This Medicine Won’t Cost You a Penny. No Kidding!

As the holidays approached, I made my annual trip to New York City to see the sights and catch a show. With tickets to the symphony burning a hole in my pocket and show time rapidly approaching, I approached a policeman on the sidewalk and asked him, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice,” he retorted.

You likely saw that one coming — it’s an old joke — but it probably still made you smile or lightened the moment. Humor is healthy, and laughter infectious. When shared, it binds people together, relaxes us and increases happiness and intimacy. Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen our immune system, boost our energy, diminish pain, and protect us from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, humor is fun and readily available, and laughter is free and a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict.

Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring our minds and bodies back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens our burdens, inspires hope, connects us to others, and keeps us grounded, focused, and alert. Humor shifts perspective, allowing us to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help us avoid feeling overwhelmed at work, at home or wherever life takes us.

With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource. Laughter:

  • Relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, improving our resistance to disease.
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

  • Protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
  • Makes us feel good. And the good feeling that we get when we laugh remains with us even after the laughter subsides.

All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times by allowing us to be more spontaneous and less defensive, judgmental and critical. It’s important to not take ourselves too seriously, and to remember that many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people.

Ultimately, humor helps us keep a positive, optimistic outlook throughout difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. More than just a respite from sadness, frustration, anger and pain, laughter helps us cope, and gives us the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. So laugh at yourself, laugh with others, and see the humor all around us. The ability to laugh, play, and have fun not only makes life more enjoyable, it also helps keep us healthy.

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!

Keeping an Eye on Your Eyes

When is the last time you had your eyes checked by a medical professional? Are you doing a good job taking care of them and protecting them from injury?

Eye wellness, like our eyesight itself, is one of those items we often take for granted until faced with a problem. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, but glaucoma is only one of many potential causes of impaired vision, eye pain, injury, or blindness. Millions of Americans wear corrective eyewear or contact lenses, but the best courses of action for eye wellness are to head off problems before they occur, use common sense, and know when to seek direction from medical professionals.

Basic care, basic caring

There are some basic rules to follow, especially if the work you do strains your eyes or places you at risk for eye injuries. The first rule, naturally, is to wear approved eye protection. That can be safety glasses on a jobsite or while competing in sports, but also when you’re mowing your lawn or using power equipment. There are so many ways to hit yourself in the eye, or to be injured by thrown objects, splashed liquids, and even wind-blown contaminants or materials. Hospital emergency rooms treat patients with eyes damaged by all manner of chemicals, fish hooks, baseballs, wood chips and much more. So if you’re doing something that might result in an injury, take the safe and easy step to cover your eyes.

Being aware of the potential damage from ultraviolet light also is important. Sunglasses and clear eyeglasses with protective coatings filter out the sun’s damaging rays, so if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need that extra protection.

Eyes are a window to your general health

Adults should visit with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist at least once every other year, and annually if you have bad eyesight or a family history of glaucoma, cataracts, or other congenital or age-related eye ailments. Many eye maladies develop as we get older, part of the natural aging process. Through a comprehensive eye exam that typically involves dilating your pupils and conducting a number of standard (and painless) tests, eye care professionals not only determine sight deficiencies and illnesses, but also find warning signs pointing to other dangers such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Dry eye syndrome and glaucoma are two common ailments that affect people as they age. If the glands in your eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, you can buy over-the-counter remedies, but you should have your eyes checked for inflammation or infection. Sometimes dry eyes occur from living or working in windy, dry, or low-humidity environments, or in buildings with air-blown hot air. Doctors recommend “fake tears,” which don’t have as many chemicals as the “get the red out” eye drops Anti-inflammation medications and vitamins or foods like fish oil which are high in Omega-3 are often recommended.

Glaucoma is a group of illnesses that can lead to blindness if not treated. When fluid builds up inside the eye, pressure and tension can result in damage to the optic nerve, including blindness. Glaucoma has no early warning signs. However, symptoms can include blurriness or clouded vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, reduced peripheral or “side” vision, or “tunnel vision.” It’s more common in adults over 60, in African American adults over 40, or in adults with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma. It’s most often treated through medications and surgery.

Through comprehensive, regular eye exams, your doctor can check for early warning signs of glaucoma, potential retinal detachment (which causes floaters or flashes in the eye but can be sight threatening) and other common eye diseases, and help keep those beautiful peepers of yours sparkling and healthy.

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!

Keeping Your Cool in the Cold

Most of us know enough to bundle up, wear gloves and hats and don insulated shoes when it’s cold outside. But if you work outdoors in the winter, are shoveling or playing in the snow after a storm, or enjoy outdoor recreational activities and walks, take precautions to avoid a common winter nemesis, hypothermia.

When you are exposed to chilly temperatures, cold winds, or wetness, your core body temperature falls below normal. This can happen easily and quickly. Your body automatically begins to shiver to warm itself. As your energy is used up to keep warm, you may reach a point where your body will be unable to re-warm itself. This is hypothermia. If left untreated, your body will gradually shut down and you can die, or risk frostbite and the potential loss of fingers and toes.

