This One’s for Men, Unfortunately

We don’t need to live our lives afraid of disease and illness, but the better we arm ourselves with accurate and reliable information and take preventative steps, the more we’re likely to live to a ripe old age. That’s why if you’re a man reading this – or a woman who has a man or men in her life it’s important that you pay attention to this cautionary primer on prostate cancer, one of the most common cancers afflicting American men.

Other than skin cancer, which is the most common, more men – as many as one in nine – will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimate that approximately 165,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2018, resulting in close to 30,000 deaths. About six cases in 10 are diagnosed in men aged 65 or older, and it is rare before age 40. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.

Though prostate cancer can be a serious disease, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. About one man in 41 will die of prostate cancer, but more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point are still alive today.

Prostate cancer occurs more often in African-American men and Caribbean men of African ancestry than in men of other races. African-American men are also more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than white men. Prostate cancer occurs less often in Asian-American and Hispanic/Latino men than in non-Hispanic whites. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not clear.

Prostate cancer is malignancy that occurs in the prostate — a small walnut-shaped gland in men that produces the seminal fluid that nourishes and transports sperm. Usually prostate cancer grows slowly and is initially confined to the prostate gland, where it may not cause serious harm. However, while some types of prostate cancer grow slowly and may need minimal or even no treatment, other types are aggressive and can spread quickly.

When detected early — when it’s still confined to the prostate gland men diagnosed with prostate cancer have a better chance of successful treatment.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages. When it’s more advanced, common signs and symptoms include:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine
  • Blood in semen
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Bone pain
  • Erectile dysfunction

There are a variety of factors that can increase the risk of prostate cancer. These include age, race, family history and obesity. If men in your family have had prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher. In fact, having a father or brother with prostate cancer more than doubles a man’s risk of developing this disease. The risk is much higher for men with several affected relatives, particularly if their relatives were young when the cancer was found.

Men who eat a lot of red meat or high-fat dairy products appear to have a slightly higher chance of getting prostate cancer. Often, these men also tend to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

While there is no sure way to prevent prostate cancer, there are some things we can do that might lower our risk for this disease. Typically, they involve controlling body weight, remaining physically active, and maintaining a healthy diet. Studies have found that men who are active and exercise regularly have a slightly lower risk of prostate cancer. Vigorous activity may have a greater effect, especially on the risk of advanced prostate cancer.

Several studies also have suggested that diets high in certain vegetables (including tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, soy, beans, and other legumes) or fish may be linked with a lower risk of prostate cancer, especially more advanced cancers. Examples of cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Avoid high-fat foods and instead focus on choosing a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and nutrients that can contribute to your overall health.

When to See Your Doctor

Men with a higher risk of prostate cancer may consider medications or other treatments to reduce their risk. If you’re concerned about your risk of developing prostate cancer, talk with your doctor. Prostate screening tests include two traditional procedures:

Digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, your doctor inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into your rectum to examine your prostate, which is adjacent to the rectum. If your doctor finds any abnormalities in the texture, shape or size of the gland, you may need further tests.

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. A blood sample is drawn from a vein in your arm and analyzed for PSA, a substance that’s naturally produced by your prostate gland. It’s normal for a small amount of PSA to be in your bloodstream. However, if a higher than normal level is found, it may indicate prostate infection, inflammation, enlargement or cancer.

For men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away. Some men may never need treatment. Instead, doctors sometimes recommend active surveillance such as regular follow-up exams, blood tests and, if necessary, biopsies. If tests show the cancer is progressing, patients may opt for a prostate cancer treatment such as surgery or radiation.

September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Do yourself or the men in your life a favor by reminding them of the importance of obtaining regular prostate cancer screenings for early detection and treatment as required, and for eating healthy and exercising. With those simple steps, men are likely to beat the odds on this common but dangerous disease.


