Improving Our Health, From A to Zinc

It’s almost the end of the year, so turning to the end of the alphabet for an important but often misunderstood common mineral seems like a fitting exercise and good holiday gift to ourselves.

Zinc is found in every tissue in the body, aids cell division, is a powerful antioxidant, helps to prevent cancer, and maintains healthy hormone levels. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that’s important for the immune system and the brain, as well as other parts of the body. Zinc also helps wounds heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. In infants, zinc deficiency can delay normal development. At any age, serious zinc deficiency can lead to risk of infections.      

Topical zinc ointments are used to treat diaper rash and skin irritations and to reduce UV sun exposure. Zinc also has been shown to help with ulcers, ADHD, acne, sickle cell anemia, and other conditions. In addition, zinc has also been studied as a treatment for herpes, high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and more. It also may be part of an effective treatment for age-related macular degeneration and for the common cold, but research continues in each of these areas.

Health care providers may recommend zinc supplements for people who have zinc deficiencies. Strict vegetarians, breastfeeding women, alcohol abusers, and people who have a poor diet are at higher risk for zinc deficiency. So are those with certain digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease.

Getting Z facts straight         

Zinc is believed to be important for vision because high levels of the mineral are found in the macula, part of the retina. Zinc enables vitamin A to create a pigment called melanin, which protects the eye. Some studies show that getting enough zinc can help you see better at night.

Zinc has antioxidant effects and is vital to the body’s resistance to infection. It’s also important for tissue repair, and may decrease the ability of cold viruses to grow on or bind to the lining of the nose.

Zinc is found naturally in shellfish, beef and other red meats, nuts and seeds, beans, and milk and cheese. Tea, coffee, and certain medications may interfere with zinc absorption in the intestines.

Researchers have studied the use of zinc as a way to treat or reduce symptoms of the cold virus, though the data from years of scientific studies are mixed. Taking zinc either as a syrup or lozenge through the first few days of a cold may shorten the length of the illness. However, supplementing natural doses found in foods such as eggs, red meat and seafood with higher doses of zinc, particularly long term, can be toxic. Signs of too much zinc include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. When people take too much zinc for a long time, they sometimes have problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity, and low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).

As in the case with all supplements, medicines or nutritional remedies, consult with your physician before adding extra zinc to your diet.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Planning to be Healthy is a Gift We Give Ourselves

As 2013 rushes to its close, we’re all faced again with the proverbial “glass half full or glass half empty” opportunities the end of one year and beginning of another provide us. We can look back and lament about all the well-intentioned health and wellness options we never fulfilled, or make a firm and achievable personal wellness plan designed to improve our physical, emotional and spiritual health in 2014 and beyond.

But first, it’s the holidays — take it easy and enjoy! That may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but we all know what the coming weeks bring. It’s a stressful time of year without putting additional pressure on ourselves. Eat and drink consciously and in moderation, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about your personal goals. Be it eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits you, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice. Making resolutions is as old as the hills, but setting simple goals includes taking the time to determine how you’ll achieve them, and how you’ll measure your success. This isn’t difficult and may be the best gift you can give yourself as we approach the new year.

When it comes to reasonable health and wellness planning, simple, achievable and realistic are our keywords. Here are some tips to help guide your steps:

  • Acknowledge a realistic vision of success. If losing weight is one of your goals, set a realistic number and timetable, so you can achieve your goal safely. Take the time to learn about potential problems, such as vitamin deficiencies or other health risks that accompany weight loss, and read about sugar, fat, carbs, and the chemistry of food. Also, talk with your physician, fitness expert and/or a licensed nutritionist about longer-term lifestyle changes that will help you achieve your mission.
  • Adopt an effective strategy. Focus on relatively short-term goals, like eating vegetables four times a day, cutting back on carbs and sugar, eating healthy snacks, and doing at least 20 minutes of cardio a day for the next few weeks. Keep track of your efforts daily and weekly by writing on a calendar or maintaining a journal, and create simple “rewards” for your weekly or monthly successes, such as buying a gift or doing something personally meaningful.
  • Review and adjust your commitment. To be successful you have to set goals, measure your progress, and adjust. Be flexible — if you find, for example, that walking every day is impossible, walk four days a week, or longer on the weekends. Sign up for a yoga or fitness class. And when you give in to that yummy, calorie-rich dessert, don’t despair…tomorrow is a new day. You know yourself better than anyone — make adjustments that will work for you if you fall off the wagon or fail to achieve your weekly goals.
  • Use the “buddy system.” Tell a friend about your goals and see if you can work out, walk, or practice your new diet together. Share helpful articles and tips, check in regularly, support each other when you miss a goal, and celebrate your individual and mutual successes.

