If you’re going to sweat it, wet it!

Paying careful attention to proper hydration, especially in the warmer months, is critical to our health. When it’s warm, our bodies perspire more to help cool us down, draining fluids important to the flow of oxygen and red blood cells to our muscles and organs. During exercise and activity, we also lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

Thirst alone shouldn’t be our barometer for measuring fluid loss. The rule of thumb is if you’re thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated. 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.

Water or sports drinks?

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.

Most sports beverages are well-diluted and contain relatively few calories. If the flavor of a sports drink helps you maintain hydration, diluting it with water or pouring it into a thermos packed with ice will cut down even more on excess calories. “Fitness waters” such as Propel are lightly flavored and have added vitamins and minerals. The additional nutrients are meant to supplement a healthy diet — not replace losses from exercise.

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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!

Finding a Gym That Fits You

It’s March, a perfect time for re-tuning our 2014 personal wellness plan. Hopefully we’ve done a better job of sticking to a modified diet following holiday excesses, and recognize signs of personal dietary weakness as the cold winter days continue. But as the days get longer, and the promise of milder weather hangs in the air, continuing our commitment to physical fitness and exercise at a gym, fitness center, in our homes or even at our workplaces should be an important part of our wellness plan.

If you don’t already belong to a gym or fitness center, don’t despair – they can be intimidating and expensive, working out isn’t fun for everyone, and finding time to get there is seemingly impossible with our busy schedules and obligations. Oftentimes, it’s simply a matter of feeling like we don’t “fit” properly in a gym that is a barrier to working out. Gyms and fitness centers vary significantly when it comes to demographics such as age, goals, cost, and style. Finding the right match for your needs is a critical component if you’re going to make the leap to — or sustain — regular workouts.

Here are some tips to help you find the right workout facility to match your needs and interests, and to keep you coming back week after week.

Know your personal goals and comfort issues.  Decide what you want from exercise, and what type of exercise you want to do. Do you love to swim, prefer yoga or dance, enjoy lifting weights, running on a treadmill or cycling?  Do you want to improve cardiovascular endurance, build strength, enhance flexibility — or just make it through a workout without getting bored? If variety is your thing, you need a gym with plenty of machines and lots of classes. If you just need to get in and out and sweat for 40 minutes, then paying for access to classes is a waste of money. Consider studios instead of gyms, the size of the facility, the crowd you’re working out with, and if there are personal trainers or coaches available to you if you’re interested.

Convenience is critical. Most people fail to stick with workout regimens because the facility they choose isn’t convenient to where they live or work – or only suits one of those criteria, making it tougher to get there on weekdays or weekends. Decide when you want to work out, as well – before or after work, during lunch, at nights and on weekends, for example – and make sure the center’s hours fit your schedule. Also, if you want classes, find out when the ones you want are offered. If you want to swim or play tennis, find out when the open times are and be sure they fit your schedule.

It’s okay to find a staff and workout crowd you like.  For workouts to become a regular and welcomed part of your life, it’s good if you like the people sweating around you, and the trainers and staff you deal with each visit. It’s a good idea to talk to other members about the quality of the club you’re thinking of joining, and to find out what they like about it.

It’s also okay to ask about staff credentials, certification and experience – it’s important to have qualified staff to answer questions and to guide us on proper machine alignment and techniques, or to demonstrate proper form in a class.  If you decide to hire a trainer, look for these things: a bachelor’s degree in exercise science or a related health-science discipline, experience, and, minimally, a certification from an internationally recognized organization like the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, or the American Council on Exercise.

And don’t feel funny about liking or not liking the “culture” of your workout facility. If you’re not comfortable with the people around you, the music, the size of the crowd and availability of machines when you want them, shop around for a culture that is more comfortable. Always “try before you buy” – most facilities will give you a free guess pass for a visit or a week if you ask. You don’t need extra reasons to not work out!

Cleanliness and maintenance count. When touring local facilities, take a look at the equipment. Don’t just find out if they have elliptical machines; find out how many they have, how busy the machines seem to be, and how often they’re serviced.

You don’t have to be a germaphobe to want clean workout equipment. Does it appear clean? Are there sprays or wipes that you can see throughout the gym for cleaning the equipment? How many pieces of equipment are “out of order?” Of course, make sure and check the locker rooms and showers. If they’re dirty, need maintenance or don’t appear to be well tended, go somewhere else.

