Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you

Admit it: When you think about treating yourself well, you probably don’t think “foot care.” That’s no surprise. Year in and year out, we take our feet for granted. But all of those years of walking, running, kicking, twisting and jumping are hard on our feet and, like with back injuries, we typically don’t take preventive measures until after we hurt ourselves.

If you’re an athlete, a dancer, a hiker or someone who works standing up all day or night, you know the value of good foot care and smart footwear. What you might not know is that problems with our feet can be signs of more serious medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve disorders, and circulatory disorders. On top of that, we simply exacerbate our problems through improperly trimmed toenails, wearing shoes that do not fit properly, wearing the wrong kinds of shoes or not giving our dogs a rest when they really need it.

If the shoe fits…or doesn’t

Ever since you were a baby, you’ve been buying shoes or having them bought for you. Still, many of us never learn the proper way to ensure proper fit. Here are some important tips:

  • The size of your feet changes as you grow older so always have your feet measured before buying shoes.
  • The best time to measure your feet is at the end of the day when your feet are largest.
  • Most of us have one foot that is larger than the other, so fit your shoe to your larger foot.
  • Do not select shoes by the size marked inside the shoe but by how the shoe fits your foot.
  • Select a shoe that is shaped like your foot.
  • During the fitting process, make sure there is enough space (3/8″ to 1/2″) for your longest toe at the end of each shoe when you are standing up.
  • Make sure the ball of your foot fits comfortably into the widest part of the shoe.
  • Do not buy shoes that feel too tight and expect them to stretch to fit.

Your heel should fit comfortably in the shoe with a minimum amount of slipping. The shoes should not ride up and down on your heel when you walk. Also, walk in the shoes to make sure they fit and feel right. Then take them home and spend some time walking on carpet to make sure the fit is a good one.

Other foot-care tips

Check your feet regularly, or have a member of your family check them. Podiatrists and primary care doctors (internists and family practitioners) are qualified to treat most foot problems, and sometimes you need the special skills of an orthopedic surgeon or dermatologist.

You should focus on keeping blood circulating to your feet as much as possible. You can do this by:

  • Putting your feet up when you are sitting or lying down
  • Stretching if you’ve had to sit for a long while
  • Walking whenever possible
  • Having a gentle foot massage
  • Taking a warm foot bath

If you work or recreate outdoors, insulated shoes that are waterproof, “breathe” to allow moisture away from your feet and properly cushion your feet and protect your ankles are critical. Protecting your feet from cold temperatures is vital for ensuring proper circulation. And if you work in construction or in a manufacturing or assembly environment, steel-tipped shoes are often required and certainly recommended.

When you purchase shoes, the upper part of the shoes should be made of a soft, flexible material to match the shape of your foot. Shoes made of leather can reduce the possibility of skin irritations. Soles should provide solid footing and not be slippery. Remember, also, that thick soles cushion your feet when walking on hard surfaces, and low-heeled shoes are more comfortable, safer, and less damaging than high-heeled shoes, regardless of fashion trends.

Getting to the fungal part of foot health

Fungal and bacterial conditions, including so-called “athlete’s foot,” occur because our feet spend a lot of time in shoes — a warm, dark, humid place that is perfect for fungus to grow. Fungal and bacterial conditions can cause dry skin, redness, blisters, itching and peeling.

If not treated right away, an infection may be hard to cure. If not treated properly, the infection may reoccur. To prevent infections, keep your feet — especially the area between your toes — clean and dry. Change your shoes and socks or stockings often to help keep your feet dry. Try dusting your feet daily with foot powder. And if your foot condition does not get better within two weeks, talk to your doctor.

Corns and calluses are caused by friction and pressure when the bony parts of your feet rub against your shoes. If you have corns or calluses, see your doctor. Sometimes wearing shoes that fit better or using special pads solves the problem. Treating corns and calluses yourself may be harmful, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation. Over-the-counter medicines contain acids that destroy the tissue but do not treat the cause. Sometimes these medicines reduce the need for surgery, but check with your doctor before using them, and the same advice goes for treating warts and bunions.

Good foot care is an important part of overall wellness. Similar to buying the right tool for the right job, choose the right shoes, size them properly and love your feet…they’re yours forever!

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!

Use your head. Prevent brain injuries.

Most of us plow through life head first, living and playing with gusto and trying to have a good time, get our jobs done, compete and enjoy our lives without hurting ourselves or others. But try as we might to avoid them, brain injuries, unfortunately, are quite common. Caused by a bump or blow to the head, these injuries sometimes are called “concussions” or “traumatic brain injuries” (TBIs) and can range from mild to severe.

Most mild brain injuries cause no harm. But sometimes even mild brain injuries can cause serious, long-lasting problems. The best way to protect yourself and your family from brain injuries is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Brain Injury Association of America to reduce the chances that you or your family members will sustain a brain injury.

  • Wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle. 
  • Always buckle your child into a child safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt (according to the child’s height, weight, and age) in the car.
  • Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Wear a helmet and make sure your children wear helmets when:�
    • Riding a bike, motorcycle, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle
    • Playing a contact sport, such as football, ice hockey, or boxing
    • Using in-line skates, scooters or riding a skateboard
    • Batting and running bases in baseball or softball
    • Riding a horse
    • Skiing, snowboarding, canoeing and kayaking
  • When possible, make sure the surface on your child’s playground is made of shock-absorbing material, such as hardwood, mulch, and sand.

It’s also important (for your own safety and to meet State and Federal compliance requirements) to always wear an approved hard hat on indoor and outdoor worksites where you could be at risk from falling objects.

Home safety for you and your family

Many head injuries occur in the home. Avoid falls in the home by:

  • Using a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects on high shelves
  • Installing handrails on stairways
  • Installing window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows
  • Using safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around
  • Removing tripping hazards such as small area rugs and loose electrical cords
  • Using non-slip mats in the bathtub and on shower floors
  • Putting grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower
  • Maintaining a regular exercise program to improve strength, balance, and coordination
  • Seeing an eye doctor regularly for a vision check to help lower the risk of falling

 Signs and symptoms of brain injury

Here is a list of common symptoms of a brain injury (concussion). If you or a family member has a head injury and you notice any of the symptoms on the list, call your doctor right away. Describe the injury and symptoms, and ask if you should make an appointment to see your own doctor or another specialist.

In Adults:

  • Headaches or neck pain that won’t go away
  • Trouble with mental tasks such as remembering, concentrating, or decision-making
  • Slow thinking, speaking, acting, or reading
  • Getting lost or easily confused
  • Feeling tired all the time, having no energy or motivation
  • Mood changes (feeling sad or angry for no reason)
  • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping a lot more or having a hard time sleeping)
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy, or losing balance
  • An urge to vomit (nausea)
  • Increased sensitivity to lights, sounds, or distractions
  • Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
  • Loss of sense of smell or taste
  • Ringing in the ears

In Children:

  • Feeling tired or listless
  • Being irritable or cranky (will not stop crying or cannot be consoled)
  • Changes in eating (will not eat or nurse)
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in the way the child plays
  • Changes in performance at school
  • Lack of interest in favorite toys or activities
  • Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
  • Loss of balance, unsteady walking
  • Vomiting

The common mom’s advice, “be smart, be safe,” applies to head injury prevention. Think ahead —  pun intended — and always err to the side of caution and safety.

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!

Understanding and properly winding our internal clocks

We changed the clocks back to Daylight Savings Time this past weekend, springing forward an hour. Even if we hadn’t been thinking about it, we knew, instinctively, this adjustment was coming. We watched the sun set a little later each day on our way home from work giving us more time to be outdoors and more nurturing sunlight to calm our nerves. But when we actually woke an hour “early” on Sunday, we may have felt a little tired and off track…and so did our kids and maybe even our pets.

It’s natural — our internal clocks, more than anything created by Timex and Rolex, affect our sleep, our moods, our productivity and, of course, our health. We suffer when we don’t get enough or when we get too much sleep, and when we sleep at the wrong time. Fatigue is dangerous relative to workplace safety, driving, sports and our resistance to a variety of illnesses and diseases. And whether you work nine to five, six to midnight or through the wee hours of the morning, if you can’t adjust your natural clock, your overall wellness will suffer.

Circadian rhythm disorders are disruptions in a person’s circadian rhythm — a name given to the “internal body clock” that regulates the (approximately) 24-hour cycle of biological processes in animals and plants. The term circadian comes from Latin words that literally mean around the day. There are patterns of brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities linked to this 24-hour cycle.

Circadian rhythms can be affected by light or darkness, which can make the body think it’s time to sleep or wake up. The 24-hour body clock controls functions such as:

  • Sleeping and waking
  • Body temperature
  • The balance of body fluids
  • Other body functions, such as when you feel hungry

Making the shift

Body clock sleep problems have been linked to a hormone called melatonin. Light and dark affect how the body makes melatonin. Most melatonin is made at night. During the day, light tells your body to make less melatonin. If you work at night in artificial light, your body may be making less melatonin than it needs.

Understanding and adjusting to these internal rhythms — or learning how to compensate and “retool” your body — is critical, no matter your schedule. That requires discipline, setting boundaries in the case of children and friends, and respecting your body’s needs. When we’re tired we become tense and irritable, lose concentration, make mistakes, have trouble with mental retention and can fall asleep during working hours.

If you work the night shift or rotate shifts, you can help yourself get adequate sleep by keeping your bedroom dark and quiet and by taking good care of yourself overall. In some cases, prescription medicine or over-the-counter supplements may help. Here are some tips on sleeping well when you do this type of shift work:

  • Make sure that the room where you sleep is dark. Use blackout drapes, or wear a sleep eye mask.
  • Wear earplugs to block sounds.
  • Don’t have alcohol or caffeine in the hours leading up to bedtime.
  • Take a nap during a work break if you can.
  • Ask your doctor if you should try a dietary supplement, melatonin or medicine. Supplements or medicines should only be used for a short time, and some drugs will contribute to or cause sleep problems.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, especially late in the evening or, if you work at night, in the morning. You may fall asleep more easily, but it also interrupts deep sleep and may wake you prematurely.

