Be fresh. Eat locally grown, raised and produced food

Are you a locavore? Would you like to be one? It’s simple and painless — just eat food grown locally whenever possible! First appearing in Webster’s in 2005, the term locavore reflects the growing movement toward eating fresh, locally produced vegetables, fruit, dairy products and meats. It also means patronizing restaurants and grocers who buy locally as well, growing your own, and taking advantage of seasonal bounty.

There’s something truly special about eating vegetables and fruit that have been picked in the past 24 hours, or which you’ve picked yourself. In Connecticut, local produce and fruit, dairy products, eggs and meats can be purchased at farms, through specialty stores, and in restaurants that promote “farm to table” sustainability. But beyond the importance of supporting our local farmers and regional economy, there are a variety of other advantages to eating fresh and local.

Locally grown produce is fresher and more diverse.  Produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks. On the other hand, produce that we buy at our local farmer’s market, farm or stand has often been picked within 24 hours of our purchase. This freshness not only affects the taste of our food, but the nutritional value and varietal choices, which decline with time and when fruit and vegetables are processed. Additionally, local farms are more likely to produce atypical varieties and hybrids of fruits and vegetables that you may not find in large grocery stores.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because local produce requires less handing and shipping time, it is picked at its nutritional height, when it’s ripe and most delicious. Eggs and milk purchased in supermarkets are weeks old — when purchased locally, they are likely only a few days old. And with less handling, the food you buy will have fewer bruises, mildew or other damage, and won’t be treated with preservatives that enhance looks but neutralize taste and nutritional value.

Local, sustainably produced farm fruits and vegetables do not require long distances for transport, and can be harvested closer to peak ripeness. Many fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients when allowed to ripen naturally on the parent plant. Meat from animals raised sustainably on pasture is also more nutritious. For example, grass-fed beef is higher in “good” cholesterol (and lower in “bad”), higher in vitamins A and E, lower in fat, and contains more antioxidants than factory-farmed beef.  Sustainably produced food also means fewer agricultural chemicals (such as pesticides), antibiotics, and hormones, all of which are common in conventional farm products.

Locally produced food is more nutritious. The global industrial food system relies on crops that have been bred primarily for higher yield and ease of transport, while farmers involved in local food systems often place a higher value on plant varietals that are more nutritious by virtue of their variety or by their method of production.

Eat with the seasons. Nature offers us an abundance of food each season that meets our physiological and nutritional needs — if we tune in. Fruits and vegetables that help keep us hydrated are readily available in the summer. Berries available this time of year top the antioxidant charts. Root vegetables and squashes help us prepare for the coming colder months, and are more easily stored. Apples, which become available later in the summer, are high in antioxidants as well, and best when eaten fresh.

Help protect the environment. The side effects of energy consumption and pollution can be considered “collateral damage” when it comes to food that is produced elsewhere and shipped. It takes a lot of fossil fuel-based products and services to harvest, prepare, freeze, process and ship food. This is bad for the environment, and can be limited by buying locally.

Another good reason to purchase locally is that by supporting our farms, we protect the land and green spaces. This is important for preserving air and water quality, and for preventing overbuilding and the tax on resources that comes with congestion and the loss of open, undeveloped or farmed land.

Know the source. It’s also important to know where our food is produced. Fruit, vegetables, meat and fish originating in other countries may not be subject to the same tough regulatory requirements found on U.S. farms and processing centers. That includes pesticides and fertilizers used, water sources for irrigation, and how safely — in terms of germs, bacteria and other contaminants — the food has been handled prior to shipping.

As food-production networks have become increasingly consolidated and globalized, the risk of food safety problems, such as food-borne illness, has also increased. The consolidation of meat and produce production, including animal slaughter and processing, means that there are more possibilities of improper processing, handling, or preparation affecting vast quantities of food. Tracing outbreaks of food-borne illnesses also becomes more difficult because the production and distribution of conventional food products often involves multiple farms, food processors, and food distributors.

