Shake Off Those Winter Blues

February is the shortest month, and as it often appears, the month when people’s tempers, patience and energy levels are the shortest, as well. Blame it on the cold, gloomier days, lack of sunshine in general, and too much physically idle time indoors. We don’t tend to sleep or eat as well, and we don’t exercise or socialize enough. Whatever the cause, depression runs high in the dead of winter, though there are several steps we can take to keep our spirits – and energy levels – at a higher, and healthier level.

Thought it’s not the only cause, one common diagnosis for the “winter blues” is Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SAD). This is a winter malady that causes depression, lethargy, and lack of motivation. It affects up to six percent of the U.S population, particularly women in their twenties, thirties, and forties. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that SAD can also occur in men and children and that many SAD sufferers have at least one close relative with severe depressive disorder.

The key symptoms of SAD include extreme fatigue, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, irritability, carbohydrate cravings, increased appetite, weight gain, and loss of libido. Sufferers are also more vulnerable to winter illnesses because their immune system can become weakened. Due to its symptoms, SAD can be misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.

Here are tips to help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder and for fighting the “winter blues:”

  • Light up your day. Even if it is gray and cloudy, the effects of daylight are beneficial. In addition to more exposure to daylight, daily light therapy has been shown to be effective in 85 percent of diagnosed SAD cases. Daily light therapy involves one to four hours of exposure to lighting that is 10 times the intensity of regular domestic lighting.
  • Balanced nutrition. A well-balanced, nutritious diet will provide more energy and possibly quell carb cravings. Comfort food tastes good and it may make you feel better for the short-term, but a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains will healthfully keep your weight in check and make you feel better in the long-run.
  • Get your supplements. Getting your recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals can help alleviate some of the SAD symptoms and improve your energy, particularly if you are deficient in key nutrients. There is a variety of seasonal supplements available but check with your physician or naturopath before taking mega-doses or herbal formulations. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may be all you need.
  • Move your body. Regardless of the time of year, regular exercise is essential for overall health. Even if the weather has you mostly relegated to the indoors, you can still head to your local gym or exercise in the comfort of your home. Getting your body moving will help you battle winter weight gain, boost your endorphins, and may even help you sleep more soundly. If dressed for the weather, walks and hikes outdoors are invigorating and good for you physically and mentally. And yoga, meditation and classes that promote group stretching and exercise are good for you physically and socially.
  • Prioritize social activities. Stay connected to your social network. Getting out of the house and doing enjoyable things with friends and family can do wonders for cheering you up. Go to a movie or make a dinner date. Plan regular social activities and, if weather permitting, get outdoors for a group ski or hike — you can meet your exercise, social and daylight needs in one shot.
  • Get help. If you have exhausted your attempts at natural remedies and the symptoms of SAD are still interfering with your daily functioning, seek professional help. Antidepressants and certain types of psychotherapy have proven effective in treating SAD and helping people cope with seasonal mood changes.

Winter is a beautiful time of year, and doesn’t have to drag you down. Take proactive steps to keep fit and healthy, and remember, the days are getting longer and spring will be here soon!

# # #

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!

It’s February; When Better to Focus on Our Hearts?

Since we can’t avoid talking about hearts this month, why not shift the focus from affairs of the heart to the health of our hearts? February is American Heart Month, and there’s plenty of time in the new year to adjust our resolutions and lifestyles and make smarter choices aimed at prolonging both the longevity and quality of our lives.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. While some of these problems are hereditary, there’s much we can do to improve our odds of remaining heart healthy and for controlling problems like high blood pressure that we may have inherited.

Smoking or using tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack. When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke.

In addition, the nicotine in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder by narrowing your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen. Even so-called “social smoking” — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — is dangerous and increases the risk of heart disease.

The good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons we have to fight heart disease. It is the overall pattern of the choices we make that count.  Eating smart, exercise, sleeping well, and stress and weight reduction all play important roles.

Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though. Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease, but also may help prevent cancer.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, may decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure. Some fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are a good natural source of omega-3s. Omega-3s are present in smaller amounts in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil and canola oil, and they can also be found in supplements.

When it comes to eating in a healthful way, read nutrition labels and base eating patterns on these recommendations:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin, and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Select and purchase foods lower in salt/sodium. Processed and frozen meals, soups and pre-packaged entrees are particularly high in sodium.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.

Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.

Physical activity helps you control your weight and can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress, which may be a factor in heart disease.

So, take a proactive role in protecting your heart through healthy pursuits in everything you eat and do. You’re well worth the investment!

# # #

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!

The Enduring Myths and Traditions of St. Valentine’s Day

It’s probably not an accident that Valentine’s Day falls right in the middle of Heart Health Month. Whether you love February 14th or hate it, it’s a hard event to ignore. After Christmas, it’s the largest card-exchanging event of the year, involving close to a billion correspondences. And, like most holidays or celebrations, if you study its history you might find it as interesting as any dramatic series you’d watch on TV.

The celebrations of St. Valentine’s Day are steeped in legend and mystery, and embrace a time of year that is historically associated with love and fertility. It encompasses the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera in Ancient Athens and the Ancient Roman festival of Lupercus, the god of fertility.

