Spring Forward, but Watch Your Back

After an inactive winter it’s easy to strain or hurt ourselves the first time we’re working outdoors, clearing or preparing a garden, swinging a golf club or baseball bat, moving outdoor furniture or simply doing anything physical.  There are a number of tips we can follow to prevent or limit muscle strain, aches and injuries, including stretching before and after physical activities, remaining properly hydrated, getting enough sleep, eating well and knowing our own limitations.

One of the keys to remaining injury-free before work or working out is to make sure to stretch properly and bend and lift carefully to avoid back, knee and shoulder injuries. Always stretch before, and when possible, after working or exercising.

Proper stretching loosens up tight muscles and makes us more limber. When stretching, focus on the big muscles first. The quadriceps and hamstrings in our thighs are generally the largest muscles of the body and deserve special attention, particularly because they play a key supporting role for our backs. That means stretching the back, front, and inner and outer thigh. Then continue to work the other muscle groups, from your neck to your toes, tightening and loosening each as you move down your body.

Besides warming up, when gardening, doing yard work or taxing ourselves physically, it’s important to use proper techniques for bending and lifting. Simple tips include keeping objects close to our bodies when lifting, and maintaining the natural curves of our spine as we work. It’s useful to bend our knees and squat or kneel to get to ground level instead of bending over. And when kneeling, be mindful of position: try kneeling with one knee on the ground and the other up, and periodically switch knees to alleviate pressure. Also try to avoid sudden twisting or reaching motions, keeping movements smooth, and adjust posture frequently to reduce the risk of repetitive-motion injuries.

Another trick for staying loose and avoiding aches and pains is to apply heat before and after a workout. Heat prior to working out can minimize muscle strain. After a workout, muscles and joints are potentially dehydrated and, because they are weakened, are not as stable as when they have been resting. Applying a heating pad or wrap for 10 – 15 minutes while seated or lying down after a workout session or strenuous activity like spring cleaning can help muscles calm down and return to their normal state without seizing up.

Proper Bending Is Key to Avoiding Injuries

Always be sure to bend at the hip, not the lower back. Most people believe bending their knees will ensure a safe lift, but this form alone can still lead to a back injury. The most important tip is to bend the hips and keep the upper body upright as much as possible, pointing forward.

Keeping the chest forward also is important. When the chest is kept forward and the body is bent at the hips, the back is kept straight and back injury can be avoided. The back muscles will then be used most effectively for maintaining good posture, as they are designed to do. The knees will bend automatically so the muscles of the legs and hips will produce the power for lifting correctly.

Twisting, repetitive lifting or hefting strenuous amounts of weight is another dangerous mistake that can lead to back or shoulder injury. The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in our body; comprising more than 30 muscles and six major ligaments, it can move and articulate into more than 1,500 different positions. Our shoulders should be kept in line with the hips to avoid twisting movement. For changing directions, move the hips first so the shoulders will move in unison.  When moving the shoulders first, the hips tend to lag behind creating the dangerous twisting that can cause back injury, especially to the joints in the back and pelvis.

Here are some additional tips for avoiding injuries and remaining healthy, especially as the spring draws us out of hibernation and into a full range of outdoor and indoor activities:

  • Stay hydrated. This is good advice anytime, but especially when engaged in sports or working outdoors. Dehydrated muscles and tendons are less flexible and less resilient. If you’re a coffee drinker, reduce your risk of muscle strain by drinking more water than coffee, and avoid excessive alcohol, another cause of dehydration.
  • Avoid smoking. In addition to its other downsides, nicotine impairs the healing process for tendons and muscles.
  • Vary activities: Mix it up to prevent muscle imbalance. If repeating the same overhead motion, shoulder muscles will get overworked and others will decondition; this can throw off the shoulder’s balance, resulting in tendon damage.
  • Use proper form when lifting and carrying heavy items. Keep an upright position to help protect the back. And if you’re doing overhead work, use a ladder or step stool to put the work at eye level and reduce stress on the shoulders.
  • Eat well: Without the nutrients our muscles need to stay healthy and to heal if they become strained, we put ourselves at constant risk. Avoid sweets, fried foods and excessive salt, and focus on a broad mix of fruits, vegetables and grains, as well as fish and other proteins.