Supporting sustainable growth and food distribution

Local food production/distribution networks often start on smaller, sustainable family farms. Farm products are transported over shorter geographic distances, generally processed either on the farm itself, or with smaller processors. Sustainable local food distribution networks rely on the direct-to-consumer market and the direct-to-retail, foodservice, and institutional market.

The direct-to-consumer market is currently the most established sector of local food distribution.  Direct-to-consumer means that all middlemen are cut out of the food distribution equation – farmers sell their products directly to consumers, rather than through third parties, such as grocery stores. Common direct-to-consumer operations include:

  • Farmers’ Markets: These are communal spaces in which multiple farmers gather to sell their farm products directly to consumers. Farmers’ markets may be municipally or privately managed and may be seasonal or year-round. Farmers may have to pay a vendor’s (or other similar) fee to participate, and usually transport their own farm products to the farmers’ market site.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs): These are direct-to-consumer programs in which consumers buy a “share” of a local farm’s projected harvest. Consumers are often required to pay for their share of the harvest up front; this arrangement distributes the risks and rewards of farming among both consumers and the farmer. CSA participants often pick up their CSA shares in a communal location, or the shares may be delivered directly to customers.
  • Other Direct-to-Consumer Programs: A much smaller proportion of the direct-to-consumer market are options such as pick-your-own farms, on-site farm stands and stores, and gleaning programs, in which consumers are invited to harvest crops that are left in fields, usually after harvest.

For information on locally grown food, and a listing of what’s available when and where across Connecticut, visit http://www.pickyourown.org/CT.htm. Additionally, if you’d like to find farmer’s markets close to where you live, check out http://www.visitconnecticut.com/state/farmers-markets/

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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!

Welcome to Lyme Disease central

It’s nice to brag about Connecticut’s shoreline, rolling hills, beautiful rivers and scenic vistas. We’re among the leaders in quality of life, have a highly skilled workforce, and a history rich in innovation, invention and discovery. Unfortunately, we’re also the national poster child for Lyme Disease, which — literally and figuratively — has made the nutmeg state its bull’s eye.

Lyme Disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain and in many, but not all cases, that characteristic “bull’s-eye-like” skin rash called erythema migrans. It’s estimated to affect 300,000 Americans a year and 65,000 in Europe, typically in the spring and early summer.

If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks.  Laboratory testing is helpful but not always conclusive, and Lyme Disease often is misdiagnosed. It is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness (meaning transmitted via organisms such as ticks or mosquitoes) in the United States, even though it does not occur nationwide and is heavily concentrated in the northeast and upper Midwest.

Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. It is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person. But there are certain precautions we can take to prevent the spread of the illness, including using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat, especially since the ticks that transmit Lyme Disease can occasionally transmit other tick-borne diseases as well.

While it is a good idea to take preventive measures against ticks year-round, we should be extra vigilant in warmer months (April through September) when ticks are most active. And in summer, when we’re out hiking, biking, camping, and spending a lot more time in and around grass and woods, there are several steps we can take to limit bites from ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-bearing insects.

Avoid direct contact with ticks and mosquitoes when possible. If you can, avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. When hiking, picnicking or walking, try to remain in the center of trails.

Wear long pants and protective clothing, and when you’re done recreating or working outdoors, check your clothing for ticks, since they can migrate once in the car or home.

Use appropriate repellants. We can repel ticks and mosquitoes with DEET or Permethrin. Here are some useful hints for maximizing our use of tick repellant:

  • Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
  • If you’re using other repellents, go to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website for safety information.

Find and remove ticks from our bodies. Finding and removing ticks embedded in our skin can be gross, but painless. The best bet is to keep them at bay. But if they do find us, here are tips for dealing with them easily and effectively:

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on us.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of the body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • Consult a doctor or a nurse (or check on the Internet) to determine the best method for removing the tick; it’s important to remove the entire tick, or it can leave parts embedded in our skin.

Should you or a family member develop a bull’s-eye-type red rash near the bite site, or exhibit other side effects such as a fever, lethargy or extreme exhaustion, consult a doctor and ask to be tested for Lyme Disease.

