Fending off the Zika virus

Thanks to the incessant coverage of the U.S. presidential nominating process, the Zika virus alarm bells being sounded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been temporarily overshadowed. But we are getting closer to the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this August. In addition to the superb athletics, people will be buzzing about Zika, which has been far more widespread in South America than in North America. Cases have been reported here in Connecticut now, and people have to be cautious and concerned.

The Zika virus is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito. While this mosquito species is not currently present in Connecticut, a closely related species, Ae. albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito, and related species are and may become carriers of the disease in Connecticut.

The Ae. aegypti, also common known as the Yellow fever mosquito, is found throughout tropical regions of the world and are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. Mosquitoes become infected with the Zika virus when they bite a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites.

Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). According to the CDC, illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting several days to a week — deaths are rare. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus infection; however there is medication to treat some of the symptoms.

People are cautioned to contact their health care provider if they develop symptoms after returning from areas where Zika virus has been identified.  Of enormous concern, Zika virus can spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus, which can cause serious birth defects. Because of this, pregnant women should not travel to areas where Zika is present. Zika virus can also be spread from men to women by sexual contact.

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil, and on Feb 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern. Transmission has been reported in many other countries and territories, especially in Latin America. Brazil has confirmed 2,844 cases of Zika in pregnant women.

Avoid infection by preventing mosquito bites. Use insect repellent according to label instructions, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats, empty any items around your property that can hold water, and use air conditioning or window/door screens. It is important to practice these protective measures when traveling to areas where Zika virus is found, and these are useful steps to help reduce mosquito and insect bites in general.

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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!

Getting comfortable at work

How you feel about your work place, and your work space, has as much to do with productivity, teamwork and improved communication as it does comfort. Employees spend a lot of time at work, and the composition of their working, meeting, and common areas says much about an organization’s culture, values and health.

People like a flexible work culture that helps each employee personalize his or her experience as much as possible. Business owners are finding that more flexibility leads to greater retention, better production and improved customer and employee satisfaction. All of this leads to a better bottom line, as well.

Not everyone works the same way. While some people may prefer a constant buzz around the office, others like quiet spaces to concentrate. It’s a bonus when an employer can match someone’s needs to how – and what — they produce, or to the way they like to work. Varied spaces, when it’s possible, enhance workplace wellness and make offices more inviting.

Customized work spaces can have lounge chairs and couches as well as traditional desks. Mixing it up in the workplace gives employees something different to look at every day instead of a boring, neutral-colored walled cubicle. Empty or unused spaces can be retrofitted as open conference areas, meeting rooms, or gathering places for brainstorming, quality checks, or coffee, juice and snack stations. Plants can be added for warmth and color. The idea is to think creatively, and the more you can involve employees in planning how to use office and warehouse space, the more engaged they will be.

Workers whose companies allow them to help decide when, where, and how they work are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, perform better, and view their company as more innovative than competitors that don’t offer such choices. We can’t always have what we want, but trying to find a compromise – and remaining open to employee ideas and suggestions – goes a long way.

Other simple steps can be taken to improve life in the office, on the plant floor or in other working areas. These include:

  • Place desks near natural light, which helps keep us better attuned to our own circadian rhythms and is a mood enhancer
  • Choose bright and welcoming artwork and colors
  • Allow employees to decorate their own cubicles, offices or work spaces, and to contribute to decorating the office, meeting rooms and common areas
  • Create open spaces throughout the work area by lowering the sides of cubicles and creating café-style seating for mingling and working
  • Reduce clutter so people don’t feel hemmed in, and to reduce visual chaos
  • Involve employees by asking them how they work best, what currently helps or doesn’t, and by offering them a decision-making role in rearranging work areas
  • The typical American sits an average of 9.3 hours a day – which is far longer than most of us sleep each day. Consider “walking or standing meetings,” especially for smaller groups, and when possible, take the meeting outdoors.

The more we can give employees a say in creating a comfortable, effective workplace for themselves and their peers, the happier they’ll be.  Less stress means greater satisfaction and increased productivity and retention. Little that we do in life is “one size fits all.” So the workplace shouldn’t try to be that, either.

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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 Main Event: Vegan vs. Vegetarian

In this corner, at five feet, four inches, weighing 130 pounds and eating only fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, and grains we have our challenger, Veggie Betty. In the opposite corner, at five feet five inches, eating only grains, fruit and vegetables and tipping the scales at 125 is our current champion, the queen of clean, Vegan Vicky. We’re looking for an apples-to-apples fight over the advantages and benefits of not ingesting meat and fish, and the differences between these two philosophies. Now, at the bell, come out arguing, and may the healthiest eater win!

