A Whole Lot of Hoopla

Anyone who thinks vigorous exercise can’t be good for you and fun hasn’t spent time at New England Residential Services in Middletown. There, an enthusiastic employee team, lead by a supportive executive director, has demonstrated that having fun while you improve your health is easy when you put your hips, arms, legs, necks and bodies into it.

Ironically, the answer to combining work, play and wellness came to the company’s Human Resource Manager, Kim Fritsch, because she didn’t like to exercise. Fritsch walked, but found she wasn’t losing enough weight from walking alone. Talking with co-workers over lunch one day, they started reminiscing about games from their childhood, and Fritsch mentioned that she’d loved hula hooping as a kid, and had won a school hula-hooping competition, continuously hooping for eight hours. Hooping, she said, was fun and good exercise, and the more she thought about it, the more excited she became about trying it again.

Fritsch, who’s been with the company for 19 years, did some research and discovered that a workout with a weighted hula hoop could help burn 400 to 600 calories per session. Sold, she ordered a weighted hula hoop for the office. She and a few associates started working with it at the end of the day; they enjoyed making fun of each other and admiring one another’s hooping style. They even have a “professional” hula-hooper on their staff, she adds, who makes customized hoops for staff and for residents of the company’s group homes.

hoola hoop wellness program

As they became more proficient, word spread, and other staff became interested. Soon they had a regular following, and set up an exercise area at the end of a hallway between office areas. Workers were encouraged to take hoop breaks at lunch or whenever they were able, and for those who struggled with the dynamics of hooping, jump ropes were purchased. Fritsch shared her story with CBIA, and was put into a raffle to win a $500 Amazon gift card, which they won!

The prize money, she said, was used to purchase other exercise equipment, including a stepping machine, exercise ball, weighted resistance ropes, a wireless speaker for listening to music while people work out, and a special stool made for accommodating hooping while seated. Everyone in the office, she says, is encouraged to participate, and support from their management makes it easier to get people involved.

“A good wellness program starts with a leader who strongly believes that any exercise that gets your heart going is good for you, even if it’s in the workplace,” Fritsch explains. “We’re lucky to work in an environment with a supportive manager who sets the tone for our agency.  He says his mission is to be more like Google, and is striving to build a great work environment so people are happier, healthier and more productive.”

New England Residential Services operates group homes and apartments, providing residential support for people with intellectual disabilities. They have 130 employees, most working at their field locations, with a support staff of 10 at their home office in Middletown.

Their executive director, Chet Fischer, reimburses office employees who join a gym or take yoga, and always encourages breaks from work to walk or work out, Fritsch says. Some employees bring their dogs to work, she adds, and others plank and do alternative fitness activities during and after work.

The hula hooping, Fritsch explains, has become a great source of laughter, stress reduction and team building. She says everyone from their executive director to their maintenance person has tried it, and visitors are encouraged to give it a whirl, as well. She adds that when employees started completing the CBIA health assessment, they realized they needed to do more fitness-related activities, and started using their reward cards for fitness clothes and materials – and for more hoops.

“It’s inspiring to see someone increase the time that they can keep the hoop up, and seeing their progress and personal styles,” Fritsch explains. “The original goal, simply, was to get people active. Now employees are tracking their own time, checking out hoop-related exercise videos and working out when it suits them. We’re even planning to make our own video in the spring, and when all the new hoops come in we will have hoop breaks. It’s fun, it makes you feel great, and increases camaraderie among the staff.”


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!

There’s Nothing Fishy about Eating Fish

Whatever you may think about fish – that they’re beautiful, scary, slimy, gross, tasty or mysterious – there’s more to loving fish than visiting an aquarium, gliding across a lake early in the morning, standing in waders up to your chest in icy water, or drinking beers and trying not to throw up as a small boat gets tossed around the ocean. Beyond the allure of catching your own dinner, most fish are incredibly healthy sources of nutrients and vitamins, and should be a steady part of everyone’s diet.

