Give yourself a break (fast!)

We have places to go, things to do, school, work, and commutes to face. So we wake up, shower, put on clean clothes, grab a hot cup of coffee, and off we go. How about a healthy breakfast? Nice idea, but who has time? We can grab a breakfast bar, sandwich, bagel or muffin on the road, or nosh on whatever’s in the break room or in our desk at work.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it’s time to rethink your morning strategy and make time for breakfast. A good breakfast gives us a sound foundation for the day, helps us stay focused and achieve optimum efficiency in school and at work. And, according to researchers, a nutritious breakfast helps us both physically and mentally. People who eat a hearty breakfast containing more than one-quarter of their daily calories consume less fat and carbohydrates during the day than people who skimp on food in the morning. Breakfast eaters have a higher intake of essential vitamins and minerals. Plus they generally have lower serum cholesterol levels, which are associated with reduced danger of heart disease.

Start your day the healthy way

By eating a nutritious breakfast — one that includes at least one serving of fruit — we improve our chances of reaching the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Dozens of studies have shown that people who eat plenty of fruit (and vegetables) generally have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. What’s more, orange juice, typically a breakfast staple, is loaded with vitamin C and potassium. A glass of O.J. daily boosts “good” HDL cholesterol, which helps keep arteries from getting clogged, reducing the risk of high blood pressure and stroke.

Start your day with a bowl of breakfast cereal (preferably lightly sweetened), and you’re more likely to get all the nutrients you need. That’s because most cereals are fortified with an array of important vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, which helps prevent birth defects and has been linked to lower risk of heart disease and colon cancer.

The best breakfast cereals are rich in fiber, something most of us don’t get enough of. Experts say we need 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day to be our healthiest. The average American consumes only 13 grams, a shortfall that may put us at unnecessary risk of heart disease. Fiber is found in fresh fruit, and with foods made from grains, particularly those less processed. Also, if you’re trying to lose some weight, sitting down to a healthy, high-fiber breakfast could be the key to success. High-fiber foods fill you up on fewer calories. Fiber also slows the digestive process, which in turn wards off hunger pangs later. That’s especially important in the morning, and when followed by a healthy mid-morning snack, it makes it easier to avoid that mid-morning slump, which often drives us to pastries and fat- and sugar-rich foods which satisfy our craving but are nutritionally empty.

Here are some simple tips for eating a quick and easy breakfast:

  • Choose two or three foods, including at least one from each of the following food groups:
    – Bread and grain (i.e., cereal, toast, muffin)
    – Milk and milk product (i.e., low-fat yogurt, low-fat milk)
    – Fruit or vegetable group (i.e., bananas, apples, carrots)
  • Pick up portable breakfast items when at the grocery store. You should buy foods like fruit, low-fat yogurt, whole-grain breakfast bars or granola bars for those mornings when you have to eat breakfast on the go. If you can keep a box of low-fat, low-sugar cereal at work or school, eat when you get there!
  • Replace or accompany that morning cup of coffee with a glass of orange juice or milk.
  • Make an omelet! Eggs with some kind of lean meat, cheese and veggies give your body a much-needed boost in the morning. You can shorten preparation time by chopping up your vegetables the evening before and storing them in your fridge.
  • Get up 15 minutes earlier.  You can easily fix and consume a healthy breakfast in 15 minutes or less.
  • Plan ahead to eat breakfast.  This means you should decide what you are going to eat for breakfast before the next morning.  You can save time by putting out the box of cereal or cutting up some fruit the night before.

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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!

Protecting your skin saves your life

As summer rapidly approaches, we’re back outdoors with a vengeance, working, gardening, going to athletic events, catching up on our walking, attending barbecues and hitting the beaches. While many of us crave the sun and sporting a “killer tan,” that tan actually is a killer…but you can help prevent overexposure and reduce the dangerous side effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Unprotected exposure to UV radiation also is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. In fact, UV radiation from the sun is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization.

Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour.

Chronic exposure to the sun suppresses our natural immune system and also causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable, normal part of growing older. However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, many forms of skin cancer and most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.

