Emotional Wellness During the Holidays

The holidays are great, aren’t they? They’re also exciting and fun, right?  Sure, they’re stressful, expensive and busy, too . . . and can be nostalgic and a little sad, especially when we think of those who aren’t alive anymore, or who live far away, or have fallen out of our lives. Maybe we’re feeling a little isolated, or alone, and all this happiness around us is just making us more miserable. And wow, somehow another year has passed, and we’re kind of in the same rut – and now we have to put on our best mask to face family and old friends. Honestly, January can’t come fast enough.

Perhaps the best adjective for this season is “complicated.” For many people it’s a time of joy and happiness, but for others, sadness, depression and sorrow.  Add to this potent mix the stress of running around, shopping, cooking, parties, cold weather and time and fiscal constraints, and we have the makings of a poignant spicy holiday chili and the accompanying emotional heartburn.

It’s important to find ways to calm ourselves in the moment, to find perspective and to reduce stress and anxiety. Some people find release through exercise or physical activity, others through music, cooking, reading or scores of other favored activities. But we can’t always just drop whatever we’re doing to prepare a meal, take a hike in the mountains, or practice yoga stretches. Sometimes, we need to simply catch our emotional breath.

Meditation and the pursuit of “mindfulness” are valuable approaches to gaining control of attention span, focus and concentration, and for reducing stress. Meditation takes guidance, practice and, for some, years to truly understand and incorporate. It’s a cognitive “cleansing” that allows us to relax, rest our brains, regain contact with our bodies, and establish context for things going on around us. Millions of people around the world incorporate daily meditation in their lives, and find it extremely valuable and healthy.

Mindfulness essentially means moment-to-moment awareness. Although it originated in the Buddhist tradition, you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice or find value in its benefits. In fact, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is being taught in colleges, yoga studios, meditation centers and workplaces across America.

The benefits can be dramatic — in addition to supporting overall health and well-being, mindfulness has been linked to improved cognitive functioning and lower stress levels. That’s even more important when we are being constantly bombarded by email, texts, Facebook, and Twitter.

When we are mindful we become keenly aware of ourselves and our surroundings by simply observing these things as they are. We are aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but do not react to them in negative or distracted ways. There’s no “autopilot” when we’re focused. By not labeling or judging the events and circumstances taking place around us, we are freed from our normal tendency to react to them, and shift from a subjective to an objective mindset.

Mindfulness experts teach us to not resist our mind’s natural urge to wander, but to train it to return to the present, and to center ourselves in the moment. Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness, and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. It also reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves memory and lessens depression and anxiety. There are many classes offered locally, as well as books and online instruction. Additionally, here are simple tips that we can incorporate every day, even at work:

  • Spend at least three to five minutes a few times each day doing nothing but breathing and relaxing in the moment, whether at work or at home.
  • Manage distractions like noisy co-workers by tuning into them, instead of letting them drive us crazy. . . by noticing the sounds and their effects on our bodies, we rob the distraction of its power over us.
  • Pay attention to walking by slowing our pace and feeling the ground against our feet.
  • Anchor our day with a contemplative morning practice, such as breathing, Zen, yoga, meditation or even a walk.
  • Before entering the workplace, we should remind ourselves of our organization’s purpose and our personal and professional goals, and mentally recommit in that moment to our vocation and to being a leader.
  • Throughout the day, pause to make sure we’re fully present before undertaking the next critical task, call or meeting.
  • Practice “strategic acceptance,” which is not seeing every setback in catastrophic terms. When we feel our stress levels rising, we shouldn’t try to force ourselves to cheer up or calm down — rather, simply accept how we feel. That doesn’t mean to ignore the problem, but instead, to observe and accept reality in that moment before making a plan to tackle the problem.
  • Find time to unplug from electronic gadgets, phones, computers and video games — studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology can make us more distracted, impatient and forgetful.
  • Get in touch with our senses by noticing the temperature of our skin and background sounds around us.
  • Review the day’s events at the close of the day to prevent work stresses from spilling into our home lives
  • Before going to bed, engage in some relaxing or spiritual reading.

There are so many simple, inexpensive things we can do to regain emotional control, and to help reduce or prevent stress in our lives – at the holidays, or any time of year. Learning to appreciate and be grateful for what we have is a wonderful gift, and seeing the New Year as a fresh start can be liberating. But we often need perspective and useful coping mechanisms to get us to this cheerier and healthier horizon, and to help us avoid the “holiday blues.”

 


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!