Preventing injuries and staying healthy is a day-by-day activity – if you hurt yourself right out of the gate in the spring, it may take months to heal . . . and before you know it, winter will be here again!  So, remember to stretch before and after physical activity to help your muscles relax and rebound more quickly, and take care of your body!

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!

Good Oral Hygiene Improves Overall Health

Good oral health is a critical aspect of overall health and wellness, yet many Americans take it for granted. While properly brushing and flossing teeth is an important prevention component, along with regular dental visits, the rise of oral cancers is reaching serious proportions and, sadly, the causes of many oral cancers are largely preventable.

The prevalence of oral cancer in the United States is typically associated with four behaviors that, if avoided or minimized, could have a significant impact on reducing incidences. They include the use of all tobacco products – including cigarettes, snuff, chewing tobacco and vaping; alcohol consumption; oral sex leading to acquiring sexually transmitted diseases, especially involving Human papilloma virus (HPV); and excessive sun exposure.

Oral health is not only important to our appearance and sense of well-being, but also to our overall health. Cavities and gum disease may contribute to serious conditions such as diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, and untreated cavities can be painful and lead to serious infections. Poor oral health has been linked to sleeping problems, as well as behavioral and developmental problems in children. It can also affect our ability to chew and digest food properly.

Nearly one-third of all adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay. One in seven adults aged 35 to 44 years has gum disease; this increases to one in every four adults aged 65 years and older. Oral cancers are most common in older adults, particularly those over 55 years who smoke and are heavy drinkers, but those statistics are changing in younger people who indulge in excessive smoking, use of smokeless tobacco products, vaping, alcohol consumption and oral sex.

Reducing Plaque Buildup

Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly builds up, thickens and hardens on the teeth. If it is not removed by daily brushing and flossing, this plaque can harden into tartar and may contribute to infections in the gums. Left untreated, gum disease can lead to the loss of teeth and an increased risk of more serious illnesses.

The bacteria in plaque can travel from the mouth to the lungs, causing infection or aggravating existing lung conditions. It creates risks for heart patients, too, as it can travel through the bloodstream and get lodged in narrow arteries, contributing to heart attacks. There also is a link between diabetes and gum disease.

Everyone should brush their teeth at least twice a day, preferably within 30 minutes of eating. When bacteria in plaque come into contact with food, they produce acids. These acids lead to cavities. Flossing is critical, as well, and does about 40 percent of the work required to remove plaque from the hard-to-reach spaces between our teeth.

Proper nutrition plays a key role in oral health, as well. Food high in processed sugars and fats are not good for body or teeth – they contribute to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and even certain types of cancers. A well-rounded, vitamin-rich, balanced diet high in fiber and filled with vegetables, fruits and plenty of water will help maintain a healthy mouth, as well as a healthier body. And regular visits to the dentist are essential for screening for cavities, infections and other abnormalities that can be reflective of heart health and other diseases.

Preventing Oral Cancer

Signs and symptoms of mouth cancer may include:

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • A sore that bleeds
  • A growth, lump or thickening of the skin or lining of the mouth
  • Loose teeth
  • Poorly fitting dentures
  • Tongue pain
  • Jaw pain or stiffness
  • Difficult or painful chewing
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Sore throat

Tobacco and alcohol use are among the strongest risk factors for oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers. When tobacco and alcohol damage the cells lining the mouth and throat, the cells in this layer must grow more rapidly to repair this damage. The more often cells need to divide, the more chances there are for them to make mistakes when copying their DNA, which may increase their chances of becoming cancerous.

