Understanding and Controlling Your Blood Pressure

About 74.5 million people in the United States have high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension. May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, but high blood pressure is a year-round health challenge for every American. Hypertension increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first- and third-leading causes of death in the United States.

Who Has High Blood Pressure?

  • Almost 90% of adults aged 45–64 years will develop high blood pressure during the remainder of their lifetime.
  • About 25% of American adults aged 20 years or older have pre-hypertension.
  • One in three U.S. adults aged 20 years or older has hypertension.
  • Nearly one in five people has hypertension and is not aware that they have it.
  • In the United States, high blood pressure is more common among blacks than whites. About 44% of black women have high blood pressure.
  • Mexican-Americans have the lowest level of hypertension control compared to non-Hispanic whites and blacks.

Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The first (systolic) number represents the pressure when the heart beats. The second (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart rests between beats. Blood pressure that is slightly higher than normal is called pre-hypertension. People with pre-hypertension are more likely to develop high blood pressure than are people with normal blood pressure levels.

Why controlling your blood pressure is important

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. It is a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 300,000 Americans every year, and nearly 45 million people visit their doctor for high blood pressure-related issues annually.

You can maintain healthy blood pressure through changing your lifestyle or by combining lifestyle changes with prescribed medications.

Key lifestyle changes include the following:

  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Maintain a normal body weight (body mass index of 18.5-24.9).
  • Keep up physical activity (two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).
  • Follow a healthy eating plan including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and low in sodium.
  • Quit smoking.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation (no more than two drinks per day for men and one or fewer drinks per day for women).
  • If you have high blood pressure and are prescribed medication(s), take as directed.
  • Reduce sodium intake. A diet high in sodium (salt) increases the risk for higher blood pressure. About 77% of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed and restaurant foods.

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

Managing Your Hay Fever Symptoms

Okay, so stop sneezing for a few minutes and take a quick inventory:  Eyes watery, nose runny, head achy, throat itchy, feeling tired, irritable and getting worse by the day? Well, join the club!  “Hay fever” (seasonal allergic rhinitis) affects over 20 percent of Americans. 

Most common in early spring, the symptoms of hay fever develop as a reaction to allergens (allergy-causing substances) in the air, most notably to pollens in the early spring. Other examples of airborne allergens include mold spores, dust, and animal dander.

Pollen consists of the minuscule, male cells of flowering plants. Pollen from garden flowers usually doesn’t cause allergies, since this type of pollen is large and waxy and most often carried by insects. Small, light, dry pollens produced by trees, grasses, and weeds can disseminate with the wind and lead to allergic symptoms.

Your doctor can help you determine whether treatments are necessary, such as prescription or nonprescription antihistamines to control the symptoms of hay fever. Whether or not you take medication for hay fever, you can still take steps to reduce the severity of your symptoms. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has some useful tips for those who suffer from seasonal allergies:

  1. Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water.
  2. Always bathe and wash hair before bedtime (pollen can collect on skin and hair throughout the day).
  3. Do not hang clothes outside to dry where they can trap pollens.
  4. Wear a filter mask when mowing or working outdoors. Also, if you can, avoid peak times for pollen exposure (hot, dry, windy days, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Although pollens are usually emitted in early morning, peak times for dissemination are between around 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  5. Be aware of local pollen counts in your area (visit the National Allergy Bureau Web site).
  6. Keep house, office and car windows closed; use air conditioning if possible rather than opening windows.
  7. Perform a thorough spring cleaning of your home, including replacing heating and A/C filters and cleaning ducts and vents.
  8. Check bathrooms and other damp areas in your home frequently for mold and mildew, and remove visible mold with nontoxic cleaners.
  9. Keep pets out of the bedroom and off of furniture, since they may carry pollen if they have been outdoors (or exacerbate your allergies if, for example, you’re allergic to cat dander)

Learn more about allergy treatment and prevention by visiting The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, at www.aaaai.org.

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

Why Stress Hurts, and What You Can Do About It

Stress can boost your performance and get you through a crisis. But it can also lead to serious problems. If you’re overly stressed, you should be concerned about your well-being. The symptoms of stress overload include fatigue, headaches, lack of concentration, difficulty making decisions, increased or decreased eating, inability to control anger, and the increased use of alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, or drugs.