Fish is a good source of protein and, unlike fatty meat products, it’s not high in saturated fat. Fish also is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids.  These little wonders benefit the heart of healthy people and those at high risk of – or who have – cardiovascular disease.  Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower blood pressure. Eating fish once or twice a week may also reduce the risk of stroke, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic conditions.

In addition to healthful long-chain omega-3 fats, fish also are rich in other nutrients such as vitamin D and selenium, high in protein, and low in saturated fat. There is strong evidence that eating fish or taking fish oil is good for the heart and blood vessels. An analysis of 20 studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants indicates that eating approximately one to two 3-ounce servings of fatty fish a week, particularly salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies or sardines, reduces the risk of dying from heart disease by 36 percent.

Unfortunately, fewer than one in five Americans heeds that advice. About one-third of Americans eat seafood once a week, while nearly half eat fish only occasionally or not at all. Although some people may simply not like fish, the generally low consumption is likely caused by other factors including cost, access to stores that sell fish, and uncertainty about how to buy, prepare or cook fish. Still others may avoid seafood because they worry that they — or their children — will be harmed by mercury, pesticide residues, or other possible toxins that are in some types of fish.

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids which have demonstrated benefits at reducing heart disease. But there’s a downside to eating certain types of fish: Some may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Levels of these substances are generally highest in older, larger predatory fish and marine mammals, but it’s important to know the facts and to avoid those that are more dangerous.

The benefits and risks of eating fish vary depending on a person’s stage of life:

  • Children and pregnant women are advised by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to avoid eating those fish with the potential for the highest level of mercury contamination (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish); and to eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) per week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury (for example, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish).
  • For middle-aged and older men and postmenopausal women, the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential risks when the amount of fish that are eaten is within the recommendations established by the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Eating a variety of fish will help minimize any potentially adverse effects due to environmental pollutants.

Nutritional experts recommend eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. Each serving should be approximately 3.5 ounces cooked, or about three-quarters of a cup of flaked fish.  Enjoy fish baked or grilled, not fried.  Choose low-sodium, low-fat seasonings such as spices, herbs, lemon juice and other flavorings in cooking and at the table.

For many people, tuna is a lunchtime staple. The FDA and EPA continue to recommend that no more than six ounces of fish per week (of your 8 to 12 ounces weekly) should be white (albacore) tuna. Canned light tuna is lower in mercury, albacore tuna higher.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish or shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.   Avoid eating shark, swordfish, king Mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Also, be careful when buying canned seafood, as cans often are lined with a BPA-plastic coating. Look for seafood packed in shelf-stable, flexible pouches, as this is the environmentally preferable packaging.

Regardless of your age or gender, check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If advice isn’t available, you should eat six ounces or less of these locally caught fish per week, and children should eat no more than one to three ounces per week. Then avoid eating other fish for the rest of the week. Potential exposure to some contaminants can be reduced by removing the skin and surface fat from these fish before cooking.

Another important consideration when you consume fish should be about environmental sustainability. Some varieties of seafood have been overfished or caught in ways that may cause lasting damage to our oceans and marine life. Here are some basic rules to make smart seafood shopping choices that are good for your health and the health of our oceans:

  • Eat fish that are lower on the food chain – typically, smaller fish are more plentiful and contain less mercury.
  • Know how sustainable your seafood choices are. This link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide provides valuable information on which fisheries provide the most sustainable seafood choices, based on health and a variety of other measurements.
  • Buy American. The United States has stricter fishing and farming standards than do other parts of the world, and is less likely to use antibiotics or risk exposure to pesticides and fertilizers that run off into the water.
  • Know how it’s caught. Hook and line is a low-impact method of fishing that does not damage the seafloor and let’s fisherman use intelligently designed traps and throw back unwanted species.
  • Eat Local. You’re usually better off eating the local variety of a particular type of fish instead of its counterpart from across the country or another part of the world, unless that species has been depleted in local waters. Even out of season, the local fish that has been frozen is preferable, since fresh fish must be transported by air, the most energy-intensive method of shipping.
  • Look for the label. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies seafood that is caught or raised in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. Items that meet its criteria are marked with a MSC-certified label.

