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!

Watch your mouth

Oral health is not only important to your appearance and sense of well-being, but also to your overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to many serious conditions, such as diabetes and respiratory disease, and untreated cavities can be painful and lead to serious infections.

Poor oral health has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioral and developmental problems in children. It can also affect your ability to chew and digest food properly. Researchers are now examining links between poor oral health and heart disease.

Good nutrition is important to help build strong teeth and gums that can resist disease and promote healing. A healthy diet rich in natural vitamins, antioxidants and protein and low in sugar is critical to better oral health.

Smoking is a major risk factor for oral and dental disease, including oral cancer. Tobacco smoke is very harmful to gum tissues and other tissues in your mouth. Toxins in smoke can cause oral cancer and also damage the bone around your teeth, a major cause of tooth loss. In fact, smoking and tobacco products that are chewed or held in the mouth are one of the biggest risk factors for gum disease and perhaps the biggest risk factor for oral cancer.

How to reduce oral health risks

Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums, which may also affect the bone supporting the teeth. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly builds up, thickens and hardens on the teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, this plaque can harden into tartar and may contribute to infections in the gums. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth and an increased risk of more serious illnesses, such as respiratory disease.

The bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions. It creates risks for heart patients, too, as it can travel through the bloodstream and get lodged in narrow arteries, contributing to heart attacks. There also is a link between diabetes and gum disease. People with diabetes are more susceptible to gum disease and it can put them at greater risk of diabetic complications.

To maintain good oral health, you should take the following steps:

  • Brush and floss your teeth daily. Using an antimicrobial mouth rinse as well can help to reduce the bacteria in your mouth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly to have your mouth examined. See a dental professional immediately if you notice any problems.
  • Eat a healthy diet, avoid sugar when possible, and avoid drinking or eating near bedtime, especially after brushing.
  • Do not smoke. If you do smoke, make sure to visit your dental professional regularly.
  • If you are pregnant, be sure to eat healthy foods and maintain good oral health.
  • Be sure your children’s teeth are brushed regularly. They should see a pediatric dentist as early as possible.

Good oral health plays a critical role in helping maintain your overall wellness. See your dentist regularly; watch what you eat; and pay attention to what your mouth is telling you!


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!

Love what you eat, even if you can’t eat what you love

We all love to eat and meals are typically pleasurable experiences. But for many of us meals can also cause discomfort. Our digestive system is an intensely elaborate and complicated system and when it works perfectly, we don’t give it a second thought. But when it doesn’t, life is far less pleasant.

Unless you have a chronic condition, food allergy, or gastro-intestinal (GI) problem, there are a variety of steps we can take to help improve the odds that our digestive systems won’t be talking back to us on a regular basis. Reasonable portions and balanced diets high in fruits, vegetables, and natural fibers will keep things flowing along more smoothly. Drinking plenty of water will keep us hydrated and help our bodies process solids. Too much greasy, spicy, or fried foods are harder to digest, and may cause discomfort, bloating or gas. Also, certain foods, like corn and nuts, are harder for some people to process, and others lack the enzymes to break down dairy products, or can’t stomach the glutens found in wheat.

Many people also suffer from a series of GI-related ailments that fall into the general category called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramping, changes in bowel movements, and other symptoms. IBS is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Unlike those diseases, the structure of the bowel for is normal for those with IBS.

IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins in the teen years or early adulthood. It is twice as common in women as in men. About one in six Americans have symptoms of IBS. It is the most common intestinal problem that causes patients to be referred to a bowel specialist (gastroenterologist).

IBS symptoms

IBS symptoms range from mild to severe, and are different from person to person. The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, fullness, gas and bloating that have been present for at least three days a month for the last three months.

People with IBS may switch between constipation and diarrhea, or mostly have one or the other. For some people, the symptoms may get worse for a few weeks or a month, and then decrease for a while. For other people, symptoms are present most of the time. People with IBS may lose their appetite, as well.

