Laughter and Work Actually Do Mix

What’s so funny about work? Well, depending on where you’re sitting and your position in the organizational hierarchy, just about everything! Come on, now, you have to admit it: Who doesn’t laugh at work? And if they don’t, what do you honestly think about them?  We all know that person – stiff, always serious, never smiling or seeming to enjoy work or their life . . . a sad stereotype. But whatever their reasons for being who and how they are, the uber serious aren’t just missing out, they are likely not as healthy as those who laugh and find humor in the people and things around them.

That’s not to say the workplace shouldn’t be a serious place. Work is important, as is making deadlines, ensuring service and decorum, maintaining quality and increasing productivity. But humans are social beings, and laughter helps relieve stress, strengthens teams and binds us to common goals.

When you watch people sitting together at lunch or talking at breaks or at gatherings you can see them change physically and relax. Whether enjoying a joke, story or anecdote, or just reflecting on something that has happened or been observed, laughter is good for our mental and physical health and should be encouraged, as appropriate to time and place. But as we can’t legislate happiness, sadness or frustration, we also can’t control people wanting to laugh . . . nor should we. Instead, as employers, we can encourage and support opportunities for relaxing and enhancing teamwork.

People have the remarkable ability to find the humor in almost every situation. It’s an important coping mechanism, and a way to release tension and search, consciously or subconsciously, for empathy. And that is very, very healthy.

Next month (April) is both National Humor Month and Stress Awareness Month. While many health-related awareness designations have little relevance to one another, this combination is an exception. Humor plays an important role in reducing stress, and laughter, whether loud and boisterous, or soft and silent, drives biological reactions that reduce pain, strengthen our immune systems, increase productivity and improve our relationships with our fellow workers, friends, families, and even with total strangers.

Striving to see humor in life and attempting to laugh at situations rather than complain helps improve our disposition and the disposition of those around us. Our ability to laugh at ourselves and situations helps reduce stress and makes life more enjoyable. Humor also helps us connect with others. People naturally respond to the smiles and good cheer of those around them.

The chemical reaction linked to humor and laughter involves endorphins, pain-relieving chemicals usually caused by physical activity or touch. Our bodies create endorphins in response to exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food, and love, among other things. In addition to giving us a “buzz,” bursts of energy and a general good feeling, endorphins raise our ability to ignore pain. In fact, researchers believe that the long series of exhalations that accompany true laughter cause physical exhaustion of the abdominal muscles and, in turn, trigger endorphin release.

Consider these facts about the positive health effects of humor:

  • People with a developed sense of humor typically have a stronger immune system.
  • People who laugh heartily on a regular basis have lower-standing blood pressure than the average person. When people have a good laugh, initially the blood pressure increases but then decreases to levels below normal. Breathing then becomes deeper, which sends oxygen-enriched blood and nutrients throughout the body.
  • Laughter can be a great workout for your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. It is estimated that hearty laughter can burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
  • Laughter stimulates both sides of the brain to enhance learning. It eases muscle tension and psychological stress, which keeps the brain alert and allows people to retain more information. Laughing also elevates moods.

Organizations can support this spontaneous health benefit by encouraging people to dine together in and out of the office or workplace, and by creating common areas where people may congregate before, after or even during work hours. Pictures and posters that elicit humorous comments, sharing of humor online and through organizational websites and emails, as well as through speeches, meetings and presentations, shows employees that everyone – even the boss – has a good sense of humor and realizes that while we’re all working hard, we need to acknowledge our social side and not take ourselves too seriously.

The sound of laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. Humor and laughter have many benefits, and they don’t cost a penny. So, laugh at yourself and laugh with others — you’ll be improving your health and the health of those around you with every chuckle and smile!

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!

Be a Fifteen Percenter

Okay, it’s March — time to run a quick health and wellness resolution mental checklist: One, I’m getting to the gym every other day, or walking 20 minutes a day when I don’t get to the gym. Two, on the nutrition front, I’m reducing my sugar and sweets intake, limiting anything made with white flour, cutting back on salt, and eating way less yummy fats and fried foods. Three, going easy on the alcohol, soda, caffeine and fruit juices, and drinking lots more water. Four, meditating in the morning to reduce stress before I go to work or school or face the day. Five, based on all of the above, well on my way to my goal of losing 10 to 15 pounds before bathing suit season arrives.