Other variables affect your ability to sleep and to adjust to shift work, including pregnancy, time-zone changes, medications, and changes in routine. Some you can’t control, but others, like diet, you can.

What, when, and how you eat also affects your ability to work and sleep effectively. You wouldn’t try to go to bed right after eating dinner on a normal day schedule, and the same goes for the person who comes home from work at 7:00 AM. Light meals before sleep ensures better rest, and a pattern of several smaller meals and healthy snacks keeps your body more fully charged and alert when you need to be, and helps you relax when it’s time for rest.

Along with nutrition, exercise remains a constant for good health. Shift workers need to remain fit, and need some exposure to the sun both for internal balance and for overall body wellness. While there are special lamps and therapies for helping people adjust to a lack of natural sunlight, scheduling walks, chores or outdoor workouts during the day when you’re not sleeping will help keep you happier and healthier.

No matter what time you arise, try to get in the habit of getting up at the same time every day, no matter what time you go to sleep. On the weekends (or on days when you don’t have to get up) don’t let yourself sleep more than one hour longer than you do when you have to get up for work or school.

There are various therapies and solutions for helping night-shift workers cope better, and for treating sleep disorders, whenever they occur. For example, chronotherapy is a behavioral technique in which the bedtime is gradually and systematically adjusted until a desired bedtime is achieved. Bright light therapy is designed to reset the body’s circadian rhythm to a desired pattern. When combined, these therapies may produce significant results in people with circadian rhythm disorders, but building and maintaining a smart schedule attuned to your body’s needs is the best solution.

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!

Workplace wellness programs: Balancing benefits and reality

Workplace wellness programs aren’t all created equal. Some work better than others, and some organizations or employers are more effective than others at encouraging their staff to participate. The type of work being done, when and where it’s being completed, the age and demographics of your staff and the type of programs and incentives you offer all play a large role in determining program participation and how wellness is improved. Even the word “success” is subjective, as goals vary significantly from person to person and among organizations.

What isn’t at question is the value of wellness programs. Wellness statistics clearly show that workplace wellness programs are not only cost-effective to the organization but can assist the employee in developing a healthier lifestyle. Many employees struggle with their weight, don’t exercise at all, smoke, and don’t have effective strategies for managing stress. With the rising cost of medical care, proactive wellness efforts simply make sense. So where does the problem come in?

Maybe the best analogy is the “leading horse to water” axiom:  Once there, it’s still up to the horse whether or not to drink. No matter how beneficial, personally and fiscally, wellness programs work for some but not for all. Employers can have a greater impact on wellness program success by creating a positive environment for change, encouraging participation through good communication, useful information and support. Incentives, team recognition and access to adjunct programs all make a difference.

On the flip side, though, no matter how tempting, the “cattle prod” approach rarely achieves desired results. Despite our best intentions, we can’t browbeat or intimidate our employees to get healthier, and “punishing” them by withholding discounts or increasing benefit cost contributions to those who don’t participate often fails, as well. Some, in fact, see it as a basic human rights issue: Do we want or need our employer to tell us to eat our veggies, walk at lunch, or to lose 30 pounds?

Such tactics may result in resentments and retaliation, primarily in the form of rates of absence, reduced quality and “presenteeism” (decreased productivity on the job.) The solution, instead, tends to be persistence, patience, moderation, and opportunity. Wellness programs provide the structure, encouragement, incentives, and ongoing support that many individuals need in order to make lifestyle changes, but it doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires constant care and nurturing.

Finding a successful way to motivate people whose unhealthy habits are ingrained is not an easy task. But having the right tools helps. According to Carol DeVido Hauss, executive director, Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford, support through health assessment evaluations, wellness educational tools, and wellness websites is an important catalyst. “I love those tools,” Hauss says. “If I don’t write down what I eat, I’m pretty sure I assume the calories don’t count, so learning tricks like keeping track of calories and what and when I eat really helps me. We’ve declared our workplace a ‘donut-free zone.’”

Hauss stresses that finding the right blend of support and encouragement is an issue she, and most small employers, struggle with. “If you don’t work at it consistently, it’s easy to drop the ball as far as CBIA Healthy Connections or any wellness program goes,” she admits. “Personally, I used the tools, lost the weight I wanted to and got back on track with regular workouts. But I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to healthy living — I just needed a nudge and a little structure to get me back on track. And it did just that for me.”

A positive attitude on the part of management along with an opportunity for employees to have a stake in the decision-making may yield the greatest dividends to both employer and employee. The motivation and resolve needed to change unhealthy lifestyle habits can best be derived from the basic tenets of encouragement, respect, and support.

“People just need to be ready to change their lifestyles, and often they’re not,” reflects Hauss. “But if we, as employers, embrace wellness and offer these programs, at least our employees have a place to go to if they wake up some morning and decide it’s time to make those changes.”

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!