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!

 

 

Keeping our eyes and backs on the job

Okay, like it or not, we have to work. And that can mean sitting, standing, bending and reaching for hours at a time, looking at a computer screen or monitor, using a keyboard or variety of tools repetitively, and other common factors that can strain our eyes, backs, wrists and other joints over time.

Musculoskeletal, vision, and hearing problems are common in the workplace. Our musculoskeletal system is made up of the structures that support us and help us move, such as bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Examples of musculoskeletal problems that may be related to ergonomic issues are:

  • Bursitis
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome
  • Muscle strains, often affecting the neck, upper back, lower back, and shoulders
  • Tendon injuries

By applying ergonomic solutions, we may be able to reduce physical problems and improve our comfort and ability to work effectively. That starts by setting up our workstations and work tools for our own personal needs to make them more comfortable and efficient. Here are some steps that can help:

  • Your work chair should have adjustable seat height, back, and armrests, and a base with five wheels for easy movement without tipping. Lumbar support for your back is helpful. When sitting in your chair, your feet should rest flat on the floor, and your thighs should be parallel to the floor. The edge of the chair should be soft and should not touch the backs of our knees. If there are arm rests, you should be able to use them without slouching or having your shoulders either hunched up or drooping down.
  • Your desk should be large enough to accommodate your work area. If possible, arrange the desk so the items needed most often are within reach, and you don’t have to bend or twist frequently.
  • Your keyboard tray should be big enough to hold your keyboard and mouse, and the height should be adjustable. Contoured or curved keyboards are designed to help reduce problems in the hands, wrists, and shoulders. Wrist pads (also called wrist supports or wrist rests) help support the arms and reduce strain during breaks from typing. The pads are not intended to be used while we are typing. But some people find the pads helpful even when they are using their keyboard or mouse.
  • When typing or using a mouse, you should try raising your forearms a little so your wrists are in a neutral position and your arms and hands can move freely. If there are arm rests on the chair, you may be able to adjust them so your forearms are parallel to the floor and your wrists are neutral. Your wrist is in a neutral position when the thumb is in line with the forearm and the wrist is bent slightly back, such as when your arm is hanging at your side. You should try to alternate between resting your wrists on the pads and raising them up. If you use a wrist pad, it’s best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand on the support, rather than on your wrist.
  • A footrest can help support your legs and reduce low back strain, especially if your feet don’t rest comfortably flat on the floor.
  • Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you. The height should be adjustable, with the top of the screen at about your eye level.
  • Your computer mouse can be a trackball or touch pad, which may help reduce symptoms some people get from the repetitive motions of a standard computer mouse. The computer mouse should be placed close to the keyboard where it does not cause you to lean forward or to reach too far.

Reducing eye strain

Computers can make us more productive, but too much screen time can also lead to something called computer vision syndrome (CVS). Recognizable as that tired, strained feeling your eyes get after a day in front of a computer screen, CVS affects between two thirds and 90 percent of office workers.

This condition likely doesn’t cause permanent eye damage, but it can still affect computer users’ comfort. The most common symptoms of CVS include eye strain, redness, irritation or dryness, a burning feeling in the eyes, blurred or double vision after computer use, headaches and neck and shoulder pain.

Several factors increase the likelihood of CVS, including uncorrected vision problems, dry eyes, screen glare, poor lighting, poor posture and even the angle of the monitor. Another big factor is incorrect prescriptions: Almost 71 percent of people reporting symptoms of CVS wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.