If you want the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids but aren’t crazy about fish, you also can eat tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils. These foods contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid. Large-scale epidemiologic studies suggest that people at risk for coronary heart disease benefit from consuming omega-3 fatty acids from marine and from plant sources.


 

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!

Sleep Sense

We’ve already turned the clocks ahead and are enjoying the increasing hours of daylight. The first few weeks after we sprung forward, you might have noticed a change in your sleep patterns or felt more tired or irritable. Certainly, the cat and dog noticed – they still wanted their breakfast at 5:30 a.m., not 6:30 a.m. when you were ready to awaken. But if you’re finding yourself dragging a bit, it’s not a mystery — that hour of sleep you lost also affected your internal clock, and anything that throws off our body’s natural timing mechanism can wreak havoc.

Humans have a 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm that controls our eating and sleeping patterns, internal bodily functions and the timing of hormone secretions. We might have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning if our internal clock gets out of sync with the external day-night cycle. This happens with multi-time zone travel and is the basis for jet lag. With the daylight savings time shift, the external time has shifted while the internal clock has not, and even though it’s been weeks, there’s still a lag.

The more stable and consistent our circadian rhythm is, the better our sleep. This cycle also may be altered by the timing of various factors including naps, bedtime, exercise, diet, and especially exposure to light. And though the results may seem subtle, when the clock changes, we become weary – and irritable.

When we’re tired, productivity, service and quality of work often suffer. Being fatigued tests the patience of everyone around us, increases chances of accidents or mistakes, and aggravates chronic health conditions. It also reduces our natural immune system, making us more susceptible to illness.

Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40 our sleep patterns change and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, functioning like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. The more times we awake at night, the more likely we will feel unrefreshed and unrestored in the morning.

Psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, relationship conflict and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to “turn off” all the noise from the day. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, or are reviewing all the day’s events and planning tomorrow, you simply can’t just “flip a switch” and drop off to a blissful night’s sleep. The same is true if you’re watching television, gaming or on your smart phone right before bedtime – these all affect our brain and interfere with the natural hormones that help us rest.

Sleeping Better Takes Practice

Millions of Americans suffer from fatigue caused by poor sleep habits. And while chemical imbalances and chronic conditions such as sleep apnea — where the body doesn’t get enough oxygen during sleep — can be affecting you, there are many simple solutions you can try before turning to medications or running off to get a sleep study.

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It’s also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed — not too little, or too much. This may vary by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, but if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.

Here are 10 good sleep hygiene practices to assist your restfulness:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep, but avoid exercise close to bedtime.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals, spicy foods which increase metabolism, sweets or unhealthy snacking. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many helpful properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, though try to avoid too much light exposure in the evening if you’ve been having trouble sleeping.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, and try to wake up at the same time every day.
  • Limit stimulating activities, electronic games and TV shows before trying to go to sleep.
  • Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed, and try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations when it’s time to relax.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or work.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

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!

Water Water Everywhere, but How Safe to Drink?

There’s no question that drinking water regularly is important for our health. Remaining properly hydrated allows our body to work to its full potential, processing food, using and storing energy, ensuring healthy blood production, protecting our muscles and organs, supporting removal of waste and for natural cleansing. But the source of the water we choose to drink can be questionable, and recent revelations – including the abysmal failure of the public water system in Flynt, Michigan – have raised concerns about the quality of our water.

Taste and convenience play important roles in our choice of water sources. While public water systems, by and large, are safe and healthy, some people fear contaminants or determine they don’t like how their local water tastes. Many others choose to buy a wide variety of bottled waters available in stores, restaurants, at sporting events, convenience locations or wherever people gather. While convenient, bottled water is hugely more expensive than tap water and – to the surprise of many and the chagrin of advertisers (15 percent of the cost of bottled water goes to marketing) – not necessarily as healthy as public or private water sources.

