Act now to protect your brain and your heart

When you strive to keep your heart healthy you help keep your brain healthy, too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower your blood pressure, which reduces your chances of having heart disease or a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.

May is National Blood Pressure Awareness Month and also National Mental Health Month.

High blood pressure often has no visible symptoms, which is why it’s dubbed “the silent killer.” It can be controlled with lifestyle changes that focus on diet and exercise, and special prescription medications. Many of the same unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (including poor diet and lack of physical exercise) that contribute to high blood pressure also have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. It is thought that narrow blood vessels caused by high cholesterol reduce blood flow to the brain which can cause memory loss and general mental deterioration.

Stress also is a contributor to mental high blood pressure. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness. When unchecked, stress interferes with our general quality of life, and can affect our relationships, productivity, customer service, safety and quality.

Tips for controlling blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise regularly. This includes getting outdoors or to the gym, setting reasonable goals for physical activity, and walking every day, if possible.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Limit intake of red meat and fried foods, sugar and fat, and adapt to a healthier diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and fish.
  • Limit your sodium intake by cutting down on processed foods, soda, and other products with a high salt content.
  • Try to reduce or quit smoking, and limit or eliminate the use of other tobacco products.
  • If you drink alcohol or coffee/caffeine products, practice moderation.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a family history of hypertension or heart disease, your physician may recommend medications created to help lower or control blood pressure and related conditions.
  • Be aware of situations and behaviors that cause you stress, and try to address or limit them.

Managing your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are all critical elements you can influence. Our bodies and minds are complicated mechanisms, and all systems are intertwined. Be aware of your blood pressure through regular checkups, know the warning signs, and make conscious decisions to take better care of yourself.

It’s also important to discuss any cognitive problems you’re having with your healthcare provider. We all have a little trouble when we age, like forgetting where we put our keys, but if your memory problems seem greater than usual, you may need to be evaluated by a neurologist, or someone who specializes in cognitive issues.

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!

Listen to your body — drink water!

While you may crave a cold soda or beer after mowing the lawn, nothing beats pure, unadulterated water, the healthiest drink on the planet. It quenches your thirst and is essential in helping avoid dehydration in hot weather.

Our blood, muscles, lungs, and brain all contain water. We need water to regulate body temperature and to help nutrients reach our organs and tissues. Water helps transport oxygen to our cells, remove waste, and protect our joints and organs.

Dehydration occurs when the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount being taken in. Symptoms of mild dehydration include thirst, pains in joints and muscles, lower back pain, headaches, strong urine odor, and constipation. Dehydration increases the risk of muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke during exercise in warm weather. Dehydration can leave exercisers and workers groggy for hours.

How much water is enough?

At least twenty percent of the water we need comes from the foods we eat. The rest comes from beverages. You can estimate the amount of water you need by dividing your weight (in pounds) in half. That gives you the number of ounces you may want to drink each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you might want to drink at least 75 ounces of water or other fluids per day. Many experts recommend at least eight cups of water a day unless exercising, in which case you should drink more.

Water is the best choice for rehydration because it’s cheap and has no calories or added ingredients. Sweetened soft drinks and sodas have sugar that adds extra calories but no additional nutritional value. Sports drinks often contain sugar, as well, but may contain minerals that can help keep your electrolytes in balance, which is good for recovering after a hard workout. Fruit and vegetable juices can be a good choice because they have vitamins and minerals your body needs (read labels, however — vegetable juices, like many sodas, may be high in sugar and sodium).

The other side of the water bottle

As much as we require water, too much isn’t good for us, either. When we perform any high-intensity activity we lose fluid through perspiration. As a result, we increase our fluid intake and may drink too much water. This can lead to water intoxication (hyponatremia), a rare but dangerous condition involving low blood sodium levels.

As a general rule, drink when you feel thirsty, but don’t force down huge amounts. Use common sense, always carry water with you when you work or recreate outdoors, and remember to drink regularly, no matter what you’re doing.

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!

