Giving is receiving

There’s no question that when we give to others – whether it’s our time, charitable donations, or gifts – we feel good. Sometimes it’s anticipation and joy as we watch someone open his or her gift, or it can be pride or the sense of self-satisfaction we experience when supporting a charity, organization or cause we believe is important. Whatever our reason for giving to others, it feels good – and it’s good for us!

Beyond anecdotal evidence and the hard to measure “warm fuzzy feelings” we derive from acts of kindness and sharing, medical research indicates that giving is good for the giver’s physical and mental health. Giving reduces stress, which can lower blood pressure. Other health benefits associated with giving include increased self-esteem, reduced depression, and increased happiness – all gifts that can result in a longer, healthier life.

According to a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t. Supportive interaction with others also helped people recover from coronary-related events. The same study also found that people who gave their time to help others through community and organizational involvement had greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who didn’t.

In another 2006 study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health studied the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities. They found that giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward center in the brain, releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.” That reaction, like other “feel-good” chemical catalysts, also is addictive – but it’s an addiction that’s good for us!

Overall, studies prove that giving affects us biologically, activating regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection with other people and trust. According to a 1999 University of California, Berkeley, study, people who were 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer – even accounting for many other factors including age, exercise, general health and negative habits like smoking. And in a 2003 University of Michigan study, a researcher found similar numbers in studying elderly people who gave help to friends, relatives and neighbors – or who gave emotional support to their spouses – versus those who didn’t.

Whether we’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude – and research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds. And if that isn’t enough to further motivate us, when we give, we’re more likely to get back: Studies suggest that when we give to others, our generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line – sometimes by the person we gave to, sometimes by someone else. Additionally, the organizations we support help others, who then “pay it forward.”  These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthen our ties, and research has shown that having positive social interactions also is central to good mental and physical health.

So when it comes to giving, there’s no apparent “down side.” Give often and give generously – whether time, a helping hand or charitable donations – and reap the many interpersonal and health rewards that come from “doing good” and from sharing.

# # #

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!

Take charge of your stress

December is a busy, chaotic, pressured, stressful time. The holidays bring joy and frustration, although sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other. The end of the business and calendar years also increase tension as we rush around trying to multitask, wrap up projects and budgets, deal with personal and family angst and prepare ourselves for the coming year.

What we need is our own way to help reduce stress and disorganization, improve our focus, and slow down enough – in a short, manageable period – to regain our emotional and physical footing without losing traction or productivity. Some people hit the gym, run or take a walk; others go out to eat, read, nap, pray or call a friend. Many also find that the pursuit of mindfulness – the ability to slow ourselves down, focus and truly be present in the moment – can be enhanced through meditation.

Anyone can practice meditation. It’s simple and inexpensive, and it doesn’t require special gear, clothes or equipment. And we can practice meditation wherever we are – out for a walk, riding the bus, waiting at the doctor’s office or between meetings. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore our calm and inner peace.

Inserting calmness in our day

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years. Originally meant to help deepen understanding of sacred and mystical forces of life, meditation is now commonly used for relaxation and stress reduction.

During meditation, we focus our attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding our mind and causing stress. And the benefits don’t cease when our meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry us more calmly through the day and may improve certain medical conditions.

The emotional benefits of meditation can include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage our stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions

How you can help yourself relax

Meditation is an umbrella term for the many ways to a relaxed state of being. There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that have meditation components. All share the same goal of achieving inner peace.

Meditation also is useful in dealing with medical conditions worsened by stress, such as anxiety disorders, asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain and trouble sleeping.

Don’t let the thought of meditating the “right” way add to your stress. If you choose to, you can attend special meditation centers or group classes led by trained instructors. But you can also practice meditation easily on your own.

And you can make meditation as formal or informal as you like, however it suits your lifestyle and situation. Some people build meditation into their daily routine. For example, they may start and end each day with an hour of meditation. But all you really need is a few minutes of quality time for meditation.