Eating healthfully is a battle, no doubt. But both of these contestants are winners – people following vegetarian and vegan diets tend to live longer, have fewer health issues and generate less negative impact on the environment. The real battle is about staying healthy, but the debate over established and faddy diets and the advantages of veganism over vegetarianism rages on.

The term vegetarian generally means a person who does not consume animal products; this includes land and sea animals. Most vegetarians generally do consume eggs and dairy products (milk products). Vegetarian diets are considered excellent dietary methods for controlling weight, are heart-healthy, and excellent for controlling and preventing diabetes.

On the other hand, vegans eliminate all animal and dairy products (including eggs and honey) from their diet, as well as anything made with gelatin, which comes from animal bones and hooves. Vegans load up on fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Research has found a low-carb vegan diet reduces cholesterol levels, plus risk for developing heart disease.

But since animal products are the most convenient sources of protein and iron, vegans have a harder time getting an equal fix and have to work harder at balancing their diet through protein-packed alternatives such as lentils, black beans and soy products, and by increasing iron absorption by pairing foods rich in iron with foods rich in vitamin C, such as leafy vegetables and citrus. As a warning, vegans often suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiencies, so should consult their physician or nutritionist to ensure a healthy balance and determine if supplements are needed.

Vegetarians eliminate most animal products from their diet, too, but typically eat dairy and eggs. Like vegans, vegetarians consume a lot of fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. But unlike vegans, According to the American Heart Association, there is no single vegetarian eating pattern.

For example, a lactovegetarian eats plant-based foods, cheese, and dairy, while a lacto-ovovegetarian (lacto-ovo) eats all of the above and eggs. There are also semi-vegetarians, or people who don’t eat red meat but eat chicken and fish with their plant-based foods, dairy, and eggs. Most vegetarians are lacto-ovo.

Vegetarians have long been hailed as the healthiest eaters. A study published by the American Heart Association found people who mostly adhere to a pro-vegetarian diet (70 percent of food intake is derived from plants) were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. And research  associates this particular diet with reduced risk for certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, and early death.

And again, like vegans, maintaining a mostly plant-based diet is beneficial to the environment. One cow’s annual output of the greenhouse gas methane is equivalent to the emissions generated by a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline. And the amount of feed necessary to raise beef, chicken and pork requires an enormous amount of energy and resources, including fossil fuels, medicine and water.

Until recently, the benefits of vegetarianism and veganism were more anecdotal than clinically proven. However, over the past couple of decades numerous studies have indicated that a person who adopts a vegan or vegetarian diet will:

  • Have a lower body weightOne study found that those who continue eating meat will put on more weight over a five year period, compared to those who switched over to vegetarianism. The same study found that vegans put on even less weight as they get older, compared to vegetarians and meat eaters. The study looked at 22,000 meat eaters, fish eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.
  • Have better cholesterol levels– Scientists have demonstrated that a vegetarian diet made up of specific plant foods can lower cholesterol as effectively as a drug treatment. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared a diet of known cholesterol-lowering, vegetarian foods to a standard cholesterol-reducing drug called lovastatin.
    The diet reduced levels of LDL the ‘bad’ cholesterol known to cause clogging in coronary arteries — in participants by almost 29 percent, compared to a 30.9 percent decrease in the lovastatin participants. The diet consisted of a combination of nuts (almonds), soy proteins, viscous fiber (high-fiber) foods such as oats and barley and a special margarine with plant sterols (found in leafy green vegetables and vegetable oils).
  • Live longer– Several studies have shown that vegans and vegetarians have a much lower risk of becoming obese, developing diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. All these conditions and diseases reduce one´s life expectancy.
  • Have a lower risk of developing cancer– Several studies have shown a reduced risk of developing many different types of cancer among vegans and vegetarians, compared to meat eaters. The study also found, however, that vegetarians have a higher risk of developing cancer of the colon.
  • Have a lower risk of developing several diseases– A 2012 article published in Food Technology documented that plant-based diets either reduce or completely eliminate people’s genetic propensity to developing long-term diseases including diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Additionally, plant-based diets have shown to be effective in treating diseases like Multiple Sclerosis.

Vegetarian food is generally lower in fat, especially saturated fats, and much higher in fiber, than animal based foods. However, a vegetarian, like a meat eater, has to watch his or her intake of calories, snack foods, refined carbohydrates, whole milk dairy products, and non-meat junk foods.

