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!

Who Has Time for Vacation?

Are you one of those people who swears you’ll never become one of those people when it comes to “working vacations,” checking your laptop while you’re away with the family, or avoiding vacations entirely? If so, you’d be a member in a surprisingly large club; but you would also be part of an even larger club of people who suffer from cardiac disease, high blood pressure, strokes, sleep disorders and a variety of other dangerous illnesses that often are aggravated by stress, fatigue and the willingness to ignore our bodies’ needs.

It’s easy to understand why many people resist taking personal time off from work. Maybe you own a small business with limited staff or help you can trust running things in your absence. Or things are really popping and you just can’t afford the time or cost of a vacation. No work no pay – or the fear of losing a job if you take time off – sidelines many. And so-called “workaholics” who thrive on being busy and are strongly emotionally linked to their work also resist time away, sometimes for fear things will fall apart, someone will take advantage of the perceived gap, or simply because they believe they are irreplaceable, even for a week or two.

Beyond the obvious ego issues, the simple truth is that we all need time to relax, alter our pace, and get away from the day-to-day hassles and pressures of work . . . even if we like our jobs. Think about the need to shut down a laptop or smart phone so it can refresh programs and download applications. Taking time off works that way for our brains and bodies, too – it doesn’t really matter what we do or where we go, it’s simply important and healthy to take the break.

In other countries around the world, especially the UK and across Europe, employees take up to six weeks of “holiday” to relax, travel, read, work in their gardens or homes, visit with family or pursue whatever pleases them. They look on Americans with dismay and shake their heads at our work philosophy and customs. It’s not that they don’t enjoy or value their work or need the paycheck as much as we do – it’s just that taking time off is normal, accepted and a welcome practice.

Vacations for many of us are a paid benefit. As employers, we need to model correct and healthy behaviors and encourage employees to enjoy their time off at their leisure, and as they choose – but to use the time. In a Harris Poll conducted last year among 2,224 working adults over 18, two thirds (66 percent) report working when they do take a vacation. The study also found that the average U.S. employee had taken just a hair over half (54 percent) of their eligible paid vacation time over the past 12 months.

We can make vacationing easier for employees and for the business by asking well in advance about vacation plans, adjusting schedules and workloads accordingly, determining who is covering for employees when they are out and making it easy for people to be away without them feeling guilty or threatened. That means doing more than setting “out of the office” email messages, especially since 29 percent of respondents said they were contacted by a co-worker while they were on vacation, and 25 percent said they were contacted by their boss!

If you are self-employed or lack a vacation benefit, putting aside money throughout the year will help finance some play time, but even staying at home, catching up on sleep or reading, making day trips, hiking, biking, hitting the beach or just visiting with friends and family will help ease some of your daily pressure and anxiety and refresh you for the return to work.

The consequences of not taking time off – including people being fatigued, irritable and less resistant to common and chronic illnesses – affects productivity, quality, safety, retention and customer service. These costs can have a perceptible impact on your bottom line, or if you work for yourself, affect your performance and results. And when you get too run down, you are more likely to get sick, or develop a serious illness.

Encourage days away from the office, and practice what you preach. However difficult it may feel, taking a block of personal time benefits you, your family, your business and everyone around you. It’s smart, relaxing and healthy.


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!

Preventing Dehydration and Heat Stroke

No matter how many times people hear messages about remaining properly hydrated in the hot weather, it’s easy to forget that heat, sun and even minor outdoor activity can make dangerous companions.

Proper fluid levels are important for ensuring a good flow of oxygen and red blood cells to our muscles and organs. During exercise and activity, we lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

Under normal conditions, we all lose body water daily through sweat, tears, breathing and going to the bathroom. This water is normally replaced by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water. When a person becomes sick and experiences fever, diarrhea or vomiting, dehydration occurs. It also happens if someone is overexposed to the sun and heat and not drinking enough water. Additionally, it can be caused by certain medicines, such as diuretics, which deplete body fluids and electrolytes.

