Falling Into a Healthy Rhythm

While it’s only October and the autumn leaves haven’t even peaked, the pull of the end-of-year chaos is already sucking us in like a dark hole absorbing matter. Halloween is right around the corner, and Thanksgiving isn’t far behind. We know what’s coming, and it can’t be stopped or even slowed. Youthful exuberance and idealism aside, we’ll soon be smack in the middle of the craziest time of the year, and for many, the toughest, emotionally and physically.

The next few months can be especially difficult to face if you’re not happy with yourself, your job, your relationships, finances, your family and many other factors. End-of-year blues are common even for those who appear emotionally happy and balanced – it’s when many people take stock, realize how quickly time is passing, and check into their personal “dashboard” of achievements, goals and tasks.

If we made resolutions back in January, we can’t avoid measuring what we have – or have not – accomplished. And for many people, the upcoming holidays serve as a reminder of lost or distant friends and family. If you’re alone, the holidays can be even more isolating as people celebrate around us and we feel invisible and detached.

Maybe we thought we’d already have been promoted by now, a significant relationship would have appeared or matured, some pounds lost, some light found. We may have disappointed someone or ourselves by things we did or did not do, find or accomplish.

These difficulties are exacerbated by the loss of light and return of cold weather. Colder days and reduced sunlight can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a psychological state that literally changes our biology and can cause or add to depression.

Even if we don’t suffer from chemical or emotional depression, the final months of the year are challenging. Psychologists point out that there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions such as depression, SAD, and anxiety disorders. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), depression occurs when feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or longer and when they interfere with activities of daily living such as working or even eating and sleeping. Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless, and hopeless about changing their situation.

If your sense of sadness or “the blues” seem to linger or become more intense, you may want to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, who can help determine if you have depression and how best to treat it. The APA also cautions about the risks of turning to alcohol for comfort. Although it may seem to bring temporary relief, it is actually a central nervous system depressant and a diuretic. Alcohol use affects balance, increases the risk for falls, may not interact well with medications, and disrupts sleep, which has a number of health consequences.

Take Charge, and Keep Moving

There are a number of steps we can take to reduce stress and depression, and to lift our spirits. To start, it’s always beneficial to try and continue our normal routines to help feel like we’re still in control. We can consciously try to not over-eat and make time for exercise and rest.

Additionally, personal outreach, especially socializing and connecting with old friends and associates is important for our emotional health any time of year. Today’s electronic world often allows us instantaneous messaging and the ability to “reach out and touch” someone far away, but virtual communication through email and tools like Facebook and Twitter can’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions. We are social creatures, and while digital outreach is valuable and sometimes our easiest option, the Internet tends to act as a buffer between us and real intimacy.

Relationships and effective communication are built on eye contact, touch, feedback and unspoken physical communication. When possible, make the effort to visit friends and neighbors, attend parties and gatherings, contribute personal time through charitable efforts and catch up with people in person.

Here are some helpful hints for maintaining your balance as we get into the deepest recesses of the year:

  • Practice forgiveness, of yourself and for others. There’s still time and opportunity to adjust your goals, set new ones, or analyze what you might do differently going forward. Negativity wears on you and those you touch – so does a positive attitude!
  • Maintain your routine. Keep going to the gym, taking your walks, doing your special projects. The end of the year is nothing but a date on the calendar . . . life continues and, in fact, can get better as you set and work toward new, achievable goals.
  • Exercise regularly. Whether you walk, go to the gym, ride a bike, take yoga or spinning classes or just hit the treadmill in your basement, take time every day to exercise. It’s good for your heart, your respiratory system, your bones and joints and your mental health.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Low fat, low sugar, low salt should be our mantra. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, savor low-fat milk and yogurt, avoid fried foods and go easy on red meat and useless carbs from bread, cookies and cake, pasta, processed foods and snacks.
  • Don’t smoke. Tobacco products are bad for you and for others, period. They have a serious impact on your short- and long-term health, and cost a lot of money. There are many smoking-cessation programs available, and your physician can prescribe medications or aids to help with nicotine withdrawal.
  • Don’t consume too much alcohol. Drinking shortens your life, and can lead to strokes, heart disease and other illnesses. Alcohol also is a depressant and a diuretic, and inhibits restful sleep.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Adults should try to sleep eight hours, when possible, children even more. Pushing ourselves reduces our immunity to disease, makes us irritable, and makes accidents and mistakes more likely.
  • Talk to people . . . and to your physician. If you’re feeling down, worried, anxious or depressed, share your concerns with a friend or a medical professional. If depression is affecting your sleep, diet, work, school or behavior, ask your physician about medical or counseling interventions. Seeing a therapist (clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or professional counselor) for guidance and validation is healthy, smart and practical.