Many of the chemicals found in tobacco can damage DNA directly. Research has shown that alcohol helps many DNA-damaging chemicals get into cells more easily. This may be why the combination of tobacco and alcohol damages DNA far more than tobacco alone. This damage can cause certain genes (for example, those in charge of starting or stopping cell growth) to malfunction. Abnormal cells can begin to build up, forming a tumor. With additional damage, the cells may begin to spread into nearby tissue and to distant organs.

Oral cancer may occur on the floor of the mouth, the lining of the cheek, the gingiva (gums), the lips or the palate (roof of the mouth). Early-stage symptoms can include persistent red or white patches, a non-healing ulcer, progressive swelling or enlargement, unusual surface changes, sudden tooth mobility without apparent cause, unusual oral bleeding or prolonged hoarseness.

Smokers are many times more likely than non-smokers to develop these cancers. Tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes can cause cancers anywhere in the mouth or throat, as well as causing cancers of the larynx (voice box), lungs, esophagus, kidneys, bladder, and several other organs.

Oral tobacco products (snuff or chewing tobacco) are linked with cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Using oral tobacco products for a long time poses an especially high risk. These products also cause gum disease, destruction of the bone sockets around teeth, and tooth loss. It is also important for people who have been treated for oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer to give up any oral tobacco products.

Most brands of e-cigarettes on the market contain high amounts of nicotine, typically more than found in regular cigarettes. E-cigs or vaping liquids also contain formaldehyde, which is a chemical used in some building materials, as well as in the process of embalming dead bodies. Formaldehyde is a known cancer-causing agent, and repeated exposure to it can result in precancerous changes in the lining of the mouth that can be the beginning stages of oral cancer. And the various flavorings used to make e-Cigarettes taste pleasant can also contain cancer-causing compounds, as well as lung irritants.

HPV and Oral Cancer

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 types of viruses. They are called papilloma viruses because some of them cause a type of growth called a papilloma. Papillomas are not cancers, and are more commonly called warts. Infection with certain types of HPV can also cause some forms of cancer, including cancers of the penis, cervix, vulva, vagina, anus, and throat. Other types of HPV cause warts in different parts of the body.

HPV can be passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact. One way HPV is spread is through sex, including vaginal and anal intercourse and even oral sex.

Most people with HPV infections of the mouth and throat have no symptoms, and only a small percentage develop oropharyngeal cancer. Oral HPV infection is more common in men than in women. The risk increases with the number of sexual partners a person has, and smoking also increases the risk of oral HPV infection.

At this time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved a test for HPV infection of the mouth and throat. Cancers of the oral cavity and oropharynx usually take many years to develop; most patients with these cancers are older than 55 when the cancers are first found. But this is changing as HPV-linked cancers become more common. People with cancers linked to HPV infection tend to be younger.

There’s no proven way to prevent mouth cancer. However, we can reduce our risk of mouth cancer if we avoid or limit tobacco products, consume alcohol moderately, avoid excessive exposure to the sun (when outdoors, use sunscreen and lip balms with UV protection), eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, and visit the dentist regularly!

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!

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!

Being Mindful Throughout the Day

A lot has been written about stress-reduction techniques like exercise, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. While all offer methods for strengthening our bodies and our minds, each technique may not be practical at work, at school, or while shopping or driving in traffic. Yet there’s no question that the ability to calm ourselves and improve focus reduces tension, improves our mood, is good for heart health (February is National Heart health Awareness Month), and increases productivity, morale and teamwork. So clearly, there’s value in considering how to implement or support stress-reduction in the workplace.

The trick, says experts, isn’t to see relaxation through mindfulness or meditation as a magic pill you take when you’re already melting down, but rather, as a daily practice that begins when you awaken and carries forward throughout your day, regardless of where you are or what you are doing.

Mindfulness is being focused on the present moment. That means you’re not worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow, or dwelling on what happened in yesterday’s meeting, before you left your house this morning, or what’s waiting for you later in the day. By remaining totally present, you are able to take a step back and make better decisions. That includes not reacting negatively in that moment, being able to take the time to think things through more objectively, and not making judgments based only on what could be incomplete, emotionally polluted or circumstantial information.