When our bodies stay stressed for too long, many possible health problems can develop or worsen such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Decreased immune defenses
  • Cancer
  • Stomach problems
  • Reduced brain functioning

May is National Mental Health Month. In addition to the physical and emotional ailments listed above, stress also can lead to serious mental health problems, like depression and anxiety disorders. Of course, you can’t necessarily remove the sources of stress. But you can figure out ways to cope better with whatever comes your way. And decades of research suggest which steps are most likely to work.

Tips for controlling your stress

Here are 10 tips to help you cope and reduce stress:  

1. Connect with Others. People who feel connected are happier and healthier — and may even live longer.

2. Stay Positive. People who regularly focus on the positives in their lives are less upset by painful memories.

3. Get Physically Active. Exercise can help relieve insomnia and reduce depression, is good for you, and improves self image and esteem.

4. Help Others. People who consistently help others experience less depression, greater calm, and fewer pains.

5. Get Enough Sleep. Not getting enough rest increases risks of weight gain, accidents, reduced memory, and heart problems.

6. Create Joy and Satisfaction. Positive emotions can boost your ability to bounce back from stress.

7. Eat Well. Eating healthy food and regular meals can increase your energy, lower the risk of developing certain diseases, and influence your mood.

8. Take Care of Your Spirit. People who have strong spiritual lives may be healthier and live longer. Spirituality seems to cut the stress that can contribute to disease.

9. Deal Better with Hard Times. People who can tackle problems or get support in a tough situation tend to feel less depressed.

10. Get Professional Help if You Need It. More than 80 percent of people who are treated for depression improve.

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

Behavior Modification Takes Time, Patience, and Commitment

When it comes to health promotion, we often invest too little and expect too much. To change stubborn behavior patterns, we need to pick target health behaviors and provide a comprehensive, long-term series of interventions.

If you’ve ever been in sales, you probably know that people rarely buy on the first approach. They have to hear about the product through a variety of media — an introductory letter, a phone call, an advertisement, and then a sales call — before they’ll buy.

It’s the same in health promotion. You need to give people time to get acquainted with the idea of making changes, and offer a variety of opportunities to jump in and try. The more exposure they have, the more normal it will seem.

For example, in the 1950s the idea of NOT letting people smoke in our homes would have seemed the height of rudeness. Today, it’s he/she who lights up in your home or office who’s out of line. That cultural change took many years to accomplish. Awareness programs, the Surgeon General-ordered warnings on cigarette packages, stop-smoking programs and workplace smoking policy changes followed. Lawsuits against manufacturers, and smoking cessation aids helped — and through dogged and continuous effort, smoking rates that span the ages have plummeted drastically.

So, if you decide to seriously target a health behavior, determine the most effective interventions and plan for a sustained campaign.

Tips for Choosing Appropriate Interventions

If you’ve already introduced wellness programs and other healthcare interventions, you’re well on your way to improving employee physical and mental health and reducing the workplace costs associated with poor health. Here are a variety of suggested actions that will support your efforts.

  • Talk to other wellness professionals about their experiences with different types of interventions, good and bad. Ask for advice on how to choose, structure, time, and promote activities.
  • Ask senior managers to participate in activities, be members of wellness teams, and lend their support to your interventions.
  • Build on successful activities by making them annual events, preferably at the same time of year. Improve them, and make them a part of your organizational culture and calendar.
  • Get someone to take photographs whenever appropriate for use in newsletters, bulletin boards, and future promotions. Consider videotaping fun events — you can even collect video testimonials for use at company meetings.
  • Plan how you’ll evaluate interventions from the start. Make sure you have a way to measure participation, satisfaction, and related health benefits.
  • There’s a lot to consider when choosing interventions for your wellness program. Don’t overdo, especially if your program is new and your resources are scarce. Give yourself time for adequate research, planning, and promotion. Next year you’ll know so much more, and be able to refine the activities that worked, drop the duds, and add exciting new programs.

To reap 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!