Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail

As we race to the end of another calendar year, it’s time to take stock of the health and wellness goals we set for ourselves in early 2018. Whether our intention was to lose weight, get to the gym regularly, run our first 5k, bicycle or hike, stop smoking or do something about stress, the remaining days of this year are short, but there’s hope:  after December 21st, each day is getting longer and we have a clean slate for implementing our healthcare plans for 2019!

Start with a glass-half-full approach: whatever we did do in 2018 counts and is better than nothing. There’s no point in lamenting about all the well-intentioned health and wellness options we never fulfilled, how badly we ate at the holidays or missing our weight-loss goal. Rather, now is a great time to make a firm and achievable personal wellness plan designed to improve physical, emotional and spiritual health in 2019 and beyond.

But first, we have to get through the holidays – so take it easy and enjoy the season. That may not sound like sage nutritional advice, but we all know what the coming weeks bring. It’s a stressful time of year without putting additional pressure on ourselves. Eat and drink consciously and in moderation, try substituting healthy snacks like vegetables and fruit when possible, and think about your personal goals.

Be it eating more healthfully, exercising more, finding time to relax or whatever suits you, change takes place progressively and through conscious choice. Making resolutions is as old as the hills, but setting simple goals includes taking the time to determine how we’ll achieve them, and how we will measure our success. This isn’t difficult and may be the best gift we can give ourself as we approach the new year.

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

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

Ultimately, the best advice about getting healthier is to just get started and to not give up, even when you miss a day or have a bad week. By setting realistic goals and a simple, formal plan, the gift of improved health and wellness is yours to keep.


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!

Giving to Others Is Giving to Ourselves

It’s hard to get through the holiday season without stumbling into some version or reference to A Christmas Carol, the popular and famous tale by Charles Dickens that speaks to the value of giving, charity and kindness. In the Dickens tome, the curmudgeonly old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is shown the consequences of his nefarious behavior, and given a chance to repent. Through, ultimately, his charitable turnaround, good things befall all the characters, especially Scrooge himself.

Today, the label “Scrooge” is synonymous with “cheap,” “selfish” and “miserly.” But even in these busy times when we’re all stretched to the max, counting our pennies and trying to juggle multiple conflicting priorities, we can all benefit from the lesson Ebenezer learned about how giving is receiving, and how good it is for our own health and wellbeing.

When we engage in good deeds, we reduce our own stress — including the physiological changes that occur when we’re stressed. During this stress response, hormones like cortisol are released, and our heart and breathing rates – the “fight or flight” response – increase.

Over an extended period, stress taxes the immune and cardiovascular systems, weakening the body’s defenses, and making it more susceptible to illness and abnormal cellular changes. Continuous stress can hasten aging and shorten our lives, as well. And medical researchers have taken note, discovering that the process of cultivating a positive emotional state through positive and proactive social behaviors such as generosity may lengthen our lives.

Altruistic emotions – the “helper’s high” – can override the stress response, producing higher levels of protective antibodies when one is feeling empathy and love. Studies have identified high levels of the “bonding” hormone oxytocin in people who are very generous toward others. Oxytocin is the hormone best known for its role in preparing mothers for motherhood. Studies have also shown that this hormone helps both men and women establish trusting relationships.

In one animal study, researchers looked at the numerous effects that oxytocin can produce in lab rats, and discovered it lowered blood pressure, reduced stress hormones, and produced an overall calming effect. Altruistic behavior also triggers the brain’s reward circuitry — ‘feel-good’ chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, which our bodies produce naturally.

Altruism is Good for Our Health

There are as many ways to give as there are people. Certainly, making, purchasing and presenting gifts to others evokes a strong positive feeling. But gift-giving, like gratitude, comes in many forms – it’s the myriad acts of random kindness like letting someone have your spot in the bank or supermarket line, stopping for pedestrians, holding open a door, giving up our seat on a bus or train, helping a child, talking with a stranger . . . the list is endless.