Even without hot weather, our bodies create a large amount of internal heat. We normally cool ourselves by sweating and radiating heat through the skin. However, in certain circumstances, such as extreme heat, high humidity, or vigorous activity in the hot sun, this cooling system may begin to fail. This allows heat to build up to dangerous levels; it is exacerbated when we don’t replace those fluids, and compounded by the loss of essential body salts. If a person becomes dehydrated and cannot sweat enough to cool his or her body, his or her internal temperature may rise to dangerously high levels. This causes heat stroke, which can be life threatening.

The following are the most common symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke:

  • Thirst
  • Less-frequent urination
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth and mucous membranes
  • Increased heart rate and breathing

In children, additional symptoms may include dry mouth and tongue, no tears when crying, listlessness, irritability and hallucinations.

In cases of mild dehydration, simple rehydration is recommended by drinking fluids. Many sports drinks effectively restore body fluids, electrolytes, and salt balance. For moderate dehydration, intravenous (IV) fluids may be needed. If caught early enough, simple rehydration may be effective. Cases of serious dehydration should be treated as a medical emergency, and hospitalization, along with intravenous fluids, is necessary.

How Much Should You Drink?

The rule of thumb should be to drink plenty of liquids before, during and after each activity.

A good guideline to use when preparing for an outdoor workout is to drink about two cups of fluid two hours before the activity. That helps make sure we are well-hydrated before we even go outdoors. Then, during the activity, we should drink four to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes to keep our muscles well-hydrated. If planning an hour-long walk or gym workout, take a water bottle with about 16 ounces (two cups). Then, after exercise, drink again.

Fluids are vital to help our muscles function throughout our activity, but so is our blood sugar. Eat a light meal or snack of at least 100 calories about an hour or so before an activity. The nutrients from the snack will help keep hunger from interfering. The best snacks combine healthy carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat. Fruit, yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are all good examples.

For most outdoor activities, regular tap or bottled water does the trick. If activity lasts an hour or more, either fruit juice diluted with water or a sports drink will provide carbohydrates for energy, plus minerals to replace electrolytes lost from sweating.

Sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, and All Sport can provide a needed energy boost during activity. They are designed to rapidly replace fluids and to increase the sugar (glucose) circulating in our blood. However, read the label to determine which sports drinks are most effective. Ideally, it will provide around 14 grams of carbohydrates, 28 mg of potassium, and 100 mg of sodium per eight-ounce serving. The drink’s carbohydrates should come from glucose, sucrose, and/or fructose, rather than from processed sugar or corn syrup. These are more easily and quickly absorbed. It shouldn’t be carbonated, as the bubbles can lead to an upset stomach.

“Fitness waters” are lightly flavored and have added vitamins and minerals. The additional nutrients are meant to supplement a healthy diet — not replace losses from exercise.

Fitness waters fall somewhere between the sports drinks and plain water in terms of being effective hydrators. They contain fewer calories and electrolytes but offer more taste than plain water. Whatever helps keep you hydrated is worth considering — as long as you keep drinking!


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!

Don’t Invite Food Poisoning to Your Summer Fun

As we dive into the barbeque, picnic and camping season, we get to enjoy cooking and eating al fresco – outdoors, under the stars, in parks, at the beach, on decks and in backyards. Americans love grilling, picnics and the seasonal foods that accompany outdoor dining. And if we’re careful with food preparation, handling, storage, heating and cooling, it can be wonderful. But outdoor cooking and eating poses potential hazards from contaminants, bacteria and other nasties resulting from improper storage, handling or heating. Nobody wants a fun summer picnic to end at the emergency room or by paying homage to the porcelain altar, but there are basic rules that will prevent an unhappy ending.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick every year from a foodborne illness; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases — most of them are infections caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Some harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness, but poor handling, washing, storage and improper cooking techniques typically are the culprits.