Eating a lactose-free diet for two weeks may help the doctor check for a possible lactase deficiency, which represents your body’s inability to break down dairy products.

There is no test to diagnose IBS. Blood and stool culture tests may be done to rule out problems such as anemia and gluten intolerance. Some patients will be given a colonoscopy to rule out other serious problems such as colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. You may need this test if you have:

  • Symptoms that began later in life (over age 50)
  • Symptoms such as weight loss or bloody stools
  • Abnormal blood tests (such as a low blood count)
  • A family history of GI problems or colon cancer

Treatment can relieve symptoms

Lifestyle changes can help in some cases of IBS. For example, regular exercise and improved sleep habits may reduce anxiety and help relieve bowel symptoms. Dietary changes can be helpful, too. However, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS, because the condition differs for each person. The following changes may help:

  • Avoid foods and drinks that stimulate the intestines (such as caffeine, tea, or colas)
  • Avoid large meals
  • Increase fiber in the diet (this may improve constipation but make bloating worse)

Irritable bowel syndrome may be a lifelong condition. For some people, symptoms are disabling and reduce the ability to work, travel, and attend social events. Symptoms can often be improved or relieved through treatment, but you should talk with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications. Fortunately, IBS does not cause permanent harm to the intestines, and it does not lead to a serious disease.


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!

Excuse me while I sneeze, and sneeze and sneeze

While most of us look forward to the warmer weather, allergy sufferers know that spring brings more than brightly colored flowers and perennial blooms. For all its beauty, this is a difficult time of year for millions of Americans, and the severity of allergy season can vary according to where you live, the weather, indoor contaminants and many other elements.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by molds releasing spores into the air or by trees, grasses, and weeds releasing their pollens. Outdoor molds are very common, especially after a spring thaw. They are found in soil, some mulches, fallen leaves, and rotting wood. Everybody is exposed to mold and pollen, but only some people develop allergies. In these people, the immune system, which protects us from invaders like viruses and bacteria, reacts to a normally harmless substance called an allergen (allergy-causing compound). Specialized immune cells called mast cells and basophils then release chemicals like histamine that lead to the symptoms of allergy: sneezing, coughing, a runny or clogged nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat.

Nasal allergy triggers can be found both indoors and outdoors, and can be year-round or seasonal. It’s important to be aware of the times of day, seasons, places, and situations where your nasal allergy symptoms begin or worsen. If you can identify your triggers, and create a plan for avoiding them when possible, you may be able to minimize symptoms. Here are a few points to remember:

  • You may be reacting to more than one type of allergen. For example, having nasal allergies to both trees and grass can make your symptoms worse during the spring and summer, when both of these pollens are high.
  • Molds grow in dark, wet places and can disperse spores into the air if you rake or disturb the area where they’ve settled.
  • People with indoor nasal allergies can be bothered by outdoor nasal allergies as well. You may need ongoing treatment to help relieve indoor nasal allergy symptoms.

If avoidance doesn’t work, allergies can often be controlled with medications. The first choice is an antihistamine, which counters the effects of histamine. Steroid nasal sprays can reduce mucus secretion and nasal swelling. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that the combination of antihistamines and nasal steroids is very effective in those with moderate or severe symptoms of allergic rhinitis. However, always consult with your physician before taking even over-the-counter medicines for allergies, as they may conflict with other medications or aggravate symptoms of other illnesses or chronic conditions.

Another potential solution is cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that inhibits the release of chemicals like histamine from mast cells. But you must start taking it several days before an allergic reaction begins, which is not always practical, and its use can be habit forming. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, is an option if the exact cause of your allergies can be pinpointed. Immunotherapy involves a long series of injections, but it can significantly reduce symptoms and medication needs.

Your health care provider can help you pinpoint what you are allergic to, and tell you the best way to treat your nasal allergy symptoms. Provide detailed information about your lifestyle and habits to your healthcare provider. It will help them provide you with an appropriate treatment plan for relieving your symptoms.

