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!