The most common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

After you consume a contaminated food or drink, it may take hours or days before you develop symptoms. Most people have only mild illnesses, lasting a few hours or days. However, some people need to be hospitalized, and certain food-related illnesses can result in long-term health problems or even death. Infections transmitted by food can lead to chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage, and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which causes kidney failure.

How to Eat Healthy in the Summer

To start, all fresh or packaged fresh vegetables and fruit must be washed before consuming. For expediency, it’s smart to rinse fruits and vegetables before placing them in your picnic basket, since not all outdoor destinations offer clean, fresh water. Keep cold food in a cooler with ice or freezer packs at a temperature of 40 degrees or colder.

Keeping foods at the proper temperature is an important way to prevent the growth of foodborne bacteria. The danger zone for foods is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees, which are ideal temperatures for bacteria to multiply and increase your chances of foodborne illness. That’s why perishable cold foods — like potato salad, deviled eggs, and dips and dishes made with dairy or mayonnaise — should be kept in a cooler at 40 degrees or below. Hot foods should be kept hot, preferably at 140 degrees or above. To be safe, throw away any perishable items that have been left out for more than two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is higher than 90 degrees).

Also, when organizing a cooler, make sure meat, poultry and seafood are well wrapped to avoid cross contamination with prepared foods and fruits and vegetables. It’s also a good idea to keep a second cooler for storing beverages so the cooler can be opened and closed more frequently without exposing perishable foods to warmer temperatures.

Practice Safe Grilling

Marinate foods ahead of time in the refrigerator, not on a kitchen counter or outside. Also, don’t reuse platters or serving utensils that have handled raw meat, poultry or seafood. And always check to make sure you’ve cooked food thoroughly — a food thermometer is a handy and advisable tool.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when meat, including beef, pork, fish, and poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. The formation of HCAs and PAHs is influenced by the type of meat, the cooking time, the cooking temperature, and the cooking method.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats.

Exposure to high levels of HCAs and PAHs can cause cancer in animals. Currently, no Federal guidelines address consumption levels of HCAs and PAHs formed in meat. HCA and PAH formation can be reduced by avoiding direct exposure of meat to an open flame or a hot metal surface, reducing the cooking time, and using a microwave oven or standard oven to partially cook meat before exposing it to high temperatures. HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.

Here are some tips for reducing exposure to potentially damaging chemicals produced through cooking over an open flame:

  • Use a microwave or standard oven to pre-cook meat prior to exposure to high temperatures. This can substantially reduce HCA formation by reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.
  • Continuously turn meat over on a high heat source to reduce HCA formation, compared with just leaving the meat on the heat source without flipping it often
  • Remove charred portions of meat, such as the skin from chicken, and refrain from using gravy made from meat drippings, which also contain HCA and PAH.
  • Consider steaming fish and vegetables in foil, rather than grilling over an open flame.

This isn’t to rain on our summer picnics — summer eating isn’t harmful if we are aware of the potential for contamination and practice careful and safe preparation, storage and thorough heating.


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

A Sore Throat with Attitude

Strep throat is a common and highly contagious infection of the throat and tonsils. Bacteria called group A streptococcus, which live in the nose and throat, cause it. Like other infections, it spreads through close contact. You can catch the infection from someone who is sick with strep A bacteria or is a carrier of it. Strep is most common in children and teens, but adults can get it, too. You can still get strep even if you’ve had your tonsils removed, though it’s less common.

When people who are sick cough or sneeze, they release droplets into the air that hold the bacteria. You can infect yourself if you touch something a person with strep has coughed or sneezed upon and then brush your eyes, mouth, or nose with your hand. You can also get sick if you share a glass, toothbrush or other personal item with someone who has strep.

A painful, persistent sore throat is the main sign of strep. Though colds and other viruses also cause a sore throat, a virus will often product a runny nose, too. With strep, the sore throat comes on quickly. Your throat feels raw, and it hurts to swallow.