How to protect yourself from excess UV exposure

The best way to lower your risk of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. You should also not use sunscreen or hats as an excuse to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun. Even with the use of sunscreens, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate your clothes and skin and do harm.

If possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy days. Use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Products that contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide offer the best protection. Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones. Older children and adults (even those with darker skin) benefit from using SPFs (sun protection factor) of 15 and over. Many experts recommend that most people use SPF 30 or higher on the face and 15 or higher on the body, and people who burn easily or have risk factors for skin cancer should use SPF 50+.

Here’s when and how to use sunscreen:

  • Adults and children should wear sunscreen every day, even if they go outdoors for only a short time.
  • Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors for best results. This allows time for the sunscreen to be absorbed.
  • Remember to use sunscreen during the winter when snow and sun are both present.
  • Reapply at least every two hours while you are out in the sunlight.
  • Reapply after swimming or sweating. Waterproof formulas last for about 40 minutes in the water, and water-resistant formulas last half as long.

Here are additional safety tips and information for protecting yourself from harmful UV radiation:

  • Adults and children should wear hats with wide brims to shield from the sun’s rays.
  • Wear protective clothing. Look for loose-fitting, unbleached, tightly woven fabrics. The tighter the weave, the more protective the garment.
  • Buy clothing and swimwear that block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using SPF (as used with sunscreen) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index.
  • Avoid surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, snow, and white-painted areas.
  • Beware that at higher altitudes you burn more quickly.

We all need the vitamins from the sun and can still enjoy the outdoors, but taking proper precautions allows us to be outdoors more safely, year round.

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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!

Being sandwiched eats away at our health

Generational forces are driving socio-economic changes in lifestyles and families that are contributing to stress and negatively affecting our health and wellbeing. One prime example is the pressures faced by Baby Boomers as they come of age and, in many cases, find themselves faced with caretaker burdens that “sandwich” them between supporting their children, themselves, and aging parents.

It is estimated that American families provide 80 to 90 percent of all in-home long-term care services for their aging family members, disabled adult children, and other loved ones.  These services may include assistance with activities of daily living, medical services coordination, medical supervision, administration of medications and assistance with financial, legal, spiritual and emotional concerns. These family caregivers often go unrecognized and are typically over-utilized. Focusing on their children, parents, and jobs, their own needs often go unfulfilled, which leads to additional stress.

Typically the American “Sandwich Generation” caregiver has been a woman in her mid-forties, married, employed and caring for her family and an elderly parent, usually her mother. Today, however, there are more and more men finding themselves in a caregiving role as well, and often they are squeezed in between the generations. 

The demanding role of being multi-generational caregivers spreads across all racial, gender, age and ethnic boundaries.  Some of the common stressors that affect both urban and rural sandwich generation caregivers are:

  • Splitting time between children/family and elder loved ones
  • Finding time for each caregiving role
  • Finding time for marriage or a significant other
  • Finding time for yourself
  • Not falling behind in your work or bringing your home stress to the work place
  • Keeping generational peace between children and elder loved ones
  • Finding the resources needed to care for family members
  • Combating feelings of isolation
  • Dealing with all the guilt associated with not having enough time to accomplish all that “should” be done.

Related challenges include geographic barriers to resources, and isolation from other caregivers, family members or informal supports.  The lack of service or care network availability, especially burdensome outside of cities, can add to caregiver stress, burnout, and depression. Solving these issues and controlling related stress and health factors is critical, though not easy – it requires adjustments on both sides, establishing boundaries, and setting priorities that include time for yourself, empathy and outreach to others. If you’re “sandwiched,” here are a few tips to help achieve better balance:

Regular “team” communication. Consider having a weekly family meeting where you discuss upcoming events, responsibilities, issues and opportunities. This gives everyone in the family the opportunity to discuss what’s on his or her mind in an open, safe environment. Use this forum to discuss the many different caregiving tasks that need to be accomplished each day or week. 