Here are some ways you can practice meditation on your own, whenever you choose:

  • Breathe deeply. This technique is good for beginners because breathing is a natural function. Focus all attention on breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening and inhale and exhale through the nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When attention wanders, gently return your focus to breathing.
  • Scan your body. When using this technique, focus attention on different parts of your body. Become aware of your body’s various sensations, whether that’s pain, tension, warmth or relaxation. Combine body scanning with breathing exercises and imagine breathing heat or relaxation into and out of different parts of your body.
  • Repeat a mantra. You can create your own mantra, whether it’s religious or secular. Examples of religious mantras include the Jesus Prayer in the Christian tradition, the holy name of God in Judaism, or the “om” mantra of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
  • Walk and meditate. Combining a walk with meditation is an efficient and healthy way to relax. You can use this technique anywhere you’re walking, such as on a wooded path, on a city sidewalk or at the mall. When using this method, slow down the pace of walking so that you can focus on each movement of your legs or feet. Don’t focus on a particular destination. Concentrate on your legs and feet, repeating action words in your mind such as lifting, moving and placing as you lift each foot; move your leg forward and place your foot on the ground.
  • Engage in prayer. Prayer is the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation. Spoken and written prayers are found in most faith traditions. You can pray using your own words or read prayers written by others. Check the self-help section of your local bookstore for examples. Talk with your rabbi, priest, pastor or other spiritual leader about possible resources.
  • Read, write, listen and reflect. Many people report that they benefit from reading poems or sacred texts, and taking a few moments to quietly reflect on their meaning. You can also listen to sacred music, spoken words or any music you find relaxing or inspiring. You may want to write your reflections in a journal or discuss them with a friend or spiritual leader.
  • Focus your love and gratitude. In this type of meditation, you focus your attention on a sacred object or being, weaving feelings of love, compassion and gratitude into your thoughts. You can also close your eyes and use your imagination or gaze at representations of the object.

Don’t judge your meditation skills, which may only increase your stress. Meditation takes practice. It’s common for your mind to wander during meditation, no matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation. If you’re meditating to calm your mind and your attention wanders, slowly return to the object, sensation or movement you’re focusing on.

Experiment, and you’ll likely find out what types of meditation work best for you and what you enjoy doing. Adapt meditation and mindfulness to your needs at the moment. Remember, there’s no right way or wrong way to meditate or to relax. What matters is that you’re taking control and doing something to help you reduce your stress and feel better overall.

# # #

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!

 

 

Cleansing for a healthier 2016

As we’re already waist-deep into the annual season of gluttony, it’s a good time to practice moderation, but not deprivation. And it’s also a perfect opportunity to restart our personal health and wellness planning for 2016, including nutritional changes if required, exercise and other smart lifestyle choices.

Enjoying ourselves during the holidays may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but it’s a stressful time of year without additional pressure. Eat and drink consciously and reasonably, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about personal goals. Whether it’s eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits us, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice.

As people contemplate nutritional changes, the topic of “cleansing diets” often arises, typically as a precursor to jumping into a more comprehensive diet. The idea is that if we “cleanse” our bodies by purging all the toxins and bad stuff in us, we’ll have a cleaner slate upon which to rebuild. Many popular “juice cleansing” or all-liquid diets are available in stores, or touted online, but they aren’t necessarily healthy or safe, or the best path to true wellness.

There’s nothing wrong with drinking juice, although it’s not as healthful as eating fresh fruits and vegetables, which are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plenty of fiber, especially in their skins and pulp.  But when a person is sucking down only fruit and vegetable juice as part of a juice cleanse — usually 16 ounces of juice every few hours, plus unlimited water — and often forgoing food for three to five days or longer, that’s an extreme approach, according to many nutrition experts.

And juice cleanses often don’t involve the typical juice carton found in the supermarket. They require expensive, prepackaged bottles of pulverized produce blends, or they can be homemade in a juicer or blender. The trendy beverages might be a green mixture containing kale, spinach, green apple, cucumber, celery and lettuce, or a red concoction made with apple, carrot, beets, lemon and ginger. While popular, there’s no scientific research that proves these cleansing diets provide short- or long-term benefits, nor are they a healthy or safe approach to weight loss.