Strep is also more likely to cause these other symptoms:

  • A fever of 101 F. or higher
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • White patches in the throat
  • Tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Appetite loss
  • Stomachache
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Rash

Identifying Strep

There are two types of medical tests for diagnosing strep. The first is a rapid test, where the medical provider takes a swab of the patient’s throat and then uses a testing kit which only take 10 to 20 minutes to indicate if the patient is positive for strep. The other testing method is to gather a traditional throat culture and send it to a medical lab to see if streptococci bacteria will grow in it. This takes a few days. In either case, if the test comes back positive, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic which, if taken faithfully over the course of up to 10 days, will effectively treat strep.

Strep complications are rare today, thanks to better diagnosis and treatment. Yet untreated strep can cause serious diseases, such as sinus or tonsil infections, Rheumatic fever, which can damage the heart, brain, and joints, and a kidney disease called glomerulonephritis. It can also spread infection to the middle ear, develop into meningitis (an infection to the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or turn into pneumonia. Additionally, strep throat presents symptoms, initially, that mimic infectious mononucleosis (“mono”), except mono is viral. S o while most sore throats are related to colds, a sore throat that doesn’t go away quickly or produces strep symptoms should never be ignored.

Ultimately, there isn’t much you can do to avoid catching strep. But there are steps we can take to strengthen our immune systems and help protect ourselves from illnesses. That includes washing hands regularly, avoiding people who are sick, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet. Also, if you do contract strep throat, do yourself and others a huge favor and stay home from school, work or shopping for at least 24 hours after starting an antibiotic and until you are fever-free for an additional 24 hours.


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!

Why Our Brains Say “Yes” When the Facts Say “No”

If you’re an employer trying to motivate your workers, how do you get past their biases to get everyone on the same page, or at least rowing in the same direction? Psychologists suggest that, rather than taking on people’s surface attitudes and beliefs directly, tailor messages so that they align with their motivation.

Using vaccinations as an example, everyone agrees that deadly diseases exist, that they are bad, and that people are getting sick and dying from them. By exploring what happens when people resist vaccinating themselves or their children – the very real possibility that those adults or children will either get sick themselves or be a carrier who gets another child or person sick – and by examining statistics from reliable sources, we can “agree to disagree,” but still make a decision based on logic and the well-being of those around us.

That same thinking can be applied to getting employees to work together toward a common cause or goal. Influential people – leaders, both natural or by ranking in the workplace – can sway opinion. People want to be accepted, recognized, and considered a valuable part of a team. By looking for the things we have in common, listening to differing opinions, recognizing how people make decisions and then finding solutions and compromises, we become more effective leaders.

It isn’t entirely our fault that we err to the side of comfort. Based on scientific research, our brains protect us, validating information that supports our biases, often to the point of denigrating the information with which we disagree, accepting compatible information that makes us feel better – or which supports our beliefs – almost at face value. Scientists link this to our innate “fight or flight” response, with the twist being we may choose to fight by latching on to what we want to believe, in essence, “taking flight” from the truth to protect our opinions.

Psychologists have identified key factors that can cause people to reject science – and it has nothing to do with how educated or intelligent they are. In fact, researchers found that people who reject scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, vaccine safety, and evolution are generally just as interested in science and as well-educated as the rest of us. It’s just that they think more like lawyers than scientists, meaning they “cherry pick” the facts and studies that back up what they already believe is true.

As hard as this is to believe, or to understand, the rationale for this behavior often comes down to a simple, though troubling truth: No matter how irrefutable the evidence is, many people reject anything which contradicts their deeply entrenched false belief.

How they arrive at their false belief often has to do with how they are raised, religious doctrine, political leaning and their willingness to accept and believe information from powerful or confident people. Oftentimes, people would rather think they are right, even if they’re wrong. It becomes a tug of war between ego, self-esteem, long-held beliefs and the desire to stick with something that meshes with your own way of seeing the world, even if facts refute or contradict your opinion.