One popular belief is that the first official Saint Valentine’s Day was declared on the 14th of February by Pope Galasius in 496, in memory of a 3rd-century martyred priest in Rome.  According to legend, the young priest rose to distinction after betraying Emperor Claudius in 270 AD by conducting illegitimate wedding ceremonies in the capital. Emperor Claudius claimed that married men made poor soldiers and consequently decreed that all marriages of younger citizens would be outlawed. Bishop Valentine, however, continued to conduct marriages in secret between young people in love.

His success gained him unwelcome notoriety, which became his downfall. He was jailed and ultimately beheaded, but not before he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Legend holds that on the evening of his execution, the bishop passed her a note which read “from your Valentine.” This story has blossomed into the defining tradition of Valentine’s Day.

The origin of Valentine’s Day hearts                

Around the 12th century, people were not aware that the heart circulated blood inside the human body. However, they believed that the heart was the seat of emotions and feelings. Poets eulogized the role of the heart in feelings of love and romance, and even though we understand that emotions come from the brain, hearts remain a powerful symbol of love and Valentine’s Day.

The red heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow is a traditional symbol of Valentine’s Day. Hearts symbolize love, and a heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow means that when someone presents a heart, the person takes the risk of being rejected and feeling hurt.

As for Cupid, this winged and mischievous little angel traces its origin from the Roman mythology where Cupid has been described as the son of Venus – the Goddess of Love. In Greek mythology, Cupid is known by the name of Eros and as the son of Aphrodite – the Greek Goddess of Love. In Roman and Greek mythology, Cupid is always shown as a youth and not as a fat baby with wings. In Latin, however, the meaning of the word “Cupid” is desire. Latin mythology shows Cupid as a chubby, naked, winged boy or youth with a mischievous smile. 

On a related historical note, the popular expression, “Wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve,” comes from the tradition prevalent in America and Britain around the 1800s when young men wore slips of paper pinned on their sleeves that had their girlfriend’s name written on them.

So as you prepare for Valentine’s Day this year, remember it really isn’t about shelling out big bucks for fancy dinners, overpriced flowers and chocolate – even though chocolate, especially dark chocolate loaded with antioxidants, is good for our health. It’s about the centuries-old links between hearts and our emotions, about attraction and disappointment and the fragility – and enduring strength – of love and friendship.

# # #

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!

Manufacturing a Healthier Workplace

If you’re a small employer, raising awareness about health, wellness and fitness typically isn’t a full-time job, and likely isn’t on the top of your priority list. Most business owners agree that staff and individual health and wellness are important goals, but achieving those goals takes time, work, and commitment. Many companies get there slowly, and understand that wellness is a marathon, not a sprint.

Pinto Manufacturing in Glastonbury, Connecticut, is a machine shop specializing in aerospace parts. This 12-person company joined CBIA Health Connections three years ago. Owner Bob Pinto named Joseph Marino, his office manager, their wellness champion. It was a good fit for Marino, who was already interested in improving his health, stayed active, and saw his new role as additional incentive as well as an opportunity to help his co-workers. But he was realistic, and knew things weren’t going to change overnight.

“Becoming the wellness champion worked for me, because I already was focused on health, and this gave me an extra boost,” Marino recalls. “I encouraged our guys to complete their online assessments, and started placing articles and printed copies of CBIA Healthy Connections in the break room. Several of us looked into gyms and different kinds of fitness classes. I never was a ‘gym guy,’ so I’m taking boxing classes with another Pinto employee, another guy is learning rock climbing, and others go to gyms. Some of us tried fitness ‘boot camps,’ then settled into whatever venue we liked best.  Fitness is personal, and people are motivated for their own reasons, and on their own timetables.”

The Amazon gift card, which is sent to everyone who completes the program’s online health assessment, was a useful “carrot,” Marino says, and a commitment from the boss helps keep wellness an ongoing topic of conversation. “Bob is very supportive, and we’ve talked many times about how staying active keeps the blood flowing, so to speak, and helps us all remain focused and healthier, which is good individually and for the Company. We promote the fitness message as possible,” Marino adds. “When the weather’s good, we now see guys outside walking during breaks and at lunchtime.”

Brian Pinto is the company sales manager. He acknowledges that having a formal effort, even though it’s loosely structured, is producing positive results, and that people are thinking about their health and taking steps that weren’t in place before the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program was initiated. His father, Bob Pinto, agrees.

“I’m almost 70, and have always been focused on maintaining my health,” Pinto explains. I go to the gym as often as possible, lift weights, and walk two miles three or four times a week. I had set a personal goal of achieving 50 pushups every morning, which I’ve now reached, and lost 16 pounds. We spoke with our entire staff when we got started, and I know many of them are now more active. When people are inactive, they get sick and can get hurt more easily, so there’s a business incentive, as well. But ultimately, success is self-determined, and starts with awareness. It’s mostly about trying to make something happen and ensuring it’s part of the larger conversations regarding quality, safety and productivity.”

Marino reflects that they still enjoy doughnuts at some team meetings, but that people understand that wellness is a long-term strategy, and there’s room for compromise. “When I started this assignment, I posted a ‘wellness champion’ sign on my desk, and took some good-natured ribbing for it,” Marino remembers. “But over time we’re definitely seeing changes, whether it’s small things like people snacking on apples instead of chips, or getting outside to walk during breaks. It’s a good bonding experience and a smart decision personally, as well as for the business.”  

# # #

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!