Then there are more formal ways we help others, such as serving the poor and needy in shelters and soup kitchens, making donations to charitable organizations, mentoring adults or children, volunteering in hospitals and animal shelters, service through houses of worship, organizing for causes we support – the benefits are the same, regardless of how we express our need to give.

Not only does helping others have a positive effect on own mental health and wellbeing, it improves mood, self-esteem and happiness, reduces isolation (ours and for others), and increases our sense of belonging. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t. Supportive interaction with others also helped people recover from coronary-related events. The same study also found that people who gave their time to help others through community and organizational involvement had greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who didn’t.

According to a 1999 University of California, Berkeley, study, people who were 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer – even accounting for many other factors including age, exercise, general health and negative habits like smoking. And in a 2003 University of Michigan study, a researcher found similar numbers in studying elderly people who gave help to friends, relatives and neighbors – or who gave emotional support to their spouses – versus those who didn’t.

There’s no down side to giving. It helps us keep things in perspective, improves our outlook on life, and makes the world a happier place. Happiness and optimism are contagious – that isn’t a formal medical evaluation, but we know it’s true. The fallout from negative emotions such as anger and hostility, loneliness and isolation can be debilitating and bad for our health – but we can rid ourselves of many of these issues by volunteering and by giving generously to others, and to our ourselves.


 

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!

Healthier Ways to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

There’s an easy resolution for each of us to adopt this December. This year, let’s change the expression, “eat, drink and be merry” to “eat healthfully, drink moderately and be happier!” Adopting an effective strategy for controlling excess, and setting reasonable expectations for ourselves are the smartest options for ensuring a happy and healthy holiday season.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. It isn’t just overeating, though, that challenges us. Often, exercise becomes collateral damage, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (at least 60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

The trick is to focus on short-term goals, such as walking or exercising a few times a week. And when it comes to food, eating vegetables and fruit at parties and avoid taking second helpings. Have one cookie and stop. If you imbibe, realize that alcohol and holiday beverages contain a lot of sugar and calories; alcohol also interferes with your sleep and judgment, and may leave you with an additional price to pay the next day.

To make the feasting season a healthier one, experts say, it’s important to practice awareness, manage your stress and emotions, and plan in advance.

The first critical step is to practice awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each choice, 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.

Experts agree this is a good season to be realistic, rather than the best time for weight loss. They recommend trying to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective. You don’t have to indulge every minute from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.

Avoid Short-term Fixes

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating and under-exercising during this season of gluttony? It begins with understanding: many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. They include:

  • Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and family, enjoying food and drink. And on special occasions, such as holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases, raising the temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, as we don’t want to put a damper on the merrymaking or disappoint loved ones who have created great treats. And the alcohol served at many social events can also destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
  • Lack of advance planning. 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 to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks at the grocery store before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
  • Stress. As if there weren’t enough stress in everyday life, holiday obligations and expectations add to the strain. There’s much to do and accomplish in a short period, it’s an expensive time of year, and the extra tasks add to stress, and the stress can lead to overeating.
  • Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. And when people are tired, they’re more likely to overeat.
  • Emotional eating. Some people use food to soothe sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration as an excuse to overindulge. Holiday marketing of food and consumerism contributes to the excess as well, and even people who have been trying to eat healthy throughout the year may give in. Comfort and nostalgia play roles, as well.
  • Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink when the mercury dips. The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical inactivity. And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout intentions.

The best advice is to go easy on yourself:  drink, eat and celebrate in moderation, allow yourself some excess as expected, but say “no” when you can, keep away from the foods that hurt you the most, and don’t neglect regular exercise or routines that help you keep stress at bay.

Remember, the goal is long-term change and healthy behaviors, not short-term fixes. Surviving the holidays is like plodding through a snowstorm that lasts a full month. You put your head down, walk into the wind, and keep moving forward toward your goals, a step (or bite) at a time.

 


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!