The scoop on cleansing diets

The body detoxifies itself naturally, primarily through the actions of the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These organs help remove toxins or harmful substances that should not be stored in the body, and since our bodies are always in a natural state of cleansing, a person does not need to do a juice cleanse or follow a liquid detox diet to be healthy.

One of the most well-known detox diets instructs people to drink lemon juice and water spiked with maple syrup and cayenne pepper — supposedly this helps the body remove toxins and aid in speedy weight loss. Though touted by many entertainers, physician worry that any 10-day liquid diet, regardless of the combination of liquids you imbibe, could pose serious health risks, especially for people who use it for longer periods of time.

During the first few days of a juice cleanse, a person initially burns their glycogen stores for energy. Using glycogen (the stored form of glucose) pulls a lot of water out of the body, which causes weight loss. But the loss of water weight comes at the expense of a loss of muscle, which is a steep price to pay. Weight loss is not always about the numbers on a scale, it’s also about the ratio of body fat compared to lean muscle mass.

A cleansing diet is low in dietary protein and calories. Having more lean muscle and less body fat means burning more calories and boosting metabolism, in the long run. Additionally, a cleanse could also lead to side effects such as a lack of energy, headaches and shakiness due to low blood sugar. Over time, it may lead to constipation from a lack of fiber, as well as irritability. Physicians also caution against any diet that uses natural or synthetic laxatives.

Once we come off a cleansing diet and returns to solid foods, it’s easy – and very common — to regain the weight we’ve just lost.  Some people may experience a psychological lift from a cleanse, such as feeling ready or motivated to adopt healthier eating habits, but it doesn’t replace smart, common sense nutritional practices and healthy lifestyle changes. That includes setting simple goals, taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and figuring out how to measure our success.

When it comes to reasonable health and wellness planning, here are some tips to help guide our steps:

  • Acknowledge a realistic vision of success. If losing weight is a top goal, set a realistic number and timetable to achieve this mission 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 a physician, fitness expert and/or a licensed nutritionist about longer-term lifestyle changes that will help you pursue this task successfully.
  • 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 efforts daily and weekly by writing on a calendar or maintaining a journal, and create simple “rewards” for weekly or monthly successes, such as buying a gift or doing something personally meaningful.
  • Review and adjust each commitment. To be successful we have to set goals, measure our progress, and adjust. Be flexible — if, for example, 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 we give in to that yummy, calorie-rich dessert, don’t despair … tomorrow is a new day. We know ourselves better than anyone, and can make adjustments to get back on track after we’ve fallen off the wagon.
  • Use the “buddy system.” We should tell a friend about our goals and see if we can work out, walk, or practice our new diets together. Share helpful articles and tips, check in regularly, support each other when a goal is missed, and celebrate individual and mutual successes.

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

# # #

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!

 

 

Sometimes the best gifts can’t be wrapped

If you’ve been thinking about workforce gifts for the 2015 holidays, consider gifts that “keep on giving,” such as improved long-term employee health, tools for reducing stress, and activities that will enhance teamwork, productivity and morale.

Helping your team members meet individual or team goals through successful planning and execution, a sense of accomplishment, providing service, and feeling valued are indisputable contributors to success, retention, and service excellence. Additionally, generosity, giving, and awareness create a sense of increased goodwill and can increase the bond between employer and employee, and among staff.

By supporting 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 wellness material being communicated through the media, you’ll find the resources and educational information robust and easily available.

Here are some simple ideas you can consider for a healthier 2016

Health and wellness planning: Host a planning session — led by employees or by an outside expert – where participants can talk about their personal health and wellness goals, and discuss possible group support and activities.

Nutritional guidance:  Ask a professional nutritionist or dietitian to meet with staff at a group lunch, or in one-on-one or small group meetings to talk about healthy eating, smart dieting and nutritional awareness.

Gym memberships: If you don’t already, consider offering an allowance to employees to use for purchasing a gym, yoga or fitness center membership, or consider bringing a fitness trainer onsite.

