Reducing Employee Tobacco Use and Vaping for Improved Health

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. In the United States alone, smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related lung and heart diseases.

There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes. Additionally, the CDC reports that more than 3.2 percent of American adults use e-cigarettes. Additionally, more than 2 million teens (11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students) were using e-cigarettes in a national study conducted in 2016, and it’s expected that those numbers have soared over the past two years.

The CDC says that more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year, often without lasting success. That is an opportunity for employers to assume a supporting role through education and personal outreach to help address a calamity that is costing American businesses billions of dollars annually in related healthcare costs and robbing millions of Americans of their health.

Need More Fuel?

Most consumers – including smokers – know that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer too, including cancer of the mouth, nose, sinuses, lip, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, ovary, cervix, stomach, colon, rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as non-smokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. Smoking also affects the walls of the vessels that carry blood to the brain (carotid arteries), which can cause strokes. Smoking can cause abdominal aortic aneurysm, in which the layered walls of the body’s main artery (the aorta) weaken and separate, often causing sudden death. And men who smoke are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (impotence) because of blood vessel disease.

Based on data collected by the CDC, it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking.

Each year, smoking causes early deaths of about 443,000 people in the United States. And given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal our quality of life long before we die. Smoking-related illness can limit our activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

The Dangers of Vaping

Vaping involves using electronic cigarettes (also referred to as e-cigarettes). These devices contain heating elements, batteries and a reservoir that holds vaping liquid. According to the CDC, the liquid usually consists of varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings and chemicals. When users puff e-cigarettes, the heating element is activated and produces an aerosol, or vapor, which is inhaled.

Many chemicals that cause cancer are in this vapor. That includes formaldehyde, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles that can get stuck in the deepest parts of our lungs. Other potentially harmful substances found in e-cigarettes include flavorings like diacetyl (a chemical linked to lung disease), volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as lead, tin and nickel.

It’s hard to know how much of these chemicals are breathed in when people vape. The levels are usually lower in e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. But some studies show that high-voltage e-cigarettes have more formaldehyde and other toxins than standard e-cigarettes, and most contain nicotine, which is addictive and dangerous.

Getting the word out to employees about the health risks of vaping – through workplace wellness programs, company-wide newsletters, signs, posters or email blasts – helps lower disease risks and improve health, wellness and productivity in the workplace.

Help Employees Quit Now

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life. They have fewer illnesses like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke.

Habits and addictions are hard to break. Humiliating, shaming or punishing smokers isn’t the answer – it’s not illegal to smoke in Connecticut, just to smoke in certain places like restaurants and where otherwise dictated. But there are several steps people can take to improve health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Mark Twain famously reported: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times!” The American Cancer Society is marking the 41st Great American Smokeout on November 15th by encouraging smokers to use the date to help smokers quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life — one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

There are an abundance of programs, many free, to help smokers quit. Physicians can prescribe supportive medical aids as part of a more formal program, there are over-the-counter remedies, and support groups are available in most communities and through local hospitals. Most health insurance providers also offer smoking-cessation assistance.

Quitting is hard, but employees can increase their chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society provides an abundance of information about the steps to quit smoking and provides resources and support that can increase the chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The American Lung Association also has a wealth of information and resources. Reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www.lung.org.


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!

Sweet Beginnings Can Lead to Sour Endings

With the holidays rapidly approaching and the specter of delicious desserts already dancing in our heads like sugar plum fairies, it’s important to catch a nutritional breath and contemplate the truly unhealthy relationship we have with the sweet foods and treats we love . . . even though that love is far from unconditional.

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.

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 Thanksgiving 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, and to become more aware of sugar intake, 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’s the best gift we can possibly give ourselves and our families for the holidays!


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!

Helping You Breathe Easy

So now that the spring and summer allergy seasons are finally over, we should all we able to breathe easily, right? If only! Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Dry heat from central heating systems aggravate respiratory issues, and the air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. When you add to this potent mix the negative effects of smoking tobacco products, breathing becomes more intense for smokers and nonsmokers alike, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses, offices and vehicles are closed up.

November is COPD Awareness Month and Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It’s not a coincidence that the two are recognized together. The primary cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with COPD, the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a staggering number — more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed.

Beyond the inhalation of cigarette smoke, other causes of COPD include exposure to occupational dust particles and chemicals, as well as a rare genetic mutation called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.  Also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, COPD is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. COPD is not curable; however, it is preventable, and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early.