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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!

Time to don your sunscreen and hats

After a long, cold winter, little feels better than being outdoors in the mild weather. Sunshine beckons, motivates us, and seems to physically and mentally replenish our spirits. And while those bountiful beams help stimulate chemical and physical reactions in our bodies and contribute to our health, it’s important to remember that as we savor the sun’s warmth and work on our tans, we’re also soaking up damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays.

May is UV and Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Unprotected exposure to UV radiation 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 ourselves from extra UV exposure

The best way to lower our risk of skin cancer is to protect our skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun helps reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, it is important not to rely too much on sunscreen alone. Also, we should also not use sunscreen as an excuse to increase the amount of time we spend in the sun – remaining outside too long during peak sunlight hours is very dangerous, and UV rays penetrate our clothes and skin.

When possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 am to 4 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 are helpful tips on 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 sunscreen 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.

Wearing sunscreen is critical, but only half the battle. 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.

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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!

Who’s got time for sleep?!

It’s April. We’ve already sprung forward an hour, and can now enjoy the lengthening days and milder temperatures. With the longer daylight hours, though, come increased outdoor activity and often a quickening life pace. If you’re already tired, it’s just going to get worse, and that hour of sleep you lost a few weeks ago is one of several elements potentially wreaking havoc silently.

When we’re tired, we become irritable. Productivity, service and quality of work often suffer. Being fatigued tests the patience of everyone around us, increases chances of accidents or mistakes, and aggravates chronic health conditions. It also reduces our natural immune system, making us more susceptible to illness.

Humans have a 24-hour internal clock called circadian rhythm that controls our eating and sleeping patterns, internal bodily functions and the timing of hormone secretions. We might have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning if our internal clock gets out of sync with the external day-night cycle. This happens with multi-time zone travel and is the basis for jet lag. With the daylight savings time shift, the external time has shifted while the internal clock has not, and even though it’s been weeks, there’s still a lag.

The more stable and consistent our circadian rhythm is, the better our sleep. This cycle also may be altered by the timing of various factors including naps, bedtime, exercise, diet, and especially exposure to light.

Aging also plays a role in sleep and sleep hygiene. After the age of 40 our sleep patterns change and we have many more nocturnal awakenings than in our younger years. These not only directly affect the quality of our sleep, but they also interact with any other condition that may cause arousals or awakenings, functioning like the withdrawal syndrome that occurs after drinking alcohol close to bedtime. The more times we awake at night, the more likely we will feel unrefreshed and unrestored in the morning.

Psychological stressors like deadlines, exams, marital conflict and job crises may prevent us from falling asleep or wake us from sleep throughout the night. It takes time to “turn off” all the noise from the day. No way around it. If you work right up to the time you turn out the lights, or are reviewing all the day’s events and planning tomorrow, you simply can’t just “flip a switch” and drop off to a blissful night’s sleep.

What we can do to sleep better

You’d think that because we all sleep, we’d be good at it by now . . . but of course, that isn’t the case. Millions of Americans suffer from fatigue caused by poor sleep habits. And while chemical imbalances and chronic conditions such as sleep apnea — where the body doesn’t get enough oxygen during sleep — can be affecting you, there are many simple solutions you can try before turning to medications or running off to get a sleep study.

The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week. It’s also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed — not too little, or too much. This may vary by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed, but if they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated.

Here are 10 good sleep hygiene practices to consider:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep, but avoid exercise close to bedtime.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals, spicy foods which increase metabolism, sweets or unhealthy snacking. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many helpful properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle, though try to avoid too much light exposure in the evening if you’ve been having trouble sleeping.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine, and try to wake up at the same time every day.
  • Limit stimulating activities, electronic games and TV shows before trying to go to sleep.
  • Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed, and try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations when it’s time to relax.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, or work.
  • Make sure that the sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and the room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.

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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!