Cultivating healthy gardening and outdoor recreation habits

The last killing frost is past, the smell of freshly cut grass and newly spread mulch permeates the air, and those barren gardens, empty window boxes and flower beds are beckoning. This is a wonderful time of year for gardeners and anyone who enjoys working or playing outdoors. But it’s also an opportunity to strain ourselves, pull muscles or overwork our backs and knees, especially if we haven’t been exercising or using those muscles regularly.

As we return to playing, working and recreating outdoors, it’s important to remember to be conscious of our bodies, do everything in moderation, and avoid common opportunities for injuries that can be short term or may last far longer than the flowers we’re planting. And whether we’re playing our first rounds of golf, volleying on the tennis court, or working in the yard, remember many of us may be using muscles and joints that have been on winter hiatus.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), seasonal athletic activities and common gardening tasks such as digging, planting, weeding, mulching and raking can cause stress and strain on muscles and joints, primarily in the shoulders, back, neck and knees. APTA recommends the following steps to minimize the risk of injury while working around your home and yard:

  • Warm up before you begin. Get your heart rate up by taking a 10-minute walk followed by some stretches for your upper and lower back, neck, arms and legs.
  • Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side a few times to loosen up.
  • Don’t overdo it. Be mindful of how your body feels. If you experience an aching back or neck, then slow down and stretch or stop and switch to a different task.
  • Use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to move tools and heavy planting materials.
  • Don’t kneel on both knees. Keep one foot on the ground to give your back more stability. If you have to kneel, use knee pads or a pillow to absorb some of the pressure.
  • Change positions and take frequent breaks to avoid stiffness or cramping.
  • Start with smaller projects and build gradually. Don’t try to do it all at once.
  • Bend at your knees when you grab something or pull a weed, and bend your knees and contract your abdominal muscles to avoid straining your back.
  • Finish your gardening session with a short walk or some light stretching. Take a warm bath or shower to help prevent next-day soreness.

If, after a day or two of outdoor activity, you experience serious or persistent pain that seems like more than just temporary soreness, call your physician. Being careful, stretching properly and knowing when to stop will help ensure that you remain as healthy and strong as the beautiful flowers, bushes and flora you tend.

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!

Have fun and relax, whether you want to or not

When you take time off for vacation, do you take your laptop or tablet? Do you check your emails and voicemail messages from your smart phone, read long-unopened mail, draft proposals or performance reviews, conduct research or write memos?  If you say “yes” to any of these, you’re in good company…but it’s also likely you’re not good company, and you aren’t getting the real “down time” you need to relax, reduce stress, and replenish yourself.

Behavioral health also is a key component of your overall wellness. Taking time off, learning to relax, reducing stress and effectively dealing with situations that cause panic, anxiety, or other emotional pressure are just as important as eating right and exercising regularly.            

As an employer it’s critical that you encourage your staff to find their own paths to relaxation and better health. That includes uninterrupted vacation time, sick days when they’re needed, “mental health breaks,” and generous wellness programs. The rewards for modeling and facilitating these behaviors include increased productivity, better service, enhanced teamwork, reduced errors and accidents, lower absenteeism, and long-term loyalty.

According to Elizabeth Scott, MS, writing in About.Com on the importance of vacations, many people don’t take vacations often enough, and almost half the readers polled at the About.Com site admitted they never take vacations. When we take our work on vacation with us, she says, we don’t allow ourselves to escape the work mindset vacations are intended to break. The values of vacations, she says, are numerous, including:

  • Stave off burnout, making workers more productive and creative
  • Keep us healthy by reducing stress over short- and longer-term periods
  • Promote overall wellbeing, including improved sleep, mood and a reduction in physical complaints
  • Strengthen bonds with partners and family members, which also reduces overall stress
  • Increased quality of work related to increased quality of life.

May is National Employee Health and Fitness Month, and it’s also National Mental Health Month. Now is a good time to create an environment that supports employee “downtime.” That might include break rooms and clearly respected lunch or dinner periods, picnic tables outdoors, or enough time for employees to walk or grab a quick workout. More proactive options can include friendly competitions and worker recognition for achieving wellness milestones, incentive programs, healthy food in vending machines or your lunchroom, and support for wellness-related classes. Concern for your employees’ wellness will pay you back in spades with a happier staff and more satisfied customers.

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!