Set a family weekly or monthly task list.  Set mutual expectations for how the many tasks of caregiving will be accomplished.  Caregiving often becomes a one-person show but it does not need to be if you have family support. 

Ask for assistance. Make a point of picking up the telephone and spending time calling resources such as your local area Agency on Aging, hospital, a social worker, a physician or a local church or temple. There are a variety of services available in most communities and cities. Many can be found on the internet or simply by talking with other caregivers, social service agencies, behavioral health centers and related professionals.

Take time to care for yourself.  Sandwich generation caregivers become run down and sick because they have not taken time to care for themselves.  You can’t care effectively for your loved ones if you don’t care for yourself, as well.  Here are some useful hints to help make sure you focus on your own needs as well as those you are caring for:

  • Take time every day to “check-in” with yourself, even if it is only for half an hour.  This should be your protected time.  Enjoy this time by reading, listening to music, exercising or whatever you like to do.
  • Remember to take time to laugh, talk with friends, and eat properly, especially nutritious food rather than prepared foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
  • Take time to be “in” your marriage or relationship.
  • Try to “be present” at work as much as possible… our jobs exercise our creativity and usefulness in different ways, and association with others outside the home is valuable, emotionally.
  • Listen to your body – if it’s telling you to slow down, or that something is not right, seek medical advice.  Also seek assistance from a therapist or professional counselor versed in caretaker stress.

Every caregiver and caregiving situation is unique, but there are always common factors bridging situations and caregivers.  Support can come from many different sources and in many different ways as long as you seek it out and remember, always, that taking care of yourself is your most important job.

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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!

Why Aren’t You Laughing?!

Humor is a universal language, and good medicine. We watch comedies on television and at the movies and read humorous articles and books. We relax at the end of the day with Letterman, Fallon, or Kimmel. We enjoy sharing a joke at the office, when we’re meeting with friends, over the phone or through social media. Think about how you feel when you laugh or make someone else laugh. And when you laugh at yourself, a situation or something you’ve observed, it relieves tension, defuses situations, and helps us bond with others. 

Laughing makes us feel good — and that good feeling can stay with us long after the laughter stops. In fact, the sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze.

April is National Humor Month, but every healthy day should include humor and laughter and its many benefits:

  • People with a sense of humor typically have a stronger immune system.
  • People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower standing blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases but then decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper, which sends oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.
  • Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. It is estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
  • Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information. Laughing also elevates moods.

Striving to see humor in life and attempting to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them will help improve our disposition and the disposition of those around us. Our ability to laugh at ourselves and situations will help reduce our stress level and make life more enjoyable. Humor also helps us connect with others. People naturally respond to the smiles and good cheer of those around them.

Tips for adding more humor and laughter in our life include

  • Remember to have and seek fun and opportunities to laugh
  • Spend time with those who help us see the bright side and who make us laugh
  • Get regular doses of humor from various sources such as television, movies, plays, shows and performances, or books
  • Don’t take ourselves and others too seriously…keep life and work in perspective.

Head off stress with regular bouts of laughter and by sharing humor with others. Remember, nobody’s perfect and life should be fun. Laughter can make us feel like a new person. We all can use some of that…no joke.

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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!

Don’t Let Stress Break Employees’ Hearts or Their Spirits

It isn’t a coincidence that National Stress Awareness Month and National Humor Month are observed at the same time. Stress is a very common denominator for humans, regardless if at work, home, school, or wherever our daily travels carry us. And humor is a factor we can learn to embrace in our efforts to reduce the pressure and strains that are killing us, literally and figuratively.

We all experience stress, though it affects each of us differently. Sometimes we don’t recognize when we’re acting short tempered, impatient or easily distracted. When stress levels are high, we can become withdrawn, agitated, depressed or angry. We may not sleep well, can eat less or too much. We also may experience tightness in our chests, stomach discomfort, headaches, increased blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure, and other physical manifestations.

In the workplace, these symptoms often drive increased absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work while sick), lower productivity, and service errors. Stress also has a negative impact on safety, quality, and teamwork.