There are a number of ways to achieve this more peaceful, calm presence. Some steps are obvious; these include:

  • Don’t answer your phone or check your emails when meeting with another person or group;
  • Establish an advance agenda and stick to it during the allotted time;
  • Keep meetings or calls on schedule and respect other people’s time
  • Listen carefully to what others are saying, not just their words; and
  • Try to put yourself in another person’s shoes, knowing full well that whatever you think may be driving their actions or words could be completely wrong.

But getting to a more peaceful place yourself, and for your workers, takes practice. Here are a few techniques to consider:

Start your day by meditating. Meditation is useful in dealing with medical conditions worsened by stress, such as anxiety disorders, asthma, cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain and trouble sleeping.

Don’t let the thought of meditating the “right” way add to your stress. If you choose to, you can attend special meditation centers or group classes led by trained instructors. But you can also practice meditation easily on your own.

Taking 15 minutes to half an hour each morning before the day carries you off is a perfect way to seize control before the stress and pressures seize you. Find a quiet spot, sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Just breathe in and out, slowly and rhythmically, and feel the air entering your body through your nostrils, traveling down through your body, and then being slowly expelled.

One common trick is to practice a simple one – two count. Breathe in, one two, breathe out, one two, and repeat this step 20 times.

While you are breathing, try clearing your thoughts. This isn’t easy . . . but the idea is to let things come in and pass out without allowing them to attach. You may not be able to prevent these thoughts, but, as one meditation expert says about random ideas, “they may come to your house, but you don’t have to invite them in for tea.”

Consider a mantra. This can be a positive thought, a few simple words or a phrase that is simple and meaningful that you repeat over and over while relaxing. It can be a goal, an aspiration, a prayer – whatever works for you. Again, the purpose is to help you control your breathing and relax.

Take a lunch break or quiet time. It sounds obvious, but when we’re busy, pressured or on a deadline, we may feel we don’t have time to take a break. But separating ourselves from our stress, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes, allows us to reset and refresh. How you use the time is wide open:  take a quick walk, sit and meditate, write a personal note, read, eat a meal, listen to some music . . . whatever works for you. The trick is to give your brain and body a few minutes to recharge. Taking a deliberate break and detaching from work is a mindful way to improve concentration, facilitate greater awareness, and take control of our day.

Talk with a friend, family member or co-worker. When we’re busy we get into our own heads and become preoccupied with whatever challenges we are facing. It’s good to be reminded that there are plenty of other things going on in our lives, and that work – while important – isn’t everything.  While we want to remain mindful and focused while on task, taking a few minutes during the day to get in touch with our outside world is important, as well.

Keep a journal or daily record. Set goals and record successes and actions. Each step we take is important and when we don’t achieve our goals, it’s not a failure – just part of the process for self-improvement and increased awareness. By organizing ourselves and keeping track of how we do, we can better plan for each day and see our incremental improvement.

Celebrate milestones and successes. When we hold ourselves or our teams accountable for huge successes, it’s easy to forget to recognize each step in the journey. Establishing achievable milestones – and then rewarding ourselves for reaching them – is an important part of teambuilding and boosts morale and engagement.

Establish a “quiet place.” If possible, setting aside a small area or room for people to visit during down times, for lunch, reading, or for mediation is very helpful. It can be a corner with a few chairs and lamps, or an unused office . . . the idea is to demonstrate your support for this common area, and to encourage people to find ways to relax and focus on their health and wellbeing.

Remember, learning how to be mindful doesn’t happen overnight. Like anything else worth doing, it takes practice and dedication. But the rewards, individually and collectively, are great, and the long-term value is priceless.


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!


Woowhee, It’s Cold Out There

We’ve already seen sub-zero temperatures in Connecticut, and winter is barely half over (Groundhog’s Day was February 2nd). If you work or recreate outdoors, you have to take extra precautions. If you dress for the cold, wearing multiple layers and properly covering your head, hands and feet, it’s uncomfortable but tolerable. However, for five percent of Americans suffering from Raynaud’s Disease, dressing warmly still may not be enough to avoid extra discomfort, chaffing and pain from exposure to extreme cold.