Offer incentives: Some organizations incentivize employees by rewarding them for healthy activities such as setting and achieving personal wellness goals, or by completing wellness workshops and classes. Many companies also allow employees to take work time to visit their primary care physician or OB/GYN for their annual physicals. Plus, routine visits are covered in full for CBIA Health Connections members.

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 individual efforts, and encourage employees to donate food, time and services.

Stress relief: Studies show that a power nap can increase alertness, memory and stamina. 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. Also consider inviting a yoga instructor or massage therapist to the workplace, and if possible, create a space for team instruction.

Smoking-cessation: A variety of free or inexpensive smoking cessation programs are available locally through the American Lung Association, hospitals and other sources.

There’s no shortage of good ideas and easily adopted practices for increasing employee health and wellness. CBIA continuously reaches out to our Health 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.

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

###

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!

Hey, sugar, whatcha doin’ for the holidays?!

So it’s almost the end of the year, and we all deserve a break, right? From thanksgiving until early January, it’s a blitz of eating and drinking. Everywhere we turn there are home-made cookies, cake, breads, candies and desserts. We may try to resist, but it’s like keeping up with the weeds in our gardens – by late July or early August, they’re getting the better of us, and we learn to live with them.

The problem, of course, is that living with decadent desserts, alcohol-based drinks, sweet punches, soda and holiday beverages comes with a cost – to our waistlines, to our bodies’ ability to process sugar, and to our overall health.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Diabetes mellitus refers to a group of diseases that affect how our body uses blood sugar (glucose). Glucose is vital to our health because it’s an important source of energy for the cells that make up our muscles and tissues. It’s also our brain’s main source of fuel.

Insulin is a hormone that comes from a gland situated behind and below the stomach (pancreas).The pancreas secretes insulin into the bloodstream, which circulates, enabling sugar to enter our cells. Insulin lowers the amount of sugar in our bloodstream — as our blood sugar level drops, so does the secretion of insulin from our pancreas.

If we have diabetes, no matter what type, it means we have too much glucose in our blood, although the causes may differ. Too much glucose can lead to serious health problems. In type 2 diabetes, our cells become resistant to the action of insulin, and our pancreas is unable to make enough insulin to overcome this resistance. Instead of moving into our cells where it’s needed for energy, sugar builds up in our bloodstream.

Exactly why this happens is uncertain, although it’s believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is strongly linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, but not everyone with type 2 is overweight.

Here are just a few of the recent statistics on diabetes:

  • Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes.
  • Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
  • The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion.

Nutritional tips for a healthier holiday season

Try these tips this holiday season. They can help us manage our sweet tooth when dessert and other foods high in calories, sugar, fat and salt are served:

  • Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat and how you will handle social pressure.
  • Eat a healthy snack early to avoid overeating at the party.
  • Bring a nutritious snack or your own healthy dessert such as plain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings.
  • Watch out for heavy holiday favorites such as hams with a honey glaze, turkey swimming in gravy and side dishes loaded with butter, sour cream, cheese, or mayonnaise. Instead, choose skinless turkey without gravy, or other lean meats.
  • Look for side dishes and vegetables that are light on butter and dressing, and other extra fats and sugars such as marshmallows or fried vegetable toppings.
  • If there is someone else at the party who is trying to watch what they eat, buddy up! Avoid tempting sweets and ask your fellow conscious eater to join you for a walk while dessert is out on the table.
  • Choose low-calorie drinks such as sparkling water, unsweetened tea or diet beverages. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount, and have it with food.

Additionally, there are ways to revise dessert recipes so they are healthier and still tasty. Often, we can replace up to half of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar substitute. We can also try cutting down on sugar and increasing the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet-tasting spices and flavorings. Another trick is to replace half of the fat in a recipe with applesauce or baby-food prunes when making chocolate brownies, cakes, or cookies.

Many traditional Thanksgiving and holiday foods are high in carbohydrates. Don’t feel like you have to sample everything on the table. Have a reasonable portion of your favorites and pass on the rest. For example, if stuffing is your favorite, pass on rolls. Choose either sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes. If you really want to try everything, make your portions smaller.