Taking care of ourselves is the gift that keeps on giving, any time of year. Make room for the people and activities that are most meaningful, and as the holidays rapidly approach, remember to breathe, set daily and weekly goals, and not be so hard on yourself or on others.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The Bones Have It

People say change is constant, and that’s certainly no exception when it comes to our bones.  New bone is made and old bone is broken down. When we’re young, our body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, increasing bone mass. Most people reach their peak bone mass around age 30. After that, we lose more bone mass than we gain.

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle, making them easier to fracture or break. Our likelihood of developing osteoporosis depends on how much bone mass we attain by the time we reach age 30 and how rapidly we lose it after that. The higher our peak bone mass, the less likely we are to develop osteoporosis as we age.

Obviously, it’s important to take steps now so our bones will be healthy and strong throughout our lifetime.  Unless you have a time machine there’s no going back, so protecting what we have now is the smart play.

We can build strong bones by getting enough calcium and weight-bearing physical activity during the tween and teen years, when bones are growing the fastest. Young people in this age group have calcium needs that they can’t make up for later in life. In the years of peak skeletal growth, teenagers build more than 25 percent of adult bone. By the time teens finish their growth spurts around age 17, 90 percent of their adult bone mass is established.

Don’t Overdraw Your Calcium Bank

Since our bodies continually remove and replace small amounts of calcium from our bones, stemming the loss of calcium is important. After age 18, we can’t add more calcium to bones, but can try to maintain what is already stored to help our bones stay healthy.

Calcium is found in a variety of foods. Low-fat and fat-free milk and other dairy products are great sources of calcium. Tweens and teens can get most of their daily calcium from three cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, but they also need additional servings of calcium to get the 1,300 mg necessary for strong bones.

Other good sources of calcium include dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and bok choy.  Other sources of calcium include almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines and soy products such as tofu. If you find it difficult to get enough calcium from your diet, ask your doctor about supplements.

There also are foods with calcium added, such as calcium-fortified tofu, orange juice, soy beverages, and breakfast cereals or breads. Adults or kids who can’t process lactose also can take calcium supplements, but should check with their physician to ensure compatibility with other medicines or conditions.

When muscles push and tug against bones during physical activity, bones and muscles become stronger. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, tennis and climbing stairs can help build strong bones and slow bone loss. So exercise, as well as proper nutrition, play vital roles in helping us build and maintain healthy bones at any age.

A number of additional factors can affect bone health.

  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Research suggests that tobacco use contributes to weak bones. Similarly, having more than two alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of osteoporosis, possibly because alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
  • Gender, size and age. You’re at greater risk of osteoporosis if you’re a woman, because women have less bone tissue than do men. You’re also at risk if you’re extremely thin (with a body mass index of 19 or less) or have a small body frame, because you may have less bone mass to draw from as you age. Also our bones become thinner and weaker as we age.
  • Race and family history. You’re at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent. In addition, having a parent or sibling who has osteoporosis puts you at greater risk — especially if you also have a family history of fractures.
  • Hormone levels. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. In women, bone loss increases dramatically at menopause due to dropping estrogen levels. Prolonged absence of menstruation before menopause also increases the risk of osteoporosis. In men, low testosterone levels can cause a loss of bone mass.
  • Eating disorders and other conditions. People who have anorexia or bulimia are at risk of bone loss. In addition, stomach surgery (gastrectomy), weight-loss surgery and conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and Cushing’s disease can affect our body’s ability to absorb calcium.
  • Certain medications. Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, cortisone, prednisolone and dexamethasone, are damaging to bone. Other drugs that may increase the risk of osteoporosis include aromatase inhibitors to treat breast cancer, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, methotrexate, some anti-seizure medications and proton pump inhibitors.