Help Employees Achieve Their Health and Wellness Goals

This is a wonderful time of year for merriment, catching up with family and friends, for recognizing and celebrating all we have, and for remembering those who don’t have as much. But it’s also a period of unhealthy eating and behavior that has both short- and long-term consequences on our health and the health of those working with and for us.

When it comes to an abundance of calorie-rich foods laden with salt, sugar and fats, the holidays are a great enabler. As a nation we already struggle with the fallout, such as diabetes, which afflicts nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States. Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type-2 diabetes, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older.

And it’s not only the dangers to your health and the health of your loved ones to consider — The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs. But the cost is higher than just dollars: complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

Researchers say the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

So besides urging employees and our ourselves to eat and drink in moderation, what else can be done to mitigate this affliction? For a start, studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight, can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent.

Help Employees Help Themselves

This is the ideal time of year to help employees explore their personal wellness regimen and health goals, and set positive behavioral changes in motion for 2019. As employers, we can set the pace for ourselves and our teams through proactive planning, education and outreach.

The challenge is helping people think about planning, then move from planning to action. Leaders help encourage and motivate their workforces. Healthier employees are happier, more motivated and productive. They also require less sick time, and are more attentive to their teammates and customers.

Supplementing the cost of membership in local fitness centers and gyms is a popular option. You also can bring health experts in areas such as nutrition, fitness and stress reduction into your office to talk with employees during the work day. Encouraging and sponsoring activities such as bowling, team workouts and charity drives encourages team-building and improves morale. This is particularly important during the cold winter months when getting outside is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Spring, thankfully, isn’t that far away, so planning for charity walks, softball, volleyball and related activities can start soon.

Some employers sponsor in-house fitness classes, yoga and health screenings, and offer personal health and fitness coaches. There also are a variety of health and wellness initiatives companies can entertain. Asking employees for their input and participation helps keep people focused and engaged. It can be something as simple as healthy recipe swaps, replacing candy and soda machines with healthier snacks, and sponsoring fitness activities.

Workplace wellness programs have the potential to significantly improve employee health. Here are some tips on initiating coaching or wellness-related incentives:

  • Structure your programs to reward employees for engaging in healthy habits
  • Avoid the use of body mass index (BMI) as a basis for financial penalties or incentives
  • Ensure incentive programs are matched with health plans that cover evidence-based obesity treatment programs and medications
  • Focus programs on overall wellness for all employees, rather than only those affected by obesity or who are overweight
  • Create a supportive workplace environment that provides opportunities for healthy behaviors, such as healthy food options in the lunchroom and vending machines.

Encouraging employees to set their own goals, and to share their goals, is an easy way to get the new year started. Exercise and weight-loss efforts are always easier and more fun when multiple people are participating and helping each other. Measure one another’s progress, reward for reaching milestones, and lead by example – walk the walk, don’t just talk it!


 

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

The Power of Nostalgia

We may not know how to measure – or harness – the power of nostalgia, but there’s no denying the intensity of memories, traditions and rituals in altering our moods, changing perspective or helping us through difficult times.

Nostalgic “triggers,” especially at the holidays, can include a wide variety of sensory stimuli, from the smell of a pie baking or turkey roasting, to a favorite song or sound, decorations on the wall, a family member’s or friend’s voice or the crinkling of wrapping paper being torn off a package. Familiar objects, such as serving dishes, plates or glasses can connect us to our history and help us celebrate generations of family, alive and past. And visiting a home or valued place from our past can seemingly transport us through time.

The recognition or recollection of these items helps keep the memories of the past alive, and by sharing them with newer generations we perpetuate traditions, stories and loved ones. Regardless of details, the rituals we observe, similar in many families yet unique for each, bring us pleasure, joy, feelings of love and goodwill, or alternately, melancholy or even intense sorrow.

That’s the rub: while it can have amazing healing powers, nostalgia isn’t always a panacea for what ails us. Bad memories, reminders of lost friends and family members, past jobs and homes, all are retained. While we may not think about them from day to day, our power of recall is strong and, when properly stimulated, capable of exacting chemical reactions in our brains and bodies that influence feelings and behavior.