When cooking, casseroles taste just as good with fat-free or light sour cream and fat-free dairy products. We can steam green beans or other veggies instead of sautéing them in butter. When going to a party, offer to bring a green salad or a side of steamed vegetables that have been seasoned. Non-starchy veggies are low in carbs and calories. They will help fill you up and keep you from over-eating other high-calorie and high-fat foods on the table.

We don’t have to give up all of our holiday favorites if we make healthy choices and limit portion sizes. At a party or holiday gathering, follow these tips to avoid overeating and to choose healthy foods.

# # #

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!

Still smoking?

Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Dry heat from central heating systems aggravates respiratory issues, and the air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. When you add to this potent mix the negative effects of smoking tobacco products, breathing becomes more intense for smokers and nonsmokers alike, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses, offices and vehicles are closed up.

November is COPD Awareness Month and Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It’s not a coincidence that the two are recognized together. The primary cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with COPD, the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a staggering number — more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed.

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. In the United States alone, smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related lung and heart diseases.

There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes. However, more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year.

Still smoking?

Nearly everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer too, including cancer of the mouth, nose, sinuses, lip, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, ovary, cervix, stomach, colon, rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as non-smokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. Smoking also affects the walls of the vessels that carry blood to the brain (carotid arteries), which can cause strokes. Smoking can cause abdominal aortic aneurysm, in which the layered walls of the body’s main artery (the aorta) weaken and separate, often causing sudden death. And men who smoke are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (impotence) because of blood vessel disease.

Based on data collected in the late 1990s, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking.

Each year, smoking causes early deaths of about 443,000 people in the United States. And given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal our quality of life long before we die. Smoking-related illness can limit our activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

Why quit now?

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life. They have fewer illnesses like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke.

If you have any habits at all, you know how hard it is to break cycles, cravings and addictions. Humiliating, shaming or punishing smokers isn’t the answer – we’re all adults here, and like it or not, it’s not illegal to smoke, just to smoke in certain places.

But there are several steps we can take to improve our health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Mark Twain famously reported: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times!” If you’ve tried to eliminate smoking, you know it isn’t easy. But you’re not alone. The American Cancer Society is marking the 38th Great American Smokeout on November 19th by encouraging smokers to use the date to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life — one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

There are an abundance of programs, many free, to help smokers quit. Physicians can prescribe supportive medical aids as part of a more formal program, there are over-the-counter remedies, and support groups are available in most communities and through local hospitals.

Quitting is hard, but you can increase your chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society can tell you about the steps you can take to quit smoking and provide the resources and support that can increase your chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The American Lung Association also has a wealth of information and resources. Reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www. lung.org.

###

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!

Staying dry isn’t always the best solution

It’s getting cold out there, and we know what that means: Dress in layers, dig into closets and drawers for our gloves and hats, and welcome back chapped lips, dry, itchy skin, hang nails, rashes and a worsening of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Beyond plunging thermometers, the main culprit we’re fighting is lack of moisture. In late fall and winter, the humidity in the outside air drops, and — thanks to indoor heating — we’re dried out by warm air in our house, office, school or workplace.

During flu and cold season, we’re also washing our hands more often than ever, which saps the natural oils in our skin, leaving hands, feet and other body parts dehydrated until they crack, peel and bleed. The skin barrier is a mix of proteins, lipids and oils. It protects our skin, and how good a job it does is largely genetic, but also a measure of environmental conditions. If we have a weak barrier, we’re more prone to symptoms of sensitive skin such as itching, inflammation and eczema. Our hands are also more likely to become very dry in winter if they’re constantly exposed to cold air, water, extreme heat or other environmental factors.

November is National Healthy Skin Month. Dry skin occurs when skin doesn’t retain sufficient moisture — for example, because of frequent bathing, use of harsh soaps, aging, or certain medical conditions. Wintertime poses a special problem because humidity is low both outdoors and indoors, and the water content of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) tends to reflect the level of humidity around it. Fortunately, there are many simple and inexpensive things we can do to relieve winter dry skin, also known as winter itch.