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started and don’t give up. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is yours to keep.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Taming the Ogres of Holiday Overabundance

If you’re like most Americans during the holidays, our capacity for gluttony seems endless. No matter how well we think we’re going to eat, how much we plan to exercise, and how we’re determined to not let stress get the better of us, we overindulge — whether by feast, drink, being constantly on the run, or other excesses. It’s like trying to keep up with the weeds in our garden…by late summer they have the best of us, and it’s only knowing the frost isn’t far away that allows us to relax.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. But it’s more than just overeating; exercise substantially reduces, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (approximately 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating, under-exercising and getting totally stressed out this time of year? It begins with understanding and making small changes that can result in big improvements.

Don’t feed the ogres!

Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. Holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion and cold weather can dampen the best of workout intentions. To make this holiday season a healthier one, it’s important to be conscious of what you’re eating, and to manage your stress and emotions.

  • Practice awareness.  It’s important to be conscious of what we eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but consider moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar, and preservatives. Remember, we don’t have to indulge every minute. We can allow some treats for those special days, and then get back into our healthy routines the next day.
  • Manage stress and emotions.  For some people it’s an abundance of friends and family coming out of the woodwork that has them down. In contrast, you may be alone, not have your family or friends nearby, and feel isolated. The holidays are very nostalgic, but for every good memory there also may be memories of family members and friends now deceased or living far away, and traditions no longer possible. Spending time with difficult family members, grieving the loss of a loved one, feeling pressure to give gifts when finances are tight, and loneliness can leave people feeling sad, angry, or even depressed. And these feelings are aggravated by the shorter, colder days and reduced sunlight.
  • Outreach and consistency are good. It’s always beneficial to try and continue our normal routines to help feel like we’re still in control. We can consciously try to not over-eat and make time for exercise and rest. Additionally, personal outreach, especially socializing and connecting with old friends and associates, is important for our emotional health. We humans are social creatures, and while digital outreach is valuable and sometimes our easiest option, the Internet tends to act as a buffer between us and real intimacy.
  • Dealing with the holiday blues. Though depression as the holidays near is common, there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychological state that literally changes your biology and can cause or add to depression. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and hopeless about changing their situation. If the holiday blues seem to linger or become more intense, seek help from a mental health professional.

There are many ways we can resist being tempted by unhealthy options. Think about what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. While you’re making the effort to visit friends and attend parties and gatherings, contribute personal time through charitable efforts, eat and drink sensibly, and carve out some time for yourself. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, then let go of the rest — you’ll be happier and healthier for the effort!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Add Employee Wellness to Your Holiday Shopping List

As surely as we develop our strategic business forecasts for the new year, we also should think about the roles employee health and wellness play in helping achieve our bottom-line goals.

The benefits of staff wellness are many; improved morale, productivity, quality, teamwork, and customer service. 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.

The health benefits of “feeling good” — by meeting individual or team goals, through successful planning and execution, a sense of accomplishment, providing service, and feeling valued — may be hard to measure, but are indisputable contributors to success, retention, and morale. Additionally, generosity, giving, and awareness create a sense of increased goodwill and can increase the bond between employer and employee, and among employees.

By supporting your employees’ interests in local or national organizations through donations, fund raising activities and in-kind services, you help your staff achieve that valuable sense of accomplishment and caring that comes from generosity and giving to others.

Additionally, 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” for promoting, encouraging and rewarding employee workforce participation. 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.

CBIA continuously reaches out to our Healthy Connections members to discover how they bring wellness into the workplace without spending a lot of money. From time to time this column runs best-practice stories, and we’re always interested in what you are doing, regardless of how seemingly small, to promote health and wellness in your workplace. Based on recent outreach, here are some of the most common practices we’re finding:

Gym memberships: Many companies offer an allowance to their employees to use for purchasing a gym membership. Some organizations incentivize employees to “earn” extra money by doing other healthy activities such as going to their PCP for their physical, by setting personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes.

Community outreach: Building up morale in the company is a commonly overlooked wellness initiative, but the results are always positive. Lead this initiative by getting a team together for a charity event or race, volunteer, “adopt” a family or charity for the holidays, raise money as a team for gifts, match team and invidual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services. Remember, charity doesn’t end when the year does!

Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap can increase alertness, memory, and stamina. The end result: Your employees are more productive! Some companies have designated an office where employees can reserve times during the day for relaxing, and forward-thinking organizations find ways to reward employees and help them “recharge” by allowing them much-needed “down time” that is customized to each employees’ needs.

And finally, encourage employees to visit their PCP. One of the best ways to stay healthy and to prevent illness is to visit your PCP for regular check-ups. Many companies see the value in allowing employees to take work time to get their physical. Plus, routine visits are covered in full for CBIA Health Connections members. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season and year to come!

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If you’re not enjoying 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!