If computer screens are proving a pain in your eyes, here are some guidelines to help ease symptoms:

  • Have your eyes checked regularly.If you need a new or changed prescription but don’t have it, using a computer will be difficult, period.
  • Reposition the computer.The screen should be about an arm’s length away and positioned directly in front of your face, not off to the side. Position the monitor so its center is four to eight inches below the eyes, which allows the neck to relax while you read and type.
  • Follow guidelines for good posture to reduce strainon the back, neck and shoulders.
  • Ensure proper lighting.Try the visor test to determine if current lighting is a problem: Look at the monitor and cup your hands over your eyes like a baseball cap. If your eyes immediately feel better, then the lighting should be changed. Experiment with brighter and dimmer lighting, as well as the angle of the lights, to find what’s most comfortable for your eyes.
  • Reduce glare.Install anti-glare filters on the monitor; also, adjusting window shades and changing the screen’s contrast and brightness can help reduce glare and reflections.
  • Blink frequently to help prevent dry eyes. If that doesn’t work, consider usinglubricating eye drops. Also make sure air vents aren’t blowing on your face (this can dry out the eyes), and use a humidifier if the room is very dry.
  • Take regular work breaks.Stand, stretch or just look off into the distance, away from the computer, every 15 minutes or so to give the eyes a
  • Clean the monitor regularly.Dust can decrease screen sharpness, making the eyes work harder.
  • Try computer glasses.Unlike everyday eye wear, computer glasses, which vary the focal length according to your personal needs and distance from the monitor, are designed specifically for looking at computer screens.

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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!

Fighting ovarian cancer

Science has made tremendous progress battling certain cancers and other potentially deadly diseases. But one of the best advances, arguably, is how much more informed we are today about chronic and life-threatening illnesses, and our willingness to learn the factors — such as family history, nutrition and life-style choices — that can help reduce or prolong our lives.

One insidious disease that continues to plague women is ovarian cancer, and September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. While medical researchers still don’t know how to prevent ovarian cancer, they do know a great deal more about this disease, and now have a variety of screening methods for detecting it earlier, when there’s a better chance to stem its advance.

Most importantly, this disease must be taken seriously. Each year in the United States, about 20,000 women get ovarian cancer and about 14,500 die from it. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, but it accounts for only about three percent of all cancers in women.

What women — and men — need to know

Women have two ovaries that are located in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries make female hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) and produce eggs. When cancer starts in either ovary, it is called ovarian cancer.

Fallopian tube cancer (which starts in the fallopian tube) and primary peritoneal cancer (which starts in the lining that supports the abdomen) are very similar to ovarian cancer. Many of the signs and symptoms are the same, and doctors treat these cancers in the same way.

All women are at risk for ovarian cancer, but older women are more likely to get the disease than younger women. About 90 percent of women who get ovarian cancer are older than 40 years of age, with the greatest number of cases occurring in women aged 60 years or older. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about one in 73. Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about one in 100.

Ovarian cancer is more common in white women than African-American women. Fortunately, through earlier detection and more advanced treatments, the rate at which women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been slowly falling over the past 20 years. However, that’s no reason to relax.

Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is difficult to treat and is often fatal. Like most illnesses, the earlier it’s detected, the better your chances for leading a normal and longer life.

Physicians diagnose ovarian cancer through pelvic examinations, the use of ultrasound scanning or by taking small tissue samples. The type of ovarian cancer someone has helps determine prognosis and treatment options.

Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

Researchers are studying ways to improve ovarian cancer treatment and looking into ways to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage — when a cure is more likely. Symptoms of ovarian cancer, however, are not specific to the disease, and they often mimic those of many other more-common conditions, including digestive problems.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain

Make an appointment with your doctor if you or someone you know has any signs or symptoms that worry you. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, talk to your doctor about your risk of ovarian cancer. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor to discuss testing for certain gene mutations that increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Certain factors may increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop ovarian cancer, but your risk may be higher than that of the average woman. These risk factors include:

  • Inherited gene mutations, which can often be determined through genetic testing.
  • Family history of ovarian cancer.If women in your family have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you have an increased risk of the disease.
  • A previous cancer diagnosis.If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer of the breast, colon, rectum or uterus, your risk of ovarian cancer is increased.
  • Increasing age.Your risk of ovarian cancer increases as you age. Ovarian cancer most often develops after menopause, though it can occur at any age.
  • Never having been pregnant.Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Overall, the best advice is to talk with your physician about risks and to determine appropriate testing. Again, early detection is critical to increased survival, so remain diligent and encourage other women at risk to do the same!

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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!