Skin moisturizers, which rehydrate the epidermis and seal in the moisture, are the first step in combating dry skin. In general, the thicker and greasier a moisturizer, the more effective it will be. Some of the most effective (and least expensive) are petroleum jelly and moisturizing oils (such as mineral oil), which prevent water loss without clogging pores. Because they contain no water, they’re best used while the skin is still damp from bathing, to seal in the moisture. Other moisturizers contain water as well as oil, in varying proportions. These are less greasy and may be more cosmetically appealing than petroleum jelly or oils.

Dry skin becomes much more common with age — at least 75 percent of people over age 64 have dry skin. Often it’s the cumulative effect of sun exposure; sun damage results in thinner skin that doesn’t retain moisture. The production of natural oils in the skin also slows with age; in women, this may be partly a result of the postmenopausal drop in hormones that stimulate oil and sweat glands. The most vulnerable areas are those that have fewer sebaceous (or oil) glands, such as the arms, legs, hands, and middle of the upper back.

Here are some ways to combat dry skin that are effective if practiced consistently:

  • Use a humidifier in the cold-weather months. Set it to around 60 percent, a level that should be sufficient to replenish the top layer of the epidermis.
  • Limit yourself to one 5- to 10-minute bath or shower daily. Use lukewarm water rather than hot water, which can wash away natural oils.
  • Minimize the use of soaps — replace them with super-fatted, fragrance-free soaps, whether bar or liquid, for cleansing, and moisturizing preparations such as Dove, Olay, and Basis. Also consider soap-free cleansers like Cetaphil, Oilatum-AD, and Aquanil.
  • To reduce the risk of trauma to the skin, avoid bath sponges, scrub brushes, and washcloths.
  • Apply moisturizer immediately after bathing or after washing hands. This helps plug the spaces between our skin cells and seal in moisture while our skin is still damp.
  • Try not to scratch! Most of the time, a moisturizer can control the itch. Also use a cold pack or compress to relieve itchy spots.
  • Use sunscreen in the winter as well as in the summer to prevent photo-aging.
  • When shaving, use a shaving cream or gel and leave it on the skin for several minutes before starting.
  • Wear gloves and hats when you venture outdoors, and latex or rubber gloves when you wash dishes and clothes.
  • Stay hydrated – no matter the season, you need to drink plenty of water, and be careful about caffeine and alcohol products, which dry you out.

# # #

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!

Champion healthy eating, especially during the holidays

The final weeks of 2015 are coming at us like a runaway freight train. In addition to the stress of year-end results, deadlines, 2016 planning and never-ending customer demands, we know we’re going be competing to keep our employees focused as the holidays loom. It may be early November, but advertisers are already amping up, parties are being booked, Thanksgiving-themed foods are lining the supermarket shelves and we’re all steeling ourselves for the chaos to come.

This is an unhealthy time of year, from an eating and exercise perspective. It’s likely that many of us will throw caution to the wind and indulge more than we might normally, skipping workouts and allowing ourselves to be swayed toward the darker side of nutritional sanity. But if we’ve been working hard at our health all year – or for those who don’t want to let themselves go to seed for the next two months or start the New Year at a serious deficit – eating carefully now is more important than ever.

As employers, our employees’ health matters all year round, so why let it slip come November? Obesity is a huge issue, pun intended. Fewer than one-third of Americans are currently at a healthy weight. Obesity is related to increases in diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, all of which converge as an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Closer to home, this means many employees aren’t eating properly, exercising regularly or taking care of themselves. That translates into more sick time, reduced productivity, quality issues, stress, and morale problems.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for an intervention, doesn’t it?! Since we want to encourage year-round healthy eating and exercise, this is a great opportunity to make the workplace the healthy holiday place. Encourage employees to bring in sugar-free or reduced-fat desserts only. Host contests for the best-tasting, healthiest, alternative treats. Promote healthy recipe swaps, and discourage people from sharing candy, cookies and other sweets at their desks and in the kitchen or lunch room.

If that sounds too Scrooge-like, consider offering incentives for maintaining personal or team weight between mid-November and mid-December. That way, people can find clever, creative ways to eat healthfully, and then eat whatever they want as the actual holidays approach in late December. Reward individuals or teams with gift cards – or even “go off the wagon” together as a team with your own holiday party. And surprise the troops with anonymous vegetable platters, fruit and healthy snacks in the common room, instead of cookies, bagels and pizza.