For allergy information from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, visit For prevention strategies from NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, visit


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!

Managing anger and conflict in the workplace

Workplace violence and sexual harassment typically receive more media attention than anger and hostility, but these very human reactions often manifest themselves in less dramatic ways that can still have a significantly negative impact on a business. Insidious by nature, personal aggression or the failure to deal effectively with conflict at work can contribute toward an unhealthy work environment marked by poor communication, sagging morale, excessive employee absenteeism or turnover, and customer service problems.

Business owners and managers unable to control their own anger or frustration will likely find that the business suffers. Likewise, organizations that fail to recognize and deal effectively with workplace conflict or anger may end up with serious problems. Even if you believe your company features a positive work environment and staff that enjoys their jobs and relates to one another in a professional manner, conflict is certain to arise from time to time. One employee who lashes out inappropriately can cause a decline in a company’s general morale, can cause friction with colleagues, and may cause enough distraction that productivity declines or safety is compromised. And the impact on customer service, your organization’s lifeblood, can be dramatic.

Recognizing potential conflict

With so many factors that can contribute to workplace anger and frustration, how do you create the healthiest possible work environment?  It begins with awareness and sensitivity to employee behavior, both verbal and nonverbal, so you can address the causes for that anger and hopefully head off an incident before it occurs.

Here are behaviors that may signal a need for intervention:

  • Sarcastic, irritable, or moody behavior
  • Apathetic and/or inconsistent work performance
  • Prone to making direct or veiled threats
  • Aggressive and antisocial behavior
  • Overreaction to company policies or performance appraisals
  • Touchy relationships with other workers
  • Obsessive involvement and/or emotional attachment to the job
  • Bullying

While these are all important behaviors to recognize, bullying is one of the most common and a real threat to business health and productivity. Sometimes bullying takes place between employees, but it often is most evident in supervisor-worker relationships, in which one person wields greater power. Bullying is not just the problem of an individual, however, but must be seen as a problem of the organization and its culture as a whole. Bullying can take many forms, from persistent, low-key intimidation to devious efforts to make a colleague appear professionally incompetent.

Office banter which is not really designed to offend is recognizably different from the persistent downgrading or undermining of a person by another, particularly if the other is in a position of relative power within the hierarchy. These menacing tactics can be difficult to identify and bring to light. It is very important, therefore, to have an avenue through which people feel free and safe to air their concerns about coworkers, supervisors and subordinates.

The only way to address bullying is to confront the bully and encourage him or her to change. Bullying behavior generally does not take place in a vacuum; other employees are usually aware of the situation, and they should be consulted. Finally, employers seeking to eliminate bullying behavior need to make it clear that anyone who is the victim of bullying tactics will receive their full support.

Putting out fires before they spread

Another common cause of workplace anger and hostility is peer conflict. These conflicts are usually caused by differences in personality or perception, moodiness, insensitivity, impatience, or sensitive emotional states such as jealousy, annoyance, and embarrassment. When these rivalries evolve into skirmishes or outbursts, conflict may damage those involved as well as others in the vicinity. Since work relies heavily on the ability of people to interact in a cooperative and harmonious fashion, conflict between employees represents a serious breakdown of the effective and healthy working relationship.

Small-business owners who find themselves mediating a peer conflict should avoid taking sides, provide an objective viewpoint, keep the discussion from bogging down in tangents or name-calling, and help each worker to understand the perspective of the other. Finally, the employer’s overriding concern should be to explicitly restate his or her expectations of staff performance, including the ways in which staff members should behave toward one another.