According to the 2013 Work and Well-Being Survey conducted by the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Center for Organizational Excellence, more than one-third (35%) of American workers experience chronic work stress, with low salaries, lack of opportunities for advancement, and heavy workloads topping the list of contributing factors. The APA’s recent Stress in America survey (released last winter) also found high levels of employee stress, with 65% of working Americans citing work as a significant source of stress, and 35% reporting that they typically feel stressed during the workday.

Despite growing awareness of the importance of a healthy workplace, few employees say their organizations provide sufficient resources to help them manage stress (36%) and meet their mental health needs (44%). Just 42% of employees say that their organizations promote and support a healthy lifestyle, only 36% report regularly participating in workplace health and wellness programs, and just over half (51%) say they feel valued at work.

Employers can’t eliminate all the factors that cause their workers to feel stressed, but there are a number of items that can be addressed. Working with your staff to create wellness and feedback programs, encouraging them to take breaks, work out, walk, or nap are extremely beneficial. And providing access to stress-relief activities without having to leave work are a few solutions.

As one workplace example, Christy Graham, wellness champion at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, says they implemented yoga classes starting in fall 2013. The classes are held onsite once a week from 12:15 pm to 1:00 pm. Graham contacted several studios before choosing an instructor, and says the Bushnell staff really enjoys the classes. Half a dozen employees participate, she adds, and the fee is only half of what yoga classes held offsite normally would cost. She also sends out a reminder email about a farmer’s market held weekly near their office. Additionally, staff regularly walks together at lunchtime in nearby Bushnell Park, and they have added a water cooler to help keep hydrated.

Address the issues that are adding to your stress

Whether we’re the employer or an employee, often the best way to cope with stress is to find a way to change the circumstances that are causing it. And one common set of tools that traverse all aspects of our lives is our ability to efficiently manage time, especially if we tend to feel overwhelmed at work. Here are some useful tips for reducing time-related stress:

  • Set realistic goals. Work with colleagues and leaders to set realistic expectations and deadlines. Set regular progress reviews and adjust your goals as needed.
  • Make a priority list. Prepare a list of tasks and rank them in order of priority. Throughout the day, scan your master list and work on tasks in priority order.
  • Protect your time. For an especially important or difficult project, block time to work on it without interruption.
  • Get other points of view. Talk with trusted colleagues or friends about the issues you’re facing at work. They might be able to provide insights or offer suggestions for coping. Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.
  • Take a break. Make the most of workday breaks. Even a few minutes of personal time during a busy workday can be refreshing. Similarly, take time off when you can — whether it’s a two-week vacation or an occasional long weekend.
  • Have an outlet. To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy — such as reading, socializing or pursuing a hobby.
  • Take care of yourself. Be vigilant about taking care of your health. Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet.
  • Seek help. If none of these steps relieves your feelings of job stress or burnout, consult a mental health provider — either on your own or through an employee assistance program offered by your employer. Through counseling, you can learn effective ways to handle job stress.

It’s also critical to keep your perspective. When your job is stressful, it can feel as if it’s taking over your life. To maintain perspective:

  • Get other points of view. Talk with trusted colleagues or friends about the issues you’re facing at work. They might be able to provide insights or offer suggestions for coping. Sometimes simply talking about a stressor can be a relief.
  • Take a break. Make the most of workday breaks. Even a few minutes of personal time during a busy workday can be refreshing. Similarly, take time off when you can — whether it’s a two-week vacation or an occasional long weekend.
  • Have an outlet. To prevent burnout, set aside time for activities you enjoy — such as reading, socializing or pursuing a hobby.
  • Take care of yourself. Be vigilant about taking care of your health. Include physical activity in your daily routine, get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet.
  • Seek help. If none of these steps relieves your feelings of job stress or burnout, consult a mental health provider — either on your own or through an employee assistance program offered by your employer. Through counseling, you can learn effective ways to handle job stress.

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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!