Good Memories and Bad

Clinical psychologists often view nostalgia – defined by the Oxford dictionary as a “sentimental longing for the past” – as a symptom of depression. As early as the 17th century, nostalgia was considered to have a demonic origin, and it was later classified as a type of melancholia or psychosis. But researchers today also see nostalgia’s positive attributes and ability to calm, heal and help people cope.

Psychologist and American Psychological Association member Krystine Batcho, PhD, is a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., and an expert on nostalgia. Her research finds that people who are prone to nostalgia excel at maintaining personal relationships and choose healthy social ways of coping with their troubles.

People feel more nostalgic during the holidays, Batcho explains, because many memories are reawakened and relationships renewed. Batcho theorizes that for many, holidays bring back memories of simpler times along with the sense of the security of childhood or the carefree feelings of being young, with fewer of the worries and stress that accompany responsibilities.

“Most often,” she adds, “holidays remind us of people who have played important roles in our lives and the activities we shared with them. This is one reason why people who are away from home are especially likely to feel nostalgic during the holidays and why so many people travel to be with family and friends.”

Unpacking Our Memories

Like anniversaries and other temporal landmarks, holidays remind us of special times and help us keep track of what has changed and what has remained the same in our lives, and in ourselves.

During difficult times, attention to our past can strengthen us by reminding us of how we survived challenges, loss, injury, failure or misfortune in the past. When we are sad or discouraged, it can be uplifting to remember that we are still the person who had been happy, strong and productive at times in our past.

Our sense of who we are is closely related to how we see ourselves in relation to others. Research has shown that nostalgia can strengthen a sense of social connectedness by helping us appreciate what we have meant to others as well as what others have meant to us. Nostalgic memories can help someone who is away from home or someone who is mourning the death of a family member by reminding us that the bonds we share with those we love survive physical separation.

Researchers studying memory and reward systems in the brain have focused on the mesolimbic system, which is responsible for determining if something is worth retaining in our memory. Many scientists in the field study dopamine, the chemical released when our brain is rewarding us for doing something we enjoy or find interesting or challenging. When dopamine is released, it helps our brains “remember” things more effectively, improving recall. The limbic system, which includes the hippocampus and amygdala, also plays a role in the processing and storage of memories, emotions and the “emotional memories” that result when a memory is stored during a highly emotional state.

Researchers studying the connection between nostalgia and wellness have created a scale used to rate the value and intensity of nostalgia. For example, nostalgia has been found to:

  • Reconnect us with our roots
  • Provide continuity in our lives
  • Help us find meaning and identity
  • Counteract loneliness
  • Decrease boredom
  • Ease anxiety
  • Increase generosity and tolerance toward others
  • Increase intimacy
  • Act as a buffer to depression
  • Enhance feelings of physical warmth

While we can’t control how nostalgic reactions will affect us, we generally appreciate the recall of familiar sights, sounds and smells. These powerful memory stimulants can bring us much joy, reduce stress and anxiety and increase overall wellness. The holidays are a treasure trove of these memories, and another reason we look forward to this time of year, and hate to see it pass too quickly.


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!

Reducing Employee Tobacco Use and Vaping for Improved Health

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. In the United States alone, smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related lung and heart diseases.

There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes. Additionally, the CDC reports that more than 3.2 percent of American adults use e-cigarettes. Additionally, more than 2 million teens (11.3 percent of high school students and 4.3 percent of middle school students) were using e-cigarettes in a national study conducted in 2016, and it’s expected that those numbers have soared over the past two years.

The CDC says that more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year, often without lasting success. That is an opportunity for employers to assume a supporting role through education and personal outreach to help address a calamity that is costing American businesses billions of dollars annually in related healthcare costs and robbing millions of Americans of their health.

Need More Fuel?