Feel free to add items six through 10 here, whether it’s reducing television and social media distractions, calling friends and family more regularly, putting on a few pounds, kicking your nicotine habit, reading more books, writing that children’s book, spending more time with your own kids . . . it doesn’t really matter. What does matter this March is taking the time to see if you’re doing any of the things you said you’d start doing back in January!

If you’re not, don’t sweat it. Best intentions aside, every personal health and wellness plan needs measurement, adjustment and readjustment. And now, before the weather gets warm and the days get longer, is the perfect time to do just that.

Millions of Americans make “wishful thinking” resolutions around the holidays or at the beginning of the year. Surveys have found that by springtime, 68 percent of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution have broken it. After one year, only 15 percent claim success. Still, more than half of us make resolutions, which is why membership in health and fitness clubs, diet programs and smoking-cessation clinics soar in January.

But don’t despair. The secret to self-improvement is persistence, not perfection. Spring is a great opportunity to renew resolutions, or to make new ones. The chaos of the holidays is past, the weather is starting to improve, days are getting longer, and we know that, before too long, coats will be off and bodies won’t be hidden under bulky clothes anymore.

The first step, of course, is to ensure you have a plan — without a roadmap, you’re going to struggle. The key is to ensure that you’ve set achievable goals and that real action steps are created. That requires commitment, communication, time, measurement, and rewards.

Forget about getting to the gym every day – how about every other day? Sweet tooth hounding you? Look into sugar-free alternatives. Try eating bread and foods made with whole grains instead of white flour. Carry around a water bottle and skip the soda at lunch or dinner, or that cocktail after work.

Tell a friend or associate about your goals, and see if you can get someone to share his or her action plan with you, as well. This way, you create a buddy system – even if you can’t exercise or eat together, you can encourage one another, and then come together to celebrate each small success.

Establish a realistic timeframe. What will you try to accomplish today, and this week, and then this month? Instead of losing 15 pounds, what has to happen to lose one or two pounds in the next several days? Each choice we make matters – it may be skipping the Oreos or ice cream while watching television at night, forcing ourselves to go to the gym before work, even for half an hour, or switching from wine to club soda when you meet your friends tonight.

Consider keeping a journal with your goals and progress. And treating yourself for reaching milestones is a well-earned reward – if you’ve managed to skip the pizza, French fries and chocolate cake throughout the week, a little taste on the weekend isn’t so bad.

Change doesn’t have to be dramatic, it just has to be ongoing and realistic. The trick is to constantly renew and focus on our goals, and to keep at it, modifying our strategy until we achieve them. With a little effort and dedication, you can become part of the 15 percent of people who achieve their health and wellness goals. So, give it a try this week, before we blink and it’s June — what do you have to lose?

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!

Increasing Patient Safety Awareness

Are you a good patient? Seriously, have you given much thought to this important topic?  Patient safety isn’t just about limiting medical errors, preventing infections in the hospital or about reducing missed diagnoses . . . it’s about engagement, participation and anticipation to help ensure better understanding and results.

Our own behavior, choices and responsibility play key roles in health and wellness, yet many patients fail to understand, or worse, disregard or ignore their own duties when it comes to keeping themselves healthy.

Good communication and planning are critical to our overall health and wellness picture. It’s amazing how few people think about the basics, such as having a healthcare proxy, keeping emergency contact information handy, always knowing what specific medications you take, or having someone accompany you to a medical appointment when discussing surgery, care, preventative steps or medical and pharmaceutical compliance.

These are basic, yet vital steps. When you go to see a new doctor or specialist, he or she will always ask about medications you are taking, previous surgeries, allergies, immunization records, family history and symptoms. That’s a lot to remember when you’re anxious, worried or in pain. And if it’s an emergency or you’re not conscious or fully aware, that important information will be filled in when possible, instead of being available upfront when it may count the most.

If you haven’t already, create those lists for yourself, and give copies to someone you trust, like a partner, spouse, child, parent or friend. When you get to see them next, make sure to update each of your doctors when one of them changes or adds a prescription, or if you’ve had a medical procedure, illness or surgery.