In summation, to help prevent or slow bone loss, include plenty of calcium in your diet, pay attention to vitamin D, include physical activity in your daily routine, and avoid smoking tobacco products or drinking too much alcohol. The health of our bones, in a manner of speaking, is in our own hands!


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!

Orange You Glad You Ate That Pumpkin?!

The rich array of bright autumn colors aren’t limited to trees, ivy and shrubs – a quick visit to a local farm or the produce aisle at your favorite grocery store will yield a delightful bounty of fall fruits and vegetables bound to please your eyes and your taste buds. And eating foods that grow within the season isn’t just practical – it offers a cornucopia of nutrients, vitamins and disease-fighting elements that will protect you while pleasing even the more discerning foodies.

October offers a multitude of delicious and heart-healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, broccoli, turnips and Brussels sprouts are fresh from the garden or farm, and represent only a few of the many nutrition-rich seasonal foods that can help you feel better, stay healthier and may protect against maladies like heart disease and stroke.

The fall palette whets our appetites with bright oranges, reds and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be helpful in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. 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 your risk for many diseases.

With the calorie-packed temptations of post-season baseball gatherings, football parties, Halloween sweets and, before we know it, Thanksgiving buffets, making a conscious decision to fill our plates with seasonal fruits and vegetable is a good way to avoid those extra seasonal pounds.

Purchasing produce at its peak guarantees the freshest taste, the greatest nutritional value and the most affordable price. Apples and pumpkins are two popular foods celebrated this time of year, but there’s also an abundance of delicious and hearty greens like kohlrabi, collards, chard, lettuce, cabbage and spinach, as well as colorful carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, green onions and a variety of squash to enjoy this season. Eating according to the seasons also is better for the environment — seasonal food, especially when purchased locally, requires fewer resources to grow, store, and transport.

Eating with the Season

The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta-carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well, is good for our skin and reduces some degenerative aspects of aging.

The natural sweetness of pumpkin makes it a great addition to baked treats and soups or a perfect side dish. Every serving of pumpkin contains about a fifth of the fiber we need each day, along with potassium and vitamin B. And pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.

Apples are a perennial favorite and healthy, as long as you don’t eat them deep-fried in fritters! Though available year-round, they are especially crisp and flavorful when the newly harvested fall crop hits the market. Ranging in flavor from sweet to tart, locally grown apples are at their peak from September through November. There are over 100 varieties grown in the United States, and every state, including Connecticut, has multiple orchards, so an apple-picking outing is usually within convenient reach.

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

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

Here are some other seasonal favorites to add to your shopping cart and pantry:

  • Sweet potatoesare a healthy complement to any meal. They are rich in carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, and supply about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. They are also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
  • Beetsare another healthy seasonal favorite, though not as popular. Beets are low in calories and fat, cholesterol free, and a good source of folates, a B vitamin which supports red blood cell production and helps prevent anemia. Fresh beets, in season from late summer through the end of October, have a sweet flavor and tender texture. While traditionally a garnet-red color, beets also are available in golden-yellow, white and red-and-white-striped hues.
  • Fall greens that are packed with nutrition include Brussels sprouts.Closely related to cabbage and broccoli, they have a similar look and taste. Peak season is September through February. Another healthy choice includes chicories. Belgian endive, escarole and radicchio are all chicories. They are related to lettuces, but have sturdier leaves, a stronger flavor and are famous for a bitter edge. They’re typically harvested in late fall and early winter.  In addition, endive and radicchio can be used to perk up any bagged salad, and escarole soup is a classic. For something different, sauté escarole in olive oil with garlic and red pepper, just like you would sauté spinach. The greens won’t cook down as much and can stand up to the heat.
  • Finally, seasonal squash like Butternut and Acorn Squash are hearty and healthy.Covered in a thick rind, these winter squashes are the ultimate storage vegetable. Harvested in early fall and throughout the winter months, roasted squash complement many recipes, are a welcome addition to roasted meats, and make delicious soups and side dishes.