Are you looking for full-service or simple workouts?  In addition to access to machines and free weights, most memberships at full-service clubs include group fitness classes, lockers and showers, towels and — depending on the size of the club — racquetball and tennis courts, and a pool. There could also be services you pay extra for, like personal training, massage, a restaurant, and child care facilities. If the club you choose offers many of these options, expect to pay more than you would to join a small fitness center with a few treadmills and free weights.

How much should you have to pay for fitness? Working out at a formal facility often is not cheap. Sticker prices can range anywhere from $10 a month for a recreation center to $150 a month or more for a posh, upper-crust club. Whether you join a studio or a full-service gym with day care, showers and a pool, you’ll be incurring a new expense. Cost is usually tied to what the gym has to offer. Don’t pay for the newest, nicest health club if you’re never going to need the showers, the lockers, child care, or the pool. If all you want is to run on a treadmill, there may be a less expensive option in your area. Instead of $150 a month, you might pay $20 a month or less.

If a spouse and children are in the picture, ask about family memberships, and before you sign a contract or agreement, read the fine print; understand their payment policies and membership cancellation fees. Also, see if there is a “reciprocity agreement” that allows you to use other clubs when you’re traveling for business or on vacation.

Whatever you do, think about how you can free up the required time for regular workouts, book it on your calendar, find a friend to join you, and set reasonable personal goals. Working out is healthy and can be a lot of fun if you do it properly and find a facility that fits you just right!

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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!

Autumn Fitness Includes Walking Our Way to Better Health

Autumn in New England is, for many of us, as good as it gets — warm days, crisp evenings, the smell of wood fires, pumpkins and freshly picked apples, breathtakingly colorful, scenic panoramas in every direction…what could be bad? Well, the days are getting shorter, the evenings colder and winter isn’t far away — but let’s stay focused on the positive, okay?

This is a great time of year to be outdoors walking, riding and hiking, working in the yard and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery. As the cooler weather approaches it may portend the limitation of certain outdoor activities, but as is said, “When one door closes, another opens.” In this case, it’s the opportunity to continue our commitment to improved health and fitness, and to plan activities that will prevent us from winter stagnation. That may include many kinds of indoor fitness activities such as aerobic workouts, spinning, dance, yoga, swimming, athletics and much more, but also includes outdoor recreation such as hiking, bicycling and sports that can be practiced until the big chill sets in.

Dressing properly for the cooler weather is critical, as is proper hydration. It’s also important to remember to protect ourselves from damaging ultraviolet rays. However warming and enriching, sunshine damages unprotected skin all year long, and we need to continue using sunscreen and protecting our eyes as well, even in the cooler months.

Autumn also is a good time to moderate our diets, and a chance to implement good nutritional practices that may help reduce the seasonal gluttony (and related guilt) that accompanies the rapidly approaching holidays. Taking the time now to focus on sugar, fat, salt and carbohydrate intake will leave us in far better shape come January!

Walk the walk                                                                         

One of the simplest and most beneficial outdoor wellness activities is walking. This valuable exercise is good for our hearts, breathing, blood pressure, circulation, cholesterol levels, joint health and much more. If dressed for the weather with clothes that wick or keep moisture off our skin, we can walk all-year-round. And when it comes to fitness value it doesn’t really matter where we walk, as long as it’s done regularly and for long-enough distances and time periods to make a positive health difference.

According to a recent national survey conducted in August 2013 by GfK Research on behalf of Kaiser Permanente, Americans know that walking is good for their overall health, but many are not walking enough to meet recommended guidelines for health benefits. According to the survey, 30 percent of Americans said they walk more than they did five years ago, 35 percent are walking less and 32 percent are walking about the same amount. One-third of those surveyed said they don’t walk for 10 minutes at a time over the course of a week. In addition, 31 percent of those who walk do so for less than 150 minutes per week, which is the minimal threshold for physical activity established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, 94 percent of those surveyed said they view walking as good for their health and 79 percent acknowledge they should walk more. At least nine in 10 respondents agreed that walking is a good way to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight and can help prevent heart disease. In addition, 73 percent said they believe their children should walk more. Respondents also view walking as a good way to reduce stress and combat depression. More than eight in 10 Americans said walking can reduce feelings of depression and 87 percent said walking helps reduce anxiety.

Survey respondents don’t necessarily view the CDC’s guidelines as difficult to meet. Half said it would not be difficult to meet the CDC’s guidelines of walking 150 minutes per week. Nearly six in 10 respondents also said they would walk more if their doctor told them to.