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 Heart of the Matter

As the summer winds down, kids return to school and the pace of life picks up a beat or two, it’s a good time to think about maintaining an active lifestyle, even as the leaves start turning and the cooler weather finds its way back to New England. And though cold mornings and shorter days can change our workout habits, there are other habits that we can think about every day of the year, specifically what we put in our bodies.

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, and a perfect time to eliminate or reduce foods that are high in cholesterol, a major contributor to heart disease and strokes.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States.

Cholesterol plays an important and useful role in our bodies, but not all cholesterol is good for us. So-called “bad cholesterol” increases our risk of heart disease, stroke and developing type-2 diabetes. It can be controlled, to an extent, through diet and exercise, but susceptibility to the development of plaque on our arteries also can be naturally occurring, based on genetics.

The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. Each year, an estimated 785,000 Americans have a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 have a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” it is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, with women accounting for nearly half of heart disease deaths.

Understanding how cholesterol affects us and how to limit intake or mitigate existing damage are important considerations and well within our control.

Getting a Handle on Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found throughout the body. It is critical to the normal function of all cells. The body needs cholesterol for making hormones, digesting dietary fats, building cell walls, and other important processes. Our body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but cholesterol is also in some of the foods we eat.

When there is too much cholesterol in our blood, it can build up on the walls of the arteries. This buildup is called plaque. Over time, it can cause narrowing or hardening of the arteries a condition called atherosclerosis which can cause blockage and keep our heart from getting the blood it needs.

Keeping our cholesterol levels in check is one of the best ways to keep our hearts healthy, and to lower our chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. The American Heart Association recommends all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol, and other traditional risk factors, checked every four to six years. It typically only requires a simple blood test.

Our total cholesterol and HDL or good cholesterol are among numerous factors physicians use to predict our risk for a heart attack or stroke. Other risks include family history, if you are a smoker, diet, the amount we exercise, and if we have high blood pressure.

With HDL or good cholesterol, higher levels are better. Low HDL cholesterol puts us at higher risk for heart disease. People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol. Genetic factors, type 2 diabetes, smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol. A low LDL or bad cholesterol level is considered good for our heart health.

Certain foods, such as red meats and full-fat dairy products, fried foods, potato chips and cookies tend to be high in cholesterol. Foods to limit or avoid include:

  • Butter and hard margarines
  • Lard and animal fats
  • Fatty red meat and sausages
  • Full-fat cheeses, milk, cream and yogurts
  • Coconut and palm oils, and coconut cream

Why Statins Are Helpful

If your cholesterol levels are off-kilter your physician may recommend dietary changes. He or she also may recommend that you take one of the primary medicines millions of Americans use to help their bodies regulate or offset the negative effects of cholesterola widely prescribed class of drugs called statins.

Statin drugs work by blocking the action of the liver enzyme that is responsible for producing cholesterol. Statins lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. At the same time, they lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Triglycerides are another type of fat, and they’re used to store excess energy from our diet. High levels of triglycerides in the blood, which are associated with atherosclerosis, can be caused by being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and a diet very high in carbohydrates (more than 60 percent of total calories).

People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including a high LDL cholesterol (bad) level and a low HDL cholesterol (good) level. Many people with heart disease or diabetes also have high triglyceride levels.

Statins help stabilize plaques in the arteries. Since their arrival on the market, statins have been among the most prescribed drugs in the United States, with about 17 million users. The statin medications that are approved for use in the U.S. include Lipitor, Livalo, Mevacor (or Altocor), Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol and Crestor. There also are generic versions available.

Statins also carry warnings that memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar, and type 2 diabetes are possible side effects. Due to the possibility of side effects that can damage the liver, patients taking statins are required to have periodic blood tests. It’s important to remember that statins may also interact with other medications.

If you experience any unexplained joint or muscle pain, tenderness, or weakness while taking statins, you should call your doctor immediately. Other potential side effects include headaches, difficulty sleeping, muscle aches, tenderness or weakness, or abdominal cramping, bloating or constipation. Also, if you take a statin drug, tell your doctor about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, herbal supplements, and vitamins you are currently taking or plan on taking. Certain foods such as grapefruits limit the effectiveness of statins and should not be consumed while taking this medication.