A sweet deal

As autumn approaches, one’s thoughts may turn to maple syrup. But while delicious, real syrup lacks the medicinal qualities of a common historic remedy that also tastes great, is easily accessible, and compared to the costs of syrup is a honey of a deal!

In pre-Ancient Egyptian times, honey was used to treat wounds and as an embalming fluid. It also was a common ingredient in a number of medicinal compounds. The ancient Greeks believed that consuming honey could help people live longer. And honey was used as a traditional ayurvedic medicine, which is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems developed 3,000 years ago in India. Then, and even today, it’s thought to be effective at treating material imbalances in the body.

The possible health benefits of consuming honey have been documented in early Greek, Roman, Vedic, and Islamic texts, and the healing qualities of honey were referred to by philosophers and scientists as far back as Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) and Aristoxenus (320 BC).

Honey has high levels of monosaccharides, fructose and glucose, containing about 70 percent to 80 percent sugar, which gives it its sweet taste. Minerals and water make up the rest of its composition. Honey possesses antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and in modern-day medicine, has useful applications in chronic wound management. It’s also used as a cough suppressant and for soothing sore throats, and some people claim it’s effective at reducing the effects of allergies, though research on that benefit is inconclusive.

If you’re debating between using sugar or honey as a sweetener, it’s important to remember that sugar is sugar — and excess sugar isn’t good for us. Honey is primarily sugar. But if we’re choosing between the two from a health perspective, option “bee” is the better choice.

Our body breaks food down into glucose in order to use it for fuel. The more complex a food, the more work it takes to break it down. Sugar is made of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, the sugar typically found in fruits, and is broken down very easily, leading to a surge of blood glucose. What our body doesn’t use right away gets stored as fat. Honey is also made mostly of sugar, but it’s only about 30 percent glucose and less than 40 percent fructose. And there are also about 20 other sugars in the mix, many of which are much more complex, and dextrin, a type of starchy fiber. This means that our body expends more energy to break it all down to glucose. Therefore, we end up accumulating fewer calories from it.

Honey also has trace elements that bees picked up while going from plant to plant. These will vary by region, so depending on the source of our honey it could contain small amounts of minerals like zinc and selenium, as well as some vitamins. And because honey doesn’t break down in nature, it doesn’t contain preservatives or other additives.

When we shop for honey, some are lighter, others are darker. In general, the darker the honey, the better its antibacterial and antioxidant power. Honey is natural and considered harmless for adults. But pediatricians strongly caution against feeding honey to children under one year old due to the risk of contracting botulism, a bacteria with spores found in dust and soil that may make their way into honey. Infants do not have a developed immune system to defend against infection.

So if we’re going to use a spoonful of something in our tea, go for honey over sugar. But don’t stop there . . . smear a little on bread, add some to cereal and smoothies, and keep a jar handy as cold and flu season approach!

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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!

Lead the battle against seasonal flu and colds

The mornings are taking on that characteristic early autumn chill, and the sugar maples are starting to turn red. Pumpkins will soon appear in local farm markets, along with fresh apples, cider and gourds. But as much as we may welcome and savor the oncoming fall, it’s also a harbinger of cold and flu season. And while we can’t totally eliminate seasonal illnesses, there are plenty of steps we can take to ensure a healthier workforce and to limit the spread of germs and bacteria among staff and associates.

If you’re wondering if taking simple, inexpensive steps in the workplace is worthwhile, consider these flu-related costs: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that, on average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost the nation’s economy $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalizations and outpatient visits. That does not include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and absenteeism.

One CDC study estimates that each flu season, 111 million workdays are lost to flu-related absenteeism, which amounts to about $7 billion annually in lost productivity. And that doesn’t include time lost to “presenteeism,” when employees come to work not feeling well. This has an impact on customer service, productivity, quality and safety, as well.

And if you think you’ll wait until the season arrives, it’ll be too late. Prevention is essential, and for the most part, this entails some simple, common sense measures, such as encouraging employees to wash their hands, offering free or low-cost flu vaccination shots, and routinely washing and disinfecting work surfaces. Most importantly, workers who suspect they are ill should stay home from work.