Spring into action on your personal health plan

It’s hard to believe March is already here . . . which means spring, warmer weather and a return to outdoor activities aren’t far behind.  As many of us shed heavy jackets and winter clothes, we also may need to shed winter pounds or consider other healthy behaviors that may have gone by the wayside during our winter hibernation. Fortunately, March is a great time to renew our personal wellness resolutions and goals, well before we start to unpack our bathing suits, tank tops and shorts.

At least half of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Maybe we intended to lose weight, or exercise more, or quit smoking. But the vast majority of Americans who made such resolutions won’t meet their goals. Polls have found that by springtime, 68 percent of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution have broken it.  After one year, only 15 percent claim success.

But that’s okay – as philosophers and quality gurus remind us, it’s the journey not the destination! The secret to self-improvement is persistence, not perfection.  Now is our opportunity to see what we’ve done or haven’t done, set new goals and get started – or started again.

A more feasible strategy might be to set goals we can measure – and achieve – on a quarterly basis. For example, losing 10 pounds between April and June, cutting back coffee, smoking or alcohol consumption by a certain percentage, getting to the gym three times a week, consciously reducing sugar and fat intake every time we eat, walking on the weekends . . . whatever works for you.

Additionally, this is a good time to think about walks, runs and other charitable or competitive events that traditionally take place in the late spring. If you set a goal to walk or run in a 5k coming up in a few months, you can begin your training now. Or you can adjust your diet by eliminating pasta and bread from one or more meals a day and substituting more fruit and vegetables. The trick is to modify your strategy – especially if you haven’t been successful at meeting your goals over the past few months.

The challenge, of course, is that wanting to lose weight and knowing how to lose weight are different objectives, and achieving and sustaining that weight loss requires smart planning, dedication, and good information.

We can cut carbs and sugar, eat lots of raw veggies, replace a meal with a protein shake, or count calories.  Diets will take off weight, but staying healthy and not regaining the weight is another matter. Instead of simply dieting, we need to focus on nutrition, health and exercise, and to recognize that there are benefits to be gained from a healthful diet besides just weight loss.

Simplicity is a useful tool for altering your diet. Vegetables, experts stress, can be eaten raw or cooked in the microwave just as easily as heating processed food. And there is an enormous amount of self-help literature available online and in book stores, and through nutritionists, your physician and other health professionals.

It’s also important to choose high-quality foods over low-quality foods. Fast food and snack foods are low quality, which means they have a lot of calories without a lot of nutrients. And when we try to appease ourselves by adding processed cheese sauce to the broccoli or deep frying our veggies, we’re not improving our diet. 

It starts by making up our minds to eat better, and by experimenting with changes that we can sustain, unlike those offered in fad diets. Actually engaging our brains, paying attention to what we’re eating, how much and when are important first steps. Frequency and understanding the chemistry of food, what we’re putting into our bodies and how it affects us, will make a big difference. And changing our diets without adding exercise is not going to be as effective a means of losing weight or achieving improved overall health.

Success is incremental, but you can reward yourself as you make changes. Once you start substituting vegetables and fruit for heavy carbs and prepared foods high in fat, sugar and sodium, you’ll get used to the healthier eating style and smaller portions will become enough. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy pizza, ice cream and fast food once in awhile – as long as it becomes the exception, not the rule.

Healthful living is a lifestyle choice, and extra weight a prime contributor to most chronic diseases. Set reasonable goals – both in terms of nutrition and exercise – track your progress, involve family members or friends in setting and sharing goals, and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to make simple changes that will have a profound effect on your long-term health and wellness.

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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!

Sound ideas for a perfect Valentine’s Day

It’s February already, and we’re coming up quickly on that annual ritual that can delight, mystify, frustrate or make us nuts. . .and we’re not talking about President’s Day! Maybe you finally have it all figured out — flowers, chocolate, a nice card, even a special dinner. It sounds like a perfect recipe for romance…so what could go wrong, right?