Remind employees of the importance of exercise, as well, especially with the change in weather driving us indoors. Schedule walks, investigate fitness center or gym memberships for the New Year, or look for charitable activities employees can adopt and pursue as a team.

If we’re creative, motivated and dedicated, we can use this time of year as a positive catalyst for maintaining our health and wellness now, into 2016, and beyond.

# # #

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!

Go take a hike!

Hiking in the autumn is a perfect outdoor wellness and recreation activity for individuals or the entire family. It’s not too hot, and not too cold. The fall colors are magnificent, it’s great exercise, and walking is physically and emotionally reinvigorating. Connecticut features dozens of state parks, well-kept and popular hiking trails, nature preserves and public-access reservoirs and protected green spaces – there’s no shortage of locations and great views for every skill level!

Whether you’re planning to hike for the entire day or just for a few hours, there are a number of important, simple steps you can take to better ensure your safety, comfort and enjoyment. To start, know your limitations – or those of your walking companions. Don’t be afraid to push yourself a bit, but if you’re unused to prolonged walking, pick a hike that’s not too long, not too steep and doesn’t feature physically challenging terrain. Guidebooks and websites often will provide general information such as degrees of difficulty and alternative trails – take the time to do this homework, unless you’re going somewhere familiar.

Dress for the weather and time of year, and always bring extra clothing. When you exert, you perspire, so wear synthetic, wicking clothes closest to your body to dissipate your sweat, rather than retain it. Wear or pack extra layers, as well – it’s easy to take them off as you go, or add them later. Carry an extra sweatshirt or jacket in case your clothes get wet, or you get colder than expected, especially if it’s windy or might rain. Include a hat, gloves and extra pair of dry socks.

Wear comfortable hiking shoes, boots that have been broken in, or sneakers – no sandals, flip flops, Crocs or open-toed shoes. It’s best to have shoes that protect your ankles and are waterproof or water resistant. To be safe and to protect your feet, carry powder, Band-Aids and moleskin, items you can purchase at any pharmacy. Other required “first aid” items should include anti-itching cream for bug bites, an antibiotic cream for bites or small cuts, treatments for blisters, adhesive bandages of various sizes, several gauze pads, adhesive tape, and over-the-counter pain medication. Also take sunscreen, insect repellant and lip balm.

Pack healthy food and snacks like fresh or dried fruit, nuts, energy bars and treats rich in fiber and protein. Hiking burns a lot of calories, and you’ll need to replenish as you go, so bring extra food in case it’s needed, particularly things that don’t have to be cooked. Most important, take plenty of water – at least two liters for yourself and every other person accompanying you (if you’re carrying their water – otherwise, they should bring water). Avoid sugary drinks or juices, or anything high in salt, such as soda. If you have a water-pumping system that allows you to draw and purify water from streams and brooks you may encounter, that’s always a good backup plan.

Bring waterproof matches and a lighter (or matches in a waterproof container), and a headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries, even if you’re hiking during the daytime. Weather changes quickly, nighttime descends faster than we realize, and if you or your party gets lost, lights become a critical safety and signaling tool. Cell phones are valuable too, but cell service is unreliable in some areas. Other safety items to pack include a compass and map, a knife and sunglasses. And of course, take a small garbage bag so everything you bring with you comes out with you as well.

Once you’ve assembled all your necessary gear, carry it in a daypack or other backpack that goes over your shoulders and keeps your hands free. Multiply the items you’re bringing so everyone in your group can be protected, kept warm, adequately fed and safely hydrated.

No matter where you go or who’s with you, make sure someone else not joining you knows your plans. That should include where you’re heading, and when you expect to be back. Set a check-in time so they can alert authorities if you’re long overdue.

While this may seem like a lot of preparation for a short hike or day trip, it’s all necessary, commonsense advice. Hiking, especially in less-congested or non-urban areas, is exciting, dynamic and healthy. But nature is unpredictable and terrain challenging, and both can throw many challenges your way. The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” but when it comes to hiking outdoors, that’s wise advice for everyone.

