Autumn Fitness Includes Walking Our Way to Better Health

Autumn in New England is, for many of us, as good as it gets — warm days, crisp evenings, the smell of wood fires, pumpkins and freshly picked apples, breathtakingly colorful, scenic panoramas in every direction…what could be bad? Well, the days are getting shorter, the evenings colder and winter isn’t far away — but let’s stay focused on the positive, okay?

This is a great time of year to be outdoors walking, riding and hiking, working in the yard and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery. As the cooler weather approaches it may portend the limitation of certain outdoor activities, but as is said, “When one door closes, another opens.” In this case, it’s the opportunity to continue our commitment to improved health and fitness, and to plan activities that will prevent us from winter stagnation. That may include many kinds of indoor fitness activities such as aerobic workouts, spinning, dance, yoga, swimming, athletics and much more, but also includes outdoor recreation such as hiking, bicycling and sports that can be practiced until the big chill sets in.

Dressing properly for the cooler weather is critical, as is proper hydration. It’s also important to remember to protect ourselves from damaging ultraviolet rays. However warming and enriching, sunshine damages unprotected skin all year long, and we need to continue using sunscreen and protecting our eyes as well, even in the cooler months.

Autumn also is a good time to moderate our diets, and a chance to implement good nutritional practices that may help reduce the seasonal gluttony (and related guilt) that accompanies the rapidly approaching holidays. Taking the time now to focus on sugar, fat, salt and carbohydrate intake will leave us in far better shape come January!

Walk the walk                                                                         

One of the simplest and most beneficial outdoor wellness activities is walking. This valuable exercise is good for our hearts, breathing, blood pressure, circulation, cholesterol levels, joint health and much more. If dressed for the weather with clothes that wick or keep moisture off our skin, we can walk all-year-round. And when it comes to fitness value it doesn’t really matter where we walk, as long as it’s done regularly and for long-enough distances and time periods to make a positive health difference.

According to a recent national survey conducted in August 2013 by GfK Research on behalf of Kaiser Permanente, Americans know that walking is good for their overall health, but many are not walking enough to meet recommended guidelines for health benefits. According to the survey, 30 percent of Americans said they walk more than they did five years ago, 35 percent are walking less and 32 percent are walking about the same amount. One-third of those surveyed said they don’t walk for 10 minutes at a time over the course of a week. In addition, 31 percent of those who walk do so for less than 150 minutes per week, which is the minimal threshold for physical activity established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, 94 percent of those surveyed said they view walking as good for their health and 79 percent acknowledge they should walk more. At least nine in 10 respondents agreed that walking is a good way to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight and can help prevent heart disease. In addition, 73 percent said they believe their children should walk more. Respondents also view walking as a good way to reduce stress and combat depression. More than eight in 10 Americans said walking can reduce feelings of depression and 87 percent said walking helps reduce anxiety.

Survey respondents don’t necessarily view the CDC’s guidelines as difficult to meet. Half said it would not be difficult to meet the CDC’s guidelines of walking 150 minutes per week. Nearly six in 10 respondents also said they would walk more if their doctor told them to.

When asked why they don’t walk more, those surveyed cited lack of time and energy. Not living in communities where they can walk to services, shops, school and work is also a deterrent. Four in 10 describe their neighborhood as “not very” or “not at all walkable.”

So, if we know that walking is good for us, and we know we don’t do it often enough, what can we do to change this paradigm? Setting personal, achievable goals is the first priority.

Walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week can help address chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression that limit our quality of life and contribute to the escalating cost of healthcare. Everyone can benefit from walking, regardless of age. It can be done alone, with a partner, or in groups.  Depending on where you live, and when you go to school or work, you can establish your own walking routine any time of day or night.

Set simple goals:  Plan to walk every day, or at least five days a week, at a time that works best for you. If something interferes with your walking schedule or the weather is lousy, walk later that day or the next day when it’s more convenient. Great walking venues include parks, schools, athletic tracks, established walking trails or your own neighborhood. City streets, shopping malls and quiet, safer roads can suffice, as well. Keep a written or electronic record of your walking so you can track your progress, and reward yourself when you hit a personal milestone of your own choosing. Encourage a friend, child or work associate to join you, and see walking as a critical daily activity, not as elective.

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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!

Tackling Wellness a Step at a Time

When it comes to improving our health and wellness success often comes a step at a time. Small goals lead to small victories, which lead to additional, often larger victories. We build acceptance and positive results by setting and supporting achievable measures, and our progress results in greater participation and increased resolve.