Over 90 percent of our decisions are made at an unconscious level. Brain imaging has shown that when the brain inputs data, the emotional centers light up first (what does this mean to me?), followed by the logic centers (what do I do with it?). This means that ‘facts’ are what people use to validate decisions already made at an unconscious level.

For example, if someone believes that vaccinations aren’t safe, they will ignore the hundreds of medical studies that support vaccination safety and glom onto the one study they can find that casts doubt. These phenomena are known as cognitive bias – people treat facts as more relevant when those facts tend to support their opinions. They may not totally deny facts that contradict their beliefs, but they will say that those facts are “less relevant.”

Our brains tend to easily accept information compatible with what we already know, and minimize information that contradicts what we already know, or believe we know. The information goes into our brain, but the importance our mind allots to these facts and information is being weighted unconsciously in favor of those bits of data that already fit our preconceptions. Our brains unconsciously diminish their importance, regardless of the truth or facts, and since they are perceived as “less important,” these facts or truths quickly fade from memory.

 


 

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!

Make Mine Shaken, Not Stirred

It’s encouraging to see that milk shakes are making a big comeback across America, especially since overall cow milk consumption – a critical component in maintaining strong bones and a healthy diet – is down, dropping 25 percent from 1975 to 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In part that’s due to milk allergies and lactose intolerance, but also to the proliferation of non-dairy drinks and the wide variety of “milk” products now available.

But just because it says “milk” on the label doesn’t make it milk – and the many substitutes attracting consumers are not necessarily as healthy as the real deal. So, what do we need to know about milk? Is it safe, is it healthy, and what types of milk products are best for us?

The primary types of milk sold in stores include whole milk, reduced-fat milk (2%), low-fat milk (1%), and fat-free milk (containing no more than 0.2% milk fat). The percentages included in the names of the milk indicate how much fat is in the milk by weight. Whole milk is 3.5% milk fat and is the closest to the way it comes from the cow before processing. All of these milks contain the nine essential nutrients found in whole milk but less fat.

The United States government sets minimum standards for fluid milk that is produced and sold. Reduced fat milks have the same nutrients of full-fat milk; no water is added to these types of milk. Additionally, most milk undergoes processing before we buy it. The three primary steps include pasteurization, homogenization and fortification.

Pasteurization heats the milk to destroy harmful microorganisms and prolong shelf life. Normal pasteurization keeps milk safer while maintaining its valuable nutrients. Ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk is pasteurized at a much higher temperature to make it sterile. UHT milk is then packed into special containers that keep it safe without requiring refrigeration.

After pasteurization, milk undergoes homogenization to prevent separation of the milk fat from the fluid milk. Homogenization creates a smooth, uniform texture. Then milk is fortified to increase its nutritional value or to replace nutrients lost during processing. Vitamin D is added to most milk produced in the United States to facilitate the absorption of calcium. Vitamin A is frequently added to reduced-fat, low-fat and fat-free milks. Vitamin A promotes normal vision, particularly helping the eyes to adjust to low-light settings.

All milk must comply with very stringent safety standards and is among the most highly regulated and safest foods available. Organic milk is produced by dairy farmers that use only organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, and their cows are not given supplemental hormones. Dairy farmers and producers also make many specialty forms of milk to meet consumer preferences and needs, such as milk that is lactose-free and ultra-pasteurized.

Consuming Dairy Milk Alternatives

While milk consumption per capita has been on a steady decrease, the mainstreaming of plant-based dairy alternatives like soy, almond and rice milk has averaged annual U.S. sales growth of 10.9 percent since 1999, resulting in more than $1 billion in annual retail sales.

The non-dairy milk product category was created to accommodate people who are lactose intolerant or have vegan dietary restrictions – not because they are nutritionally equivalent or better. Alternatives like soy milk and almond milk generally are much lower in calcium and vitamin D, but many of these products make up for it by adding the nutrients later.