What to expect, how to react

The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. Most seasonal flu activity typically occurs between October and May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, if possible by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

It’s important to get a flu vaccine every season, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season. And while you’d think that this message has been heard, the numbers of Americans still not getting vaccinated is extremely high. According to the CDC:

  • Only 49.9 percent of children six months to 17 years received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months.
  • The number of adults 18-49 years who received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months was only 31.2 percent.
  • And only 45.5 percent of adults 50-64 years received an influenza vaccination during the past 12 months. The number for adults over 65 was 70 percent.

A number of different private-sector vaccine manufacturers produce flu vaccine for use in the United States. This season, both trivalent (three-component) and quadrivalent (four-component) influenza vaccines will be available. Different routes of administration are available for flu vaccines, including intramuscular, intradermal, jet injector and nasal spray vaccine.

Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, like a health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, and often through your school, college health center, or at work.

Information, access and accommodation

Employers also can take the lead on educating their workforce about prevention and treatment.

Antiviral drugs are prescription drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications (such as children younger than two years, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions) and people who are very sick with flu (such as those hospitalized because of flu) should get antiviral drugs. Some other people can be treated with antivirals at their health care professional’s discretion. Prompt treatment can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

Treatment with antivirals works best when begun within 48 hours of getting sick, but can still be beneficial when given later in the course of illness. Antiviral drugs are effective across all age-and risk groups. Studies show that antiviral drugs are under-prescribed for people who are at high risk of complications who get flu. This season, three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs are recommended for use in the United States: oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir.

Children younger than six months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because of this, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with or care for an infant younger than six months of age, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu.

In addition to getting vaccinated, you and your loved ones can take everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.

Finally, there are a few other simple steps employers can take at the office, shop floor or in work areas to help protect your workforce from colds and the flu. Here are a few additional examples:

  • Work with your staff or your health and wellness champion to send out regular messages, information and access to websites
  • Increase shifts so there are fewer people in the office at one time
  • Limit meetings and communal lunches during the height of flu and cold season
  • Expand opportunities, if possible, for telecommuting
  • Encourage workers who are sick or becoming sick to work from home or remain home to rest, without fear of compromising their jobs
  • Allow more flexibility for parents with sick children
  • Install “no-touch” garbage cans and hand sanitizers throughout the workplace
  • Encourage hand washing frequently
  • Offer onsite flu clinics for your workers, or work with a local health facility to accommodate your workers at convenient times.

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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!

The costs of distraction ADD up

We are a society driven by time demands, technology, and ever-increasing pressures to succeed . . . at work, at school, at play. Drawn in many directions simultaneously, often with multiple conflicting priorities nipping at our heels, it’s often difficult to remain focused, to complete tasks without interruption or distraction, or to finish an assignment before moving onto something else. Creative, impulsive and over stimulated, little wonder we get anything done, or done well. And some days, we don’t.

For many of us, that’s simply life in today’s modern world. Some people manage time better than others, thrive with deadlines, or are highly organized and activity focused. Fear of failure plays a role, but so does ambition, achievement, and discipline. But for others, the failure to remain focused, the inability to complete tasks without interruption, and the inability to successfully negotiate the distracting pull of multiple requirements can be signs of chemical, emotional and genetic challenges such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Over the past decades, these symptoms have been more readily diagnosed in children, especially those having trouble in school or unable to relax, play quietly or get along effectively with others. With today’s technological advances, it’s easy to blame over-stimulation for playing a strong supporting role in keeping kids off balance, more easily bored without technology, and wanting more all the time. But for adults, these same symptoms can be more insidious, limiting our efficiency at work and at home, straining relationships, and interfering with sleep and health.

ADHD affects at least five percent of children, and about half of them will carry those symptoms into adulthood, says the American Psychiatric Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates numbers are even higher. On top of that, many adults have ADHD or ADD but have never been diagnosed.

Signs you might have ADD or ADHD

Lack of focus. Possibly the most telltale sign of ADHD, “lack of focus,” goes beyond difficulty paying attention. It means being easily distracted, finding it hard to listen to others in a conversation, overlooking details, and not completing tasks or projects.