Keys to a healthy lifestyle include eating a balanced, heart-healthy diet; regular physical activity; limiting alcohol intake; and avoiding smoking. The winter will be here sooner than we may want, but remaining healthy is a year-round activity we can help control, regardless of our genetics or the temperature outdoors.


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 Flu Are Something to Sneeze At

As the days grow shorter, the thermostat finally starts to drop to palatable temperatures, and we wait in morning traffic backed up by stopped school buses, it’s easy to get wistful about how quickly summer flashed by. Autumn, we know, will soon be upon us, and already some of the early trees are beginning to turn. Unfortunately, cold and flu season will be upon us soon, too, so it’s best to prepare ourselves for the annual fall germ parade heading our way.

Between the change of seasons and kids returning to school where they can comfortably and conveniently share germs and swap bacterial and viral infections, it’s important to take some simple, proven steps to try and contain those ugly bugs and prevent, or at least limit, the spread of seasonal maladies such as colds, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As we touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, we accumulate germs on our hands. In turn, we can infect ourselves with these germs by touching our eyes, nose, mouth, food, sporting equipment, hair products and other shared items.

Although it’s impossible to keep our hands germ-free, washing hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines and desks. So wash before and after using a restroom. Wash after visiting the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or use an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.

Everyone sneezes, but we can do a better job of keeping our cooties to ourselves. When we sneeze into our sleeve or in a tissue or hanky, we’re less likely to infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in our system — allows us to spread those germs to many other people before we even realize we’re infectious.

Finally, when sick, stay home – spreading the joy at school and at work is just plain mean and thoughtless.

Fun Flu Facts

Influenza — the flu – is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and can sideline us for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost work or school days, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, the elderly and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Flu vaccines are very safe; they only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.

Note that antibiotics won’t help us fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens our body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and inappropriate prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken our body and allow bacterial invaders to infect us. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so early fall is a good time to get a flu shot, while there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

There’s no guarantee you won’t get sick this winter, but you can improve your odds tremendously. Eat well, exercise, and dress for the weather. Avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, get your flu vaccination, and wash your hands regularly. Take charge of your health, and the flu and colds can bug someone else!

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!

Recognizing Team Healthcare Wins

It’s marathon season – as in running a little over 26 miles in one race for fun, health, personal challenge, charity or any of these motivators combined. However you cut it, completing a race of any length, as well as competitive or non-competitive walks, bicycling, swimming, hiking, fitness activities or sporting events are enormous achievements, worthy of recognition and support. They also are huge morale boosters and team-building opportunities in addition to the obvious health benefits.

While employers cannot legislate their employees’ personal fitness and physical activities, they certainly can encourage, promote, model, sponsor and support these strengths and healthy behaviors. Creating time and space for these activities, rewarding for participation and generally promoting a culture of health and participation is a successful strategy for large and small companies regardless of their business, product or service inclination.

Many organizations establish employee health committees who focus on healthy eating and nutrition, fitness, athletics and stress-reduction activities such as yoga, meditation and walking. From hula hooping to jumping rope, whether for fun or charity, there are dozens of pursuits worthy of note that engage employees during the day and after work to come together in the name of health, fraternity and personal growth. Those values all benefit employers, as well.

Picking up the tab for a competitive sporting activity like bowling, volleyball, softball, hockey or golf, to name but a few, can be a wise investment in your team’s health. Supplementing gym and fitness memberships often is the little push people need to focus on their health. And getting people outdoors during lunch and after hours to walk together or to train for charity or competitive events enhances the work environment and employee attitudes about their jobs and work/life balance.

From a promotional perspective, it’s always good to see the company name emblazoned on tee-shirts and banners, on view for the public, at charity walks, runs and rides. But the catalyst isn’t self-promotion, it is the recognition that teams that play together work better together, as well.