Our Kidneys Are Important; Take Care of Them

We have two kidneys. They are fist-sized and located in the middle of our back, on the left and right sides of our spine. The kidneys filter our blood, removing wastes and extra water to make urine. They also help control blood pressure and make hormones that our body needs to stay healthy.

When the kidneys are damaged, they can’t filter waste effectively, which then can build up in the body. For most people, kidney damage occurs slowly over many years, often due to diabetes or high blood pressure. This is called chronic kidney disease. When someone has a sudden change in kidney function — because of illness, or injury, or have taken certain medications — this is called acute kidney injury. This can occur in a person with normal kidneys or in someone who already has kidney problems.

Kidney disease is a growing problem. More than 20 million Americans may have kidney disease and many more are at risk. Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. April is National Kidney Month, and a good opportunity to think about improving your diet to prevent damage to your kidneys and a whole host of other nutrition-related health issues. The main risk factors for developing kidney disease include diabetes, high-blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and a family history of kidney failure.

Early kidney disease has no signs or symptoms. You may not feel any different until your kidney disease is very advanced. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if you have kidney disease. A blood test checks your glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells how well your kidneys are filtering. A urine test checks for protein in your urine.

The sooner you know you have kidney disease, the sooner you can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure. Treatment may include taking medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs to manage high blood pressure and keep your kidneys healthier longer. Treating kidney disease may also help prevent heart disease.

Lose your salt shaker

What you eat and drink can help prevent or slow down chronic kidney disease. Some foods are better for your kidneys than others. Cooking and preparing your food from scratch can help you eat healthier.

The first steps to eating right involve choosing and preparing foods with less salt and sodium. To help control your blood pressure, your diet should contain less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. Here are five simple steps for healthier eating:

Step 1: Buy fresh food more often. Sodium (a part of salt) is added to many packaged foods.

  • Use spices, herbs, and sodium-free seasonings in place of salt
  • Check the Nutrition Facts label on food packages for sodium — Daily Value of 20 percent or more means the food is high in sodium
  • Try lower-sodium versions of frozen dinners and other convenience foods
  • Rinse canned vegetables, beans, meats, and fish with water before eating
  • Look for food labels that say “sodium free, salt free, low sodium, reduced or less sodium, no salt added, unsalted or lightly salted.

Step 2: Eat the right amount and the right types of protein. To help protect your kidneys, eat small portions of higher-protein foods. Protein is found in foods from plants and animals. You can talk to your physician, nutritionist or dietitian about how to choose the right combination for you. Animal-protein foods include chicken, fish, meat, eggs and dairy. Plant-protein foods include beans, nuts and grains.

Step 3: Choose foods that are healthy for your heart. To help keep fat from building up in your blood vessels, heart, and kidneys, grill, broil,  bake, roast, or stir-fry foods, instead of deep frying. Cook with nonstick cooking spray or a small amount of olive oil instead of butter. And trim fat from meat and remove skin from poultry before eating. Heart-healthy foods include:

  • Lean cuts of meat, like loin or round
  • Poultry without the skin
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese

Step 4: Choose foods with less phosphorus. Phosphorus helps protect your bones and blood vessels, but too much isn’t good for us. Many packaged foods have added phosphorus. Look for phosphorus — or for words with “PHOS” — on ingredient labels. Deli meats and some fresh meat and poultry can have added phosphorus. Ask your butcher to help you pick fresh meats without added phosphorus.

Foods lower in phosphorus include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Breads, pasta, rice
  • Rice milk (not enriched)
  • Corn and rice cereals
  • Light-colored sodas/pop

Foods higher in phosphorus include:

  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Bran cereals and oatmeal
  • Dairy foods
  • Beans, lentils, nuts
  • Colas

Step 5: Choose foods that have the right amount of potassium. Potassium helps our nerves and muscles work the right way. Salt substitutes can be very high in potassium, so it’s important to find a balance, since too much salt isn’t good for us, either. Read the ingredient label, and check with your provider about using salt substitutes.