There are many positive steps employers can take to encourage employees to embrace wellness efforts. It begins, however, with a commitment to try something, however minor, and to see it through. Success, it’s been said, is contagious, proving wellness and contagion can coexist, at least on paper!

Here are some examples of small steps being practiced by two Connecticut employers participating in the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program.

Jan Wahnon is the wellness champion for The Computer Company, an IT solutions firm located in Cromwell. When it comes to health, every little bit counts, Wahnon says, and sometimes you just have to start out with the basics. Her company offered a reduced gym membership, she explains, but there wasn’t enough interest among the staff. So they looked for some wellness alternatives that were easy to introduce and support.

“Here at The Computer Company,” Wahnon says, “we have monthly company-wide meetings to talk about upcoming business, completed projects, birthdays, and company anniversaries. These meetings finish up with snacks and bagels for everyone. Since starting the wellness program, we have cut down from three birthday cakes to one a month, and have switched the sugary snacks for fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and granola. We find that after the meeting people feel better and don’t feel the need to nap at their desks.”   

The company owners, she adds, also held a wellness event tied to a monthly all-staff meeting, and brought in a guest speaker, Dr. Allie Mendelson, DC, from Talcott Family Chiropractic. “Mendelson is a nutritionist and hosts a radio program about healthy living,” cites Wahnon. “She came to our office and spoke about nutrition, holistic health and wellness. My associates and I enjoyed hearing the presentation and learned a lot from it.”

As a related story, Devon Francis, the wellness champion for Fiduciary Investment Advisors (FIA), shared wellness efforts underway at her company, which has 37 employees and is located in Windsor.

 “We have a corporate membership at a gym down the street from our office, and the more people that sign up, the less expensive it is for each member,” says Francis. “More than half of our employees are members, and about 10 people regularly go to the gym on their lunch hour or before or after work.  We even have a few employees who organized an informal group-fitness class after the regularly scheduled lunchtime class at the gym was canceled. They met with people from other companies in the area and followed the same type of format that the class sponsored by the gym followed.”  The class at the gym, she adds, was later reinstated, and remains a popular activity.

Francis’ company designated this past May as “Better Sleep and Mental Health Awareness month.”  For the last two weeks of the month, she says, they used an empty office as a “recharge room.”  “We set up yoga mats, a noise machine, a comfy chair, a foot massager, and provided magazines and fresh water with lemons and limes,” Francis recalls. “Employees could pay five dollars for a 20-minute break in the relaxation room, and we donated all of the money to tornado relief in Oklahoma.  It was a great opportunity for people to step back from the hustle and bustle of the day and take some time to relax and relieve stress.”

FIA also submits relay teams annually for The Hartford Marathon, a company tradition now in its tenth year. This year they’ll sponsor four teams of employees who will each complete a portion of the race. Twelve employees and their families are participating, and they raise funds to donate to CT Children’s Medical Center.

Editor’s Note:  Do you have a wellness practice or story you’d like to share? Contact Michelle Molyneux at michelle.molyneux@cbia.com.

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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!

Stretching toward improved physical and spiritual health

People come to yoga for a wide variety of reasons, including fitness, stress management, and relief from physical or emotional pain. September is National Yoga Awareness Month, and a good time, with the holidays and colder weather rapidly approaching, to look into yoga’s spiritual and physical healing properties. Regardless of your motivation, most yoga enthusiasts credit yoga’s meditative component — as well as the physical training and discipline — with allowing them to reach a deeper, more spiritual place in their lives while helping them relax and improve their overall health and wellness.

Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and approximately 11 million Americans enjoy its health benefits. The traditional series of yoga poses, called asanas, work by safely stretching your muscles. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use, which may cause stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. Additionally, yoga increases the range of motion in joints and stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles.

No matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time, though you should seek guidance from an experienced yoga teacher to help avoid possible injury and to learn how to get the most value. The greatest gains typically are in shoulder and trunk flexibility. Yoga includes postures (asanas), energy and breath control (pranayama), meditation, music, philosophy and other approaches. While many people equate the word Hatha with a particular style of yoga, the word actually refers to the physical aspect of yoga — to the asana and pranayama practices.

Meditation is important to all styles and traditions of yoga but is often the least understood aspect of yoga. The art and science of transcending one’s thoughts and liberating the mind, meditation may involve simple breath awareness, chanting or movement. For some, it is the heart of the practice, for others it is integrated with the asanas, often at the beginning and the end of the class.