Well, plenty — as we all know, despite our hard work and best planning. So what can we do to improve our odds of fully enjoying this Valentine’s Day? Start by considering a gift that doesn’t have to cost a penny, but can pay back richly…the gift of silence.

We live in a noisy, chaotic world full of sounds we like and don’t like, and noise we can and can’t control. Noise at high decibels can physically injure us, temporarily or permanently. But constant noise — even at lower decibels, such as the fans whirling in our computers, furnaces in our homes, road noises and the refrigerator compressor — are all contributing to a heightened level of stress that can make us irritable, short tempered, harder to get along with and certainly not in the mood for love. What’s more, noise-induced stress inhibits our ability to relax, to concentrate and to sleep, adding fatigue to this insidious mix.

We have two nervous systems that are affected by sound, accelerating or suppressing metabolic functions that control alertness, stress and relaxation. The trouble is that as our bodies react to different stimuli, some stress hormones remain active in the brain for too long. It often requires conscious effort to initiate our relaxation response and reestablish metabolic equilibrium, including breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.

According to Branwen O’Shea-Refai, LCSW, a therapist, yoga teacher and sound healer, stress management is the key to enhancing relationships, and for improving intimacy.

“We can’t totally eliminate noise and stress, but we can learn how it affects us and practice techniques that can help activate our relaxation response,” explains O’Shea-Refai. “When we are flooded by texts, calls, emails and social media, we become overstimulated, either shutting down or becoming irritable. Exposure to natural sounds like waves, bird songs, rain or healing sounds such as drums and Tibetan bowls helps us reconnect with ourselves.  We have to be grounded in our bodies to have healthy relationships with others.”

For some women, especially those in long-term relationships, the need to feel relaxed and to have their stress under control is an important precursor to intimacy, O’Shea-Refai adds. She suggests that an effective way to prepare for “date night” is to de-stress by getting a break from the kids and work. Seek time alone, she consuls, take a warm bath, read, get a massage, exercise, and listen to or create sounds that suit the mood you’re hoping to capture.

“It isn’t as simple as just putting on classical or New Age music,” she observes. “Soothing music alone won’t eliminate work or life anxiety, though the movements in classical pieces often can match — or help transform — our moods. But silence is also therapeutic, as are ‘cleansing’ or ‘clearing’ noises such as drums, Tibetan musical bowls and chanting. Sound therapists also teach people how to use their own voice to manage stress.”

An exercise that’s very effective, she says, is the healing vibration produced when you chant the “ahhh” sound. She has her patients practice this “heart sound” and breathing exercises whenever they feel their stress levels rising, and adds that it even helps calm young children. She also recommends Naad Yoga, the yogic practice of using sound vibrations to affect the mind, body, and spirit, as an excellent way to strengthen metabolic systems that aggravate stress.

“It’s harder to feel attractive, sexy and passionate when you feel emotionally agitated, out of touch, or are being bombarded by work, family and outside stimuli,” O’Shea-Refai concludes. “’Me time’ is not selfish. All our relationships benefit when we actively reduce extraneous noise, center ourselves, and positively shift our energy.”

That’s good news, especially as February 14th, World Sound Healing Day, approaches. And it’s good advice for that other thing we observe on February 14th, too!

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O’Shea-Refai  lives and practices in Bethany. For more information about sound, yoga or alternative healing practices, she can be reached at 203.393.1717, or visit EarthDancing.com.

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!

Keep Your Skin in the Game

The cold weather often means an increase in chapped lips, dry, itchy skin, rashes and a worsening of skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. The main culprit is lack of moisture. During winter, the humidity in the outside air plunges, and thanks to indoor heating, we’re assailed by dry, warm air in our house, office, school or workplace.

During flu and cold season, we’re also washing our hands more often than ever, which saps the natural oils in our skin, leaving them dehydrated until they crack, peel and bleed.

The skin barrier is a mix of proteins, lipids and oils. It protects your skin, and how good a job it does is largely genetic, but also a measure of environmental conditions. If you have a weak barrier, you’re more prone to symptoms of sensitive skin such as itching, inflammation and eczema. Your hands are also more likely to become very dry in winter if they’re constantly exposed to cold air, water, extreme heat or other environmental factors.