Foods lower in potassium include:

  • Apples, peaches
  • Carrots, green beans
  • White bread and pasta
  • White rice
  • Rice milk (not enriched)
  • Cooked rice and wheat cereals, grits

Foods higher in potassium include:

  • Oranges, bananas
  • Potatoes, tomatoes
  • Brown and wild rice
  • Bran cereals
  • Dairy foods
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Beans and nuts

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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!

It’s February; When Better to Focus on Our Hearts?

Since we can’t avoid talking about hearts this month, why not shift the focus from affairs of the heart to the health of our hearts? February is American Heart Month, and there’s plenty of time in the new year to adjust our resolutions and lifestyles and make smarter choices aimed at prolonging both the longevity and quality of our lives.

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

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

Smoking or using tobacco is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack. When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe. Smokeless tobacco and low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes also are risky, as is exposure to secondhand smoke.

In addition, the nicotine in cigarette smoke makes your heart work harder by narrowing your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This increases your blood pressure by forcing your heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen. Even so-called “social smoking” — smoking only while at a bar or restaurant with friends — is dangerous and increases the risk of heart disease.

The good news, though, is that when you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease drops dramatically within just one year. And no matter how long or how much you smoked, you’ll start reaping rewards as soon as you quit.

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

Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though. Most people need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day. Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease, but also may help prevent cancer.

Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, may decrease your risk of heart attack, protect against irregular heartbeats and lower blood pressure. Some fish, such as salmon and mackerel, are a good natural source of omega-3s. Omega-3s are present in smaller amounts in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, soybean oil and canola oil, and they can also be found in supplements.

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

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

Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of fatal heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.

Physical activity helps you control your weight and can reduce your chances of developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It also reduces stress, which may be a factor in heart disease.

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

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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!

Women, Save a Life–Get Screened for Cervical Cancer

While you’re resolving to lose weight, eat more fruits and vegetables, or exercise regularly, why not add another important — and potentially life-saving task — to your “to do” list? January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and a prime time to highlight the importance of routine Pap tests. Raising awareness is especially important because life-saving tests are readily available and, when caught early, cervical cancer can be successfully treated.

Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. In fact, when cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life. Unfortunately, six out of 10 cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested in the past five years.

The Pap test looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated appropriately. The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes. Since the 1950s, the rate of death from cervical cancer has declined by 74 percent. The reason for the decline is mostly due to Pap testing. The best time to start getting a Pap test is age 21, and it should be done every two years. Women aged 30 and older who have had three consecutively normal tests can start screening once every three years. Talk to your doctor to know for sure. If you are 30 or older, you also can be tested for the cancer-causing types of HPV at the same time you have your Pap test.

Women can take the power of cervical cancer prevention even further, by getting immunized with the HPV vaccine. HPVs (human papillomavirus), of which there are more than 100 types, are the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. The vaccine protects women against four HPV types that cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers.

The HPV vaccine is most effective before a person is infected with an HPV, which is why the vaccine has been recommended for girls as young as nine. It’s also approved for women up to the age of 26, and tests are under way to see if it’s effective for women over that age. The CDC recently recommended the vaccine for boys beginning age 11. The vaccine cannot protect against established infection, nor does it protect against all types of HPV.

For more information and to learn how you can help during Cervical Health Awareness Month, visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) www.nccc-online.org

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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!

Improving Our Health, From A to Zinc

It’s almost the end of the year, so turning to the end of the alphabet for an important but often misunderstood common mineral seems like a fitting exercise and good holiday gift to ourselves.

Zinc is found in every tissue in the body, aids cell division, is a powerful antioxidant, helps to prevent cancer, and maintains healthy hormone levels. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that’s important for the immune system and the brain, as well as other parts of the body. Zinc also helps wounds heal and is important for proper senses of taste and smell. In infants, zinc deficiency can delay normal development. At any age, serious zinc deficiency can lead to risk of infections.      

Topical zinc ointments are used to treat diaper rash and skin irritations and to reduce UV sun exposure. Zinc also has been shown to help with ulcers, ADHD, acne, sickle cell anemia, and other conditions. In addition, zinc has also been studied as a treatment for herpes, high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV and more. It also may be part of an effective treatment for age-related macular degeneration and for the common cold, but research continues in each of these areas.