Common styles of yoga

The following are some common styles of yoga:

Gentle yoga: Gentle yoga can be as dynamic as some of the more vibrant styles, yet is gentle on the body. Classes are often multi-level and do not assume prior yoga experience. They include breathing techniques, warm-ups and basic postures to increase mind-body connection, self-awareness and self-confidence.

Yoga flows: Yoga flows are more invigorating. Postures are linked in a flow and provide some aerobic components while also improving strength and coordination. The classes assume a participant begins with a certain degree of strength and endurance.

Power yoga: This dynamic yoga style includes specific sequences designed to build strength and stamina. These classes are often recommended for people with some familiarity of the basic postures.

Fitness yoga: Fitness yoga is a newer expression designed to incorporate traditional yoga postures in a form common to most fitness clubs. Students warm up, practice more strenuous postures and then cool down. They tone the body, especially the core, and increase flexibility, balance and mind-body awareness.

Specialty yoga: Yoga can also be customized for the special needs of a broad spectrum of groups including expectant mothers, seniors and children, as well as for those battling life-threatening diseases or debilitating chronic conditions. Specialized training is important for teachers who work with these groups.

Spiritually-oriented yoga: Originally, Hatha yoga was primarily a tool for spiritual growth as well as for physical well-being. Modern styles that emphasize the spiritual dimension of yoga practice tend to involve slower movement and often include meditation practice.

Therapeutic yoga: Yoga therapy is the adaptation and application of yoga practices and techniques to help those facing health challenges manage their condition, reduce symptoms, restore balance, increase vitality and improve attitude.

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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!

Male reproductive health: Self exams and knowledge are the best prevention

Understanding common risks and the simple steps you can take to mitigate some preventable long-term health issues is easy, sensible, and smart. Yet millions of Americans ignore early warning signs and taking action early when it matters the most. These reactions are typical, especially when it comes to men’s health issues involving prostate and testicular cancer.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Women with convenient or affordable access to health care resources are far more likely to get regular gynecological checkups that are effective in detecting ovarian cancer and other reproductive health concerns. Men, however, are an entirely different matter, often less informed, and less willing to take action or seek help until potential problems have progressed to more dangerous levels. This month, Healthy Connections will focus on prostate and testicular cancer awareness, to help men be better informed.

What men should know about prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is cancer that occurs in a man’s prostate — a small walnut-shaped gland that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. Prostate cancer usually grows slowly and initially remains confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. While some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly.

Prostate cancer that is detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland — has a better chance of successful treatment. However, prostate cancer may not cause signs or symptoms in its early stages. Prostate cancer that is more advanced may cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Blood in the semen
  • General pain in the lower back, hips, or thighs
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.

Testicular cancer awareness

Testicular cancer occurs in the testicles which produce male sex hormones and sperm for reproduction.

Compared with other types of cancer, testicular cancer is rare. But testicular cancer is the most common cancer in American males between the ages of 15 and 34.

Testicular cancer is highly treatable, even when cancer has spread beyond the testicle. Depending on the type and stage of testicular cancer, you may receive one of several treatments, or a combination. Regular testicular self-examinations can help identify growths early, when the chance for successful treatment of testicular cancer is highest.

Factors that may increase your risk of testicular cancer include:

An undescended testicle (cryptorchidism). The testicles form in the abdominal area during fetal development and usually descend into the scrotum before birth. Men who have a testicle that never descended are at greater risk of testicular cancer in either testicle than are men whose testicles descended normally. The risk remains even if the testicle has been surgically relocated to the scrotum. Still, the majority of men who develop testicular cancer don’t have a history of undescended testicles.

Abnormal testicle development. Conditions that cause testicles to develop abnormally may increase your risk of testicular cancer.

Family history. If family members have had testicular cancer, you may have an increased risk.

Age. Testicular cancer usually affects teens and younger men, particularly those between ages 15 and 34. However, it can occur at any age.

Race. Testicular cancer is more common in white men than in black men.

Most men discover testicular cancer themselves, either unintentionally or while doing a testicular self-examination to check for lumps. In other cases, your doctor may detect a lump during a routine physical exam. Learn how to conduct self-examinations, and talk with your physician if you have questions or concerns.

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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!