Attempts to address inappropriate workplace behavior through negotiation and mediation are not always effective. In some instances, an employee’s conduct or performance must result in disciplinary action. But there are a number of steps that employers can take to address the issues of workplace anger and hostility before they erupt into full-blown crises:

  1. Explicitly state your absolute opposition to inappropriate behavior, in writing and through team meetings. This can be included in new-hire guidelines, and in “zero-tolerance” statements displayed in public areas. Such statements should also clearly delineate which types of comments and actions are regarded as offensive.
  2. Encourage an environment that values diversity.
  3. Recognize that incidents of workplace hostility tend to get worse over time if they are not addressed. The whole workforce will likely be watching, looking for some signal about whether management takes such transgressions seriously, or whether it implicitly gives the green light to further incidents.
  4. Learn to recognize the symptoms of workplace anger, and try to provide employees with constructive avenues to express frustrations and/or concerns.
  5. Monitor workplace culture to ensure that it does not provide fertile ground for unwanted behavior.
  6. Make sure you have all the facts before confronting an employee.
  7. Make sure that your own actions and deeds are a good model for your employees.

Half the battle as managers is to be tuned in or aware of situations as they are occurring. The other half of that battle requires knowing how to intervene effectively and quickly and to facilitate a fair resolution.


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!

Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you

Admit it: When you think about treating yourself well, you probably don’t think “foot care.” That’s no surprise. Year in and year out, we take our feet for granted. But all of those years of walking, running, kicking, twisting and jumping are hard on our feet and, like with back injuries, we typically don’t take preventive measures until after we hurt ourselves.

If you’re an athlete, a dancer, a hiker or someone who works standing up all day or night, you know the value of good foot care and smart footwear. What you might not know is that problems with our feet can be signs of more serious medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve disorders, and circulatory disorders. On top of that, we simply exacerbate our problems through improperly trimmed toenails, wearing shoes that do not fit properly, wearing the wrong kinds of shoes or not giving our dogs a rest when they really need it.

If the shoe fits…or doesn’t

Ever since you were a baby, you’ve been buying shoes or having them bought for you. Still, many of us never learn the proper way to ensure proper fit. Here are some important tips:

  • The size of your feet changes as you grow older so always have your feet measured before buying shoes.
  • The best time to measure your feet is at the end of the day when your feet are largest.
  • Most of us have one foot that is larger than the other, so fit your shoe to your larger foot.
  • Do not select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe but by how the shoe fits your foot.
  • Select a shoe that is shaped like your foot.
  • During the fitting process, make sure there is enough space (3/8″ to 1/2″) for your longest toe at the end of each shoe when you are standing up.
  • Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.
  • Do not buy shoes that feel too tight and expect them to stretch to fit.

Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slipping. The shoes should not ride up and down on your heel when you walk. Also, walk in the shoes to make sure they fit and feel right. Then take them home and spend some time walking on carpet to make sure the fit is a good one.

Other foot-care tips

Check your feet regularly, or have a member of your family check them. Podiatrists and primary care doctors (internists and family practitioners) are qualified to treat most foot problems, and sometimes you need the special skills of an orthopedic surgeon or dermatologist.

You should focus on keeping blood circulating to your feet as much as possible. You can do this by:

  • Putting your feet up when you are sitting or lying down
  • Stretching if you’ve had to sit for a long while
  • Walking whenever possible
  • Having a gentle foot massage
  • Taking a warm foot bath

If you work or recreate outdoors, insulated shoes that are waterproof, “breathe” to allow moisture away from your feet and properly cushion your feet and protect your ankles are critical. Protecting your feet from cold temperatures is vital for ensuring proper circulation. And if you work in construction or in a manufacturing or assembly environment, steel-tipped shoes are often required and certainly recommended.

When you purchase shoes, the upper part of the shoes should be made of a soft, flexible material to match the shape of your foot. Shoes made of leather can reduce the possibility of skin irritations. Soles should provide solid footing and not be slippery. Remember, also, that thick soles cushion your feet when walking on hard surfaces, and low-heeled shoes are more comfortable, safer, and less damaging than high-heeled shoes, regardless of fashion trends.

Getting to the fungal part of foot health

Fungal and bacterial conditions, including so-called “athlete’s foot,” occur because our feet spend a lot of time in shoes — a warm, dark, humid place that is perfect for fungus to grow. Fungal and bacterial conditions can cause dry skin, redness, blisters, itching and peeling.