People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a simple and painless spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

Here is a short list of signs you should watch for if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from COPD:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough”
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

If you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are several steps you can take to improve your health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately. Based on your doctor’s recommendations, you should take medications as prescribed and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

Tips to Stop Smoking

Since the smoking of tobacco products is the culprit responsible for many cases of COPD, eliminating smoking is the best way to mitigate or prevent COPD. Here are simple tips to help you stop smoking:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the various types of treatments and different over-the-counter and prescription medications that are available to help you quit smoking.
  • Look into the different options available to help smokers quit. Visit lung.org/stopsmokingor call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) for suggestions.
  • Take time to plan. Pick your quit date a few weeks ahead of time and mark it on the calendar. If you can, pick a day when life’s extra stresses are not at their peak, such as after the holidays. Mark a day on the calendar and stick to it. As your quit day approaches, gather the medications and tools you need and map out how you are going to handle the situations that make you want to smoke.
  • Get some exercise every day. Walking is a great way to reduce the stress of quitting. Exercise is proven to not only combat weight gain but also to improve mood and energy levels.
  • Eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.
  • Ask family, friends and co-workers for their help and support. Having someone to take a walk with or just listen can give a needed boost.
  • You don’t have to quit alone. Help is available online and in most communities, and there are a variety of smoking-cessation programs available to help.

It’s also important to educate yourself. The American Lung Association has a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand how your lungs work, and about COPD. You can reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www. lung.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!

Feel the Burn… Heartburn, That Is

Millions of Americans suffer from heartburn and digestive discomfort, typically caused by excess stomach acid and related complications. But being in good company is small comfort when you’re uncomfortable or miserable. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate acid-related issues, and it’s important to pay attention to warning signs before untended stomach problems lead to more serious health issues.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease. GERD occurs when stomach acid or, occasionally, stomach content, flows back into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash (reflux) irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD.

Both acid reflux and heartburn are common digestive conditions that afflict many people periodically. When these signs and symptoms occur regularly or interfere with your daily life, or when your doctor can see damage to your esophagus, you may be diagnosed with GERD.

What is GERD?

When we swallow, the lower esophageal sphincter — a circular band of muscle around the bottom part of our esophagus — relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into our stomach. Then it closes again.

However, if this valve relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into our esophagus, causing frequent heartburn.

This constant backwash of acid can irritate the lining of our esophagus, causing it to become inflamed (esophagitis). Over time, the inflammation can wear away the esophageal lining, causing complications such as bleeding, esophageal narrowing or Barrett’s esophagus (a pre-cancerous condition).

GERD signs and symptoms include:

  • A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), sometimes spreading to the throat, along with a sour taste in the mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry cough
  • Hoarseness or sore throat
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
  • Sensation of a lump in the throat

Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But some people with GERD may need stronger medications, or even surgery, to reduce symptoms. Conditions that can increase risk of GERD include obesity, pregnancy, smoking, asthma, diabetes, regular constipation, and poor diet.

Over time, chronic inflammation in our esophagus can lead to complications, including narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture), which can lead to the formation of scar tissue, narrowing the food pathway and causing difficulty swallowing. Another typical complication is the forming of an open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). This may cause bleeding, pain and make swallowing difficult.

Also, hiatal hernias, which are an opening between the stomach and the esophagus, can occur. If untreated, this can lead to pre-cancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus). With this condition, the tissue lining the lower esophagus changes. These changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer; doctors will likely recommend regular endoscopy exams to look for early warning signs.

Managing and Reducing Acid Reflux

Lifestyle changes may help reduce the frequency of heartburn. Here are several helpful and simple steps to consider:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.Excess weight puts pressure on our abdomen, pushing up our stomach and causing acid to back up into our esophagus. If you are overweight or obese, work to slowly lose weight — no more than one or two pounds a week.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing.Clothes that fit tightly around our waist put pressure on our abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that trigger heartburn. Common triggers such as fatty or fried foods, tomatoes, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, and caffeine may make heartburn worse.
  • Eat smaller meals.Avoid overeating by eating smaller meals.
  • Don’t lie down after a meal.Wait at least three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed.
  • Elevate the head of your bed.If you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep, raise the pillow end of your bed by six to nine inches (can use wood or cement blocks). Or insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Wedges are available at drugstores and medical supply stores. Raising your head with additional pillows is not effective.
  • Don’t smoke.Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.

Treatment for heartburn and other signs and symptoms of GERD usually begins with over-the-counter medications that control acid. If you don’t experience relief within a few weeks, your doctor may recommend other treatments, including medications and surgery.

There are a variety of stronger, prescription medications for managing GERD. Contact your doctor before taking any new medications or if symptoms are not relieved. Also, seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, especially if you have other signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs and symptoms of a heart attack.