Team activities have a positive impact on productivity, quality, safety, customer service, retention and absenteeism. Personal health and fitness challenges help employees maintain a healthier lifestyle, reduces susceptibility to illness, and carries over into employees’ lives and family relationships outside of work.

Even something as simple as setting, sharing and celebrating goals related to nutrition, weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation and other health-related activities is a win/win for employers and employees. Leaders who get involved make it easier for employees to participate, as well, but at the least, supporting your team through sponsorship, financial contributions and constant encouragement is a winning strategy for completing the marathon we all face each day.


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!

Appreciation Boosts Productivity, Morale, and Health

How important is it to you to know you’re doing a good job, or to hear someone say “thanks” for your work and efforts? While the personal satisfaction and pride we take in knowing we’ve done something well or right can be its own reward, numerous studies have shown that overall personal satisfaction is enhanced when we receive praise, recognition and constructive feedback from employers, customers, parents, teachers and friends. It’s simple, it’s free, it helps increase productivity and quality, boosts job satisfaction, morale, teamwork and retention – and helps improve emotional and physical health.

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 employees are unhappy 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 personal issues. It also contributes to increases in blood pressure, heart disease, poor nutrition, sleeplessness and weight gain.

Americans like being told “thanks” but aren’t that great at thanking others, according to a national survey on gratitude commissioned 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. Some of the findings included these facts:

  • 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 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.”

It’s human nature:  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.

Taking the time to express gratitude to others goes a long way toward improving individual and organizational health. Ultimately, there are so many ways to say “thanks” to our employees. Whether verbally, through written or public commendation, one-on-one recognition or in front of peers, 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. Increased responsibility, promotions and inclusion also are important factors, but it all starts with feeling appreciated and respected.


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!

 

 

Summer’s Almost Over: Have You Had Your Vaccinations?

The start of the 2018/2019 school year is right around the corner, and the return to those hallowed halls means a spike in colds, the flu and a variety of illnesses aggravated by many people in close quarters. Also, with sports activities starting up again, kids need their annual physicals, and it’s a good time to remember to check immunization schedules to ensure that kids and adults are up-to-speed on all suggested or required vaccines.

Can you remember the last time you had a tetanus shot?  In fact, can you recall the last time you had any kind of shot at all? If you can, chances are it was a flu vaccination, since most of the immunizations we require are received during childhood. But there are other immunizations we should be receiving periodically, because some lose their effectiveness over time.

Checking up on your personal immunization record, and making sure your loved ones are properly immunized as well, is a simple and critical step for helping to protect yourself and your family from preventable illness and related serious medical conditions. And if you’re an employer, encouraging your staff to do the same helps protect them, their families and everyone around them.

Even though some diseases, such as polio, rarely affect people in the U.S., all of the recommended childhood immunizations and booster vaccines are still needed. These diseases exist in other countries. Travelers can unknowingly bring these maladies into the U.S. and infect people who have not been immunized. Without the protection from immunizations, diseases could be imported and could quickly spread through the population, causing epidemics.

Additionally, influenza – the flu – mutates and reappears in different strains, requiring different vaccines every year. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization work together to try and identify likely strains and prepare millions of doses of flu vaccines, which typically are administered from late summer to early winter to children and adults. They are safe, readily accessible and effective – and side effects are rare.  When employees get the flu or another preventable illness, they miss work and get other people sick.  That has a negative impact on productivity and service, and the related healthcare costs are significant.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Non-immunized people living in healthy conditions are not protected from disease; only immunizations prepare the immune system to fight the disease organisms. Most of us choose to immunize our children from the day they’re born. In fact, children can’t attend public school, go to camp, compete in many sports or travel outside of the country without a proven medical history of required immunizations. But as adults, we may not have received all the necessary immunizations, some of them may no longer be working effectively, and others, such as the vaccination for tetanus, have to be repeated periodically … in the case of tetanus, once every 10 years.