So whichever path you are contemplating, a gradual change into vegetarianism or veganism works better as a general lifestyle change and longer-term strategy. Some people find that sudden changes to their eating patterns may have unpleasant consequences for their digestive systems, such as irritable bowel and other GI-related maladies. A healthful, gradual change includes increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans, lentils), and whole grains, while cutting down on your intake of meats and fish.

Additionally, the American Dietetic Association offers these tips for people who want to convert to vegetarianism or veganism:

  • Select whole-grain products, including whole wheat bread, wild/brown rice, and whole-grain cereals
  • Make sure your diet is varied
  • Choose low- or non-fat dairy products (if you wish to continue consuming dairy)
  • Do not eat more than three or four egg yolks per week
  • Plan ahead when you go shopping
  • Read the food labels carefully when you are out shopping
  • Find out where specialty stores that cater to healthy eating are located, and try shopping there.

Fortunately, there is much information available on these diets. And anyone contemplating a significant dietary change should touch base with their physician and get their baseline numbers to help chart progress. Ultimately, though, everyone who participates is a winner!

For more information on plant-based diets, visit Ornish Lifestyle Medicine and Dr. McDougall’s Health & Medical Center.

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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!

 

Become an Informed Healthcare Consumer

Purchasing a new or used car normally involves advance research on make, model, performance history, mileage, and resale value. We examine color options and accessories, visit showrooms or car lots, review consumer reports on the vehicle type, and peruse online feedback about the dealer or vehicle we’re considering. By the time we sit down with a salesperson, we’re reasonably well informed, know what we want, have figured out how we’re going to pay for it, and are ready to make a deal and write a check.

Now compare that process to preparing for surgery. Typically, patients listen to their physician’s advice, see the specialists he or she refers them to, complete any required pre-surgical preparation such as drawing blood, fasting or stopping certain medications, and then have their surgery. The more curious among us might do some research online at a variety of websites to learn more about our procedure, options or recovery tips. But most patients still rely primarily on information their doctor gives them, verbally or in print, and get advice from neighbors, family and work associates.

Apparently, we’re a relatively trusting lot when it comes to surgery. But when you consider the potential outcomes, costs, risks and long-term consequences, don’t you wonder why we are so much better informed and prepared to buy a car then to go under the knife?

Approximately 51 million Americans have elective or emergency surgical procedures performed in hospitals, outpatient surgical centers or their physician’s offices annually. That’s everything from cataracts and colonoscopies to angioplasty, caesarean sections, hysterectomies, knee and hip replacement, tissue removal and you name it . . . if you have a part that isn’t working properly, it can likely be removed, subdued, or improved!

But the psychology of obtaining surgery differs greatly from auto purchases, and three primary factors – trust, perceived boundaries and a lack of reliable, useful information – hinder our ability to be informed and properly engaged.

First, trust. We have confidence in our physician and the specialists, hospitals or clinical settings he or she sends us to. Typically that’s been established over years of visits and care, or is limited by cost or type of insurance. If our regular doc sends us to a specialist he or she knows and trusts, that’s good enough for us. And with the labyrinth of insurance issues our provider helps manage prior to a surgical procedure, we’re happy to leave it all in their hands and be compliant.

Second, boundaries. They’re the experts with years of medical school and training, we’re the patients. Many healthcare consumers lack the medical knowledge and chutzpah to ask tough, insightful or truly probing questions. We don’t want to be perceived as troublesome, annoying patients, or risk insulting our physicians with stupid, anxious or paranoid questions. It’s bad enough when an electrician or plumber treats us as though we’re an inconvenience – why risk feeling that way with a physician when your life is going to be in his or her hands?

And finally, there’s the lack of reliable, useful information. When it comes to specifics on doctors and hospitals, there simply isn’t much available data when it comes to quality, outcomes and performance histories. Hospital and medical rating systems managed by private, State and federal agencies exist for measuring provider and hospital performance, but they keep this information close to the vest. The data is used for addressing safety and medical errors, and for determining how the government reimburses hospitals and physicians, but it isn’t public knowledge.

This conspiracy of silence is endemic to the industry, and is driven, in part, by litigation and malpractice fears. There have been efforts to try and capture and publish some related metrics – items such as infection rates, “avoidable” readmissions to hospitals within 30 days, surgical errors – but this information is tightly guarded, and difficult if not impossible to access. Some government healthcare programs, like Medicare, make certain information available on specific procedures, but it’s not easy for the layperson to find or understand. And there aren’t any simple-to-understand, straightforward websites or annual reporting mechanisms available to consumers.