Take the Lead on Workplace Wellness

It’s that time of year again – the apex of when distracted and cheerful meet pressured and busy. People are running around and more stressed than usual, especially as the days until the holidays count down. It’s also a challenging time in many workplaces, as year-end deadlines, workloads and customer expectations peak.

The good news is that the season will be done before we know it. But keeping employees healthy and well is a year-round venture. Thinking creatively and strategically, you can use the season to remind staff about healthy practices and to reinforce behaviors for the holidays, and for the new year.

Sharing educational materials about healthy eating is a good start. Eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fats and salt and rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains — as well as healthy sources of proteins, vitamins and calcium — are critical ingredients for a healthier future. Eating smart helps us maintain a healthy weight and reduces our risk of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Remind employees that the best way to avoid overeating is to maintain a routine eating schedule during the holidays, pile our plates with vegetables and fruits, eat mindfully, take the time to enjoy our food, and consume a healthy breakfast every day. Additionally, employees can be encouraged to share meals at work, and explore smart nutrition and dietary practices informally, or through sessions at or after work with nutritionists and dietitians.

Variety is also important — sampling a small amount of everything that has different textures and colors on the table can help alleviate cravings. And eating in moderation is always key.  For more information, a good guide is the USDA nutrition website called “My Plate.” It can be found at www.choosemyplate.gov.

Plan exercise and good health practices

Physical activity is one of the most important steps we can take towards a healthier future. If employees are not currently exercising, encourage them to start slowly and build up – employers can think about introducing incentives and friendly competitions, and offering time and space for these team-building activities. Fitness experts are happy to come into workplaces to meet employees and to help them design team or personalized fitness routines.

Set simple goals such as at least 30 minutes three to five days a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or an hour per week of high-intensity aerobic exercise. The trick is to stay active – staff can take the stairs instead of elevators, and engage in a power walk instead of a power lunch. By setting goals and measuring achievement weekly, it makes exercising more fun and helps improve morale and teamwork. And by offering rewards to all who participate, you both condone and thank employees for their efforts to remain healthier and more productive.

Here are few other tips for improving health and wellness at the holidays, and throughout the year:

  • Stop smoking. Use the end of the year as an opportunity to remind employees of the value in reducing or eliminating smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco products at work and away from work. Point them to programs that are available online, in groups, and through local organizations. Many employers choose to bring smoking-cessation programs into the workplace, as well.
  • Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. Alcohol adds calories, interferes with restful sleep and leaves you dehydrated. And while one glass a day of red wine might help prevent heart disease, alcohol abuse accounts for 79,000 preventable deaths every year, and is associated with an increased risk of liver disease and some forms of cancer, as well as tens of thousands of motor vehicle accidents annually.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, and avoid snacks and foods high in salt, fats and sugar.
  • Get plenty of rest. Between traveling, shopping, and attending holiday events, it can be difficult to get enough sleep during the holiday season. But getting a good night’s rest will leave people refreshed and can also help to reduce stress. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Even if traveling or away from home during the holidays, try to maintain a regular bedtime routine. Also, avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and exercising right before bedtime.
  • Set realistic team and personal goals. This is a great time to plan healthy activities for the upcoming year. Consider creating a health and wellness planning team or committee, link activities to monthly health-awareness topics, and work with your Wellness Champion to incorporate ideas available through CBIA, insurance providers, and other health and wellness resources.

Employers play an important role in their employees’ health and wellness. By taking the lead, communicating your interest, and encouraging participation, 2017 will be a healthier year for everyone!


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!

Listen up, sugar

Are you still dipping into the Halloween booty once or twice a day?  Eating dessert with dinner every day or regularly drinking soda?  You don’t have to feel guilty, or alone – almost everyone likes sweets of some kind – but you should know about the long-term implications and dangers of sugar and sweeteners.

Beyond weight control, the most obvious consequence is the diabetes epidemic sweeping our nation. Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type-2 diabetes, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older. And it’s not only the dangers to your health and the health of your loved ones to consider — The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs.

In a recent appearance on The Late Show, actor Hugh Laurie quipped that Americans don’t have to worry about ISIS- or Al Queda-linked terrorists killing us with bombs and guns. If our enemies were smart, Laurie observed, they’d simply open new chains of donut shops across the United States.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world.  Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

Researchers say the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, and with the holiday season right around the corner, this is a good time to take stock of our diet and exercise routines. Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent.