Most consumers – including smokers – know that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer too, including cancer of the mouth, nose, sinuses, lip, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, ovary, cervix, stomach, colon, rectum, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as non-smokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles. Smoking also affects the walls of the vessels that carry blood to the brain (carotid arteries), which can cause strokes. Smoking can cause abdominal aortic aneurysm, in which the layered walls of the body’s main artery (the aorta) weaken and separate, often causing sudden death. And men who smoke are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction (impotence) because of blood vessel disease.

Based on data collected by the CDC, it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking.

Each year, smoking causes early deaths of about 443,000 people in the United States. And given the diseases that smoking can cause, it can steal our quality of life long before we die. Smoking-related illness can limit our activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.

The Dangers of Vaping

Vaping involves using electronic cigarettes (also referred to as e-cigarettes). These devices contain heating elements, batteries and a reservoir that holds vaping liquid. According to the CDC, the liquid usually consists of varying amounts of nicotine, flavorings and chemicals. When users puff e-cigarettes, the heating element is activated and produces an aerosol, or vapor, which is inhaled.

Many chemicals that cause cancer are in this vapor. That includes formaldehyde, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles that can get stuck in the deepest parts of our lungs. Other potentially harmful substances found in e-cigarettes include flavorings like diacetyl (a chemical linked to lung disease), volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals such as lead, tin and nickel.

It’s hard to know how much of these chemicals are breathed in when people vape. The levels are usually lower in e-cigarettes than regular cigarettes. But some studies show that high-voltage e-cigarettes have more formaldehyde and other toxins than standard e-cigarettes, and most contain nicotine, which is addictive and dangerous.

Getting the word out to employees about the health risks of vaping – through workplace wellness programs, company-wide newsletters, signs, posters or email blasts – helps lower disease risks and improve health, wellness and productivity in the workplace.

Help Employees Quit Now

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers enjoy a higher quality of life. They have fewer illnesses like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke.

Habits and addictions are hard to break. Humiliating, shaming or punishing smokers isn’t the answer – it’s not illegal to smoke in Connecticut, just to smoke in certain places like restaurants and where otherwise dictated. But there are several steps people can take to improve health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

November 15th is the Great American Smokeout

Mark Twain famously reported: “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times!” The American Cancer Society is marking the 41st Great American Smokeout on November 15th by encouraging smokers to use the date to help smokers quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By doing so, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life — one that can lead to reducing cancer risk.

There are an abundance of programs, many free, to help smokers quit. Physicians can prescribe supportive medical aids as part of a more formal program, there are over-the-counter remedies, and support groups are available in most communities and through local hospitals. Most health insurance providers also offer smoking-cessation assistance.

Quitting is hard, but employees can increase their chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society provides an abundance of information about the steps to quit smoking and provides resources and support that can increase the chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The American Lung Association also has a wealth of information and resources. Reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www.lung.org.


If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Sweet Beginnings Can Lead to Sour Endings

With the holidays rapidly approaching and the specter of delicious desserts already dancing in our heads like sugar plum fairies, it’s important to catch a nutritional breath and contemplate the truly unhealthy relationship we have with the sweet foods and treats we love . . . even though that love is far from unconditional.

Beyond weight control, the most obvious consequence is the diabetes epidemic sweeping our nation. Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type-2 diabetes, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older. And it’s not only the dangers to your health and the health of your loved ones to consider — The American Diabetes Association estimates that the total national cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States is $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world.  Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

Researchers say the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, and Thanksgiving right around the corner, this is a good time to take stock of our diet and exercise routines. Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent.