So what can you do to be a better medical consumer? Ask smart, direct questions, and do some research prior to meeting with the physician. Here are some examples of questions to ask before surgery:

  • How many times and how often have you done this procedure? This is important because high-volume practitioners have more experience and may be better able to deal with unexpected problems or emergencies.
  • How experienced is the team you will work with at the hospital or clinic? Chemistry and longevity in the operating room is an important variable, and good communication among surgical team members enhances outcomes.
  • Can the facility you’re considering for surgery handle unexpected complications? For example, if you experience a heart problem during surgery, does the facility have the staff onsite necessary to address this complication? Does the facility have a trauma center for adults or infants, or more comprehensive diagnostic imaging tools?
  • What are the potential side effects or outcomes?
  • What can I do to limit or control potential side effects, or to hasten recovery?
  • What are the exact costs or co-payments for this surgery? It’s important to understand exactly what the insurance provider, if you’re covered, will pay for and what you will be expected to contribute for your care.
  • Where can I get more information on this procedure? Ask the physician for specific web addresses or other sources of information that may be helpful.
  • Can this be done through less-invasive surgery, such as laparoscopy or robotics? Physicians practicing at some smaller hospitals may lack the experience for minimally invasive procedures, or the hospital may not be able to afford certain types of surgical tools and expensive equipment. The difference in recovery time, pain and potential complications can be significant, so it’s worth inquiring about before you proceed.
  • What will I require for post-surgical care? This may include physical rehabilitation, a short-term stay in a step-down unit, a variety of follow-up visits, home care assistance, medications and a comprehensive list of foods or activities to limit or avoid.
  • What forms and releases will I be expected to complete at the hospital or surgical center? Even though your physician will have you complete pre-surgical paperwork, most facilities ask you or your guardian to sign a variety of releases immediately prior to the procedure, often when you’re at your height of pre-surgical anxiety, and distracted. Asking in advance may help you pose intelligent questions and not feel pressured.

If your provider balks at these questions or offers ambiguous or evasive answers, you might consider another physician. Remember, you don’t want to be thinking about these issues as you’re lying on the gurney being rolled into surgery, and hindsight is always 20/20! The better you’re prepared and engaged in your care in advance, the better the experience for you and your medical team. It’s not just about competence – it’s about being an informed consumer, and making sure you know what you’re buying.

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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!

Colds and Allergies are Something to Sneeze At

If you’re afflicted by seasonal allergies, chances are you’re already suffering. With the abnormally warm winter and early spring weather in Connecticut, trees and flowers were quick to bloom and the air is alive with pollen and mold spores. The tell-tale human signs – red eyes, sneezing, runny noses– are as common a sight as daffodils, crimson buds on trees and bright yellow forsythia bushes.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is usually caused by molds releasing spores into the air, or by trees, grasses, and weeds releasing their pollens. Outdoor molds are very common, especially after a spring thaw. They are found in soil, mulch, fallen leaves, and rotting wood. Everybody is exposed to mold and pollen, but only some people develop allergies. In these people, the immune system, which protects us from invaders like viruses and bacteria, reacts to a normally harmless substance called an allergen (allergy-causing compound). Specialized immune cells called mast cells and basophils then release chemicals like histamine that lead to the symptoms of allergy: sneezing, coughing, a runny or clogged nose, postnasal drip, and itchy eyes and throat.

If you’re sneezing and sniffling in April and your car is coated with yellow-green pollen, you may be able to point to seasonal allergies, or hay fever, especially if you get these symptoms at about the same time every year. Colds, however, can hit at any time of year — even during spring and summer — although they’re most common when the weather gets chilly.

There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications you can take to help you cope with allergy season. But before you open your medicine cabinet or run to the pharmacy, try to self-diagnose so you know what you’re treating and how best to respond.

How fast your symptoms occur can also determine what’s ailing you. Allergies often start almost immediately after you’re exposed to your trigger. For example, if you have pollen allergies, as soon as that pollen gets into your system, you may have symptoms.

Cold germs typically take one to three days to make you sick. They generally linger for three days to about a week, but symptoms can persist up to two weeks in some people. Starting to feel better after a couple of days is a sign you’re probably on the mend from a cold. If you’re getting worse, your cold may have evolved into a bacterial infection. If symptoms last more than one to two weeks or get worse after about five days, you should see a doctor.

Allergy symptoms will last for as long as you’re exposed to the offending substance. So if you’re allergic to cat dander, once you leave your grandmother’s apartment and her beloved Persian, your sniffles should subside. If your trigger is pollen and you spend most of the spring months outdoors, you could be fighting symptoms for the whole season.