If not treated right away, an infection may be hard to cure. If not treated properly, the infection may reoccur. To prevent infections, keep your feet — especially the area between your toes — clean and dry. Change your shoes and socks or stockings often to help keep your feet dry. Try dusting your feet daily with foot powder. And if your foot condition does not get better within two weeks, talk to your doctor.

Corns and calluses are caused by friction and pressure when the bony parts of your feet rub against your shoes. If you have corns or calluses, see your doctor. Sometimes wearing shoes that fit better or using special pads solves the problem. Treating corns and calluses yourself may be harmful, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation. Over-the-counter medicines contain acids that destroy the tissue but do not treat the cause. Sometimes these medicines reduce the need for surgery, but check with your doctor before using them, and the same advice goes for treating warts and bunions.

Good foot care is an important part of overall wellness. Similar to buying the right tool for the right job, choose the right shoes, size them properly and love your feet…they’re yours forever!

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!

Use your head. Prevent brain injuries.

Most of us plow through life head first, living and playing with gusto and trying to have a good time, get our jobs done, compete and enjoy our lives without hurting ourselves or others. But try as we might to avoid them, brain injuries, unfortunately, are quite common. Caused by a bump or blow to the head, these injuries sometimes are called “concussions” or “traumatic brain injuries” (TBIs) and can range from mild to severe.

Most mild brain injuries cause no harm. But sometimes even mild brain injuries can cause serious, long-lasting problems. The best way to protect yourself and your family from brain injuries is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Brain Injury Association of America to reduce the chances that you or your family members will sustain a brain injury.

  • Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle. 
  • Always buckle your child into a child safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt (according to the child’s height, weight, and age) in the car.
  • Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Wear a helmet and make sure your children wear helmets when:�
    • Riding a bike, motorcycle, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle
    • Playing a contact sport, such as football, ice hockey, or boxing
    • Using in-line skates, scooters or riding a skateboard
    • Batting and running bases in baseball or softball
    • Riding a horse
    • Skiing, snowboarding, canoeing and kayaking
  • When possible, make sure the surface on your child’s playground is made of shock-absorbing material, such as hardwood, mulch, and sand.

It’s also important (for your own safety and to meet State and Federal compliance requirements) to always wear an approved hard hat on indoor and outdoor worksites where you could be at risk from falling objects.

Home safety for you and your family

Many head injuries occur in the home. Avoid falls in the home by:

  • Using a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects on high shelves
  • Installing handrails on stairways
  • Installing window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows
  • Using safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around
  • Removing tripping hazards such as small area rugs and loose electrical cords
  • Using non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors
  • Putting grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower
  • Maintaining a regular exercise program to improve strength, balance, and coordination
  • Seeing an eye doctor regularly for a vision check to help lower the risk of falling

 Signs and symptoms of brain injury

Here is a list of common symptoms of a brain injury (concussion). If you or a family member has a head injury and you notice any of the symptoms on the list, call your doctor right away. Describe the injury and symptoms, and ask if you should make an appointment to see your own doctor or another specialist.

In Adults:

  • Headaches or neck pain that won’t go away
  • Trouble with mental tasks such as remembering, concentrating, or decision-making
  • Slow thinking, speaking, acting, or reading
  • Getting lost or easily confused
  • Feeling tired all the time, having no energy or motivation
  • Mood changes (feeling sad or angry for no reason)
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping a lot more or having a hard time sleeping)
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy, or losing balance
  • An urge to vomit (nausea)
  • Increased sensitivity to lights, sounds, or distractions
  • Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Ringing in the ears

In Children:

  • Feeling tired or listless
  • Being irritable or cranky (will not stop crying or cannot be consoled)
  • Changes in eating (will not eat or nurse)
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in the way the child plays
  • Changes in performance at school
  • Lack of interest in favorite toys or activities
  • Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
  • Loss of balance, unsteady walking
  • Vomiting

The common mom’s advice, “be smart, be safe,” applies to head injury prevention. Think ahead —  pun intended — and always err to the side of caution and safety.