When asked why they don’t walk more, those surveyed cited lack of time and energy. Not living in communities where they can walk to services, shops, school and work is also a deterrent. Four in 10 describe their neighborhood as “not very” or “not at all walkable.”

So, if we know that walking is good for us, and we know we don’t do it often enough, what can we do to change this paradigm? Setting personal, achievable goals is the first priority.

Walking a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week can help address chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and depression that limit our quality of life and contribute to the escalating cost of healthcare. Everyone can benefit from walking, regardless of age. It can be done alone, with a partner, or in groups.  Depending on where you live, and when you go to school or work, you can establish your own walking routine any time of day or night.

Set simple goals:  Plan to walk every day, or at least five days a week, at a time that works best for you. If something interferes with your walking schedule or the weather is lousy, walk later that day or the next day when it’s more convenient. Great walking venues include parks, schools, athletic tracks, established walking trails or your own neighborhood. City streets, shopping malls and quiet, safer roads can suffice, as well. Keep a written or electronic record of your walking so you can track your progress, and reward yourself when you hit a personal milestone of your own choosing. Encourage a friend, child or work associate to join you, and see walking as a critical daily activity, not as elective.

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

Stretching toward improved physical and spiritual health

People come to yoga for a wide variety of reasons, including fitness, stress management, and relief from physical or emotional pain. September is National Yoga Awareness Month, and a good time, with the holidays and colder weather rapidly approaching, to look into yoga’s spiritual and physical healing properties. Regardless of your motivation, most yoga enthusiasts credit yoga’s meditative component — as well as the physical training and discipline — with allowing them to reach a deeper, more spiritual place in their lives while helping them relax and improve their overall health and wellness.

Yoga has been practiced for more than 5,000 years, and approximately 11 million Americans enjoy its health benefits. The traditional series of yoga poses, called asanas, work by safely stretching your muscles. This releases the lactic acid that builds up with muscle use, which may cause stiffness, tension, pain, and fatigue. Additionally, yoga increases the range of motion in joints and stretches not only your muscles but all of the soft tissues of your body. That includes ligaments, tendons, and the fascia sheath that surrounds your muscles.

No matter your level of yoga, you most likely will see benefits in a very short period of time, though you should seek guidance from an experienced yoga teacher to help avoid possible injury and to learn how to get the most value. The greatest gains typically are in shoulder and trunk flexibility. Yoga includes postures (asanas), energy and breath control (pranayama), meditation, music, philosophy and other approaches. While many people equate the word Hatha with a particular style of yoga, the word actually refers to the physical aspect of yoga — to the asana and pranayama practices.

Meditation is important to all styles and traditions of yoga but is often the least understood aspect of yoga. The art and science of transcending one’s thoughts and liberating the mind, meditation may involve simple breath awareness, chanting or movement. For some, it is the heart of the practice, for others it is integrated with the asanas, often at the beginning and the end of the class.

Common styles of yoga

The following are some common styles of yoga:

Gentle yoga: Gentle yoga can be as dynamic as some of the more vibrant styles, yet is gentle on the body. Classes are often multi-level and do not assume prior yoga experience. They include breathing techniques, warm-ups and basic postures to increase mind-body connection, self-awareness and self-confidence.

Yoga flows: Yoga flows are more invigorating. Postures are linked in a flow and provide some aerobic components while also improving strength and coordination. The classes assume a participant begins with a certain degree of strength and endurance.

Power yoga: This dynamic yoga style includes specific sequences designed to build strength and stamina. These classes are often recommended for people with some familiarity of the basic postures.

Fitness yoga: Fitness yoga is a newer expression designed to incorporate traditional yoga postures in a form common to most fitness clubs. Students warm up, practice more strenuous postures and then cool down. They tone the body, especially the core, and increase flexibility, balance and mind-body awareness.

Specialty yoga: Yoga can also be customized for the special needs of a broad spectrum of groups including expectant mothers, seniors and children, as well as for those battling life-threatening diseases or debilitating chronic conditions. Specialized training is important for teachers who work with these groups.

Spiritually-oriented yoga: Originally, Hatha yoga was primarily a tool for spiritual growth as well as for physical well-being. Modern styles that emphasize the spiritual dimension of yoga practice tend to involve slower movement and often include meditation practice.

Therapeutic yoga: Yoga therapy is the adaptation and application of yoga practices and techniques to help those facing health challenges manage their condition, reduce symptoms, restore balance, increase vitality and improve attitude.

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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!

Drink Up!