By eating local fruits and vegetables in the autumn, we build up our immunity and help prepare our bodies for the colder months that follow.  So don’t just put pumpkins on your porches and in your windows . . . cook them and enjoy the health benefits all year round!


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!

Achieve Improved Productivity Through Wellness Programs

While there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence about the value and benefits of proactive health and wellness efforts in the workplace, statistics directly linking wellness and cost savings are harder to measure. Large companies can document the number of employees who successfully complete smoking-cessation programs or achieve weight-loss goals, but it’s been more difficult for smaller employers to determine how exercise, eating healthfully and living a more conscious lifestyle translate into other known benefits such as cost savings, decreased absenteeism, improved morale and enhanced teamwork.

But current research has established a definitive link between wellness programs and improved productivity. A study currently under review and co-authored by a faculty member at Washington University in St. Louis empirically tested how wellness programs affect worker productivity. The research paired individual medical data from employees taking part in a work-based wellness program to their productivity rates over time.

The researchers used a three-year panel of medical data for 111 employees and compared them to their work performances, which were accurately measurable by the number of pieces or tasks completed in a factory setting. The researchers also used self-reported data from the employees, as well as evaluations from physicians who examined each employee’s medical progress as the program continued. All information was kept confidential and anonymous.

The researchers compared data for employees who participated in the health plan to employees at the same company who opted out of the program or were in plants that weren’t offered the full program. When they analyzed participant data, the researchers found wellness programs boosted employees’ health and productivity – in fact, productivity jumped by 5 to 11 percent compared to those that didn’t participate in the program. When further quantified, that figure equaled a whopping 528 percent return on investment for the company after introducing its wellness program.

Help your employees to help themselves

The simplest step an employer can take for improving wellness is to encourage his or her staff to use online resources that are free, easily accessible and extremely useful. CBIA Healthy Connections offers a free, confidential online healthcare assessment that takes no more than 15 minutes to complete. Employees completing their assessment receive a $50 Amazon gift card – and the more employees who complete their assessment, the more entries into a quarterly company raffle for a $500 Amazon gift card. Companies also get entered in raffle drawings for completing workshops and sharing wellness stories.

There is a wealth of other resources and tools at the CBIA Healthy Connections website as well. These include

  • An exercise planner
  • Training videos
  • Food log
  • Meal planner and recipes
  • Cardio planner

The exercise planner allows participants to choose a plan and activity level that works for them, ranging from beginning walker, to boot camp or various cardio workouts.  The meal plan tool allows users to choose the plan type they prefer based on their personal nutrition goals. It can be customized for calorie range, dietary restrictions and other options.

Videos at the website teach specific exercises based on personal interests – visitors can choose videos that focus on core exercises, upper or lower body, or stretches – including instruction on more than 15 types of exercises. And a nutritional-needs option, linked to the healthcare assessment, helps people keep track of daily vitamin and mineral intake, and offers suggestions on how to meet these specific nutritional assets. It also provides a weekly customized progress report so users can track their results.

Many similar tools are available through benefits providers and at their websites. Getting started, though, is easy – with simple-to-understand and use resources literally at your fingertips! Check out the CBIA Healthy Connections website at cbiahealthyconnections.com for more information, or call Michelle Molyneux at 860.2441966. Increased productivity and improved wellness are within reach, regardless of a company’s size or focus.