Conventional milk is an excellent source of protein and bone-strengthening calcium, as well as vitamins D and K. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that people aged 19 to 50 should digest 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, or drink around one to two glasses per day, but it’s still unclear how much calcium we should be consuming. Researchers also warn that too much milk could mean an excess of saturated fat and retinol (vitamin A), which can sometimes end up weakening bones.

Soy milk is a protein-rich alternative to cow’s milk but lacks in calcium. Soy often is used for babies who have trouble digesting whole milk. It is richer in vitamin B and has 10 percent of our recommended daily intake of folic acid, a B-complex vitamin. Soy has proven effective in lowering cholesterol, but to obtain that benefit requires that you consume about four to five soy products daily. Also, because processing of soy results in a bitter flavor, soy milk products have added sweeteners and flavor enhancers, and these extra carbs can be harder to digest, making people gassy.

Almond milk sales have climbed over the past few years; it has been touted as a healthier alternative to milk and soy milk, and does not contain lactose. Its benefits include fewer calories than soy (90 calories in 8 ounces), no saturated fat or cholesterol, about 25 percent of our daily vitamin D, and almost half of our vitamin E requirement. Though almond milk has also been recognized for preventing heart disease, it lacks the same nutritional value as conventional milk, containing very little protein.

Rice milk is processed, milled rice, blended with water until it transforms into a liquid. During the process, carbohydrates become sugar, giving it a natural sweetened taste. The sugary alternative is very low in nutrient value unless vitamins and calcium are added to it. It’s the least likely to trigger allergies, but contains almost no protein.

Goat milk is popular around the world, though not as common in the United States. People perceive that it’s healthier than cow’s milk, and easier to digest, but that isn’t the case. It has more saturated fat than cow’s milk, similar levels of cholesterol and is higher in calories and total fat. And goat’s milk, like cow’s milk, contains lactose.

Hemp milk is less well known among American consumers, but worth considering. A glass of hemp milk contains the same number of calories as soy milk, one-third to one-half of the protein, but 50 percent more fat (five to six grams per serving). However, most of the fats in hemp milk are omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, key for nervous system function and healthy skin and hair. Certain omega-3 and omega-6 fats also appear to reduce inflammation and lower blood lipid levels.

Whichever milk you choose, some type of milk is important for good nutrition. If you cannot digest cow’s milk, alternatives are useful, but you may need to take calcium or other vitamin supplements for nutritional balance. Check with your physician or a nutrition specialist to see what’s best for you, and bottoms up!


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 Pests of Summer

Say what you will about winter hiking–it’s cold, clothes are bulky, and you risk falling on slippery ground–but there are no pesky bugs!  As soon as the buds open, mosquitos, gnats, wasps, ticks, and other annoying insects also emerge, buzzing in our faces, biting our exposed skin, and becoming a general nuisance during outdoor activities. The more aggressive species will bug us to relentlessly, and their bites or stings can cause allergic reactions, discomfort, itchy side effects or illness.

Protecting yourself from bites, stings, and the hazards of bug-borne illnesses like Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus is crucial during the late spring and summer months. You can improve your odds of not getting bitten by wearing protective clothing, headgear and socks, using insect repellants and citronella products, minimizing use of cologne and perfume when planning outdoor activities, avoiding swampy areas, and moving the party indoors during the worst of bug time. You also can spray clothes with repellent containing permethrin and use a repellant like DEET on your skin.

Of great concern is the possibility of contracting Lyme disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, which are common to Connecticut. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (such as a rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.

Certain types of mosquitos carry diseases such as West Nile Virus (WNV), which has been present in Connecticut since 1999 in mosquitoes, horses, wild birds and people. Most people who are infected with WNV have no symptoms or may experience mild illness such as a fever and headache before fully recovering. In some individuals, particularly persons over 50 years of age, West Nile virus can cause serious illness, including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Symptoms range from a slight fever, headache, rash, swollen lymph nodes and nausea to the rapid onset of a severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, disorientation, muscle weakness, and coma. West Nile virus infection can lead to death in three percent to 15 percent of persons with severe forms of the illness.

