stomachs are in knots…understandably.

For many of us, it’s often just about eating too much; eating at the wrong times; or enjoying too much of the wrong thing. As the holidays approach, we’ll be facing tables laden with tempting pastries, cakes and cookies, pasta and breads of every sort. For people who have or suspect they may have issues related to grains, eating healthfully poses a problem. But what exactly is “grain sensitivity” such as gluten intolerance or Celiac Disease, and how can you determine if you have it?

Understanding Celiac Disease and glutens

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease in which a person can’t tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten shows up in bread and pasta, but may also hide in many other foods such as cold cuts, salad dressings, beer, and even candy and sweetened drinks.

If a person with celiac disease eats gluten, the lining of their small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. That hampers the absorption of nutrients and can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. Celiac patients also struggle with symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach upset, abdominal pain, and bloating.

Celiac Disease affects approximately one percent of Americans. It may take years to diagnose because people don’t seek medical help, and because doctors often mistake it for IBS or other stomach disorders. It’s often a waiting game, and a process of testing and running through a list of possible culprits. For long-term sufferers, years of poor calcium absorption, a related side effect, can lead to joint and tooth problems and, for women, delayed menstruation. Besides gastrointestinal symptoms, gluten-sensitive people often complain of fatigue and headaches, as well.

The “good news,” at least for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities, is that a strict, gluten-free diet can typically allow the intestines to restore themselves to health and alleviate your suffering. While only one percent of Americans have Celiac Disease, as many as 10 percent may be gluten sensitive, which often causes similar symptoms, but doesn’t appear to damage the patients’ intestines.

Celiac Disease is on the rise, with rates doubling about every 20 years in Western countries.  Ironically, researchers suspect that hygiene may play a role in that expansion. Due to far cleaner environments and hygiene, children today aren’t exposed to as many antigens in the environment while their immune systems are developing. This, it’s theorized, may result in our immune systems responding intolerantly toward glutens.

Though Celiac Disease can be diagnosed through a blood test and an intestinal biopsy, there’s no reliable test for gluten sensitivity. Diagnosis requires a historical perspective (it often runs in families) and discussion and tracking of symptoms. In fact, patients are typically asked to eat glutens so the body produces antibodies for the blood test to detect Celiac disease. If a person simply stops ingesting gluten, a Celiac disease diagnosis can be missed or delayed.

Hardly a “fad diet,” gluten-free eating is life-changing for many, but not if you don’t have gluten sensitivities or Celiac Disease. In these cases, going “gluten free” is not good for your health. Contrary to common belief, a gluten-free diet won’t aid weight loss, and can cause deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, fiber, and other nutrients that we typically gain through bread, cereals and other grains that are fortified. Additionally, gluten-free products on store shelves are typically higher in carbohydrates, fat and sodium, and lower in fiber.

With proper direction, people can bake healthier breads at home, varieties that are higher in fiber and protein and made with gluten-free grains that have been certified to be uncontaminated and gluten-free, such as quinoa, amaranth, or millet. Either way, if you suspect you may be gluten sensitive, talk with your physician – there is hope, and  many tasty alternatives!

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!