Today, children and adults receive a “Tdap” booster for Ttetanus, Ddiphtheria, and Ppertussis. If you doubt the importance of this, note that Ppertussis (Whooping Cough) has recently reappeared in Connecticut. Pertussis is caused by bacteria spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The reason for its reemergence, experts believe, is because our bodies may have stopped producing antibodies in response to the vaccinations we received as children, or because some parents are not protecting their children through recommended vaccinations. This disease is particularly dangerous for babies, so protecting yourself also protects others.

Diphtheria, also prevented through the Tdap booster, is a very contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system, including the lungs. And Tetanus, which is caused by bacteria found in soil, enters the body through a wound, such as a deep cut. When people are infected, the bacteria produce a toxin in the body that causes serious, painful spasms and stiffness of all muscles in the body. This can lead to “locking” of the jaw so a person cannot open his or her mouth, swallow, or breathe. Complete recovery from Ttetanus can take months. Three of 10 people who get Ttetanus die from the disease.

If you can’t remember if or when you had your Tdap booster, talk to your doctor. Additionally, if you or your employees plan to travel outside of the United States or Canada, it’s wise to speak with a physician or an infectious disease specialist about immunizations to consider, such as protection against Hepatitis A, before traveling. In many foreign countries, especially third-world nations, diseases can still be contracted through impure water systems, through food that hasn’t been properly protected, and by air-borne particles.

If your personal immunization record doesn’t exist or has been lost, your physician can order a simple blood test that checks for the antibodies currently active in your system. He or she can then offer you the missing vaccinations, bringing you up-to-date as required. Typically, you’ll only have to do this once, unlike the vaccination for preventing influenza, which has to be received annually. Influenza may lead to hospitalization or even death, even among previously healthy children, so it’s smart to speak with your doctor annually about whether or not you should respond proactively rather than take your chances.

It also makes sense to see your personal physician for an annual physical. Most insurance plans cover this visit, but even if you’re healthy and feeling well, it helps ensure medical continuity, strengthens your personal relationship with your doctor, keeps your medical records updated and allows your physician the opportunity to screen you for medical issues that you might not otherwise report or even recognize.

Protecting ourselves and our loved ones is our most important job. Today’s medical advances and access make that far easier, but only if we each take personal responsibility to ensure that our immunizations are up-to-date. Encourage staff to stay on top of their personal immunization histories, consider offering flu-shot clinics at your worksite, and share this information to promote good health and wellness for everyone. For more information, call toll free 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or visit http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.


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!

Stretching Is Critical, the Goats Are Optional

 

Picture this scene: You’re lying on your back on a yoga mat, eyes closed, comfortable, stretching different parts of your body as a voice gently takes you through a guided relaxation exercise. Quiet music invoking gurgling streams and singing songbirds plays in the background and you are extremely calm and serene. Suddenly, you feel pressure as two small hooves press into your belly, and giggling, you open your eyes as the tiny white and brown goat starts nibbling at your socks. Focus is now lost, but who cares? The dwarf goat is adorable and, after all, it’s really why you came to this yoga studio – all concentration lost, you stretch out your hand to pet its head as it bleats and runs off to visit another mat.

So-called “goat yoga” is a hot fad these days in the yoga industry. The marriage of farms and yoga studios is relatively new over the past few years, but has spread rapidly across the country, with at least a dozen locations in Connecticut seeing the value – and attraction – in combining yoga and a petting zoo. But whatever the catalyst for exercise, stretching is a critical component in any physical regimen, so if seeking out comfort from goats or puppies or other cute cuddly creatures gets you moving in a healthy way, there’s no down side – other than cleaning up when the critters do their business!

Why We Need to Stretch

Proper stretching is highly recommended for protecting our joints and muscles. It’s normal to take our joints for granted, but consider how important they are: The joint is the connection between two bones. Joints and their surrounding structures allow us to bend our elbows and knees, wiggle our hips, bend our back, turn our head, and wave wiggle our fingers.