Remedies for what’s ailing you

Antihistamines target histamine, which your body makes when you have an allergic reaction.

You can take antihistamines as pills or nasal sprays. The pills target itching, sneezing, and runny nose. The nasal sprays work on congestion, an itchy or runny nose, and postnasal drip.

Antihistamines can ease symptoms once you have them, but they work best when you take them before you feel allergy symptoms. Taken regularly, antihistamines can build up in your blood to protect against allergens and prevent the release of histamines. Ask your doctor if you should start taking allergy medicine a couple of weeks before you usually have symptoms.

Decongestants cut down on the fluid in the lining of your nose. That relieves swollen nasal passages and congestion. You can take decongestants by mouth in pills or liquids, or by nasal spray. Common decongestants include pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine.

Some medications combine antihistamines and decongestants. For example, Allegra-D, Claritin-D, and Zyrtec-D combine an antihistamine with the decongestant pseudoephedrine. Some antihistamines and decongestants need a prescription. Others don’t. You could first try a nonprescription medicine and if you don’t get relief, check with your doctor to see if you need a prescription.

Steroids, known medically as corticosteroids, can reduce inflammation associated with allergies. They prevent and treat nasal stuffiness, sneezing, and itchy, runny nose due to seasonal or year-round allergies. They can also decrease inflammation and swelling from other types of allergic reactions.

Steroids are available in various forms: As pills or liquids for serious allergies or asthma, locally acting inhalers for asthma, locally acting nasal sprays for seasonal or year-round allergies, topical creams for skin allergies, or topical eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis. In addition to steroid medications, your physician may decide to prescribe additional types of medications to help combat your allergic symptoms.

Even if you take something that doesn’t require a prescription, you should let your doctor know what you’re taking. He or she can check that you’ve got the right medication for your symptoms, and check on side effects.

Older antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine) can make you drowsy. The newer antihistamine Zyrtec (cetirizine) may also cause drowsiness. Antihistamines such as Allegra (fexofenadine) and Claritin (loratadine) do not usually make you drowsy.

Decongestants can cause nervousness, sleeplessness, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure. Don’t use decongestant nasal sprays for more than three days in a row as they may worsen your nasal congestion and swelling, and can be habit forming. Always check the drug label for more information about side effects and how a drug may interact with other medications you may already be using.

Whether or not you take medication for hay fever, you can still take steps to reduce the severity of your symptoms. Here are some useful tips for those who suffer from seasonal allergies:

  • Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water
  • Always bathe and wash hair before bedtime (pollen can collect on skin and hair throughout the day)
  • Do not hang clothes outside to dry where they can trap pollens
  • Wear a filter mask when mowing or working outdoors. Also, if you can, avoid peak times for pollen exposure (hot, dry, windy days, usually between 10 am and 4 pm). Although pollens are usually emitted in early morning, peak times for dissemination are late morning through late afternoon
  • Be aware of local pollen counts in your area
  • Keep house, office and car windows closed; use air conditioning if possible rather than opening windows
  • Perform a thorough spring cleaning of your home, including replacing heating and A/C filters and cleaning ducts and vents
  • Check bathrooms and other damp areas in your home frequently for mold and mildew, and remove visible mold with nontoxic cleaners
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of furniture, since they may carry pollen if they have been outdoors (or exacerbate your allergies if, for example, you’re allergic to cat dander).

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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!

Saying “Thanks” is Healthy for Giver and Receiver

Think about your own life, work, and accomplishments. It feels good when we do a good job. But while that satisfaction itself can be very rewarding, acknowledgement from our bosses, peers, family members, and friends is equally important. Telling someone he or she has done a good job isn’t just the right thing to do, but also is a mechanism for improving emotional and physical health, productivity, teamwork, and service.

When someone feels taken for granted, unrecognized or under-appreciated, it has a direct impact on their emotional health and stress levels. Lack of recognition, especially in the workplace, often is mentioned as a contributing factor to overall employee dissatisfaction. And the more unhappy employees are at work, the more productivity, teamwork and customer relations may suffer.  Quality suffers, as well, and increased stress is a known factor in promoting irritability, increasing conflict, interfering with sleep and diet, boosting absenteeism and increasing “presenteeism,” a loss of workplace productivity resulting from employee health problems and/or personal issues. It also contributes to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, poor nutrition and weight gain.