To help achieve these goals, and to become more aware of sugar intake, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels.
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.
  • Read labels, and be aware of your sugar intake – for example, one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.
  • As possible, avoid or limit products with high-fructose corn syrup, a commonly added sweetener found in most processed foods.
  • Look for healthy substitutes, such as mustard in place of ketchup, and avoid condiments like barbecue sauce, sweet relish and other flavor enhancers high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar.
  • Exercise or walk as often as possible – walking or moderate exercise plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life

Other tips include bringing your own “healthier” desserts, entrees or side dishes to parties, eating low-fat, low-sugar yogurt for afternoon snack time, and drinking as much water as possible – at least 64 ounces a day. We don’t have to deprive ourselves, but when we practice moderation and pay attention to what we put in our bodies, our chances of avoiding sugar-related health issues will improve significantly – that’s the best gift we can possibly give ourselves and our families for the holidays!


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!

Helping You Breathe Easy

So now that the spring and summer allergy seasons are finally over, we should all we able to breathe easily, right? If only! Autumn and winter bring special breathing challenges for many Americans. Dry heat from central heating systems aggravate respiratory issues, and the air becomes even drier when homeowners use wood-burning stoves, space heaters, and fireplaces. When you add to this potent mix the negative effects of smoking tobacco products, breathing becomes more intense for smokers and nonsmokers alike, especially when driven indoors where windows in houses, offices and vehicles are closed up.

November is COPD Awareness Month and Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It’s not a coincidence that the two are recognized together. The primary cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with COPD, the third-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a staggering number — more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it, but have not been diagnosed.

Beyond the inhalation of cigarette smoke, other causes of COPD include exposure to occupational dust particles and chemicals, as well as a rare genetic mutation called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.  Also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, COPD is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. COPD is not curable; however, it is preventable, and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early.

People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a simple and painless spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

Here is a short list of signs you should watch for if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from COPD:

  • Constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough”
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

If you have been diagnosed with COPD, there are several steps you can take to improve your health and longer-term quality of life. The most important is to quit smoking immediately. Based on your doctor’s recommendations, you should take medications as prescribed and keep as physically fit as possible. Keeping active is essential for improved breathing function, and pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.

Tips to Stop Smoking

Since the smoking of tobacco products is the culprit responsible for many cases of COPD, eliminating smoking is the best way to mitigate or prevent COPD. Here are simple tips to help you stop smoking:

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the various types of treatments and different over-the-counter and prescription medications that are available to help you quit smoking.
  • Look into the different options available to help smokers quit. Visit lung.org/stopsmokingor call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) for suggestions.
  • Take time to plan. Pick your quit date a few weeks ahead of time and mark it on the calendar. If you can, pick a day when life’s extra stresses are not at their peak, such as after the holidays. Mark a day on the calendar and stick to it. As your quit day approaches, gather the medications and tools you need and map out how you are going to handle the situations that make you want to smoke.
  • Get some exercise every day. Walking is a great way to reduce the stress of quitting. Exercise is proven to not only combat weight gain but also to improve mood and energy levels.
  • Eat a balanced diet, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.
  • Ask family, friends and co-workers for their help and support. Having someone to take a walk with or just listen can give a needed boost.
  • You don’t have to quit alone. Help is available online and in most communities, and there are a variety of smoking-cessation programs available to help.

It’s also important to educate yourself. The American Lung Association has a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand how your lungs work, and about COPD. You can reach them at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and find online support at www. lung.org.


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!

Recognizing and Managing ADHD

Time management can be our friend or our nemesis – how we use time, and our ability to stay organized and on task varies from person to person. We may be constantly drawn in several directions simultaneously, often with multiple conflicting priorities. For many task-oriented people, variety is the spice of life and they thrive on challenges and deadlines. But for others, it’s often difficult to remain focused, to complete tasks without interruption or distraction, or to finish one assignment or activity before moving onto something else.

The failure to remain focused, difficulty completing tasks without interruption, and the inability to successfully negotiate distractions can be signs of chemical, emotional, and genetic challenges such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Over the past decades, these symptoms have been more readily diagnosed in children, especially those having trouble in school or unable to relax, play quietly or get along effectively with others. With today’s technological advances, it’s easy to blame over-stimulation for playing a strong supporting role in keeping kids off balance, more easily bored without technology, and wanting more all the time. But for adults, these same symptoms can be more insidious, limiting our efficiency at work and at home, straining relationships, and interfering with sleep and health.