Smooth tissue called cartilage and synovium and a lubricant called synovial fluid cushion the joints so bones do not rub together. But increasing age, injury, or carrying too much weight can wear and tear cartilage. This can lead to a reaction that can damage joints and lead to arthritis, injuries, discomfort and pain.

Stretching can help improve flexibility and our range of motion. Better flexibility improves our performance in physical activities, decreases risk of injuries, helps joints move through their full range of motion, and enable muscles to work most effectively. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle.

It’s a good idea to see stretching as an important ritual before you start exercising, playing ball, running, dancing or whatever form of exercise or sport you enjoy. But stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good. The best way to care for your joints is to keep them and your muscles, ligaments, and bones strong and stable.

You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Even better, stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm.

Consider skipping stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may actually decrease performance. Research has also shown that stretching immediately before an event weakens hamstring strength.

Instead of static stretching, try performing a “dynamic warmup.” A dynamic warm-up involves performing movements similar to those in your sport or physical activity at a low level, then gradually increasing the speed and intensity as you warm up.

Here are some related tips for good joint health and proper stretching:

  • Strive for symmetry. Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury). Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury.
  • Focus on major muscle groups. Concentrate your stretches on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Make sure that you stretch both sides.
  • Don’t bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can injure your muscle and actually contribute to muscle tightness.
  • Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for about 30 seconds; in problem areas, you may need to hold for around 60 seconds.
  • Don’t aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
  • Make stretches sport specific. Evidence suggests that it’s helpful to do stretches involving the muscles used most in your sport or activity. If you play soccer, for instance, stretch your hamstrings as you’re more vulnerable to hamstring strains.
  • Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the most benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again if you stop stretching.
  • Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movements, such as those in tai chi or yoga, can help you be more flexible in specific movements. These types of exercises can also help reduce falls in seniors.

Seek out professional counsel from a trainer or physical therapist for guidance on how best to stretch as part of your exercise routine. And remember to start off slowly and at a low intensity to get muscles used to the motion before gradually speeding up. No matter the sport or activity, preparing your joints and muscles for the activity to come is a wise move. And if yoga is your thing – and interacting with dwarf goats make you happy – go for it!


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!

When It Isn’t Just A Game Anymore

 

Parachuting into a large farm compound, the avatar dropped down onto a wood pile and started bashing his way through a wall with a large pickaxe. The axe changed into an automatic rifle as the avatar charged through the barn and out into a corral. Spotting another figure at the entrance to a barn, the two exchanged fire, and dodging behind a wall, the player controlling the avatar called for assistance as another group of avatars came around the corner and headed to cut off the other player.  Running blindly toward the barn, he watched as a second group of avatars suddenly appeared to confront them, and “deceased” appeared on the screen. The player – a 15-year-old boy — shrugged, spoke to his friends on his headset, and with his character again activated, returned to the action.

Around the world, 2.6 billion people play video games, including two-thirds of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. But “gaming” isn’t necessarily as benign as many people – and the gaming industry – would claim. Yes, it may heighten eye/hand coordination and teach intuitive online skills, but it also is distracting, can lead to or exacerbate moodiness, anxiety and depression, and is now being classified as addictive behavior, similar to gambling, compulsive spending or eating and other behavioral problems.

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying players can actually become addicted. The reason for the “addictive” label is because some players allow gaming to consume their days, often at cost to schoolwork, jobs, recreation and relationships. They may become withdrawn and antisocial, turn to their gaming world for social contact, and elect to avoid doing many other activities that might once have been their normal routine. As such, WHO has added “gaming disorder” to their International Classification of Diseases, the highly respected listing of medical conditions.