One solution is to keep ourselves, and our skin, properly hydrated. But drinking water alone won’t do the trick for your skin; it also requires replenishment. Using moisturizers especially formatted for your skin is an important tool in your hydration arsenal. But putting moisturizers on once a day isn’t enough – you need to apply five or more applications daily to afford day-long protection. Coverage should include hands, fingernails, face, arms and legs and even your feet.

There are many effective hand creams and body lotions available in our local drugstores and supermarkets.  Choosing the one that’s best may require some trial and error, but focus on the two main ingredients that make the greatest difference:  emollients and humectants.

Emollients act as lubricants on the surface of the skin. They fill the crevices between cells that are ready to be shed and help the loose edges of the dead skin cells that are left behind stick together. Emollients help keep the skin soft, smooth, and pliable. Look for ingredients such as lanolin, jojoba oil, isopropyl palmitate, propylene glycol linoleate, squalene, and glycerol stearate.

Humectants draw moisture from the environment to the skin’s surface, increasing the water content of the skin’s outer layer. Scan the ingredients label for common humectants such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sorbitol, propylene glycerol, urea, and lactic acid.

If your hands go from just being dry and rough to having little cracks, or fissures, and are tender or bleeding, it’s time to move on to more therapeutic moisturizers. Petroleum jelly is a reliable standby. Or choose a thick, rich moisturizer in a formula that contains heavier ingredients such as dimethicone, cocoa or shea butter, or beeswax. Applying a generous coating at bedtime, and wearing a pair of cotton gloves will help retain the healing salve until it can be fully absorbed while you sleep.

If you already have sensitive skin, look for a moisturizer that contains soothing ingredients such as chamomile or aloe, and doesn’t contain potential allergens such as fragrances or dyes. Also, avoid products containing acids, which can irritate sensitive skin.

As we age, our skin tends to become drier because our oil-producing glands become less active. To keep skin soft and well hydrated, choose an oil-based moisturizer that contains petrolatum as the base, along with antioxidants or alpha hydroxy acids to combat wrinkles. These ingredients help hold in moisture and prevent flaky, scaly skin.

Hand washing, though critical for your overall health and to prevent the spread of germs, also dries out skin and hands. The best bet is to choose a mild soap, use warm — not hot — water, pat your hands dry and apply a moisturizer right away. If you have severely dry hands or you wash your hands a dozen or more times a day, substitute a hand-sanitizing gel or wipes for some soap-and-water sessions.

Other tricks for limiting dry skin is to sleep with a humidifier at night, take short, warm (not hot) showers, and to wear gloves, a hat and sunscreen when you’re outdoors. A balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits also provides the vitamins and minerals your body needs to help it remain healthy. If redness, peeling and tenderness persist, see a dermatologist. He or she can prescribe a steroid cream to help fight inflammation, and also check on whether your dry hands may be due to a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.

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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!

Bacon-wrapped scallop or a carrot? Why not both?!

As you’re about to dip your lemon square into the chocolate fondue, stop for a moment and contemplate what you’re doing. Yes, it’s going to taste fantastically yummy, and you’ll love every bite. But you’re probably going to feel guilty later, especially if you washed it down with some eggnog and cheesecake. Plus, it’s likely going right to your hips and arteries and, without doubt, will make losing weight come January that much tougher. Guilt is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Well, no, actually it isn’t! In fact, placating our guilt is one of the reasons we overindulge, so finding alternative nutritional options and setting achievable goals are critical.

Awareness and compromise are factors within our control. American adults on average gain between two and seven pounds every holiday season. It’s easy to see how with wall-to-wall parties, sweet treats, alcohol consumption, and gatherings with friends, family and co-workers. But nobody’s suggesting you have to starve or deny yourself some enjoyment; moderation and common sense can prevail, and you’ll still have a great time!