Americans like being told “thanks” but aren’t that great at thanking others, according to a national survey on gratitude commissioned in 2012 by the John Templeton Foundation. The polling firm Penn Shoen Berland surveyed over 2,000 people in the United States, capturing perspectives from different ages, ethnic groups, income levels, religions and more.

Gratitude was enormously important to respondents, who also admitted they think about, feel, and espouse gratitude more readily than expressing it to others. This might be why respondents also felt that gratitude in America is declining.

  • More than 90 percent of those polled agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends.
  • More than 95 percent said that it is anywhere from “somewhat” to “very” important for mothers and fathers to teach gratitude.
  • People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else. Seventy-four percent never or rarely express gratitude to their boss. But people are eager to have a boss who expresses gratitude to them. Seventy percent would feel better about themselves if their boss was more grateful, and 81 percent would work harder.
  • 93 percent of those polled agreed that grateful bosses were more likely to be successful, and only 18 percent thought that grateful bosses would be seen as “weak.”

The bottom line is that we’re better at noticing and tallying what we personally do than what other people do.  According to the data, most of the people surveyed appreciate being appreciated, but lack in their tendency to say “thanks”– despite knowing that expressing gratitude can bring more happiness, meaning, professional success, and interpersonal connection into their lives.

Ultimately, there are so many ways to say “thanks” to our employees. Whether verbally, through written or public commendation, one-on-one, or in front of peers at staff meetings, gratitude is an important employee relations, productivity and stress-reduction tool. And while bonuses, pay raises, gift cards, and compensatory time off are terrific recognition tools, employees want to feel like it is more than simply “doing their jobs and meeting expectations” that matters.

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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!

 

 

Patient Portals are Good News for Medical Consumers

The days of vast paper records and colorful files in your doctor’s office papering the walls from floor to ceiling are rapidly changing. As physicians, clinics, outpatient service providers and hospitals grapple with evolving digital technology and healthcare mandates, maintaining accurate electronic records has become a priority. The changes are taking time, are costly for providers, and are confusing for patients. But the end result, sometime in the future, will be consistent reporting and patient tracking, truly portable records, simplified access, and improved patient safety and quality.

The healthcare world is being forced to comply by evolving Federal and State mandates and policies. Federal reimbursement strategies for Medicare and Medicaid providers require movement to these new ways of tracking data, though implementation is happening in stages. Called “Meaningful Use” regulations, providers participating in these federal programs have deadlines for implementing Electronic Health Records (EHRs), and in the coming years will continue adding other technological requirements.

The rest of the provider world is following – and sometimes leading — at varying degrees of enthusiasm and compliance. Each of us likely has seen evidence of this new healthcare world:  Many providers make appointments by email or text, X-rays and other diagnostic images are sent to providers electronically, and patient portals are being established that allow patients to review their records, test results and medical histories online through their providers’ websites.

There also had been an uptick in telephone and email-based medical services, from scheduling appointments to communicating with nurses and physicians. Patients who live in more rural areas or who suffer from chronic disease such as diabetes or congestive heart failure can complete simple testing online, such as stepping on a scale that sends your weight to a monitoring service, as well as testing your blood pressure or sugar levels and having this data sent electronically to a medical professional. By reviewing these results, provider can flag vital metrics that might indicate a medical problem or need for an intervention.

For the most part, the uptake of patient portals has followed on the heels of electronic health records. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 41 percent of family practice physicians use portals for secure messaging, another 35 percent use them for patient education, and about one-third use them for prescribing medications and scheduling appointments.

For patients, using portals is relatively easy – provided you have an email address. There is a small learning curve though, and for older patients not as comfortable as Millennials with technology – or for people who don’t have access to the Internet or smart phones – access is more difficult. Getting started typically requires setting up a confidential user ID and password. Then, in addition to scheduling and record viewing, many providers offer a wide spectrum of educational materials and help lines on topics ranging from nutrition and fitness, to preventing heart disease or diabetes.

Communicating through portals can save nurses and receptionists time, too, since the messages pop up in real time on their computer screens. Patient-to-doctor or nurse direct communication also cuts out other staff members’ interpretation of medical issues and patient needs that can occur with phone calls or voicemail. And portals can contain updated prescription information, immunization records, medical procedures and dates, visit logs and family history, items that are vital for your physician, for hospitals, and for you, especially if there’s an emergency.

There remain other barriers, though. For example, most portals are English only, which poses a challenge for populations in inner cities and communities that can contain as many as 150 different languages and dialects. And many of these populations don’t have email accounts or trust technology, which also is true for many seniors, regardless of ethnicity, location, or income. These issues are being addressed, though, and eventually, most patients will be using online tools.