To help achieve these goals, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.
  • Read labels, and be aware of your sugar intake – for example, one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.
  • As possible, avoid or limit products with high-fructose corn syrup, a commonly added sweetener found in most processed foods.
  • Look for healthy substitutes, such as mustard in place of ketchup, and avoid condiments like barbecue sauce, sweet relish and other flavor enhancers high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar.
  • Exercise or walk as often as possible – walking or moderate exercise plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life

Other tips include bringing your own “healthier” desserts, entrees or side dishes to parties, eating low-fat, low-sugar yogurt for afternoon snack time, and drinking as much water as possible – at least 64 ounces a day. We don’t have to deprive ourselves, but when we practice moderation and pay attention to what we put in our bodies, our chances of avoiding sugar-related health issues will improve significantly – that, in itself, is quite a treat!

 


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!

Stop blowing smoke – and vapor

Whether you’re an accomplished sports enthusiast or a weekend watcher, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement, drama and incredible teamwork on display in the MLB baseball Championship Series and the World Series.  And beyond the heartbreak, frustration, athleticism and celebration, there were no shortages of close-up shots of players and coaches spitting sunflower seeds, popping Bazooka gum bubbles, stuffing their cheeks with chewing tobacco, or placing pinches of smokeless tobacco in their mouths.

Paid television advertising for cigarettes might be controlled, but professional baseball is like a non-stop commercial for smokeless tobacco products . . . and kids notice and emulate their heroes. Researchers have discovered that about 3.5 percent of people aged 12 and older in the United States use smokeless tobacco — that’s about 9 million people. Use of smokeless tobacco was higher in younger age groups, with more than 5.5 percent of people aged 18 to 25 saying they were current users. About one million people age 12 and older started using smokeless tobacco in the year before the survey. About 46 percent of the new users were younger than 18 when they first used it.

The damages from smokeless tobacco products include throat, tongue, sinus, jaw, esophageal and mouth cancers, lesions, damage to teeth and gums, heart disease and stroke.

Additionally, startling numbers of young people start smoking cigarettes in their early teens and continue into adulthood. And the results are alarming – even with all we know about the perils and health risks associated with tobacco use, more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the United States, and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes.

More than half of cigarette smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. Many of them turn to nicotine chewing gums or smoking-cessation drugs prescribed by their doctors. And over the past several years, the trend has been to vapes, or e-cigarettes, essentially nicotine-delivery systems that use a heated vapor that is inhaled by the consumer. These vapes have become hugely popular – they produce less second-hand smoke, are more discreet, and don’t contain the same high level of carcinogenic particulates found in regular tobacco. But they are still habit-forming, and their long-term use is suspect in terms of dangerous side effects.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and a good time to revisit the role tobacco products play in damaging health by contributing directly to lung cancer, other cancers and respiratory illnesses – diseases that also cost billions of dollars a year in lost-work-time and healthcare costs.

  • Tobacco contributes to 5 million deaths worldwide every year. For centuries, cigarettes have remained basically the same:  Tobacco rolled in paper. What makes them so deadly are the estimated 4,000 chemicals they give off when lit. Some of those chemicals, like arsenic, formaldehyde and lead can cause cancer and a long list of other deadly diseases.
  • Chewing tobacco comes as long strands of loose leaves, plugs, or twists of tobacco. Pieces, commonly called plugswads, or chew, are chewed or placed between the cheek and gum or teeth. The nicotine in the piece of chewing tobacco is absorbed through the mouth tissues. The user spits out the brown saliva that has soaked through the tobacco.
  • Snuff is used by placing a pinchdiplipper, or quid between the lower lip or cheek and gum. The nicotine in the snuff is absorbed through the tissues of the mouth. Moist snuff is also available in small, teabag-like pouches or sachets that can be placed between the cheek and gum. These are designed to be both “smoke-free” and “spit-free” and are marketed as a discreet way to use tobacco. Dry snuff is sold in a powdered form and is used by sniffing or inhaling the powder up the nose.
  • An e-cigarette is a battery-powered tube about the size and shape of a cigarette. A heating device warms a liquid inside the cartridge, creating a vapor you breathe in. Puffing on an e-cigarette is called “vaping” instead of “smoking.” E-cigarettes also make chemicals, but in much smaller numbers and amounts than tobacco cigarettes.
  • When you quit smoking or using products containing nicotine, risk of having a heart attack drops sharply after just one year, as does the risk of strokes and conditions such as ulcers, artery and respiratory disease, and cancers of the larynx, lung and cervix.

What you should know about e-cigarettes, or “vapes”

All e-cigarettes work basically the same way. Inside, there’s a battery, a heating element, and a cartridge that holds nicotine and other liquids and flavorings. Features and costs vary. Some are disposable. Others have a rechargeable battery and refillable cartridges.