Whether we’re running, playing sports, riding a bike, exercising, hiking on a trail or working outdoors, paying careful attention to proper hydration — especially in the warmer months — is critical to our health. When it’s warm, our bodies perspire more to help cool us down. 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 also lose valuable nutrients and minerals. These include sodium, magnesium and potassium, which help keep our muscles working properly, reduce fatigue and prevent dehydration.

Thirst alone shouldn’t be our barometer for measuring fluid loss. 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.

Water or sports drinks?

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.

Most sports beverages are well-diluted and contain relatively few calories. If the flavor of a sports drink helps you maintain hydration, diluting it with water or pouring it into a thermos packed with ice will cut down even more on excess calories.

“Fitness waters” such as Propel 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 than sports drinks, but offer more taste than plain water. Additionally, the so-called “designer, or super waters” are advertised as being enhanced with everything from vitamins, oxygen and glucose, to alleged fat-burning minerals. The FDA does not require proof of this kind of claim, but whatever helps keep you hydrated is worth considering…as long as you keep drinking!

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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!

Sure, it’s winter; now get outdoors and enjoy it!

There’s just so much television, video games, and movies we can stand. Fresh air and exercise are good for us, and so are the vitamins the sun provides. So while winter drives many people indoors to weather the deep freeze and shorter days, the season also abounds in natural beauty best appreciated while outside; walking or hiking, sledding, skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, ice fishing, working in the yard, or whatever gets you outdoors. 

No matter your choice of recreational activity, consider making plans to get outside, but take appropriate measures to protect yourself. That includes dressing for the weather, making sure you’re properly hydrated, wearing sunscreen, knowing your limitations, and always respecting Mother Nature.

Dressing in layers and wearing the right types of materials are critical for keeping yourself warm in the cold weather. But when planning your outdoor wardrobe, moisture management is also an important consideration. To keep the body warm during high-energy activities, clothing should transport moisture away from the skin to the outer surface of the fabric where it can evaporate. Also, look for garments made from the new stretch fabrics for better fit and performance.

Cotton is a poor choice for insulation, because it absorbs moisture and loses any insulating value when it gets wet. Instead, moisture-wicking synthetics, which move moisture away from the skin and stay light, are the best choice for active winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, hiking or climbing. Not only do synthetic fabrics wick moisture away from the skin, they dry quickly and help keep you warm in the process.

Your next layer should be a lightweight stretchy insulator, such as a breathable fleece sweater or vest. The final part of your cold-weather wear should be a lightweight and versatile shell jacket. Fabrics like three-layer Gore-Tex and Windstopper allow companies to create shells that are ultra lightweight while remaining waterproof, windproof, and breathable. For aerobic activities, a shell’s ventilating features are particularly important. Look for underarm zippers, venting pockets, and back flaps.

Always bring a hat and gloves, regardless of the weather or your activity level. Proper foot protection is critical, as well — you should be wearing insulated and water-proof shoes or boots, and synthetic socks that won’t absorb sweat. As with the rest of your clothing, synthetic materials work best for protecting you against the extremes. Look for fleece hats made with Windstopper fabric, gloves and mittens layered with Gore-Tex and fleece, and socks made of synthetic, moisture-wicking materials.

Bring an abundance of water or sports drinks when you recreate outdoors, and try to avoid caffeine or alcohol — both actually dry you out, instead of hydrating, and alcohol lowers your body temperature. Also, make sure you have a cell phone, that somebody knows where you are, and when you’ll be returning. And remember to wear sunscreen — the sun’s ultraviolet rays remain potent, even in the winter, and hydrating your skin with a UV-protective moisturizer will help protect you from wind and other elements.

Finally, remember to practice plain old common sense, and know your limitations. Many winter sports injuries happen at the end of the day, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run or hike one more mile before the day’s end. A majority of these injuries can easily be prevented if participants prepare by keeping in good physical condition, stretch before you get started, stay alert and stop when you are tired or in pain.

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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!

Building Your Personal Wellness Plan

As the new year rapidly approaches, you’re probably looking at your holiday party calendar, deciding to cast caution to the winds for a few more weeks, and promising yourself that, come January, you’ll settle down and focus more on your health and wellness. Rationalizing and procrastinating are normal human reactions, and while a little guilt may accompany your reverie, don’t feel too bad if, in fact, you’ll keep that commitment to yourself to set a healthier course in 2013.

