Act now to protect your brain and your heart

When you strive to keep your heart healthy you help keep your brain healthy, too. Following a heart-healthy lifestyle may lower your blood pressure, which reduces your chances of having heart disease or a stroke, and it can also make a big difference in your mental abilities as you age.

May is National Blood Pressure Awareness Month and also National Mental Health Month.

High blood pressure often has no visible symptoms, which is why it’s dubbed “the silent killer.” It can be controlled with lifestyle changes that focus on diet and exercise, and special prescription medications. Many of the same unhealthy lifestyle behaviors (including poor diet and lack of physical exercise) that contribute to high blood pressure also have been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. It is thought that narrow blood vessels caused by high cholesterol reduce blood flow to the brain which can cause memory loss and general mental deterioration.

Stress also is a contributor to mental high blood pressure. When we’re frustrated, depressed, or under tremendous pressure at work or at home, we tend to eat poorly, not exercise and otherwise tax our bodies. Links have been established between stress and our body’s production of excess cholesterol. Stress also interferes with our normal sleep, which causes fatigue and makes us irritable and more susceptible to illness. When unchecked, stress interferes with our general quality of life, and can affect our relationships, productivity, customer service, safety and quality.

Tips for controlling blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle:

  • Exercise regularly. This includes getting outdoors or to the gym, setting reasonable goals for physical activity, and walking every day, if possible.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Limit intake of red meat and fried foods, sugar and fat, and adapt to a healthier diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and fish.
  • Limit your sodium intake by cutting down on processed foods, soda, and other products with a high salt content.
  • Try to reduce or quit smoking, and limit or eliminate the use of other tobacco products.
  • If you drink alcohol or coffee/caffeine products, practice moderation.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly. If it’s high, or if you have a family history of hypertension or heart disease, your physician may recommend medications created to help lower or control blood pressure and related conditions.
  • Be aware of situations and behaviors that cause you stress, and try to address or limit them.

Managing your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are all critical elements you can influence. Our bodies and minds are complicated mechanisms, and all systems are intertwined. Be aware of your blood pressure through regular checkups, know the warning signs, and make conscious decisions to take better care of yourself.

It’s also important to discuss any cognitive problems you’re having with your healthcare provider. We all have a little trouble when we age, like forgetting where we put our keys, but if your memory problems seem greater than usual, you may need to be evaluated by a neurologist, or someone who specializes in cognitive issues.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Love what you eat, even if you can’t eat what you love

We all love to eat and meals are typically pleasurable experiences. But for many of us meals can also cause discomfort. Our digestive system is an intensely elaborate and complicated system and when it works perfectly, we don’t give it a second thought. But when it doesn’t, life is far less pleasant.

Unless you have a chronic condition, food allergy, or gastro-intestinal (GI) problem, there are a variety of steps we can take to help improve the odds that our digestive systems won’t be talking back to us on a regular basis. Reasonable portions and balanced diets high in fruits, vegetables, and natural fibers will keep things flowing along more smoothly. Drinking plenty of water will keep us hydrated and help our bodies process solids. Too much greasy, spicy, or fried foods are harder to digest, and may cause discomfort, bloating or gas. Also, certain foods, like corn and nuts, are harder for some people to process, and others lack the enzymes to break down dairy products, or can’t stomach the glutens found in wheat.

Many people also suffer from a series of GI-related ailments that fall into the general category called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramping, changes in bowel movements, and other symptoms. IBS is not the same as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Unlike those diseases, the structure of the bowel for is normal for those with IBS.

IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins in the teen years or early adulthood. It is twice as common in women as in men. About one in six Americans have symptoms of IBS. It is the most common intestinal problem that causes patients to be referred to a bowel specialist (gastroenterologist).

IBS symptoms

IBS symptoms range from mild to severe, and are different from person to person. The main symptoms of IBS are abdominal pain, fullness, gas and bloating that have been present for at least three days a month for the last three months.

People with IBS may switch between constipation and diarrhea, or mostly have one or the other. For some people, the symptoms may get worse for a few weeks or a month, and then decrease for a while. For other people, symptoms are present most of the time. People with IBS may lose their appetite, as well.

Eating a lactose-free diet for two weeks may help the doctor check for a possible lactase deficiency, which represents your body’s inability to break down dairy products.

There is no test to diagnose IBS. Blood and stool culture tests may be done to rule out problems such as anemia and gluten intolerance. Some patients will be given a colonoscopy to rule out other serious problems such as colon cancer, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. You may need this test if you have:

  • Symptoms that began later in life (over age 50)
  • Symptoms such as weight loss or bloody stools
  • Abnormal blood tests (such as a low blood count)
  • A family history of GI problems or colon cancer

Treatment can relieve symptoms

Lifestyle changes can help in some cases of IBS. For example, regular exercise and improved sleep habits may reduce anxiety and help relieve bowel symptoms. Dietary changes can be helpful, too. However, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS, because the condition differs for each person. The following changes may help:

  • Avoid foods and drinks that stimulate the intestines (such as caffeine, tea, or colas)
  • Avoid large meals
  • Increase fiber in the diet (this may improve constipation but make bloating worse)

Irritable bowel syndrome may be a lifelong condition. For some people, symptoms are disabling and reduce the ability to work, travel, and attend social events. Symptoms can often be improved or relieved through treatment, but you should talk with your doctor before taking over-the-counter medications. Fortunately, IBS does not cause permanent harm to the intestines, and it does not lead to a serious disease.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

It’s always the right time to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle

Everybody knows someone who has heart disease, whether they or the person with the disease realize it or not. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. February is American Heart Month, and it’s still early in the new year, so there’s plenty of time in 2012 to adjust your lifestyle and make smarter choices that will prolong both the longevity and quality of your life.