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 properly winding our internal clocks

We changed the clocks back to Daylight Savings Time this past weekend, springing forward an hour. Even if we hadn’t been thinking about it, we knew, instinctively, this adjustment was coming. We watched the sun set a little later each day on our way home from work giving us more time to be outdoors and more nurturing sunlight to calm our nerves. But when we actually woke an hour “early” on Sunday, we may have felt a little tired and off track…and so did our kids and maybe even our pets.

It’s natural — our internal clocks, more than anything created by Timex and Rolex, affect our sleep, our moods, our productivity and, of course, our health. We suffer when we don’t get enough or when we get too much sleep, and when we sleep at the wrong time. Fatigue is dangerous relative to workplace safety, driving, sports and our resistance to a variety of illnesses and diseases. And whether you work nine to five, six to midnight or through the wee hours of the morning, if you can’t adjust your natural clock, your overall wellness will suffer.

Circadian rhythm disorders are disruptions in a person’s circadian rhythm — a name given to the “internal body clock” that regulates the (approximately) 24-hour cycle of biological processes in animals and plants. The term circadian comes from Latin words that literally mean around the day. There are patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities linked to this 24-hour cycle.

Circadian rhythms can be affected by light or darkness, which can make the body think it’s time to sleep or wake up. The 24-hour body clock controls functions such as:

  • Sleeping and waking
  • Body temperature
  • The balance of body fluids
  • Other body functions, such as when you feel hungry

Making the shift

Body clock sleep problems have been linked to a hormone called melatonin. Light and dark affect how the body makes melatonin. Most melatonin is made at night. During the day, light tells your body to make less melatonin. If you work at night in artificial light, your body may be making less melatonin than it needs.

Understanding and adjusting to these internal rhythms — or learning how to compensate and “retool” your body — is critical, no matter your schedule. That requires discipline, setting boundaries in the case of children and friends, and respecting your body’s needs. When we’re tired we become tense and irritable, lose concentration, make mistakes, have trouble with mental retention and can fall asleep during working hours.

If you work the night shift or rotate shifts, you can help yourself get adequate sleep by keeping your bedroom dark and quiet and by taking good care of yourself overall. In some cases, prescription medicine or over-the-counter supplements may help. Here are some tips on sleeping well when you do this type of shift work:

  • Make sure that the room where you sleep is dark. Use blackout drapes, or wear a sleep eye mask.
  • Wear earplugs to block sounds.
  • Don’t have alcohol or caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  • Take a nap during a work break if you can.
  • Ask your doctor if you should try a dietary supplement, melatonin or medicine. Supplements or medicines should only be used for a short time, and some drugs will contribute to or cause sleep problems.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, especially late in the evening or, if you work at night, in the morning. You may fall asleep more easily, but it also interrupts deep sleep and may wake you prematurely.

Other variables affect your ability to sleep and to adjust to shift work, including pregnancy, time-zone changes, medications, and changes in routine. Some you can’t control, but others, like diet, you can.

What, when, and how you eat also affects your ability to work and sleep effectively. You wouldn’t try to go to bed right after eating dinner on a normal day schedule, and the same goes for the person who comes home from work at 7:00 AM. Light meals before sleep ensures better rest, and a pattern of several smaller meals and healthy snacks keeps your body more fully charged and alert when you need to be, and helps you relax when it’s time for rest.

Along with nutrition, exercise remains a constant for good health. Shift workers need to remain fit, and need some exposure to the sun both for internal balance and for overall body wellness. While there are special lamps and therapies for helping people adjust to a lack of natural sunlight, scheduling walks, chores or outdoor workouts during the day when you’re not sleeping will help keep you happier and healthier.