The Importance of Asking Questions

We’re often more likely to ask tough, well-researched and straightforward questions when we buy a car, washing machine or refrigerator than when we’re sitting with a physician, nurse or medical technician. That’s human – we don’t want them to think we don’t trust them or are questioning their judgment. Yet knowledge is essential for ensuring good medical outcomes, and for our emotional health.

Prior to your appointment, write down any relevant questions, no matter how obscure or embarrassing they may seem. Most medical professionals want your questions – the more you know, the better you can help assist in your own preparation and recovery.

This can include steps you need to take prior to a visit or procedure, what to eat or drink, when to take your medications, how to apply bandages and medicines, frequency and potential side effects or expected results.

It’s always good to consider bringing a friend or family member with you to an appointment, especially if the topic is complex or you’re concerned about remembering all the details. This also helps when struggling with cultural or language differences, or when facing a physician or medical professional of another gender, nationality or age. Anything that makes you uncomfortable may interfere with your asking probing, relevant questions, and playing a guessing game later on is not a wise move.

Why Create a Healthcare Proxy?

Everyone needs a health care proxy, not just the elderly. Anybody can be in a situation where they’re temporarily unable to speak for themselves. By naming someone in a healthcare proxy to speak for you, and by informing them of your wishes, you relieve the potential burden on others.

A health care proxy is a legal document that lists who you have chosen to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to speak directly to the physicians caring for you.

For example, if you are in a car accident and need an emergency surgery, the doctors are going to want someone to sign a form giving permission for the surgery. If you can’t give permission because you’re unconscious, they want a family member or the person listed in the healthcare proxy to give permission.

A healthcare proxy is important to have, even if you have immediate family members nearby. Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly, and if several family members are weighing in, it could delay care.

When creating your healthcare proxy, consider these steps:

  • Select someone who is willing and able to make decisions about your health. Some people are not natural decision makers, so that’s something to consider. Think about family dynamics, and who could make an effective decision.
  • Let the person know that they are listed in your healthcare proxy.
  • Give the person named in your healthcare proxy as much information as you can about your medical wishes.

A healthcare proxy form is easy to fill out. You will need to have two witnesses sign it, not including you or the person you have appointed. You can have the paperwork prepared by an attorney, or download one online.  Many physician’s offices have blank healthcare proxies available, and typically their office staff can provide witnesses.

Once you’ve filled out the form, give one to your doctor and one to the person named in your healthcare proxy, and keep one in your house. You can change the designated person at any time, just like you would change a will. You also can decide to list an alternate person on the form, just in case the primary person can’t make the decision or is unreachable when needed.

The proxy document gives the person you designate the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf, but you are still responsible for explaining your medical wishes to them before an incident occurs. The document does not outline any specific medical action.

Taken together, these proactive healthcare steps are smart, insightful and extremely valuable. Being prepared for any medical occurrence, complying with medical direction and guidance, and ensuring that you take your medications exactly as prescribed make you a good medical consumer and supportive patient. That is our own responsibility and privilege, and a smart, healthy choice.

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!

Heart Our Kidneys

Our kidneys are workaholics. Seriously. When they report to work normally, wastes and water are routed to our bladders and flushed away as urine.  If they start sloughing off, harmful waste including toxins and extra water build up in our blood.

Fortunately, we have two kidneys, each containing about a million tiny filters that process approximately 40 gallons of fluid daily. Our kidneys also produce several hormones which help control blood pressure, make red blood cells and activate vitamin D, which helps keep our bones strong.

We all lose a little of our kidney function as we age. People can even survive with just one kidney. But when kidney function drops due to illness or an underlying kidney disease, falling hormone production, as well as excess water and toxic waste build up in our bloodstream, leading to dangerous complications. About one in 10 adults – close to 20 million Americans – suffer from kidney damage, and millions more are at risk.

There are different types of kidney disease. Most strike both kidneys at the same time, harming those small filters—called nephrons—and reducing their ability to function properly. When damage to nephrons happens quickly, often because of injury or poisoning, it’s known as acute kidney injury. It’s more common, though, for nephrons to worsen slowly and silently for years or even decades. This is known as chronic kidney disease.

This can occur in a person with normal kidneys or in someone who already has kidney problems.

