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!