The nicotine inside the cartridges is addictive. When you stop using it, you can get withdrawal symptoms including feeling irritable, depressed, restless and anxious. It can be dangerous for people with heart problems. It may also harm your arteries over time and contribute to respiratory ailments, heart disease and cancers. Additionally, the wide variety of non-nicotine flavors and additives found in e-cigarettes are now being tested, and researchers are finding dubious results, including danger to unborn children and reproductive systems, cancer risks, and the buildup of arterial plaque that can lead to heart disease and strokes.

Quitting is hard, but you can increase your chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society can tell you about the steps you may take to quit smoking, and provide resources and support that can increase your chances of quitting successfully. And if you have or know children, you’ll want to learn more about the dangers of alternative nicotine products, and how to help raise awareness and promote prevention.  To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.


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!

Tips for healthy skin

It’s getting cold out there. And faster than the plunging numbers on our bank’s digital thermometer, we can probably count the emerging hangnails, itchy dry patches, flaking scalp, rashes and a worsening of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis wrought by the cold, dry air.

During flu and cold season, we’re also washing our hands more often than ever, which saps the natural oils in our skin, leaving hands, feet and other body parts dehydrated until they crack, peel and bleed. The skin barrier is a mix of proteins, lipids and oils. It protects our skin, and how good a job it does is largely genetic, but also a measure of environmental conditions. If we have a weak barrier, we’re more prone to symptoms of sensitive skin such as itching, inflammation and eczema. Our hands are also more likely to become very dry in winter if they’re constantly exposed to cold air, water, extreme heat or other environmental factors.

November is National Healthy Skin Month. Dry skin occurs when skin doesn’t retain sufficient moisture — for example, because of frequent bathing, use of harsh soaps, aging, or certain medical conditions. Wintertime poses a special problem because humidity is low both outdoors and indoors, and the water content of the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) tends to reflect the level of humidity around it. Fortunately, there are many simple and inexpensive things we can do to relieve winter dry skin, also known as winter itch.

For example, scented, deodorant and anti-bacterial soaps can be harsh, stripping skin of essential oils. That’s why many skin care experts suggest using non-scented, mild cleansers or soap-free products like Aveeno, Cetaphil, Dove, Dreft, or Neutrogena.

A diet rich in healthy fats can be another crucial element in our fight against dry, itchy skin. That’s because essential fatty acids like omega-3s help make up our skin’s natural, moisture-retaining oil barrier. Too few of these healthy fats can not only encourage irritated, dry skin, but leave us more prone to acne, too.

We can achieve an essential fatty acid boost with omega-3-rich foods like flax, walnuts, and safflower oil, as well as cold-water fish such as tuna, herring, halibut, salmon, sardines, and mackerel.

Another common culprit is dry indoor air, which can really irritate our skin.  Using a humidifier to pump up the moisture, or even surrounding ourselves with indoor plants helps keep the indoor air moist. Dermatologists suggest aiming for an indoor moisture level between 40 percent and 50 percent. Investing in an inexpensive hygrometer (humidity monitor) can help us keep track of our house’s humidity.

Skin moisturizers, which rehydrate the epidermis and seal in the moisture, are the first step in combating dry skin. In general, the thicker and greasier a moisturizer, the more effective it will be. Some of the most effective (and least expensive) are petroleum jelly and moisturizing oils (such as mineral oil), which prevent water loss without clogging pores. Because they contain no water, they’re best used while the skin is still damp from bathing, to seal in the moisture. Other moisturizers contain water as well as oil, in varying proportions. These are less greasy and may be more cosmetically appealing than petroleum jelly or oils.

Dry skin becomes much more common with age — at least 75 percent of people over age 64 have dry skin. Often it’s the cumulative effect of sun exposure; sun damage results in thinner skin that doesn’t retain moisture. The production of natural oils in the skin also slows with age; in women, this may be partly a result of the postmenopausal drop in hormones that stimulate oil and sweat glands. The most vulnerable areas are those that have fewer sebaceous (or oil) glands, such as the arms, legs, hands, and middle of the upper back.

