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.

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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!

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.

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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!

Can the healthy stuff

The fall harvest offers a bounty of delicious and hearty native fruit and vegetables. With only a few weeks left before the first frost, apples, pears, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are fresh at the farm, in the market or in our gardens. Not only are these domestic treats tasty, but they can help us feel better, become healthier and may protect against heart disease and stroke.

Colorful fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be important in reducing the risk of many conditions. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower our risk for many diseases.

Now’s the time to fill up on all things orange, which are nutrient-rich and high in beta-carotene, a potent carotenoid that’s converted to vitamin A in the body. These compounds are associated with helping to protect the eyes, prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, diminish inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis and even possibly reduce the risk of many cancers.

It’s also easy to find sweet potatoes and pumpkins, carrots and winter squash in local markets.  Other seasonal fruits and vegetables including persimmons and citrus, cantaloupe, tangerines and clementines are rich in vitamin C. This important nutrient helps build strong bones, skin, blood vessels, muscle and cartilage. Vitamin C also aids in the absorption of iron. Rich in fiber, these foods, like apples, help to make us feel full and aid in digestion.

Alas, the saddest part of autumn – besides the shorter days and imminent cold weather – is the end to fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables. Frozen produce can offer many of the same nutritional benefits when items are picked at their nutritional prime, and particularly if you watch for excess sodium, especially with canned goods. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could keep these garden treats for months without them spoiling?

Preserving your own

A viable and popular alternative to store-bought processed foods is preserving fruits and vegetables from your garden or local markets for consumption later in the year or throughout the winter. There are many common, safe food-preservation methods you can practice at home, but it’s important to know what you’re doing and to practice safe canning, pickling, freezing and drying methods.

  • Canningis the process in which foods are placed in jars or cans and heated to a temperature that destroys microorganisms and inactivates enzymes. This heating and subsequent cooling forms a vacuum seal. The vacuum seal prevents other microorganisms from decontaminating the food within the jar or can. Acidic foods such as fruits and tomatoes can be processed or “canned” in boiling water (also called the “water-bath method”), while low-acid vegetables and meats must be processed in a pressure canner at 240°F (10 pounds of pressure at sea level).
  • There are many less safe canning methods that people use, from no processing at all (filling the jars and seal, called “open kettle” canning) to oven canning, microwave canning and even using the dishwasher.  Click here fora description of these unsafe methods, why they are dangerous and links to references about them.
  • Picklingis another form of canning. Pickled products have an increased acidity that makes it difficult for most bacteria to grow. The amount of acid present is very important to the safety of the product. Pickled products are also heated in jars at boiling temperatures to destroy any other microorganisms present, and form a vacuum in the jar.
  • Jams and Jellieshave a high sugar content. The sugar binds with the liquid present making it difficult for microorganisms to grow. To prevent surface contamination after the product is made and possible yeast or mold growth, these should be canned, frozen, or refrigerated.
  • Freezingreduces the temperature of the food so that microorganisms cannot grow, however many will survive. Enzyme activity is slowed down, but not stopped during freezing.
  • Drying removes most of the moisture from foods. As a result, microorganisms cannot grow and enzyme action is slowed down. Dried foods should be stored in airtight containers to prevent moisture from rehydrating the products and allowing microbial growth.

Canning guidelines were revised in 1989 following extensive research. Canning instructions printed before 1989 may be unsafe. Here are some of the newer recommendations you should be using, based on USDA  recommendations:

  • Bottled lemon juice should be added to all canned tomatoes.
  • Jellies, jams, and preserves should be processed in a boiling water bath.
  • Pickles and pickled products should be processed in a boiling water bath.
  • The pressure for your pressure canner and the time for processing in a boiling water bath should be adjusted according to your local altitude.

For more information and general descriptions of common, safe home food preservation methods, and a glossary of terms, recipes and directions, visit http://www.pickyourown.org. Click here for a glossary of terms used in home preserving.

And click here for why you should use a canner and how to choose one.

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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!

Wait and watch, or take action?

The best managers lead by example, whether it’s related to productivity and quality, service, cost savings, teamwork or championing improved health and wellness. When it comes to employee wellness, small companies across Connecticut and throughout the country are taking simple, measurable steps, setting achievable goals, supporting employee engagement, creating incentives and offering proactive, ongoing support.

With healthcare costs rising every year, more employers turn toward wellness programs to counter some of the financial strain, according to the 2015 SHRM Employee Benefits Survey report recently released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Wellness benefits, incentive programs and outreach efforts provide employers with a preventative approach that can reduce healthcare expenses for organizations over the long haul. According to the survey report, the top wellness benefits offered to manage chronic diseases and other health-related issues include wellness resources and information (80% of respondents) and wellness programs (70%). Additionally, wellness benefits such as health and lifestyle coaching, smoking-cessation programs, and premium discounts for getting an annual risk assessment have risen in the past five years.

Employers can play a critical role in helping their workforce properly utilize their health benefits and participate in wellness efforts. As the end of the year approaches, picking one or two items may be a good course of action, and easier to control. And as National Health Education Week is October 19 to October 23, this month is as good a time to start as any!

For example, fewer than one-third of Americans are currently at a healthy weight. About 35 percent of men and 37 percent of women are obese. Another 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women are overweight, researchers said in a recent issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Obesity has been linked to a number of chronic health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and arthritis. A new report used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, gathered between 2007 and 2012, involving more than 15,000 men and women age 25 and older.

Overweight is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BMI is calculated by comparing a person’s weight to their height. For example, a 5-foot-9 man who weighs 169 pounds or a 5-foot-4 woman who weighs 146 pounds both have a BMI of 25, and would be considered overweight, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Obesity is defined by the CDC as any body mass index 30 or higher. More Americans are overweight and obese these days, compared with federal survey data gathered between 1988 and 1994.

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.

As employers, we can encourage dialog and promote wellness education. We can bring nutritional and fitness experts to the office or shop, or make these and other healthcare professionals available to employees and their families. We can create friendly, internal competitions, offer incentives for trying, let alone succeeding, support charity walks and events, and recognize these efforts individually and in front of peers.

By engaging employees in these processes, the results are bound to improve. And with the year racing to a close, setting reasonable expectations and plans for 2016 can make a difference in everyone’s lives and in our organizations’ bottom lines.

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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!