Rocking your diet with seasonal fruits and veggies

Even if eating with the seasons may sound like the name of an alternative rock band, it’s wise nutritional counsel. Late summer and early autumn offer a bounty of fruits and vegetables that are rich in nutrients and vitamins, fresh, and often locally grown. Beyond nutritional value, supporting local produce helps the farming community by requiring fewer resources to grow, store and transport fruit and veggies. As the weather cools, it’s fun to incorporate seasonal varieties in meal planning. Many of us savor traditional autumn favorites like apples, pears, pumpkins, and certain kinds of squash, but there are many other healthy seasonal choices like beets, turnips, cranberries, dates, almonds, mushrooms, peppers, grapes, potatoes, and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, and spinach.

Pumpkins aren’t just for chucking or carving

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging. There are dozens of great, easy recipes online for using pumpkins as side dishes, soups, and breads, or for integrating it into salads, desserts, and much more.

An apple a day

While we all remember that popular refrain, apples are a perpetual favorite and just one part of a healthy diet. Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown U.S. apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every single state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

Apples are delicious, easy to carry for snacking, low in calories, a natural mouth freshener, inexpensive, and a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber such as pectin actually helps to prevent cholesterol buildup in the lining of blood vessel walls, reducing the incident of atherosclerosis and heart disease. The insoluble fiber in apples provides bulk in the intestinal tract, holding water to cleanse and move food quickly through the digestive system.

It’s a good idea to eat apples with their skin. Almost half of the vitamin C content is just underneath the skin. Eating the skin also increases insoluble fiber content. Most of an apple’s fragrance cells are concentrated in the skin and as they ripen, the skin cells develop more aroma and flavor.

Here are some hints on how to purchase apples for maximum value:

  • Select firm apples with unbroken, well-colored skins and no bruises. Brown streaks on the skins (called scald) do not affect quality.
  • Apples will keep in a cool, dry place for up to one week. For longer storage, refrigerate in a plastic bag for four to six weeks.
  • Select types of apples based on how they will be used:  Raw (for eating out of hand and adding to salads); cooked (for applesauce, pies and other desserts); or baked whole.
  • All-purpose apples can be used for both eating raw and cooking. Varieties include: Braeburn, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, and McIntosh.
  • Red Delicious apples are strictly for eating raw and Rome Beauty apples are best for baking whole. Crisp, tart Macouns and Macintosh tend to be favorite eating apples, but every variety is healthy and often can be picked fresh at farms, or purchased at farm stands or in your local market.

Other seasonal veggies to consider

Sweet potatoes are a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.

Freshly dug sweet potatoes are uncured. They are good boiled, mashed, candied, fried and in many cooked dishes, but uncured potatoes do not bake successfully. Sweet potatoes must be cured two or three weeks before they will bake. Store cured potatoes in a cool, dry place where the temperature is about 55 F or 60 F. Do not store them in the refrigerator. Chilling the vegetable will give it a hard core and an undesirable taste. Well-matured, carefully handled and properly cured potatoes will keep for several months if the temperature and storage conditions are ideal.

Another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular, are beets, which are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, today’s beets are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues. In addition to serving them as a vegetable side dish, toss beets into autumn salads and soups for extra color and flavor.

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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!

Wellness programs move center stage in healthcare reform efforts

As the healthcare reform debate presses on, a number of new policies and compliance requirements approved as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — and as addendums to existing HIPAA regulations – are already being implemented, or will become effective January 1, 2014.  It is important to be aware of recently adopted federal regulations about wellness programs and how the new regulations may affect your existing wellness program as well as what they mean for those interested in starting a wellness program, says Jennifer Herz, assistant counsel, CBIA.

“Part of federal healthcare legislation is shifting health coverage attention to targeting prevention and promoting healthy behavioral changes,” Herz explains. “Some employers already use wellness programs to support such healthy behaviors and other employers may take advantage of the increased attention to help promote and reward employees for participation in healthy lifestyle programs, goal setting, health screenings and proactive wellness efforts that benefit them and their families.”                            

“Free” preventive care is one of the positive changes already in place. Changes of special interest to small employers address participation in wellness programs, educational outreach, and efforts to increase self-management behaviors.

The bottom line, Herz stresses, is that the new regulations are a good opportunity to remind employers about the benefits of wellness programming to support a healthier workforce, which increases productivity, while also working to reduce premium costs.

What is changing

Wellness programs come in all shapes and sizes, and these programs attempt to address body, mind, and pocketbook, helping employers reduce benefit costs and lost work time, while increasing employee productivity and satisfaction. For example, a wellness program might create incentives to encourage employees to adhere to a particular course of treatment or to otherwise better manage their health.

The Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health & Human Services have issued final regulations and modifications which, among other things, reflect changes made by the ACA to wellness programs subject to the HIPAA nondiscrimination rules. As a result, companies currently offering wellness programs will need to determine if any design changes are necessary. The regulations are effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014. Read the final regulation here.             

