Excuse me while I chew on this rock

Have you ever experienced one of those obsessive, “I’m not going to be able to sleep, work or play until I satisfy my craving for a Twinkie” kinds of moments? Except instead of a small snack cake, your craving may be for chocolate, potato chips, ice cream, broccoli, bananas, or just about anything?

The need for salty, sweet, and wet isn’t just compulsive longings; it’s often driven by our bodies’ need for essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Many psychologically or pleasure-derived cravings are short-lived. We can always be disciplined, demonstrating restraint until the craving passes, eating small portions of whatever’s calling to us, or substituting healthier options. But the cravings we should heed are those that close a nutritional gap or replace critical chemicals such as electrolytes or salt, which we lose through heavy perspiration and physical activity, or potassium and magnesium, which help regulate metabolism, blood pressure, heart function, anxiety and much more.

An electrolyte is a food item that contains an electrical charge when consumed, making the solution itself electrically conductive. Electrolytes are highly important in our diet; they aid in helping us to maintain hydration, regulate muscle and nerve function, and help improve acid-base balance. It is important to consume foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium.

Sodium is found in most processed foods, snacks and drinks, but too much isn’t good for your heart and blood pressure, so finding a balance is important. You can replace sodium and electrolytes lost to physical activity by drinking sports drinks; too much water “flushes” sodium and can leave you with a deficiency.

We get calcium, which is critical for healthy bone growth and strength, from milk and other dairy products, as well as from fortified cereals, beans, vegetables such as asparagus, and fruits such as figs.

Potassium can be found in many foods, including bananas, kale, tomatoes, oranges, melons and soy products. Milk and yogurt, as well as nuts, red meat, fish and an enormous variety of vegetables (it’s often found in the skin of veggies like sweet potatoes and squash) also are excellent sources of potassium. Fruits that contain significant sources of potassium include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, bananas, kiwi, prunes, and apricots.

Magnesium is equally critical, though doesn’t get as much attention, typically, in articles and on television. Magnesium helps regulate your metabolic rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and helps keep bones healthy and strong. Magnesium deficiency can be found in many forms. If you are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, stress, high blood pressure, diabetes, muscle spasms, insomnia, osteoporosis, or cardiovascular disease, there could be a magnesium deficiency in your diet.

Foods rich in magnesium include green vegetables, nuts, beans, fish, bananas, avocados, tomato, certain spices, whole grains, and chocolate.

Eating at least three or four of these foods each day will ensure that you are meeting your magnesium requirements and need for other essential nutrients. There also are supplements available at health-food stores, though you should consult with your physician before adding supplements to your diet, especially if you take medication or suffer from chronic diseases.

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!

Understanding and coping with migraines and tension headaches

If ever there was another club you didn’t want to belong to, here’s a doozy:  The Headache Club. Membership is free, and all are welcome. Unfortunately, many people qualify; one out of eight Americans suffer from migraines and millions experience occasional or periodic non-chronic headaches.

Tension headaches are one of the most common forms of headaches. They may occur at any age, but are most common in adults and adolescents. Tension headaches occur when neck and scalp muscles become tense, or contract. The muscle contractions can be a response to stress, depression, a head injury, exhaustion or anxiety. Additionally, any activity that causes the head to be held in one position for a long time without moving can cause a headache. That might include typing or other computer or close-up work, fine work with the hands, sleeping in a cold room, or sleeping with the neck in an abnormal position.

Drinking alcoholic beverages is one of the best-known causes for headaches. Blood flow to your brain increases when you drink alcohol, and impurities in alcohol or by-products produced as your body metabolizes alcohol can cause headaches. Red wine, beer, whiskey, and champagne are the most commonly identified headache triggers.

Other common triggers of tension headaches include:

  • Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
  • Colds, the flu, or a sinus infection
  • Dental problems such as jaw clenching or teeth grinding
  • Eye strain
  • Excessive smoking
  • Fatigue or overexertion

Tension headaches can occur when you also have a migraine. Migraines usually begin during the teenage years. After puberty, migraines are more likely to affect girls and women. Experts still aren’t sure what causes these often debilitating headaches. They seem to involve a wave of unusual activity in brain nerve cells, along with changes in blood flow in the brain.

Migraines have a tendency to run in families – up to 80 percent of migraine sufferers have a family member who also gets these headaches. Though migraines can trigger severe pain in the head, they aren’t simply headaches. They often also cause other uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, unusual sensitivity to light, noises, and smells, inability to work, sleep, eat or even get off the couch or out of bed. They are complicated, with a variety of symptoms that change over hours or can run for days.

Migraine sufferers should seek treatment from their physician or a specialist, but may be able to reduce the frequency of their migraine attacks by identifying and then avoiding migraine triggers. For example, recalling what was eaten prior to an attack may help you identify chemical triggers, so experts recommend keeping a “migraine diary.” Eating on a regular schedule and ensuring adequate rest contribute to fewer migraine attacks, as does stress management, coping techniques, and relaxing skills. Additionally, regular exercise, in moderation, can help prevent migraines. And women who often get migraines around their menstrual period can take preventive therapy when they know their period is coming.

Medication can help reduce the number and severity of migraine headaches for people who get them frequently. Caution is recommended, however, as many commonly used pain-relief medications, when taken too often, can cause low-grade or rebound headaches. These potential culprits include aspirin, sinus-relief medications, acetaminophen (Tylenol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, sedatives, codeine, and prescription narcotics and over-the-counter combination headache remedies containing caffeine.

Additionally, certain foods are suspected of contributing to migraines in some patients. These can include aged cheese and other foods containing tyramine, a naturally occurring substance formed as foods age, especially high-protein foods. Tyramine also is found in red wine, alcoholic beverages, and some processed meats. Food additives, such as nitrates and nitrites, dilate blood vessels and also can cause headaches.