Video game addiction is described as an impulse control disorder which does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling.  Video game addiction has also been referred to as video game overuse, and pathological or compulsive/excessive use of computer games or video games.  Statistics show that men and boys are more likely to become addicted to video games versus women and girls.  Recent research has found that nearly one in 10 youth gamers (ages 8 to 18) can be classified as pathological gamers or addicted to video-gaming.

Those suffering from video game addiction may use the Internet to access massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and multi-user domain games (MUDs).  MMORPGs are networks of people, all interacting with one another to play a game to achieve goals, accomplish missions, and reach high scores in a fantasy world.  MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, fighting, and killing in a social chat channel with limited graphics.  Some of the most popular on-line games include EverQuest, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Vanguard, Fortnight, Overwatch, Call of Duty, and City of Heroes.  Most MMORPGs charge monthly subscription fees, but some are free.

Mental health professionals are concerned about the harmful aspects of technology, overall, and are urging parents and consumers to look for ways to scale back usage of social media and online entertainment. Gaming addiction side effects, they stress, are not dissimilar to what they see in cocaine addiction. And therapists say they increasingly see players who have lost control to a wide variety of online and purchased games, from Minecraft to Candy Crush Saga.

Recognizing and Responding to Gaming Addiction

Unfortunately, the video game industry is expanding so quickly that medical research has struggled to keep up. An older study published in 2009 found that nearly nine percent of young players were addicted to their games. Many experts believe that the number has increased as games have become more advanced, more social and more mobile.

Some mental health professionals believe that gaming disorder is not a stand-alone medical condition. Rather, they see it as a symptom or a side effect of more familiar conditions, such as depression or anxiety. Common symptoms they point to from game use include jeopardized or risked loss of significant relationships, job, educational or career opportunities; lying to family members, friends or professionals to conceal the extent of their involvement with games; and use of games to escape from problems or to relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt or hopelessness.

Additional warning signs for children and teens include:

  • Fatigue, and tendency to fall asleep during school
  • Not completing homework or assignments on time
  • Declining grades, or failing classes
  • Dropping out of school activities, clubs, sports, etc.
  • Isolating from family and friends to play video games

Many people attempting to quit or reduce gaming use experience withdrawal symptoms including anger, depression, relief, fantasies about the game, mood swings, anxiety, fear, irritability, sadness, loneliness, boredom, restlessness, procrastination, and upset stomach.  Being addicted to video-gaming can also cause physical discomfort or medical problems such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, dry eyes, backaches, severe headaches, eating irregularities such as skipping meals, failure to attend to personal hygiene, and sleep disturbance.

Verbal communication is an important tool in addressing gaming addiction, with the goal of getting the affected individual to recognize his or her compulsive behavior and take steps to reduce it. If you’re a parent, monitoring your child’s development is important. You can help your growing child learn how to overcome problems in real life rather than giving up and relying on fantasies in games. To accomplish this, you can implement a reasonable schedule for times when playing games is allowed. Alternatively, you can replace gaming with another pastime. You can also teach your teens to consider playing games as a reward whenever they successfully resolve personal problems in real life.

Patience is always an important virtue when you’re helping someone recover from video game addiction. Find ways to counteract any negative reactions that the addict may exhibit. For instance, if the urge to go back to gaming is very strong, create distractions through sports and other strenuous activities. With the right responses to withdrawal symptoms, the addicted player may reduce or let go of gaming and get back to healthy living. Additionally, many professionals have been trained to help teens and adults recover from addiction.

If you or someone you know is behaving like a gaming addict, learn to limit game time to a specific duration per day so that the remaining hours of the day can still be used for other activities. You can choose between therapies, and certain medications can also help to inhibit compulsive behaviors. If the addiction is the result of another underlying problem, therapy can also address this other issue and teach the addict how to cope with conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety.

Since research efforts devoted to video game addiction are relatively small compared to those for other addictions, very few support groups are available to provide communal assistance. One of the more notable groups is the Online Gamers Anonymous, a nonprofit organization that offers a 12-step program for recovery from video game addiction.


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!