Setting the simple goal of trying to maintain your current weight is one easy option. Eating healthy foods every chance you get is another. And turning down desserts or fattening beverages, and substituting healthy alternatives like fruit and veggies, yogurt, water and low-fat alternatives will help. Finding time to walk and exercise, especially in the midst of December chaos, is truly beneficial. And ensuring you get enough sleep, eat at regular intervals and carve out some “me time” will help fight stress, mental fatigue and physical exhaustion.

Here are some basic tips for enjoying yourself at the holidays and for not overindulging:

  • Practice awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats at the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try appetizer-sized helpings instead of dishing up a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar and preservatives. And remember, alcohol reduces your will to practice good eating habits.
  • Be realistic. December is not the best time for weight loss. Try to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective — you don’t have to indulge every minute from Thanksgiving until the Super Bowl. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.
  • Manage stress and emotions. One way to keep stress at a minimum is to lower your expectations about holidays. Ask for help to lighten your holiday schedule. Host a potluck holiday meal instead of cooking dinner. Or serve it buffet style instead of having a sit-down meal. Learn to say “no,” in a courteous manner, to activities and food that aren’t in your best interest. And at social events, don’t fill silence with food. Talk and make new friends, and even if you’re sad, try turning to people for comfort instead of food.
  • Plan in advance. Eat a little before you go to a holiday gathering — hunger can undo the best intentions. Also, avoid sources of temptation whenever you can. After visiting a buffet, leave the room that’s filled with food. If there are sweets in the office break room, don’t go there. If you’re given unhealthy food as a gift, bring it to the office or to a friend’s house to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
  • Remain physically active. That doesn’t mean running to the store every five minutes — it’s walking on the treadmill, working out at home or at your favorite gym, keeping your yoga appointments, and taking a hike on a mild winter day. Exercise is great for reducing stress and working off some of those extra holiday calories!
  • Make a personal wellness plan. Since January is right around the corner, start thinking now about exercise, nutrition, health and weight goals for the New Year. Make appointments with your physician or a nutritionist. Look for fitness-related classes like spinning, swimming or yoga, or a gym that’s right for you. Write down your goals, post them where you’ll see them every day, and share them with another person.

Most importantly, consider what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, then let go of the rest. Our overall goal should be trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle both in and outside of the fall and winter feasting season. Constant weight gains and losses can be harmful to our health and our psyches. Balance, moderation, and flexibility are keys to better health…and celebrations are really about family and friends, not food.

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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!

Excuse me while I snooze

We’ve just changed the clocks. The days are getting darker earlier, and they’re busier than ever with school, autumn sports, and activities going at full blast. With the return to earlier mornings and a fuller schedule, chances are you and your family members are on the go constantly and you’re tired. When we’re behind in our sleep, it affects how we perform, behave, get along with others, and our overall health. And with the holidays right around the corner, the pace is going to quicken even more. So it’s important to think about how much sleep we’re getting now and how best to ensure good sleep hygiene practices.

Sleeping well is as critical to our overall health and productivity as diet and exercise, and is important for everyone, from childhood through adulthood. A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness, and can prevent the development of sleep problems and certain disorders.

What is good sleep hygiene?

Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and waking pattern seven days a week. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too little, or too much. This varies by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed. If they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated. Age and other issues also affect how much you should be sleeping.

Good sleep hygiene practices include a variety of elements you can influence. Here are 10 common hints for improving restfulness:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half of your cycle as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems — for example, it’s not a good time to snack on spicy or greasy dishes in the evening. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many healthy properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations, activities and TV shows before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, for playtime or for work.
  • Make sure that your sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and your room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.
  • The kids and dog have their own beds…they should use them!
  • Be careful about sleep aids — they can be habit-forming, interfere with the restful (REM) sleep your body needs to rejuvenate itself, and can interact poorly with other medications.

What you should know about Melatonin

Melatonin’s main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles. Darkness causes the body to produce more Melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Light decreases Melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake. Some people who have trouble sleeping have low levels of Melatonin. It is thought that adding Melatonin from supplements might help them sleep.