Protecting yourself from the elements

You can avoid hypothermia by guarding against dehydration, fatigue, cold winds, and wet clothes. Be sure to choose the right clothes, especially a fabric that keeps you the driest. Wetness conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than dryness, and when clothes get wet, they lose 90 percent of their insulating value. Don’t wear cotton, it absorbs moisture. Instead, choose wool or synthetic fibers that actually wick moisture away from your skin. Additionally, dress in layers to improve insulation and wear a hat – most body heat is lost through the head.

If you’re going to be hiking, recreating, or working outdoors, pack food and beverages. Dehydration contributes to hypothermia, so drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids. Drinking alcohol is dangerous because it gives you a false sense of warmth while actually lowering your internal body temperature. Avoid coffee, tea, and tobacco products as well, because they also cause your body to lose heat. Eat high-energy foods like nuts, fruit, and energy bars for the calories your body needs to generate heat.

Beware of the wind – it multiplies the challenges of staying dry by carrying heat away from bare skin. Wind drives cold air under and through clothes and refrigerates wet clothes by evaporating moisture from the surface.

Understand the cold. Most hypothermia cases develop in air temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees, not necessarily in sub-zero temperatures. Cold water below 50 degrees is a rapid killer, as well. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – dress warmly, bring extra gloves and socks and your bag of healthy goodies. Warning signs you should watch for include:

  • Uncontrollable fits of shivering
  • Vague, slow, or slurred speech
  • Memory lapses or incoherence
  • Immobile, fumbling hands
  • Frequent stumbling or loss of coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Exhaustion

What to do if you suspect you’re in trouble

If you recognize hypothermia in yourself or someone, take action. If the victim is unconscious, seek medical help immediately. If the victim is conscious, call for help and move the victim to shelter.

Be very gentle with unconscious or semi-conscious victims — their hearts are fragile and sensitive to jarring. Remove wet clothes, and replace them with warm, dry garments. If the victim is alert enough to hold a cup, give warm, but not hot, liquids to drink. Sugary drinks are especially helpful.

Moderate exercise such as walking will help generate heat. If unable to exercise or remain awake, place yourself or the victim in a sleeping bag to help speed re-warming, and insulate the sleeping bag with a plastic sheet (or a tarp) above and a pad below. Skin to skin contact is very effective, as well. If you have them, you can place warm rocks, canteens, hot water bottles or heating pads near main arteries close to the skin’s surface. Try to remain awake, and get to a hospital or medical center as soon as possible.

Playing and working outdoors is healthy, any time of year, as long as you take wise precautions and heed warning signs. Have fun and stay warm!

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!

Employers, Here’s Something to Chew On

It’s a new year, and the health pump has been primed. You and your employees may have enjoyed the holiday season a little too much, possibly gained some weight, drank more than usual, and slipped into some poor nutritional habits. You’re not alone. It’s hard getting to the gym, exercising, or walking any time of year without a disciplined approach, but that discipline often flies out the window from Thanksgiving through the New Year. But come January, life calms down, we reflect on our recent gluttonous ways, and many of us repent…or try to. Often, we need help.

Regardless of the size of your company, its products, services or mission, people are the common denominator. The healthier your employees are, physically and emotionally, the more prepared they are to work productively, safely, and positively. As a leader, you can set examples, make accommodations or encourage your staff to pursue a healthier lifestyle. That can include setting goals for exercise, stress reduction and nutrition, offering smoking-cessation education, and generally keeping health and wellness awareness “in the office” or workplaces, and even for employees on the road.

Excess weight is a major contributor to heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea and circulation problems, as well as damage to joints and a doorway to a variety of chronic behavioral and physical illnesses. You and your company’s wellness champion can move your workplace or culture to greater dietary health in some simple ways, supporting nutritional goals, weight loss or weight control through healthy foods and healthy food hygiene.

Ideas for a healthier workplace:

  • If you use a vending machine company, ask them to add healthy foods.
  • Use vending machine commissions to help fund wellness programs.
  • Post nutritional information of common foods on vending machines, lunchroom tables, etc.
  • Encourage employees to eat healthy snacks by offering low-fat recipes, exchanging recipes, or holding a contest, and ask staff to discuss their nutritional goals together for more team support.
  • Celebrate “free fruit day.” Give apples away in your lunch room or common area.
  • Sponsor a home-grown fruit and vegetable exchange.
  • Provide educational information on low-fat, low-cholesterol, nutritious foods, and consider having a nutritionist visit your office to meet with employees.
  • Discuss how nutrition affects heart disease, diabetes and other related illnesses.
  • Keep 1% milk instead of cream by the coffee machine.
  • Provide a list of healthy, low-fat snacks.
  • Encourage employees to bring yogurt, fruits and no-fat toppings to work, and eat together to boost team spirit.
  • Change donuts, candy, or cookies served at meetings to heart-healthy snacks
  • Hold employee luncheons once a month, featuring healthy foods and nutritional topics.
  • Offer a kitchen area accessible to all employees, and make eating away from their desks more culturally acceptable.
  • Have office water coolers or bottled water readily available.
  • Offer videos, books, and brochures that can be borrowed and exchanged among employees.

There’s no shortage of good ideas you can provide, and your staff likely has plenty of great ideas they’d be willing to share. Lead by example, and let your team know their health matters!

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!