Here are useful tips for combating dry skin:

  • Use a humidifierin the cold-weather months. Set it to around 60 percent, a level that should be sufficient to replenish the top layer of the epidermis.
  • Limit yourself to one 5- to 10-minute bath or shower daily. Use lukewarm water rather than hot water, which can wash away natural oils.
  • Minimize the use of soaps— replace them with super-fatted, fragrance-free soaps, whether bar or liquid, for cleansing, and moisturizing preparations such as Dove, Olay, and Basis. Also consider soap-free cleansers like Cetaphil, Oilatum-AD, and Aquanil.
  • To reduce the risk of trauma to the skin, avoid bath sponges, scrub brushes, and washcloths.
  • Apply moisturizerimmediately after bathing or after washing hands. This helps plug the spaces between our skin cells and seal in moisture while our skin is still damp.
  • Try not to scratch! Most of the time, a moisturizer can control the itch. Also use a cold pack or compress to relieve itchy spots.
  • Use sunscreenin the winter as well as in the summer to protect against dangerous ultra-violet rays and aging.
  • When shaving,use a shaving cream or gel and leave it on the skin for several minutes before starting.
  • Wear gloves and hatswhen you venture outdoors, and latex or rubber gloves when you wash dishes and clothes.
  • Stay hydrated– no matter the season, you need to drink plenty of water, and be careful about caffeine and alcohol products, which dry you out.

We can’t do much about the colder weather that doesn’t include moving south or west, but we can control what we put on our bodies and how we treat our skin!


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!

Changing more than the clocks

It’s already November – we’ve turned back the clocks and are readying ourselves for shorter days and inevitable cold weather. November also heralds the start of the holiday season. With Thanksgiving planning on our minds and December parties storming up right behind, it’s a perfect time to contemplate healthy eating, moderation and our waistlines.

Raising nutritional awareness and changing habits are two goals Tyler Losure, the wellness champion for Connecticut Society of CPAs had in mind when he took on the health and wellness assignment this past summer. Career and Academics Development Coordinator for the Society – which has more than 6,000 members and a staff of 15 — Losure had long been involved in athletics and fitness, and concerned about his own health. He saw his wellness champion role as an opportunity to share his commitment to healthy eating and fitness with his work associates, and to have fun and build teamwork at the same time.

“We have a small family atmosphere in our office, including a few new mothers, and many of us are concerned with our health and improving how and what we eat,” Losure said. “At first we tackled the proverbial ‘low-hanging fruit,’ like switching from coffee and juice drinks to water and tea, and replacing afternoon cookies with granola bars and yogurt. That escalated into talking about healthier lunch choices, and we started comparing what we were bringing in from home and discussing choices and recipes.

“I’m also a big juicing fan,” Losure added, “so as people got interested I brought in different juicing options and recipes for tastings. Now we’re talking about getting a juicer for the office to replace afternoon coffee. Improvement starts small – even when one person does something simple and shares it, we inspire others to be more conscious of how we each are fueling and treating our bodies.”

Losure and most of the Society staff have completed their CBIA Healthy Connections online health assessments. In fact, thanks to high participation, the Company was entered into CBIA’s quarterly raffle and won a $500 Amazon gift card which they’ve added to their account for health-related activities. CBIA’s health and wellness education resources, Losure added, are appreciated and shared among staff. The organization offers gym membership discounts, and a group of employees walk together outdoors at lunch three or four times a week.

Additionally, a Connecticut Society of CPAs member who is a yoga instructor ran an onsite yoga class for other members and Society staff, and people in the office are talking openly about health and wellness, nutrition and related life choices. Management support, Losure added, and inviting everyone to participate on their own terms are important factors for ensuring successful participation and change.

“As a small company we’re comfortable enough with one another to talk about the personal decisions we’re making regarding our eating habits, and even about what may be causing stress and anxiety in the office and in our lives,” Losure explained. “We’re setting personal and group goals, and realize that healthy choices at work lead to improved lifestyles outside of work, as well. As a former rugby player and now a power-lifter, I have always been the ‘go-to’ health guru for my friends and work associates, so incorporating what I have learned and enjoy doing has been fun and inspirational. Thanks to the CBIA wellness program, I am really able to promote and encourage those around me to take better control of their lives and their health.”


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!

Falling Into a Healthy Rhythm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Charge, and Keep Moving

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Bones Have It

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

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

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

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

Don’t Overdraw Your Calcium Bank

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

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

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

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

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

A number of additional factors can affect bone health.

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

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


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

Orange You Glad You Ate That Pumpkin?!

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

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

The fall palette whets our appetites with bright oranges, reds and purples. Especially prominent in the cooler months, colorful alternatives like pumpkins, beets, cranberries and squash are readily available, tasty and nutritional masterpieces. Fruits and vegetables with color contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals that have different disease-fighting elements. These compounds may be helpful in reducing the risk of many conditions, including cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends at least four to five servings per day of fruits and vegetables based on a 2,000-calorie diet as part of a healthy lifestyle that can lower your risk for many diseases.

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

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

Eating with the Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Achieve Improved Productivity Through Wellness Programs

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

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

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

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

Help your employees to help themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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