An important step in achieving that goal is to develop a personal wellness plan — and keep it where it’s always handy. Developing your wellness plan will require that you honestly assess your current health status, meaning that you become more conscious of your daily choices and the impact they have on your overall health. Next, you visualize what you’d like to change, improve or keep the same, over the short term and over the longer term. You should set action items that reflect your goals, and then adopt measurements for seeing how you’re doing.

Your personal wellness plan should take into consideration your health goal, your daily activities, your diet, and your own reward choices. Having a plan to follow helps you remain focused on your goals, and will allow you to more accurately track your progress.  Good intentions can be quickly forgotten if they are not well researched, planned out and then written down.

Long-term wellness plans are personal plans that will focus on your daily health for six months or more. These plans will only change as your health changes or they may change based on new medical research or the results of your lab tests and annual checkups.  A short-term wellness plan would be one that targets a specific medical problem or issue. For example, a short-term plan would be used to lower cholesterol and then a long-term plan would be created to maintain your cholesterol once you have lowered it. Short-term and long-term wellness plans should be used together for overall personal health care planning.

Setting goals and executing your plan

Developing a health goal is critical. Are you at risk for cancer or other chronic illnesses based on family history or your own behavior? Are you thinking of trying to start a family in the near future? Do you tend to get sick a lot or suffer from stress, asthma or other conditions? Do you want to lose weight, stop smoking, cut back on caffeine, salt or alcohol, or generally improve your diet? If you have seasonal allergies, for example, you could develop a plan to help your body fight the allergies. A short-term wellness plan may even have a goal of dropping 10 pounds before a wedding that is four months away. But a longer-term plan will set milestones for losing a certain amount of weight, and for keeping it off.

Next you create wellness steps that will help you reach your goal. This part of your plan can be developed with your doctor, fitness expert, or nutritionist especially if you have a medical condition. Some things that it should include are:

  • Recipes for meals and snacks that will help you reach your goal
  • Exercise regimens and recreation and fitness ideas
  • Herbs, supplements or medicines for your symptoms, or for prevention
  • Stress-reduction techniques
  • An emotional health component through friendships, charitable giving, volunteerism, “you time” or other actions that make you feel good
  • Rewards that you will give yourself for staying on the plan

It is easier to maintain a health program if you build in rewards. This is especially important if you have had difficulty staying on a diet or exercise program in the past. The rewards should be smaller and more frequent in the beginning with a continuous buildup toward a big reward once major goals are reached.  A special vacation might be an ultimate reward.  New clothes, jewelry or other luxury items might be intermediate rewards. But you don’t get a reward unless you complete the plan and reach the goals you set for yourself. Of course, that would be its own reward, but it’s your health and wellness — work steady and hard, and then enjoy yourself!

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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 as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

10 Tips to Keep Your Bones and Joints Healthy

As the summer comes to an end and the weather starts to cool, we find ourselves indoors more often. For some, that means less physical activity. For others, it’s a call to get back to the gym before the holidays arrive. Any change in activity makes us more susceptible to joint- and bone-related issues. Here are 10 tips for preventing damage, reducing pain, and improving your general quality of life and health.

Exercise to protect and strengthen your joints. Overall, by strengthening muscles and aiding in weight loss, exercise can reduce the strain on joints. Squats and lunges, as well as certain exercises with weights, can help strengthen quadriceps and reduce the pressure on your knees. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking also helps maintain bone density, no matter what your age. However, note that running and other high-intensity exercise can damage joints and ligaments, leading to inflammation, pain and, eventually, arthritis.

Stretch and warm up prior to exercising. Our bodies need to be warmed up in order to work properly and avoid excess injuries. This allows our tendons to flex and become more supple, helps the muscles to loosen up and work better, and gets the blood flowing through our body. Bodybuilding and weight lifting-related joint pain problems can be caused by tendonitis, an inflammation or irritation of the tendons. This type of joint pain can be reduced or eliminated by stretching and warming up tendons before working them too hard. This makes them more flexible and able to handle the added weight or exercise loads we put on them.

Change exercises. Both avid and occasional exercisers should consider changing the type of exercise we do. Impact-style exercising, such as step aerobics or kick boxing, is harder on our joints than exercises such as yoga and water-based workouts.

Don’t over-exercise. Regardless of the type of exercise we do, or how heavy the workout, our bodies need time to repair. Someone who does hours of intense exercising daily will have more problems with chronic joint pain than someone who allows their body to recuperate. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments all need time to rest and repair after a hard workout. That’s what causes them to strengthen over time.

Lose weight. Extra body weight creates strain on our joints, particularly the knee joints. Losing as little as 10 pounds of body weight can help reduce pain, and improves breathing and circulation.