Health care providers may recommend zinc supplements for people who have zinc deficiencies. Strict vegetarians, breastfeeding women, alcohol abusers, and people who have a poor diet are at higher risk for zinc deficiency. So are those with certain digestive problems, such as Crohn’s disease.

Getting Z facts straight         

Zinc is believed to be important for vision because high levels of the mineral are found in the macula, part of the retina. Zinc enables vitamin A to create a pigment called melanin, which protects the eye. Some studies show that getting enough zinc can help you see better at night.

Zinc has antioxidant effects and is vital to the body’s resistance to infection. It’s also important for tissue repair, and may decrease the ability of cold viruses to grow on or bind to the lining of the nose.

Zinc is found naturally in shellfish, beef and other red meats, nuts and seeds, beans, and milk and cheese. Tea, coffee, and certain medications may interfere with zinc absorption in the intestines.

Researchers have studied the use of zinc as a way to treat or reduce symptoms of the cold virus, though the data from years of scientific studies are mixed. Taking zinc either as a syrup or lozenge through the first few days of a cold may shorten the length of the illness. However, supplementing natural doses found in foods such as eggs, red meat and seafood with higher doses of zinc, particularly long term, can be toxic. Signs of too much zinc include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and headaches. When people take too much zinc for a long time, they sometimes have problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity, and low levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).

As in the case with all supplements, medicines or nutritional remedies, consult with your physician before adding extra zinc to your diet.

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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!

Planning to be Healthy is a Gift We Give Ourselves

As 2013 rushes to its close, we’re all faced again with the proverbial “glass half full or glass half empty” opportunities the end of one year and beginning of another provide us. We can look back and lament about all the well-intentioned health and wellness options we never fulfilled, or make a firm and achievable personal wellness plan designed to improve our physical, emotional and spiritual health in 2014 and beyond.

But first, it’s the holidays — take it easy and enjoy! That may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but we all know what the coming weeks bring. It’s a stressful time of year without putting additional pressure on ourselves. Eat and drink consciously and in moderation, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about your personal goals. Be it eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits you, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice. Making resolutions is as old as the hills, but setting simple goals includes taking the time to determine how you’ll achieve them, and how you’ll measure your success. This isn’t difficult and may be the best gift you can give yourself as we approach the new year.

When it comes to reasonable health and wellness planning, simple, achievable and realistic are our keywords. Here are some tips to help guide your steps:

  • Acknowledge a realistic vision of success. If losing weight is one of your goals, set a realistic number and timetable, so you can achieve your goal safely. Take the time to learn about potential problems, such as vitamin deficiencies or other health risks that accompany weight loss, and read about sugar, fat, carbs, and the chemistry of food. Also, talk with your physician, fitness expert and/or a licensed nutritionist about longer-term lifestyle changes that will help you achieve your mission.
  • Adopt an effective strategy. Focus on relatively short-term goals, like eating vegetables four times a day, cutting back on carbs and sugar, eating healthy snacks, and doing at least 20 minutes of cardio a day for the next few weeks. Keep track of your efforts daily and weekly by writing on a calendar or maintaining a journal, and create simple “rewards” for your weekly or monthly successes, such as buying a gift or doing something personally meaningful.
  • Review and adjust your commitment. To be successful you have to set goals, measure your progress, and adjust. Be flexible — if you find, for example, that walking every day is impossible, walk four days a week, or longer on the weekends. Sign up for a yoga or fitness class. And when you give in to that yummy, calorie-rich dessert, don’t despair…tomorrow is a new day. You know yourself better than anyone — make adjustments that will work for you if you fall off the wagon or fail to achieve your weekly goals.
  • Use the “buddy system.” Tell a friend about your goals and see if you can work out, walk, or practice your new diet together. Share helpful articles and tips, check in regularly, support each other when you miss a goal, and celebrate your individual and mutual successes.

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started and don’t give up. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is yours to keep.

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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!