Click here for an expanded version of this article with additional details on the ACA’s wellness program provisions.

CBIA will continue examining healthcare legislation changes that affect your policies, and will offer periodic ACA updates and explanations of program changes and opportunities. This information will be available through CBIA’s Health Connections Resource Center, cbia.com/healthcare2014.

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Listen to Your Mouth. It Has Much to Say!

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.

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.

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.

Often overlooked, flossing our teeth is a critical part of good oral hygiene and should be practiced adjunct to brushing daily. While brushing is critical, flossing does about 40 percent of the work required to remove plaque from the hard-to-reach spaces between our teeth.

Most floss is made of either nylon or Teflon, and both are equally effective. People with larger spaces between their teeth or with gum recession (loss of gum tissue, which exposes the roots of the teeth) tend to get better results with a flat, wide dental tape. If teeth are close together, try thin floss that bills itself as “shred resistant.”

Bridges and braces require more effort to get underneath the restorations or wires and between the teeth. Use a floss threader, which looks like a plastic sewing needle. Or look for a product called Super Floss that has one stiff end to fish the floss through the teeth, followed by a spongy segment and regular floss for cleaning.

Here are some tips for proper flossing:

  • Perfect your flossing technique. Use a piece of floss 15 to 18 inches long. Wind the floss around the middle fingers of each hand, leaving a one-inch section open for flossing. Place the floss in your mouth and use your index fingers to push the floss between the teeth. Be careful not to push too hard and injure the gums. Floss the top teeth first, then the bottom. Slide it between the teeth, wrap it around each tooth in the shape of a “C,” and polish with an up and down motion. Floss between each tooth as well as behind the back teeth, and use a clean section of floss as needed and take up used floss by winding it around the fingers.
  • Don’t worry about a little blood. Bleeding means the gums are inflamed because plaque has built up and needs to be cleaned away. It is not uncommon, especially for “new” flossers, and shouldn’t deter you. Bleeding after a few days, however, could be a sign of periodontal disease. Talk to your dentist.
  • Get a floss holder. If you lack the hand dexterity to floss, try soft wooden plaque removers, which look similar to toothpicks, or a two-pronged plastic floss holder. Both allow you to clean between teeth with one hand.

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!

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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!

Getting Fresh Isn’t Such a Bad Thing!

One of the many great joys of summer is the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit available locally. Whether grown in your garden, purchased at the grocery store, or joyfully discovered at a local farm stand or farmer’s market, locally grown produce offers us a shorter “ground to plate” experience, enhanced flavors and seasonal variety.

Eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables keeps us in better balance, nutritionally, and can help protect us from heart disease, bone loss, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers, such as colorectal cancer. And though there are few “down” sides to a diet rich in fresh fruit and veggies, preparation plays an important role in enhancing (or diminishing) the valuable vitamins and benefits they offer.

To cook or not cook our veggies

Cooking is crucial to our diets. It helps us digest food without expending huge amounts of energy. It softens food that our small teeth, weak jaws, and digestive systems aren’t equipped to handle. And while we might hear from raw food advocates that cooking kills vitamins and minerals in food, it turns out raw vegetables are not always healthier.

A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition last year found that a group of 198 subjects who followed a strict raw food diet had normal levels of vitamin A and relatively high levels of beta-carotene (an antioxidant found in dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables), but low levels of the antioxidant lycopene.

Lycopene is a red pigment found predominantly in tomatoes and other rosy fruits such as watermelon, pink guava, red bell pepper and papaya. Several studies conducted in recent years (at Harvard Medical School, among others) have linked high intake of lycopene with a lower risk of cancer and heart attacks, and research indicates it may be an even more potent antioxidant than vitamin C.

Cooked carrots, spinach, mushrooms, asparagus, cabbage, peppers and many other vegetables also supply more antioxidants, such as carotenoids and ferulic acid, to the body than they do when raw,  at least, that is, if they’re boiled or steamed. Boiling and steaming better preserves antioxidants, particularly carotenoid, in carrots, zucchini and broccoli, though boiling was deemed the best. Always avoid deep frying.

A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that cooking carrots actually increases their level of the antioxidant beta-carotene. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth and regulating the immune system.

So, like your mother always said, “eat your vegetables,” and, whenever possible, enjoy a fresh piece of fruit.

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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!