Hyperfocus. While people with ADHD are often easily distracted, the flip side of the coin is called hyperfocus. A person with ADHD can be so engrossed in something that they can ignore anything else around them. This kind of focus makes it easier to lose track of time, ignore those around you, and cause relationship misunderstandings.

Forgetfulness. We all forget things occasionally. But for someone with ADHD or ADD, forgetfulness is an everyday part of life. This includes routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or important dates. Some can be menial. Others can be serious. The bottom line is that forgetfulness can be damaging to careers and relationships because it can be confused with carelessness, lack of intelligence, or ambivalence.

Impulsivity. Impulsiveness in someone with ADHD or ADD can manifest in several ways:

  • Interrupting others during conversation
  • Being socially inappropriate
  • Rushing through tasks
  • Acting without much consideration to the consequences

Even a person’s shopping habits are often a good indication of ADHD. Impulse buying, especially on items they can’t afford, is a common symptom of adult ADHD.

Restlessness and anxiety. As an adult with ADHD, you may feel like your motor can’t shut off. Our yearning to keep moving and doing things constantly can lead to frustration when we can’t do something immediately. This leads to restlessness, which can lead to frustrations and anxiety. Anxiety is a very common symptom of adult ADHD, as the mind tends to replay worrisome events repeatedly.

Poor health. Impulsivity, lack of motivation, emotional problems, and disorganization can lead a person with ADHD or ADD to neglect their health. This can be seen through compulsive poor eating, neglecting exercise, or forgoing important medication. Anxiety and stress negatively affect health, so without good habits, the negative effects of these illnesses can make other symptoms worse.

Relationship issues. An adult with ADHD or ADD often has trouble in relationships, whether they are professional, romantic, or platonic. The traits of talking over people in conversation, inattentiveness, and easily being bored can be draining on relationships as a person can come across as insensitive, irresponsible, or uncaring.

Treatment and coping mechanisms

People who experience some or many of these symptoms also change employers more often, miss deadlines, experience higher use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and suffer from repeated relationship failures, including divorce. If all of this sounds too familiar, it doesn’t mean you suffer from adult ADD or ADHD. But if you do, here are a few steps you can take to improve your life.

Treatment for adult ADHD or ADD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD/ADD, and includes stimulant drugs or other medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with adult ADHD.

Stimulants (psychostimulants) are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other drugs may be prescribed. Stimulant drugs are available in short-acting and long-acting forms. Other medications used to treat ADHD include antidepressants. The right medication and the right dose vary between individuals, so it may take some time in the beginning to find what’s right for you. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of medications. And keep your doctor informed of any side effects you may have when taking your medication.

Counseling for adult ADHD can be beneficial and generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and education about the disorder. Psychotherapy may help you:

  • Improve time management and organizational skills
  • Learn how to reduce impulsive behavior
  • Develop better problem-solving skills
  • Cope with past academic and social failures
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Learn ways to improve relationships with family, co-workers and friends
  • Develop strategies for controlling temper

It’s important to remember that ADD and ADHD are neuropsychiatric conditions that are typically genetically transmitted. They are caused by biology, by how our brain is wired. It is not a disease of the will, nor a moral failing or weakness in character. Many people with these behaviors have trouble accepting these syndromes as being rooted in biology, but through professional help, support groups, education and communication these challenges can be managed, or even overcome.

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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!

Putting our shoulder into our work

For pitchers, quarterbacks and carpenters, it can be a career-limiting — or ending — injury. Likewise, if you do manual labor or projects involving lifting, carrying or moving objects, it can sideline you for months. Even working out in the gym, swimming or playing tennis can cause this injury, but the most common catalyst, affecting millions of Americans annually, is advancing age and the normal wear and tears of life.