Meanwhile, for portal enthusiasts, confidential access to your personal health information has never been easier, nor has the ability to quickly and easily make appointments, leave messages and check recent test results. It’s a brave new world – but in this case, it’s changing for the better relative to quality, patient safety and consumer engagement.

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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!

Diet and Colorectal Cancer

Diet plays an integral role in keeping us healthy. But beyond strong bones, eyes and teeth, a proper diet also helps prevent or reduce the likelihood of contracting a number of serious illnesses, including many kinds of cancers. One specific example is colon (colorectal) cancer, which kills more than 50,000 men and women a year in the United States alone.

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer.  American Cancer Society estimates for the number of newly diagnosed U.S. colon cancer cases exceeds 103,000 men and women, and another 37,000 will be diagnosed with rectal cancer.

Studies suggest that diet is a key contributor to colon cancer risk. Colon cancer is most prevalent in Westernized societies, where diets are higher in animal products and processed foods and lower in unrefined plant foods.  The cells lining the intestinal tract come into direct contact with what we choose to eat, and the substances contained in our food can have profound effects on these cells and tissues. The protective value of fruits and vegetables has been established by several studies following subjects for years, keeping track of dietary patterns and colon cancer diagnoses.

Our nutritional choices can help prevent colon cancer, especially if our diet includes more vegetables and fruits and less refined and processed foods. Nutritious foods are very rich in fiber, and disease-causing foods are generally fiber-deficient. Several food components that may modulate colon cancer risk have been identified: Fiber, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, and certain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals all play a partial role. Red meat and processed meats are the most cancer causing, but all meats and dairy products do not contain any fiber, and are also lacking in anti-oxidants and phytochemicals. Foods made from refined grains (such as white bread, white rice, and pasta) are also not only fiber deficient but void of micronutrients and phytochemicals as well – these foods are also associated with colon and rectal cancers.

Prevention starts with awareness

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and the perfect time to become familiar with risk factors and prevention. Risk factors include:

  • Age 50 or older
  • A family history of cancer of the colon or rectum
  • A personal history of cancer of the colon, rectum, ovary, endometrium, or breast
  • History of polyps in the colon
  • A history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn’s disease
  • Eating a diet high in fat (especially from red meat)
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use

The prognosis and chance of recovery following a colon cancer diagnosis depends on several items, including the stage of the cancer when discovered, damage it may have already caused, blood chemistry and a patient’s general health. If you experience any stomach discomfort, bleeding in your stool, or sudden weight loss, contact your physician immediately.

Beginning at age 50 (age 45 for African Americans), both men and women at average risk for developing colorectal cancer should receive a screening test. These tests are designed to find both early cancer and polyps. There are simple blood and stool tests, and surgical testing such as colonoscopies can be done virtually (using diagnostic imagery) or surgically. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.

People once thought that there was little that they could do to protect themselves against cancer. But we’ve learned more about how the disease develops and what biological and environmental factors increase cancer risk. We now have better weapons for fighting the disease, including more options for diagnosis and treatment, improved therapies and new technologies for early detection.

In a world where so much is beyond our control, it’s nice to know that we can still make smart choices that are likely to improve or maintain our health. Research suggests that up to 35 percent of cancers are related to poor diet. Choosing a diet rich in nutrient-dense plant foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds is a simple step we can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones against colon cancer. And by remaining active and exercising regularly, we can reduce our risk of cancer and other health problems.

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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 the Winter Blahs

Seasonal blahs generally means less interaction with others or isolation – and neither are good for our health. Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among adults, and have suggested that social isolation may have significant adverse effects, especially for older adults. For example, study results indicate that:

  • Social relationships are consistently associated with biomarkers of health. Positive indicators of social well-being may be associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 in otherwise healthy people. Interleukin-6 is an inflammatory factor implicated in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.
  • Caring for children and grandchildren makes us healthier and more active. We experience a strong emotional bond that often leads to a more active lifestyle, healthier meals and more activities. If someone doesn’t have anyone to care for, though, it’s important to visit with friends or seek out opportunities to interact with others as often as possible.
  • Social isolation constitutes a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality, especially in older adults.
  • Loneliness may have a physical as well as an emotional impact. For example, people who are lonely frequently have elevated systolic blood pressure.
  • Loneliness is a unique risk factor for symptoms of depression, and loneliness and depression have a synergistic adverse effect on well-being, especially in middle-aged and older adults.