Health professionals also are keeping a vigilant watch for the Zika virus, which is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, which bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika, and while local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported primarily in tropical climates like Florida, Connecticut experienced a few dozen cases in 2016 and again in 2017.

Protecting Against Tick and Mosquito Bites

Ticks are most active in warmer months (April through September). In summer, when out hiking, biking, camping, and spending time in and around grass and woods, there are several steps we can take to limit bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects:

  • Avoid direct contact with ticks and mosquitoes as possible. If you can, avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking, picnicking or walking, try to remain in the center of trails.
  • Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
  • If you’re using other repellents, go to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for safety information.

Ticks embedded in our skin can be gross but are painless. The best bet is to keep them at bay. But if they do find you, here are tips for dealing with them easily and effectively:

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • Consult your doctor or a nurse (or internet sources) to determine the best method for removing the tick; it’s important to remove the entire tick, or it can leave parts embedded in your skin.

Should you or a family member develop a bulls-eye-type red rash near the bite site, or exhibit other side effects such as a fever, lethargy or extreme exhaustion, consult your doctor. You may need to be tested for Lyme disease.

If you know you have an allergy to one or more biting insects, you should always carry an epi-pen or other backup medication in case you’re stung or bitten, and seek immediate medical attention. For the rest of us, most bites or stings leave a mark and cause some swelling and irritation. Ice or a cool compress applied directly to the site can bring relief, as can topical salves, ointments or sprays sold over the counter. If the area around the bite continues to expand or becomes blistery and weepy, you should get checked for a possible infection.

If you’re not aware of allergies but react dramatically, experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing or extensive swelling, it’s important to get to a hospital, urgent care center or physician immediately, or to call for emergency medical assistance as quickly as possible.

To add to the summer fun, there are biting spiders in Connecticut. Most spiders in New England are relatively harmless if you’re not allergic to their bite. One of the common venomous spiders in this region is the Brown Recluse. You can identify this spider by the violin-shaped marking on its back. The bite produces a mild stinging, followed by local redness and intense pain within eight hours. A fluid-filled blister forms at the site and then leaves a deep, enlarging ulcer. Reactions from a Brown Recluse spider bite vary from a mild fever and rash to nausea and listlessness. On rare occasions death results, more often in children.

If bitten by a spider, try and identify the type of spider that bit you. Clean the site of the spider bite well with soap and water. Apply a cool compress over the spider bite location. If the bite is on an extremity, elevate it. Aspirin or acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) and antihistamines may be used to relieve minor signs and symptoms in adults. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

We shouldn’t be nervous or afraid of going outdoors – dress and protect yourself appropriately and have fun . . . the snow will be falling again before we know 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!

 

Recognizing and Preventing Staph Infections

Infections are insidious little buggers. Microscopic germs or bacteria – many already present in our bodies and long dormant – are triggered by immune system weaknesses, poor nutritional health, existing chronic diseases and many other factors, and then run rampant through our bodies. Fortunately, if identified and treated in time with the proper antibiotics, we can limit the damage and return to full health. But infectious diseases are major killers and shouldn’t be ignored or treated lightly.

Here’s a sobering reality:  Of more than 500 known infectious diseases, we lack cures for about 200 of them. One often misunderstood but extremely common type of infection is caused by staphylococcus bacteria, types of germs commonly found on the skin or in the nose of even healthy individuals. Most of the time, these bacteria cause no problems or result in relatively minor skin infections.

But staph infections can turn deadly if the bacteria invade deeper into our bodies, entering the bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. A growing number of otherwise healthy people are developing life-threatening staph infections at alarming rates. Treatment usually involves antibiotics and drainage of the infected area. However, some staph infections no longer respond to common antibiotics.