Currently, approximately seven percent of American children are being treated with medications for ADHD, and about half of them will carry those symptoms into adulthood, says the American Psychiatric Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates numbers are even higher, at least twice as many. On top of that, many adults have ADHD or ADD but have never been diagnosed.

The average age of ADHD diagnosis is seven years old. Males are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than females, and during their lifetimes, 13 percent of men will be diagnosed with ADHD. Just 4.2 percent of women will be diagnosed.

Signs You Might Have ADD or ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of three and six, but as many children and adults have never been diagnosed, it’s difficult to judge exactly when symptoms might have appeared, since those inflicted have been living with these challenges most of their lives. Here are common behavioral signs:

  • Lack of focus.Possibly the most telltale sign of ADHD, “lack of focus,” goes beyond difficulty paying attention. It means being easily distracted, finding it hard to listen to others in a conversation, overlooking details, and not completing tasks or projects.
  • Hyperfocus. While people with ADHD are often easily distracted, the flip side of the coin is called hyperfocus. A person with ADHD can be so engrossed in something that they can ignore anything else around them. This kind of focus makes it easier to lose track of time, ignore those around you, and cause relationship misunderstandings.
  • We all forget things occasionally. But for someone with ADHD or ADD, forgetfulness is an everyday part of life. This includes routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or important dates. Some can be menial. Others can be serious. The bottom line is that forgetfulness can be damaging to careers and relationships because it can be confused with carelessness, lack of intelligence, or ambivalence.
  • Impulsivity. Impulsiveness in someone with ADHD or ADD can manifest in several ways:
    • Interrupting others during conversation
    • Being socially inappropriate
    • Rushing through tasks
    • Acting without much consideration to the consequences

Even a person’s shopping habits are often a good indication of ADHD. Impulse buying, especially on items they can’t afford, is a common symptom of adult ADHD.

  • Restlessness and anxiety. As an adult with ADHD, you may feel like your engine never stops. Our yearning to keep moving and doing things constantly can lead to frustration when we can’t do something immediately. This leads to restlessness, which can lead to frustrations and anxiety. Anxiety is a very common symptom of adult ADHD, as the mind tends to replay worrisome events repeatedly.
  • Poor health. Impulsivity, lack of motivation, emotional problems, and disorganization can lead a person with ADHD or ADD to neglect their health. This can be seen through compulsive poor eating, neglecting exercise, or forgoing important medication. Anxiety and stress negatively affect health, so without good habits, the negative effects of these illnesses can make other symptoms worse.
  • Relationship issues. An adult with ADHD or ADD often has trouble in relationships, whether they are professional, romantic, or platonic. The traits of talking over people in conversation, inattentiveness, and easily being bored can be draining on relationships as a person can come across as insensitive, irresponsible, or uncaring.

Treatment and Coping with ADHD

People who experience some or many of these symptoms also change employers more often, miss deadlines, experience higher use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and suffer from repeated relationship failures, including divorce. If all of this sounds too familiar, it doesn’t mean you suffer from adult ADD or ADHD. But if you do, here are a few steps you can take to improve your life.

Treatment for adult ADHD or ADD is similar to treatment for childhood ADHD/ADD, and includes stimulant drugs or other medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and treatment for any mental health conditions that occur along with adult ADHD.

Stimulants (psychostimulants) are the most commonly prescribed medications for ADHD, but other drugs may be prescribed. Stimulant drugs are available in short-acting and long-acting forms. Other medications used to treat ADHD include antidepressants. The right medication and the right dose vary between individuals, so it may take some time in the beginning to find what’s right for you. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of medications. And keep your doctor informed of any side effects you may have when taking your medication.