Keeping headaches at bay

Here are some steps you can take to help reduce headache frequency and severity.

  • Follow your headache treatment plan and avoid taking medications that have not been ordered by your doctor.
  • Reduce emotional stress. Make time to relax, try to take breaks from stressful situations, and learn relaxation skills such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • When sitting for prolonged periods, get up and stretch periodically and consciously relax your jaw, neck, and shoulders.
  • Get proper rest and sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat meals and snacks at about the same times every day
  • Quit smoking. Smoking can trigger headaches and make any headache, especially cluster headaches, worse.

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!

Block the sun, not the message

We love the sun, especially after a dreary winter and rainy spring. Whether it’s sports on weekends, working outdoors, parties and picnics, trips to the beach or just hanging on the deck or in the yard, we soak up those rays, get our vitamin D and savor our new tans.

We also are creatures of habit, and that includes hearing and sometimes ignoring information on certain health risks. We register the information, know we should heed the warnings, and go on with our day, good habits and bad. But this year, as the perennial warnings about sun exposure and the dangers of Ultraviolet (UV) rays hit the air waves, take note: skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Unprotected exposure to UV radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. In fact, UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization. Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour.

Chronic exposure to the sun suppresses our natural immune system and also causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable, normal part of growing older. However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, many forms of skin cancer and most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.

Properly protecting yourself from UV exposure

The best way to lower your risk of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. You should also not use sunscreen as an excuse to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun. Even with the use of sunscreens, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate your clothes and skin and do harm.

When possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy days.

Use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Products that contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide offer the best protection. Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones. Older children and adults (even those with darker skin) benefit from using SPFs (sun protection factor) of 15 and over. Many experts recommend that most people use SPF 30 or higher on the face and 15 or higher on the body, and people who burn easily or have risk factors for skin cancer should use SPF 50+.

When and how to use sunscreen:

  • Adults and children should wear sunscreen every day, even if they go outdoors for only a short time.
  • Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors for best results. This allows time for the sunscreen to be absorbed.
  • Remember to use sunscreen during the winter when snow and sun are both present.
  • Reapply at least every two hours while you are out in the sunlight.
  • Reapply after swimming or sweating. Waterproof formulas last for about 40 minutes in the water, and water-resistant formulas last half as long.

Here are additional safety tips and information for protecting yourself from harmful UV radiation:

  • Adults and children should wear hats with wide brims to shield from the sun’s rays.
  • Wear protective clothing. Look for loose-fitting, unbleached, tightly woven fabrics. The tighter the weave, the more protective the garment.
  • Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons.
  • Buy clothing and swimwear that block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using SPF (as used with sunscreen) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index.
  • Avoid surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, snow, and white-painted areas.
  • Beware that at higher altitudes you burn more quickly.

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!

Friendly challenges and incentives help drive wellness participation

It’s coming up on summer, when people are forced to look at their bodies in sleeveless shirts, shorts, and bathing suits. This is the perfect season (and a good internal marketing opportunity) to capitalize on normal worries over body shape and image by enhancing your employee wellness program participation through reminders, incentives, and team activities.

Most wellness programs ramp up in the winter, when people are forced indoors, holiday eating increases, and weight gain peaks. That’s when personal goals are often set, new-year resolutions made, and gym memberships soar. Now, six months later, people are emerging like butterflies from their cocoons, and they may not be happy with what they’re seeing. And even if they are, summer is a good time to reiterate your commitment to their health and wellness, and to parlay your interest in their wellbeing into visible action.

This would be a good time to review wellness program participation, to recognize goals achieved, and to encourage others to set their own or new goals. You can help through any of the following steps:

Offer a company-wide incentive for health assessment participation. When everyone participates in your wellness program, everyone benefits. Even though it’s an individual choice, you can encourage more involvement by rewarding the entire team when everyone completes their assessment. This can be through gift cards, a team meal, time off, or other incentives that work for you and your business.

Offer healthcare screenings.  You can bring healthcare screeners to your workplace, or encourage your employees to get screened on their own. Then consider having them compare notes and share their personal results, goals, and accomplishments. Having moral support at the workplace is invaluable, and it strengthens overall teamwork and morale.

Ask employees to talk about wellness efforts. Host a breakfast, lunch, or afternoon gathering (with healthy snacks, of course!) dedicated to your wellness efforts. Ask employees what’s working right about your program, and what could be done differently or better. Soliciting feedback and involving them directly in their own wellness planning allows you to learn what challenges they (and you) are facing in launching or maintaining a successful effort.

Host a “wellness picnic” or event. Chances are you’re going to do some kind of picnic or team outing before the summer’s over, so why not relate it to wellness? If you tie your activity to wellness, you can have themed events, offer healthy food and involve families in your employees’ personal wellness practices. It also shows that you are fully committed to this program. Let your employees plan the event, then you can pick up the check and be the hero.

Sponsor a walk for charity. There is no shortage of worthy causes, only a shortage of funding! So encourage your employees to choose a charity walk or run, build a team, and train for the event. You sponsor them, your company name gets on their tee-shirts, and they work together to improve their health, improve camaraderie, and support a good cause. The same thinking can be applied to softball, golf, or other physical activities.

Introduce a new wellness element. This might be a good time to offer an incentive such as partial reimbursement on health or fitness club membership, involvement in a smoking-cessation program, replacing candy, soda, and unhealthy snacks in vending machines with healthy snacks and drinks, etc. The point is to keep building momentum and to show you’re vested in your team’s wellness…just saying it isn’t enough.

As your company’s leader, it’s up to you to set a positive, energized wellness example, to offer meaningful incentives and opportunities, to encourage teamwork, and to reward effort. These actions will speak far louder than words throughout the year.

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!