Taking Your Best Shot at Long-Term Wellness

If you’re like most adults, you probably can’t remember the last time you had a tetanus shot unless you stepped on a nail or caught an arm on a rusty metal fence. Checking up on your personal immunization record, and making sure your loved ones are properly immunized as well, is a simple and critical step for helping to protect yourself and your family from preventable illness and related serious medical conditions.

Improved sanitation, hygiene, and other living conditions have created a generally healthier environment and reduced the risks for disease exposure and infection in the United States. However, the dramatic and long-term decrease of diseases is primarily a result of widespread immunizations throughout the U.S. population.

Even though some diseases, such as polio, rarely affect people in the U.S., all of the recommended childhood immunizations and booster vaccines are still needed. These diseases still exist in other countries. Travelers can unknowingly bring these diseases into the U.S. and infect people who have not been immunized. Without the protection from immunizations, these diseases could be imported and could quickly spread through the population, causing epidemics. Non-immunized people living in healthy conditions are not protected from disease; only immunizations prepare the immune system to fight the disease organisms.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Apathy, fear and lack of information are the greater culprits in not protecting ourselves and our children from preventable illnesses. Most of us choose to immunize our children from the day they’re born. In fact, children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically…in the case of tetanus, once every 10 years.

Today, children and adults receive a “Tdap” booster for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. If you doubt the importance of this, note that pertussis (Whooping Cough) has recently reappeared in Connecticut. Pertussis is caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. This disease is particularly dangerous for babies, so protecting yourself also protects others.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. As with pertussis and another common contagious disease, tuberculosis, diphtheria bacteria can be passed from person to person by direct contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. When people are infected, the diphtheria bacteria produce a toxin in the body that can cause weakness, sore throat, low-grade fever, and swollen glands in the neck. Effects from this toxin can also lead to swelling of the heart muscle and, in some cases, heart failure. In severe cases, the illness can cause coma, paralysis, and even death.

The third leg of that triad involves tetanus (lockjaw), which also can be prevented by the Tdap vaccine. Tetanus is caused by bacteria found in soil. The bacteria enter the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from tetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get tetanus die from the disease.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t remember if or when you had your Tdap booster, talk to your doctor. Additionally, if you plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with your physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly protected, and by air-borne particles.

But even if you aren’t traveling abroad, it’s important to know your medical history and to obtain a copy of your personal immunization record. That’s especially valuable if you can’t remember if you ever had common diseases such as mumps, chicken pox, rubella and measles, all of which still afflict thousands of Americans. In many cases, vaccinations to prevent these diseases may not have existed when you were a child, but they do now.

If your personal record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually since strains of “flu” mutate or change from year to year. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, even among previously healthy children, so it’s smart to speak with your doctor annually about whether or not you should respond proactively rather than take your chances.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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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!

Wellness Never Takes a Vacation

Summer’s wrapping up quickly. The days are getting shorter and school is right around the corner. You and your employees are probably reliving your vacations and wondering where the time went. As the hot weather starts to wane and attention spans lengthen, it’s a great time to revisit your wellness planning to ensure continuity and keep your workforce focused and motivated about their health.

To reduce costs, employees need to become engaged in both their healthcare spending and in reducing their health risks. A standard approach is to focus on wellness, education, and consumer support by weaving wellness into the fabric of your company’s culture.

While one obvious goal of any wellness program is to reduce costs, it is not the primary message. Wellness is about improving health and quality of life. Successful programs place heavy emphasis on personal outcomes. Employees benefit from access to healthcare education and information on topics ranging from stress management and exercise to healthy cooking. They also benefit from smoking-cessation courses and materials, and through an understanding of their own personal responsibility in ensuring their health and wellness.

Making connections between costs and choices

When you integrate wellness and intervention programs, you have the opportunity to educate employees about how the connections between their healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices relate to their premiums and other healthcare costs.

The impact of health data and supportive outreach to drive changes is working for employers across the country. There are a variety of interactive, online wellness programs that can help employers enhance the health and productivity of their employees and support a more complete system of care.

If you’re not there yet, the first step is encouraging your team to complete an in-depth health assessment. This assessment yields revealing, yet actionable information for the individual, and can be used to help guide the employee to programs and actions that will address his or her health needs.

Quality educational courses and materials, sensible fitness activities, and effective communication are all core components of a successful wellness program. Employers must make the connections between medical costs, health risks, and personal responsibility. The more we understand that health risks, many of which are modifiable, drive health utilization and cost, the more effective we can be in helping our employees adjust their behaviors and attitudes toward wellness.

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!