The culprit is a rotator cuff injury. The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons and muscles that converge around the shoulder joint at the top of the humerus, the upper arm bone above the elbow. Together, they form a ”cuff” that both holds our arm in place and allows it to move in different directions. While our shoulder is one of our most mobile joints, it’s also somewhat weak. Too much stress — or repetitive motion — can cause partial tears and swelling in the tendons of the rotator cuff. Abrupt stress may even cause one of the tendons to pull away from the bone or tear in the middle of the tendon.

Sometimes the shoulder blade is rough or abnormally shaped and rubs or scrapes the tendon. Over time, this can cause tiny tears and bleeding. When these tears heal, the scar tissue is weaker and less flexible than normal tendon, so the whole rotator cuff gets weaker. The weaker the tendon becomes, the greater its chances of tearing.

Most rotator cuff tears develop gradually. But they also can happen suddenly — you might feel a pop, intense pain, and weakness in the arm. Falls, lifting heavy luggage, even shoveling snow or working in the garden can aggravate our shoulders, especially as we age. Aging causes tendons to wear down, which can lead to a tear. Also, previous injuries and genetics may play a role in increasing susceptibility to rotator cuff injuries.

If the shoulder is very painful and motion is limited, or if you have numbness, tingling and a “pins and needles” sensation that travels down through your elbow and into your hands, you should consult your physician, orthopedist, or sport medicine specialist. Without treatment, rotator cuff disease may lead to permanent stiffness or weakness and may result in progressive degeneration of the shoulder joint.

Typical symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:

  • Pain in the shoulder and arm, which varies depending on how serious the tear is
  • Weakness and tenderness in the shoulder
  • Difficulty moving the shoulder, especially when trying to lift our arm above our head
  • Snapping or crackling sounds when moving the shoulder
  • Inability to sleep on the shoulder

As bad as these injuries can be, the good news is that many rotator cuff tears heal on their own. They may simply require a little time and relative inactivity involving the injured shoulder. You also should:

  • Rest the joint as much as possible, and avoid any movement or activity that hurts. Some patients may require slings early in the healing process.
  • Ice the shoulder two to three times a day to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Perform range-of-motion exercises, if your doctor recommends them.
  • Consider physical therapy to strengthen the joint and to learn safe, supportive exercises.
  • Use anti-inflammatory painkillers, or NSAIDS, like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.

More serious rotator cuff tears require surgery. One procedure is shoulder arthroscopy, usually an outpatient procedure. During arthroscopy, the patient is put to sleep with general anesthesia. A small camera is inserted into the shoulder to see the injury, and miniature tools are used to repair the rotator cuff tear. In some situations, an open tendon repair may be a better option. In these types of surgeries, your surgeon works through a larger incision to reattach the damaged tendon to the bone. Open tendon repairs typically have a longer recovery time than that seen with more minimally invasive procedures done arthroscopically.

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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!

Where the wild thing grows

Wherever we go there is mold. It exists in the air and on many surfaces, and has survived on the Earth for millions of years, growing wherever there is moisture. Mold is found both indoors and outdoors. Mold can enter your home through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold in the air outside can also attach itself to clothing, shoes and bags, and pets can carry mold indoors.

Mold will grow in places with a lot of moisture, such as around leaks in roofs, windows, or pipes, or where there has been flooding. Mold grows well on paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood products. Mold can also grow in dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, fabric, upholstery and even in our cars.

Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects, especially for people sensitive to molds. For some people, molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or skin irritation. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. These people should stay away from areas that are likely to have mold, such as compost piles, cut grass and wooded areas, and basements or outdoor sheds and garages.

In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.

How to limit or control mold

Inside your home you can control mold growth by:

  • Controlling humidity levels
  • Promptly fixing leaky roofs, windows, and pipes
  • Thoroughly cleaning and drying after flooding
  • Ventilating shower, laundry, and cooking areas.

If mold is growing in your home, you need to clean up the mold and fix the moisture problem. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than one cup of bleach in one gallon of water.

Mold growth, which often looks like spots, can be many different colors, and can smell musty. If you can see or smell mold, a health risk may be present. You do not need to know the type of mold growing in your home, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend or perform routine sampling for molds.