Symptoms 

Staph infections can range from minor skin problems to endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium). As a result, signs and symptoms of staph infections vary widely, depending on the location and severity of the infection.

Many people carry staph bacteria and never develop staph infections. However, if you develop a staph infection, there’s a good chance that it’s from bacteria you’ve been carrying around for some time.

These bacteria can also be transmitted from person to person. Because staph bacteria are so hardy, they can live on inanimate objects such as pillowcases or towels long enough to transfer to the next person who touches them. They also can survive drying, extremes of temperature, stomach acid and high levels of salt.

Many kinds of skin infections are caused by staph bacteria as well. They include boils, impetigo, cellulitis, and staphychoccal scaled skin syndrome. Additionally, staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Symptoms come on quickly, usually within hours of eating a contaminated food. Symptoms usually disappear quickly, too, often lasting just half a day.

A staph infection in food usually doesn’t cause a fever. Signs and symptoms you can expect with this type of staph infection include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure

Risk Factors 

A variety of factors — including the status of your immune system and even the types of sports we play — can increase our risk of developing staph infections. So can underlying health conditions. Certain disorders or the medications used to treat them can make us more susceptible to staph infections. People who may be more likely to get a staph infection include those with:

  • Diabetes who use insulin
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Kidney failure requiring dialysis
  • Weakened immune systems — either from a disease or medications that suppress the immune system
  • Cancer, especially those who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
  • Skin damage from conditions such as eczema, insect bites or minor trauma that opens the skin
  • Respiratory illness, such as cystic fibrosis or emphysema

Of great concern, staph bacteria remain highly present in hospitals, where they attack the most vulnerable, despite vigorous attempts to eradicate them. They are particularly invasive to people with weakened immune systems, burns and surgical wounds. If staph bacteria invade your bloodstream, you may develop a type of infection that affects your entire body. Called sepsis, this infection can lead to septic shock — a life-threatening episode with extremely low blood pressure.

These commonsense precautions can help lower our risk of developing staph infections:

  • Wash hands.Careful hand-washing is our best defense against germs. Wash hands briskly for at least 20 seconds, then dry them with a disposable towel and use another towel to turn off the faucet. If your hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Keep wounds covered.Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. The pus from infected sores often contains staph bacteria, and keeping wounds covered will help keep the bacteria from spreading.
  • Reduce tampon risks.Toxic shock syndrome is caused by staph bacteria. Since tampons left in for long periods can be a breeding ground for staph bacteria, you can reduce your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome by changing your tampon frequently, at least every four to eight hours. Use the lowest absorbency tampon you can and try to alternate tampons with sanitary napkins whenever possible.
  • Keep personal items personal.Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing and athletic equipment. Staph infections can spread on objects, as well as from person to person.
  • Wash clothing and bedding in hot water.Staph bacteria can survive on clothing and bedding that isn’t properly washed. To get bacteria off clothing and sheets, wash them in hot water whenever possible. Also, use bleach on any bleach-safe materials. Drying in the dryer is better than air-drying, but staph bacteria may survive the clothes dryer.
  • Take food safety precautions.Wash your hands before handling food. If food will be out for a while, make sure that hot foods stay hot — above 140 F (60 C) — and that cold foods stay at 40 F (4.4 C) or below. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.

Staph bacteria are very adaptable, and many varieties have become resistant to one or more antibiotics. For example, only about 10 percent of today’s staph infections can be cured with penicillin.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of staph bacteria — often described as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains — has led to the use of IV antibiotics, such as vancomycin, with the potential for more side effects. Your doctor may perform tests to identify the staph bacteria behind your infection, and to help choose the antibiotic that will work best. Antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat staph infections include certain cephalosporins, nafcillin or related antibiotics, sulfa drugs, or vancomycin.

Staph infections spread quickly, and can be contagious, so it’s critical that potential infections get diagnosed by a medical professional immediately. Waiting a day or two can be the difference between life and death, literally.


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!