Melatonin is likely safe for most adults when taken by mouth short-term or applied to the skin. But like any medicine or supplement, you should check with your physician before taking it. Melatonin can cause some side effects including headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps and irritability.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t use Melatonin. It also might interfere with ovulation, making it more difficult to become pregnant. Melatonin should not be used in most children — because of its effects on other hormones, it may interfere with development during adolescence. Additionally, Melatonin can raise blood pressure in people who are taking certain medications to control blood pressure. Melatonin also might increase blood sugar in people with diabetes, and can make symptoms of depression worse.

While found naturally in the body, Melatonin used as medicine is usually made synthetically in a laboratory. It is most commonly available in pill form, but also available in forms that can be placed in the cheek or under the tongue. This allows the Melatonin to be absorbed directly into the body.

People use Melatonin to adjust the body’s internal clock. It is used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes (shift-workers), and for helping blind people establish a day and night cycle. It is also used for the inability to fall asleep (insomnia); delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS); insomnia associated with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); insomnia due to certain high-blood pressure medications called beta-blockers; and sleep problems in children with developmental disorders including autism, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. It is also used as a sleep aid after discontinuing the use of benzodiazepine drugs and to reduce the side effects of stopping smoking.

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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!

Wash your hands of flu, colds, and viruses

For all our technology, medical advances and sophisticated health resources, it often seems we’re no closer to taming the common cold, eliminating flu and infections, or reducing many common and costly chronic diseases and illnesses. In part, that’s the insidious nature of human health and the ability of diseases to transform and elude researcher’s best efforts. But often, it’s also the result of misinformation, and our unwillingness — purposely or through lack of accurate direction or failed compliance — to help ourselves through knowledge and prevention.

As the annual flu season descends, we need to protect ourselves. Flu vaccine is plentiful and often effective against specific strains of influenza, but many people still choose to not get themselves or their children vaccinated. That’s a personal decision, but it can mean that you or your kids spread illness and disease to others, including the most vulnerable — the sick, elderly and babies.

Amid heightened global concerns over Ebola, which has now reached American shores, another far more common virus has been making the rounds. This flu-like strain, called Enterovirus (EV) D68, is now afflicting people across the country, and is particularly dangerous to infants, seniors, or anyone with respiratory illnesses, asthma, or chronic, obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Strains of the Enterovirus (there are more than 100) are not new — they’ve been formally catalogued since the early 1960s — but this year’s outbreak has been more virulent than in recent years.

Most common in the summer and early fall, mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body and muscle aches. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it presents like the common cold and many other viruses. Severe symptoms may include wheezing and difficulty breathing. Since Enterovirus causes respiratory illness, the virus can be found in an infected person’s respiratory secretions, such as saliva, nasal mucus, or sputum. EV-D68 spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or contaminates common surfaces or objects through touch.

There is no specific treatment for people with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68, nor a vaccine to prevent it. For mild respiratory illness, you can help relieve symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications for pain and fever (aspirin should not be given to children). Some people with severe respiratory illness may need to be hospitalized — if symptoms worsen, you should see your physician.

We can help protect ourselves from Enterovirus, the flu, other viruses and colds by following these simple steps:

  • The easiest, safest, cheapest and most effective way to prevent the spread of disease or to limit infection is to wash your hands often. That includes when you come home from anywhere, before you eat in a dining hall or restaurant, after you use a restroom, visit the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or touch an ATM. And when it isn’t easy to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t share toothbrushes, razors or other personal grooming products, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick
  • Sneeze into tissues or your arm, not your hands and not into the air — airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections
  • Get a flu shot! Flu vaccines are very safe and can’t infect you with the flu. Injected flu vaccines 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.
  • Stay home when you’re sick; incubation time — or the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly nasty in your system — allow you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious.

Additionally, remember that antibiotics won’t help you fight the flu or a cold, which are not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens your body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and bad prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. 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 if you haven’t had your flu shot there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

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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!