# # #

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!

Breast cancer awareness

Even with amazing medical progress, promising research and new treatment advances, thousands of American women and men are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Early detection and treatment are keys to treating and containing this disease. When detected early before it can spread to other parts of the body, breast cancer can be treated successfully through radiation, drug therapy and surgery, and many cancer survivors live long, healthy lives.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Knowing your family history, getting regular exams and avoiding known cancer-causing foods and activities are critical, proactive steps. By eating well, exercising regularly, not smoking tobacco products, and drinking in moderation women reduce their chances of contracting breast cancer.

But the numbers remain staggering: About one in eight American women, close to 12 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Approximately 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in U.S. women annually, along with approximately 58,000 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. Additionally, more than 2,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in men. Breast cancer results in close to 40,000 deaths in the United States alone, annually.

If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Fortunately, eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. But women sometimes stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, and scheduling regular mammograms.

Males need to remain diligent, as well. Men should speak with their doctor if they find suspicious lumps, abnormal skin growths, experience tenderness or experience other changes in their breasts.

For women, a mammogram remains one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. If you have a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother who had breast cancer, you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis, or starting at age 35.

Here are 10 healthy lifestyle choices we can make that may reduce our risk of developing breast cancer:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight.Gaining weight after menopause increases the risk of breast cancer. In general, weight gain of 20 pounds or more after the age of 18 may increase the risk of breast cancer. Likewise, if you have gained weight, losing weight may lower your risk of breast cancer.
  2. Add exercise to your routine.Exercise pumps up the immune system and lowers estrogen levels. With as little as four hours of exercise per week, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. Physical activity involves the energy that you release from your body. It not only burns energy (calories), but may also help lower the risk of breast cancer. This is because exercise lowers estrogen levels, fights obesity, lowers insulin levels and boosts the function of immune system cells that attack tumors. Do whatever physical activity you enjoy most and that gets you moving daily. All you need is moderate (where you break a sweat) activity like brisk walking for 30 minutes a day.
  3. Maintain a healthy diet.A nutritious, low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.
  4. Limit alcohol intake.Research has shown that having one serving of alcohol (for example, a glass of wine) each day improves your health by reducing your risk of heart attack. But many studies have also shown that alcohol intake can increase the risk of breast cancer. In general, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer. If you drink alcohol, try to limit your intake to one drink a day.
  5. Women, limit postmenopausal hormones.For each year that combined estrogen plus progestin hormones are taken, the risk of breast cancer goes up. Once the drug is no longer taken, this risk returns to that of a woman who has never used hormones in about five to 10 years. Post-menopausal hormones also increase the risk of ovarian cancer and heart disease. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits.
  6. Breastfeed, if you can.Breastfeeding protects against breast cancer, especially in pre-menopausal women. There are many breastfeeding benefits for the baby, as well.
  7. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.You do your body a world of good by avoiding tobacco. If you do smoke, ask your doctor for help in quitting. Although there is no conclusive evidence that smoking causes breast cancer, smoking has been linked to many other types of cancer and diseases. There are health benefits from quitting at any age.
  8. Focus on your emotional health.Researchers continue studying the relationship between our physical and emotional health, but there is conclusive evidence that people who are stronger, emotionally, are more resistant to illness and certain diseases. It is also important to keep a healthy attitude. Do things that make you happy and that bring balance to your life. Pay attention to yourself and your needs. Read books, walk in the park, have coffee with a friend. Find what works for you – many things can help you be healthier and feel better about yourself in spite of what is going on in your life.
  9. Schedule regular mammograms. Even though many women without a family history of breast cancer are at risk, if you have a grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, this does put you in a higher risk group. Have a baseline mammogram at least five years before the age of breast cancer onset in any close relatives, or starting at age 35. See your physician at any sign of unusual symptoms.
  10. Give yourself abreast self-examat least once a month. Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, a lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, or a discharge from the nipple. If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. However, eight out of 10 lumps are benign, or not cancerous.

###

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!