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

Why Health Illiteracy Could Be Making Employees Sick

How well do you listen to your doctor’s directions or orders regarding medications, exercise, diet and other health-compliance issues? When you go for a test, do you understand what’s being done and why? Are you aware of recommended preventive-care measures you should be practicing? Do you recognize signs and symptoms of potentially serious illnesses early enough to intervene, or wait until your health deteriorates enough to justify calling a medical professional?

If you recognize yourself in any of these queries, you are among the 88 percent of American adults with health literacy challenges. And when you stop to consider that nine out of 10 adults may lack the skills to manage their health and prevent disease – and apply that consideration to your workforce – the impact of that lack of knowledge should make you feel sick!

The Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Nearly 90 million Americans have difficulty understanding and using the information shared by their doctor, clinic or hospital. A high degree of reading literacy does not necessarily translate into a high degree of health literacy, nor does a college education.

Poor health literacy affects individuals of many different ages, languages, cultures and education levels. For example, someone may question if he can drink coffee before a fasting lab test, forget how and when to take newly prescribed medication, or decide to stop taking medication when she is feeling better. And it can be difficult for anyone, regardless of their reading literacy skills, to remember instructions or read a medication label when feeling sick.

Only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Furthermore, 14 percent of adults (30 million people) have below-basic health literacy. In studies, these adults were more likely to report their health as poor (42 percent). Additionally, there is a mismatch between the reading level of health information and the reading skills of the public. There also is a mismatch between the communication skills of lay people and health professionals.

Without clear information and an understanding of the information’s importance, people are more likely to skip necessary medical tests, end up in the emergency room more often, and have a harder time managing chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure. As reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, individuals with limited or low health literacy

  • Skip preventive care
  • Are more likely to have chronic conditions and less able to manage the conditions
  • Have more preventable hospital visits and admissions, with longer stays
  • Are more likely to use medications inappropriately or ineffectively
  • Are often ashamed to ask for help making health care decisions.

Improving Health Literacy in the Workplace

For employers, the relationship of low health literacy to poor health behaviors results in overall higher costs of drug, medical and disability claims, lower productivity and higher absenteeism. Employers can have a significant positive impact on the health literacy of their employees and, ultimately, influence better health and financial outcomes. Here are recommended steps to improve health literacy in the workplace:

  • Use clear and simple messaging. Keep it simple. Clearly state the actions you want your employee to take, and discuss options and potential consequences.
  • Get rid of complex jargon.Insurance and medical industry professionals throw around a lot of jargon. Ask your insurance provider and benefits consultant to include descriptions of benefits and how to use the benefits in consistent, easy-to-understand language. This includes their member website or portal, Explanation of Benefits (EOB), emails, and mailers.
  • Treat everyone the same.No matter their job title, assume all employees may have difficulty understanding health, wellness and benefits communications. Use simple, easy-to-understand language.
  • Empower employees to take charge of their health.When people take an active role in their healthcare, research shows they fare better in both health and financial outcomes. Increase employee confidence in their ability to advocate for themselves by providing educational materials and holding workshops. Topics could include how to talk to a doctor, how to get more support when you need it, and how to ask questions about insurance coverage.
  • Identify a navigator.Consider a current staff member or external support person who can help employees navigate the complex world of benefits available.
  • Technology isn’t for everyone. Don’t leave behind those who aren’t as comfortable or familiar with technology. Depending on the range of ages and skills in your workforce, use a variety of communication methods to share health and wellness information. This includes emails, texts, and verbal updates at team meetings.
  • Repeat information regularly.Don’t expect your once-a-year open enrollment presentation to be memorable enough that your employees remember their benefits. Plan year-round campaigns and communications using frequent but brief messages, and talk with employees about their role in managing their health.
  • Remember the household decision makers. While you may give employees a lot of information while they are at work, the person making decisions about when and where to go for healthcare may not be getting that same information translated to them. Consider home mailings, invitations to open-enrollment meetings, and other ways to ensure all family members on the medical plan receive credible sources of health and wellness information.

The benefits of health literacy improvement include enhanced communication, greater adherence to treatment, increased ability to engage in self-care, and overall improved health status. Healthier employees result in a healthier workplace, and we can all feel good about that.


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!

This One’s for Men, Unfortunately

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

When to See Your Doctor

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

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

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

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

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


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

Colds and Flu Are Something to Sneeze At

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Flu Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stretching Is Critical, the Goats Are Optional

 

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

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

Why We Need to Stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Preventing Dehydration and Heat Stroke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Should You Drink?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Don’t Invite Food Poisoning to Your Summer Fun

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

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

The most common symptoms of food poisoning include:

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

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

How to Eat Healthy in the Summer

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

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

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

Practice Safe Grilling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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