Regardless of the season, 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. Today’s electronic world often allows us instantaneous messaging and the ability to connect with friends and family far away, but virtual communication through email and tools like Facebook and Twitter can’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions. 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. Pursuing hobbies and activities that get us out of the house and moving are important, too. Yoga, art classes, dance, exercise, reading groups, quilting circles, bowling and even scrapbooking can get us out of the house and keep us more active.

Here are a few other tips to help keep us healthier during the remaining cooler months:

  • Get outside. Even if it is gray and cloudy, the effects of daylight are beneficial. In addition to more exposure to daylight, fresh air is stimulating, and walking outdoors revitalizes us.
  • Balanced nutrition. A well-balanced, nutritious diet will provide more energy and help quell carb cravings. Comfort food tastes good and it may make us feel better for the short-term, but a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains will help keep our weight in check and make us feel better in the long run.
  • Take vitamins or supplements. Getting our recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals can help improve our energy, particularly if we are deficient in key nutrients. There are a variety of seasonal supplements available, but check with a physician or naturopath before taking mega-doses or herbal formulations. A multi-vitamin and mineral supplement may be all we need.
  • Move our body. Regardless of the time of year, regular exercise is essential for overall health. Even if the weather has us mostly relegated to the indoors, we can still head to our local gym or exercise in the comfort of our home. Getting our body moving will help battle winter weight gain, boost endorphins, and may even help us sleep more soundly. If dressed for the weather, walks and hikes outdoors are invigorating and good for us physically and mentally. And yoga, meditation and classes that promote group stretching and exercise are good for us physically and socially.
  • Prioritize social activities. Stay connected to a social network. Getting out of the house and doing enjoyable things with friends and family can do wonders for cheering us up. Go to a movie or make a dinner date. Plan regular social activities and, weather permitting, get outdoors for a group hike, skiing or other activity.
  • Consider getting help. If stress and depression are still interfering with your daily functioning, seek professional help. Antidepressants and certain types of psychotherapy have proven effective in helping people cope with seasonal mood changes.

The important thing is to keep moving, interact with others and to take control of our bodies and minds so the “winter blues” don’t take control of us!

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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!

Sharing Wellness Messages Online Boosts Participation

As employers increasingly look to expand participation in health and wellness programs in and out of the workplace, they are constantly examining the range of tools available for sharing messages, communicating benefits, and recognizing employee participation and successes.

As an employer, you may already have posters, written wellness tips, or a newsletter and other communication to promote employee health and wellness. In many organizations, employees go online to complete their personal healthcare assessments, a wellness champion shares health information details, and companies have fitness and nutrition experts come to the workplace. So the next logical step involves reaching audiences when they are away from the office.

Digital communication and social networking are rapidly evolving into primary outreach vehicles for employees and their families. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t a part-time commitment; while employers were once reticent to communicate with employees beyond work borders, today’s electronic media have changed boundaries involving the availability of information. Now employees are interested in accessing benefits details and useful tips, ideas, nutritional information and other resources around the clock, especially data that helps them live, eat, exercise and pursue their lives in a healthier manner.

Social networking allows people to communicate with one another wherever they are and whenever they choose. As a result, it can be utilized as a catalyst for improving employee participation in ways that traditional communication programs cannot. And the availability of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, websites and a wide variety of messaging services and smart phone apps can translate into increased participation and worker engagement.

On Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, for example, people can share information among their networks of friends and colleagues. That includes articles, blogs, news, opinions, reviews, recipes and much more. They also can form online groups linked by common interests such as general fitness, charity walks, running or bicycle rides, diets and nutritional resources, and much more. Employees can reach out to one another and their wider networks of friends through these media, invite others to join them, share results or goals, and compete for bragging rights.

Employers can participate in this wellness outreach, too, by establishing Facebook and Twitter accounts that focus on health and wellness, posting information on their websites, promoting ideas, sharing articles and event notices, and recognizing employee achievements and team milestones. And the price is right – the investment is time, as most of these vehicles are free to use.

Another good way to increase engagement in health and wellness is to allow employees to help decide what gets posted, shared or communicated via social media. And interactive tools are great for congratulating employees who reach important goals, such as competing in a 5K run, marathon or fitness program, or to invite others to join them in these endeavors. Privacy issues have to be respected, but like any other form of public communication, information can be vetted before it’s posted or shared to ensure compliance with legal, HR and ethical standards and codes of appropriate conduct.

Achieving wellness goals is much easier when you’re not in it alone. Employing tools people already use to plan group activities, promote support and recognize successes can increase retention, boost morale and help everyone improve wellness while trying to get a handle on health care costs.

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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!