Counseling for adult ADHD can be beneficial and generally includes psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and education about the disorder. The benefits of psychotherapy can include:

  • Improve time management and organizational skills
  • Learn how to reduce impulsive behavior
  • Develop better problem-solving skills
  • Cope with past academic and social failures
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Learn ways to improve relationships with family, co-workers and friends
  • Develop strategies for controlling temper, stress and impatience

ADHD is a neuropsychiatric condition that is typically genetically transmitted. These challenges are caused by biology, essentially a miscue in how our brain is wired. It is not a disease of the will, a moral failing or weakness in character. Professional interventions, medication, support groups and self-education can help those with ADHD manage, or even overcome many of these challenges.


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!

Feel the Burn… Heartburn, That Is

Millions of Americans suffer from heartburn and digestive discomfort, typically caused by excess stomach acid and related complications. But being in good company is small comfort when you’re uncomfortable or miserable. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate acid-related issues, and it’s important to pay attention to warning signs before untended stomach problems lead to more serious health issues.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease. GERD occurs when stomach acid or, occasionally, stomach content, flows back into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash (reflux) irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD.

Both acid reflux and heartburn are common digestive conditions that afflict many people periodically. When these signs and symptoms occur regularly or interfere with your daily life, or when your doctor can see damage to your esophagus, you may be diagnosed with GERD.

What is GERD?

When we swallow, the lower esophageal sphincter — a circular band of muscle around the bottom part of our esophagus — relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into our stomach. Then it closes again.

However, if this valve relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into our esophagus, causing frequent heartburn.

This constant backwash of acid can irritate the lining of our esophagus, causing it to become inflamed (esophagitis). Over time, the inflammation can wear away the esophageal lining, causing complications such as bleeding, esophageal narrowing or Barrett’s esophagus (a pre-cancerous condition).

GERD signs and symptoms include:

  • A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), sometimes spreading to the throat, along with a sour taste in the mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry cough
  • Hoarseness or sore throat
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
  • Sensation of a lump in the throat

Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But some people with GERD may need stronger medications, or even surgery, to reduce symptoms. Conditions that can increase risk of GERD include obesity, pregnancy, smoking, asthma, diabetes, regular constipation, and poor diet.

Over time, chronic inflammation in our esophagus can lead to complications, including narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture), which can lead to the formation of scar tissue, narrowing the food pathway and causing difficulty swallowing. Another typical complication is the forming of an open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). This may cause bleeding, pain and make swallowing difficult.

Also, hiatal hernias, which are an opening between the stomach and the esophagus, can occur. If untreated, this can lead to pre-cancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus). With this condition, the tissue lining the lower esophagus changes. These changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer; doctors will likely recommend regular endoscopy exams to look for early warning signs.

Managing and Reducing Acid Reflux

Lifestyle changes may help reduce the frequency of heartburn. Here are several helpful and simple steps to consider:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.Excess weight puts pressure on our abdomen, pushing up our stomach and causing acid to back up into our esophagus. If you are overweight or obese, work to slowly lose weight — no more than one or two pounds a week.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing.Clothes that fit tightly around our waist put pressure on our abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that trigger heartburn. Common triggers such as fatty or fried foods, tomatoes, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, and caffeine may make heartburn worse.
  • Eat smaller meals.Avoid overeating by eating smaller meals.
  • Don’t lie down after a meal.Wait at least three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed.
  • Elevate the head of your bed.If you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep, raise the pillow end of your bed by six to nine inches (can use wood or cement blocks). Or insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Wedges are available at drugstores and medical supply stores. Raising your head with additional pillows is not effective.
  • Don’t smoke.Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.

Treatment for heartburn and other signs and symptoms of GERD usually begins with over-the-counter medications that control acid. If you don’t experience relief within a few weeks, your doctor may recommend other treatments, including medications and surgery.

There are a variety of stronger, prescription medications for managing GERD. Contact your doctor before taking any new medications or if symptoms are not relieved. Also, seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, especially if you have other signs and symptoms, such as shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs and symptoms of a heart attack.


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!