No matter what time you arise, try to get in the habit of getting up at the same time every day, no matter what time you go to sleep. On the weekends (or on days when you don’t have to get up) don’t let yourself sleep more than one hour longer than you do when you have to get up for work or school.

There are various therapies and solutions for helping night-shift workers cope better, and for treating sleep disorders, whenever they occur. For example, chronotherapy is a behavioral technique in which the bedtime is gradually and systematically adjusted until a desired bedtime is achieved. Bright light therapy is designed to reset the body’s circadian rhythm to a desired pattern. When combined, these therapies may produce significant results in people with circadian rhythm disorders, but building and maintaining a smart schedule attuned to your body’s needs is the best solution.

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!

Workplace wellness programs: Balancing benefits and reality

Workplace wellness programs aren’t all created equal. Some work better than others, and some organizations or employers are more effective than others at encouraging their staff to participate. The type of work being done, when and where it’s being completed, the age and demographics of your staff and the type of programs and incentives you offer all play a large role in determining program participation and how wellness is improved. Even the word “success” is subjective, as goals vary significantly from person to person and among organizations.

What isn’t at question is the value of wellness programs. Wellness statistics clearly show that workplace wellness programs are not only cost-effective to the organization but can assist the employee in developing a healthier lifestyle. Many employees struggle with their weight, don’t exercise at all, smoke, and don’t have effective strategies for managing stress. With the rising cost of medical care, proactive wellness efforts simply make sense. So where does the problem come in?

Maybe the best analogy is the “leading horse to water” axiom:  Once there, it’s still up to the horse whether or not to drink. No matter how beneficial, personally and fiscally, wellness programs work for some but not for all. Employers can have a greater impact on wellness program success by creating a positive environment for change, encouraging participation through good communication, useful information and support. Incentives, team recognition and access to adjunct programs all make a difference.

On the flip side, though, no matter how tempting, the “cattle prod” approach rarely achieves desired results. Despite our best intentions, we can’t browbeat or intimidate our employees to get healthier, and “punishing” them by withholding discounts or increasing benefit cost contributions to those who don’t participate often fails, as well. Some, in fact, see it as a basic human rights issue: Do we want or need our employer to tell us to eat our veggies, walk at lunch, or to lose 30 pounds?

Such tactics may result in resentments and retaliation, primarily in the form of rates of absence, reduced quality and “presenteeism” (decreased productivity on the job.) The solution, instead, tends to be persistence, patience, moderation, and opportunity. Wellness programs provide the structure, encouragement, incentives, and ongoing support that many individuals need in order to make lifestyle changes, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires constant care and nurturing.

Finding a successful way to motivate people whose unhealthy habits are ingrained is not an easy task. But having the right tools helps. According to Carol DeVido Hauss, executive director, Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford, support through health assessment evaluations, wellness educational tools, and wellness websites is an important catalyst. “I love those tools,” Hauss says. “If I don’t write down what I eat, I’m pretty sure I assume the calories don’t count, so learning tricks like keeping track of calories and what and when I eat really helps me. We’ve declared our workplace a ‘donut-free zone.’”

Hauss stresses that finding the right blend of support and encouragement is an issue she, and most small employers, struggle with. “If you don’t work at it consistently, it’s easy to drop the ball as far as CBIA Healthy Connections or any wellness program goes,” she admits. “Personally, I used the tools, lost the weight I wanted to and got back on track with regular workouts. But I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to healthy living — I just needed a nudge and a little structure to get me back on track. And it did just that for me.”

A positive attitude on the part of management along with an opportunity for employees to have a stake in the decision-making may yield the greatest dividends to both employer and employee. The motivation and resolve needed to change unhealthy lifestyle habits can best be derived from the basic tenets of encouragement, respect, and support.

“People just need to be ready to change their lifestyles, and often they’re not,” reflects Hauss. “But if we, as employers, embrace wellness and offer these programs, at least our employees have a place to go to if they wake up some morning and decide it’s time to make those changes.”

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!