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

There are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and secondhand smoke. While some of these problems are hereditary, there’s much we can do to improve our odds of remaining heart healthy and for controlling problems like high blood pressure that we may have inherited.

Overall, a healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons we have to fight heart disease. It is the overall pattern of the choices we make that count.  Eating smart, exercise, sleeping well, and stress and weight reduction all play important roles.

When it comes to eating in a healthful way, read nutrition labels and base eating patterns on these recommendations:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat
  • Select fat-free, 1% fat, and low-fat dairy products
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars
  • Select and purchase foods lower in salt/sodium.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.

So, take a proactive role in protecting your heart through healthy pursuits in everything you eat and do. You’re well worth the investment!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Awareness of Diabetes Triggers Now Can Prevent Problems Later

Diabetes continues to pose a growing national health concern, with 3.6 million Americans currently afflicted, 79 million having pre-diabetes, and 1.6 million more individuals diagnosed each year.

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, creating an enormous, and costly, strain on the U.S. healthcare system.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, this is a good time to take stock of your 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 you 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.

While watching your nutritional intake and snacking is important, walking and moderate exercise every day or every other day also plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate; Knowledge and Action Saves Lives

While the threat and dangers of breast cancer are now well known, thousands of American women (and hundreds of men) are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Early detection and treatment are key to treating and containing this disease. In addition to knowing your family history, getting regular exams and avoiding known cancer-causing foods and activities, there are a variety of natural preventive measures you can take to decrease your chances, including proper diet and exercise, not smoking tobacco products, and drinking in moderation.

When detected early before it can spread to other parts of the body, breast cancer can be treated through radiation, drug therapy and surgery, and many cancer survivors live long, healthy lives.

If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes in breast tissue, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Fortunately, eight out of 10 breast lumps are benign, or not cancerous. But women sometimes stay away from medical care because they fear what they might find. Take charge of your health by performing routine breast self-exams, establishing ongoing communication with your doctor, and scheduling regular mammograms.

However, men need to tune in, as well. Each year it is estimated that approximately 1,700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die. While this percentage is still small, men should also give themselves regular breast self-exams and note any changes. Men should speak with their doctor if they find suspicious lumps, abnormal skin growths, experience tenderness or experience other changes in their breasts.

For women, a mammogram remains one of the best tools available for the early detection of breast cancer. While women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. If you have a mother, daughter, sister or grandmother who had breast cancer, you should have a mammogram five years before the age of their diagnosis, or starting at age 35.

Don’t let tales of other people’s experiences keep you from having a mammogram or from visiting your physician. Base your decision on your doctor’s recommendation and be sure to discuss any questions or concerns with a medical professional. Breast cancer remains insidious and scary, but you can play an important role in preventing or limiting its spread in you, your children and friends and family by tuning in and knowing the facts.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Colorectal Cancer Screening Saves Many Lives

Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2010 are:

  • 102, 900 new cases of colon cancer (49,470 in men and 53,430 in women)
  • 39,670 new cases of rectal cancer (22,620 in men and 17,050 in women)

Overall, the lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 19 (5.2%). This risk is slightly higher in men than in women. A number of other factors may also affect a person’s risk for developing colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in men and women when both sexes are combined. It was expected to cause more than 50,000 deaths in 2010.

The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for more than 20 years. There are a number of likely reasons for this. One is that polyps, or growths, are being found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers. Screening also allows more colorectal cancers to be found earlier, when the disease is easier to cure. In addition, treatment for colorectal cancer has improved over the last several years. As a result, there are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.

Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer. Screening is the process of looking for cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease. From the time the first abnormal cells start to grow into polyps, it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for them to develop into colorectal cancer. Regular screening can, in many cases, prevent colorectal cancer altogether. Several tests are used to screen for colorectal cancer in people with an average risk of colorectal cancer. Ask your doctor which tests are available where you live and which options might be right for you.

People who have no identified risk factors (other than age) should begin regular screening at age 50. Those who have a family history or other risk factors for colorectal polyps or cancer should talk with their doctor about starting screening at a younger age and/or getting screened more frequently.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Keeping Your Heart Healthy

February is National Heart Disease Awareness Month, and a perfect time to take stock of your heart health. Two important elements in maintaining a healthy lifestyle include being aware of the dangers of high cholesterol, and understanding high blood pressure. Both can be inherited risks, but aggravated – or controlled effectively – through diet, exercise and medications.

Prevention and treatment of high cholesterol

Too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to cardiovascular disease.  Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. The good news is, you can lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Take responsibility for managing your cholesterol levels. Whether you’ve been prescribed medication or advised to make diet and lifestyle changes to help manage your cholesterol, carefully follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Lifestyle changes

Your diet, weight, physical activity, and exposure to tobacco smoke all affect your cholesterol level — and these factors may be controlled by:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Enjoying regular physical activity
  • Avoiding tobacco smoke

Know your fats

Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol and which ones don’t is the first step in lowering your risk of heart disease.

Cooking for lower cholesterol

It’s not hard to whip up recipes that fit with the low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan recommended by scientists to help you manage your blood cholesterol level and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Understand drug therapy options

For some people, lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to reach healthy cholesterol levels. Your doctor may prescribe medication. Learn about:

  • Types of cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Tips for taking medications

Work with your doctor

It takes a team to develop and maintain a successful health program. You and your healthcare professionals each play an important role in maintaining and improving your heart health. Know how to talk with your doctor about your cholesterol levels and be sure you understand all instructions. Follow your plan carefully, especially when it comes to medication — it won’t work if you don’t take it as directed. And learn how to make diet and lifestyle changes easy and lasting.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!