Understand the value of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 acids are primarily found in fatty fish and some nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds. Omega-6 acids are found in many vegetables, such as corn and corn oil. While the anti-inflammatory benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (which include fish oil supplements) is well known, less known is the fact that your intake of these fats can affect both bone formation and the rate at which bone is broken down. It’s important to consume both varieties, though consuming more omega-3 fatty acids improves bone mineral density, particularly important for good hip health. Eating a fatty fish like salmon twice a week is recommended, and many physicians suggest fish oil supplements.

Get your D. Vitamin D helps our body absorb calcium and maintain enough calcium and phosphate in our blood so it doesn’t get pulled out of bone. It also enables bone growth and the breaking down and building up of bone. Low levels of vitamin D contribute to osteoporosis and a condition called osteomalacia, which produces an aching pain in our bones as the bone weakens. Low vitamin D also causes muscle weakness, which can lead to falls and fractures as we age. The best source of D is sunlight, but it’s nearly impossible to get enough in the fall and winter, or if we’re using sunscreen. That’s why supplements are helpful. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends a daily level of vitamin D to 600 international units (IUs) for anyone up to age 71 years old, including children, and as much as 800 IUs for those 71 and older. As with all medicines or supplements, consult with your physician or nutritionist to ensure the best regimen for your personal wellness needs.

Evaluate your shoes. Proper footwear is important for bone and joint health. Women who wear high-heeled shoes have seven to 10 times greater chance of developing joint pain and problems. It’s a good idea to vary the heel height of the shoes we wear. For those who like high heels, heels lower than three inches are best for bone and joint health. It’s also important that all shoes, including tennis and athletic shoes, fit properly. Toes need room and there should be good arch support. Some sort of cushion, especially under the ball and heel areas of our feet, also is recommended.

Change positions. Sitting or standing all day, day after day, can cause joint pain. We need to vary our routines to give both our bodies and joints variety and rest periods. Getting up and moving around is helpful to break up a routine and keep our bodies in shape.

Stop smoking. People who smoke tend to have lower bone density and higher risk of fractures than those who don’t, possibly related to lower calcium absorption and the production of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone which affect bone growth and strength.

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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!

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!

Cultivating healthy gardening and outdoor recreation habits

The last killing frost is past, the smell of freshly cut grass and newly spread mulch permeates the air, and those barren gardens, empty window boxes and flower beds are beckoning. This is a wonderful time of year for gardeners and anyone who enjoys working or playing outdoors. But it’s also an opportunity to strain ourselves, pull muscles or overwork our backs and knees, especially if we haven’t been exercising or using those muscles regularly.

As we return to playing, working and recreating outdoors, it’s important to remember to be conscious of our bodies, do everything in moderation, and avoid common opportunities for injuries that can be short term or may last far longer than the flowers we’re planting. And whether we’re playing our first rounds of golf, volleying on the tennis court, or working in the yard, remember many of us may be using muscles and joints that have been on winter hiatus.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), seasonal athletic activities and common gardening tasks such as digging, planting, weeding, mulching and raking can cause stress and strain on muscles and joints, primarily in the shoulders, back, neck and knees. APTA recommends the following steps to minimize the risk of injury while working around your home and yard:

  • Warm up before you begin. Get your heart rate up by taking a 10-minute walk followed by some stretches for your upper and lower back, neck, arms and legs.
  • Roll your shoulders back in a circular motion and slowly move your head from side to side a few times to loosen up.
  • Don’t overdo it. Be mindful of how your body feels. If you experience an aching back or neck, then slow down and stretch or stop and switch to a different task.
  • Use a garden cart or wheelbarrow to move tools and heavy planting materials.
  • Don’t kneel on both knees. Keep one foot on the ground to give your back more stability. If you have to kneel, use knee pads or a pillow to absorb some of the pressure.
  • Change positions and take frequent breaks to avoid stiffness or cramping.
  • Start with smaller projects and build gradually. Don’t try to do it all at once.
  • Bend at your knees when you grab something or pull a weed, and bend your knees and contract your abdominal muscles to avoid straining your back.
  • Finish your gardening session with a short walk or some light stretching. Take a warm bath or shower to help prevent next-day soreness.

If, after a day or two of outdoor activity, you experience serious or persistent pain that seems like more than just temporary soreness, call your physician. Being careful, stretching properly and knowing when to stop will help ensure that you remain as healthy and strong as the beautiful flowers, bushes and flora you tend.

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!