Anyone can develop kidney disease, regardless of age or race. Family history is a marker, but there are other causes and catalysts. March is National Kidney Month, and a good opportunity to learn about kidney health and to think about improving diets to prevent or mitigate kidney damage and related potential consequences including diabetes, high-blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

Warning signs of kidney disease may include general fatigue and weakness, with nausea, vomiting and itching. For people with acute kidney injury or severe kidney disease, dialysis – a process where a machine cleanses our blood – may be necessary to restore normal kidney function or sustain us. In cases where the kidney stops functioning or is permanently damaged, a kidney transplant may be the only viable option.

Early kidney disease has no signs or symptoms. Without diagnostic testing, we may not feel any different until our kidney disease is very advanced. Blood and urine tests are the only way to know if we have kidney disease. A blood test checks our glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which tells how well our kidneys are filtering. A urine test checks for protein in our urine.

The sooner we know we may have kidney disease, the sooner we can get treatment to help delay or prevent kidney failure. Treatment may include taking medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs to manage high blood pressure and keep our kidneys healthier longer. Treating kidney disease may also help prevent heart disease.

Limiting or Preventing Kidney Disease

We can take many steps to avoid or delay reaching the point of kidney failure. The best preventative step is to control our blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle, including physical activity and a heart-healthy diet can help to normalize blood pressure and also slow kidney disease.

What we eat and drink can help prevent or slow down chronic kidney disease. Some foods are better for our kidneys than others. Cooking and preparing our food from scratch can help us eat healthier.

The first options for eating right involve choosing and preparing foods with less salt and sodium. To help control blood pressure, our diet should contain less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day.

Here are five simple steps for healthier eating and for maintaining healthy kidneys:

Buy fresh food more often. Sodium (a part of salt) is added to many packaged foods. Helpful tips include

  • Use spices, herbs, and sodium-free seasonings in place of salt
  • Check the Nutrition Facts label on food packages for sodium — Daily Value of 20 percent or more means the food is high in sodium
  • Try lower-sodium versions of frozen dinners and other convenience foods
  • Rinse canned vegetables, beans, meats, and fish with water before eating
  • Look for food labels that say “sodium free, salt free, low sodium, reduced or less sodium, no salt added, unsalted or lightly salted.

Eat the right amount and the right types of protein. To help protect our kidneys, eat small portions of higher-protein foods. Protein is found in foods from plants and animals. Consider talking to a physician, nutritionist or dietitian about how to choose the right combination for you. Animal-protein foods include chicken, fish, meat, eggs and dairy. Plant-protein foods include beans, nuts and grains.

Choose foods that are heart healthy. To help keep fat from building up in our blood vessels, heart, and kidneys, grill, broil, bake, roast, or stir-fry foods, instead of deep frying. Cook with nonstick cooking spray or a small amount of olive oil instead of butter. And trim fat from meat and remove skin from poultry before eating. Heart-healthy foods include:

  • Lean cuts of meat, like loin or round
  • Poultry without the skin
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese

Choose foods with less phosphorus. Phosphorus helps protect our bones and blood vessels, but too much isn’t good for us. Many packaged foods have added phosphorus. Look for phosphorus — or for words with “PHOS” — on ingredient labels. Deli meats and some fresh meat and poultry can have added phosphorus. Ask your butcher to help pick fresh meats without added phosphorus.

Foods lower in phosphorus include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Breads, pasta, rice
  • Rice milk (not enriched)
  • Corn and rice cereals
  • Light-colored sodas/pop

Foods higher in phosphorus include:

  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Bran cereals and oatmeal
  • Dairy foods
  • Beans, lentils, nuts
  • Colas

Choose foods that have the right amount of potassium. Potassium helps our nerves and muscles work the right way. Salt substitutes can be very high in potassium, so it’s important to find a balance, since too much salt isn’t good for us, either. Read the ingredient label, and check with your provider about using salt substitutes.

Foods lower in potassium include:

  • Apples, peaches
  • Carrots, green beans
  • White bread and pasta
  • White rice
  • Rice milk (not enriched)
  • Cooked rice and wheat cereals, grits

Foods higher in potassium include:

  • Oranges, bananas
  • Potatoes, tomatoes
  • Brown and wild rice
  • Bran cereals
  • Dairy foods
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Beans and nuts

If genetics are on our side, we eat properly and exercise regularly, kidney disease doesn’t have to be a problem. Speak with your physician about maintaining your kidneys, and take these simple steps to ensure good kidney health.

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!