In fact, bottled water may be hurting our health. Studies indicate that plastic bottles release small amounts of chemicals over long periods of time. The longer water is stored in plastic bottles, the higher the concentration of a potentially harmful chemical. The research involved 132 brands of bottled water from 28 countries produced in containers made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET.

Research found that the concentration of certain chemicals, such as antimony, increases the longer the water sits in the plastic bottle. It increases over time because the plastic is leaching chemicals into the water. Antimony is a white metallic element that in small doses can cause nausea, dizziness and depression. In large doses, it can be fatal. Antimony is similar chemically to lead. It is also a potentially toxic trace element.

Adding to those concerns, researchers have set off new alarms: A recent study carried out on more than 250 water bottles sourced from 11 brands in nine different countries revealed that microplastic contamination (tiny pieces of plastic) was nearly universal, found in more than 90 percent of the samples surveyed.

Conducted by journalism organization Orb Media and researchers at the State University of New York at Fredonia, it was discovered that an average of 10.4 microplastic particles about the width of a human hair was present per liter. That’s about twice the level of contamination discovered in the group’s earlier study on plastic contamination in tap water across the globe, with the highest rate found in the United States. Studies also have linked a large portion of the microplastic particles found in our oceans, lakes and rivers – as well as in fish stomachs – to the washing of synthetic clothes.

In the case of bottled water, Orb’s new study indicated contamination was partly the result of plastic packaging, and partly the fault of the bottling process. The survey included brands like Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestlé and San Pellegrino. What researchers don’t know is the effect these tiny pieces of plastic have on our long-term health. Much of it could pass harmlessly and be disposed as waste, but it also can become lodged in our digestive or lymphatic systems.

Who’s Watching Our Water?

Defined as a “food” under federal regulations, bottled water is under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – under much stricter standards – regulates tap water.

The EPA mandates that local water-treatment plants provide city residents with a detailed account of tap water’s source and the results of any testing, including contaminant level violations. Bottled water companies are not required to do this reporting. Also, while municipal water systems must test for harmful microbiological content in water several times a day, bottled water companies are required to test for these microbes only once a week.

Additionally, public water systems are required to test for chemical water contaminants four times as often as bottled water companies. Compounding the issue, loopholes in the FDA’s testing policy do not require the same standards for water that is bottled and sold in the same state, meaning that a significant number of bottles (almost 70 percent are processed in the state where they are sold) have undergone almost no regulation or testing.

There are other important factors to consider before you choose your water:  Bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. That plastic requires up to 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce. And while the plastic used to bottle beverages is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, over 80 percent of plastic bottles are simply thrown away. Most of our plastic bottles end up in landfills, where they take years to decompose. Worse, thousands of tons of plastic each year end up in our oceans, polluting, destroying fish, killing birds and compromising delicate ecosystems.

Drink Up

So, what’s the solution?  Certainly, it isn’t to drink less water! The safe, environmentally friendly and economic answer is to buy thermoses or safe, sturdily constructed neoprene or other refillable plastic or stainless-steel water bottles that don’t contain contaminants or decompose quickly.

Ironically, blind taste tests conducted throughout the United States almost always result in consumers preferring tap water to bottled water. Also, for additional protection or to enhance taste, inexpensive carbon-based filters are available in most stores and can be used to easily filter tap water; filters also are sold that attach directly to your kitchen faucets.

When you consider the environmental costs, and the cost to your pocketbook, it’s an easy decision to go natural over bottled. If the health options alone aren’t enough to convince you, bottled water costs 240 to over 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water. Most municipal water costs less than 1 cent per gallon. Think about that the next time you plunk down a few bucks for a bottle of convenient – but potentially dangerous – bottled water.


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!