No matter what type of mold is present, you should remove it. Since the effect of mold on people can vary greatly, either because of the amount or type of mold, you can’t rely on sampling and culturing to know your health risk. Also, good sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable quantity of mold have not been set. The best practice is to remove the mold and work to prevent future growth.

Here are some basic prevention tips for limiting or controlling mold in your home:

  • Keep humidity levels as low as you can — no higher than 50 percent all day long. An air conditioner or dehumidifier helps achieve this result.
  • Be sure your home has adequate ventilation. Use exhaust fans, if possible, which vent outside the kitchen and bathroom, and make sure your clothes dryer vents outside as well.
  • Fix leaks in your home’s roof, walls or plumbing so mold does not have access to the moisture it needs to grow.
  • Clean up your home thoroughly and quickly after any flooding.
  • Add mold inhibitors to paints before use.
  • Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.
  • Remove or replace carpets and upholstery that have been soaked and can’t be dried promptly, and avoid using carpets in rooms like bathrooms or basements, where there’s a lot of moisture.

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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!

Simple, realistic goals help employees shape up

People often say it’s the little things that count, that difficult and challenging tasks aren’t insurmountable when tackled in small bites. And time after time, we see how simple steps — tempered by consistency, enthusiasm, effort and support — can form a potent mix when it comes to changing behaviors and instituting positive habits.

Such is the case at The Health Consultants Group, a privately held employee benefits brokerage with 25 employees in Plainville and a small satellite office in Massachusetts. Committed to employee health and wellness — for their clients and their employees — the company asked its staff at a team lunch held prior to the summer what they might want to do together that would be fun, involve physical activity, require goal setting and promote friendly competition. The results, said Susan Mateyov, wellness coordinator, was a seasonal wellness program called Summer ShapeUP.

ShapeUP, she explained, was an eight-week voluntary program which encouraged participants to track a variety of healthy practices that involved tasks easily achieved and items readily available. These activities, she added, were based on research she did into what other companies were doing on the health and wellness front, as well as information she gathered from The Wellness Council of America (WELCOA).

The company had already tried a walking program and wanted something more interactive. A weekly point system was developed for tracking a variety of healthy choices. Points were assigned and awarded for a minimum of 30 minutes of activity daily; for water, fruit and vegetable intake; for days without tobacco products; and for a variety of “bonus” items such as visiting a local farmers’ market, grilling instead of frying foods, bringing a healthy lunch to work, and getting eight or more hours of sleep at night.

“We knew that to be successful, these had to be simple, achievable tasks like eliminating sugary drinks, packing a nutritious lunch, and just taking a quick walk before or after work,” Mateyov said. “We weren’t looking to do anything invasive like drawing blood, or more aggressive tactics like measuring and recording weight. People told us to keep it simple, that their challenge often was just getting started and needing support from colleagues and friends. So we kept it easy, made it fun, and introduced financial incentives to stoke the competitive fires!”

Those incentives, she added, were gift card drawings for everyone who earned a certain amount of points each week, drawings for all participants simply for trying, and additional weekly gift card drawings for participants who exceeded the weekly point threshold. The program wrapped up at the end of June with the majority of participants consistently exceeding the minimum weekly incentive level. Employee evaluations, Mateyov said, indicated that staff enjoyed the program and that they now drank more water and had an enhanced awareness of what they were eating and general nutrition. Additionally, four employees participated in a charity 5K fitness walk in July.

The company’s senior management team, she stressed, was very supportive. The program was promoted through a kick-off meeting, regular emails, and flyers posted around the office. Flush from this success, the next wellness program on their agenda is to have employees complete workshops found at the CBIA Healthy Connections website. Each employee who finishes at least three online workshops will receive a Starbucks gift card.

“I realize how simplified this sounds, but it’s just about raising awareness, increasing focus and setting realistic goals that anyone can achieve,” Mateyov concluded. “We’re trying to introduce similar health and wellness thinking with our client companies, but it’s the same formula: Ensure support from management, keep it fun, introduce low-cost incentives and be willing to run the program even if only a few people participate initially. The word will get out, and more employees will join in each time!”

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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!