Raynaud’s Disease causes some areas of our body — such as fingers and toes — to feel numb and cold in response to cold temperatures or stress. In Raynaud’s Disease, smaller arteries that supply blood to our skin narrow, limiting blood circulation to affected areas. Women are more likely than men to have Raynaud’s disease, also known as Raynaud or Raynaud’s phenomenon or syndrome. It appears to be more common in people who live in colder climates, and often occurs prior to the age of 30.

Treatment of Raynaud’s Disease depends on its severity and whether you have other health conditions. For most people, Raynaud’s Disease isn’t disabling, but it can affect quality of life. Signs and symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease include:

  • Cold fingers or toes
  • Color changes in your skin in response to cold or stress
  • Numb, prickly feeling or stinging pain upon warming or stress relief

With Raynaud’s, arteries to fingers and toes go into vasospasm when exposed to cold or stress, narrowing vessels and temporarily limiting blood supply. Over time, these small arteries can thicken slightly, further limiting blood flow.

Cold temperatures are most likely to trigger an attack. Exposure to cold, such as putting hands in cold water, taking something from a freezer or being in cold air, is the most likely trigger. For some people, emotional stress can trigger an episode.

During an attack of Raynaud’s, affected areas of the skin usually first turn white. Then, they often turn blue and feel cold and numb. As you warm and circulation improves, the affected areas may turn red, throb, tingle or swell. Although Raynaud’s most commonly affects fingers and toes, it can also affect other areas of the body such as our nose, lips, ears and even nipples. After warming, it can take 15 minutes for normal blood flow to return to the area.

There are two main types of the condition. Primary Raynaud’s, the most common form, can be so mild that most people don’t seek medical treatment. It often resolves by itself. However, Secondary Raynauld’s typically is a side effect of another underlying cause; though less common, it tends to be more serious.

Recognizing and Mitigating Symptoms

Causes of Secondary Raynaud’s include:

  • Connective tissue diseases.Most people who have a rare disease that leads to hardening and scarring of the skin (scleroderma) have Raynaud’s. Other diseases that increase the risk of Raynaud’s include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Diseases of the arteries.These include a buildup of plaques in blood vessels that feed the heart (atherosclerosis), a disorder in which the blood vessels of the hands and feet become inflamed (Buerger’s disease), and a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries of the lungs (primary pulmonary hypertension).
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.This condition involves pressure on a major nerve to hands, producing numbness and pain that can make the hand more susceptible to cold temperatures.
  • Repetitive action or vibration.Typing, playing piano or doing similar movements for long periods and operating vibrating tools, such as jackhammers, can lead to overuse injuries.
  • Smoking constricts blood vessels.
  • Injuries to the hands or feet.These include wrist fracture, surgery or frostbite.
  • Certain medications.These include beta blockers, used to treat high blood pressure; migraine medications that contain ergotamine or sumatriptan; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medications; certain chemotherapy agents; and drugs that cause blood vessels to narrow, such as some over-the-counter cold medications.
  • Family history.A first-degree relative — a parent, sibling or child — having the disease appears to increase your risk of Primary Raynaud’s.

There are specific tests for helping physicians diagnose Reynaud’s Disease, and a variety of medications and treatments, typically aimed at treating the underlying causes. For the most part, common sense prevails. Avoiding rapidly changing temperatures (indoors and outdoors) when possible and dressing properly are the most obvious preventative measures. Stop smoking, which causes skin temperatures to drop by constricting blood vessels. Exercise increases circulation, and learning to recognize and control stress may limit attacks.

Getting outdoors in the winter is important for our physical and mental health. Enjoy it responsibly, and remember – the days are already getting longer and spring will be here before we know it!

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!

Hashtags, Smiley Faces, and Love

Remember when we were kids and we gave each other simple cut-out valentine cards and those little heart-shaped, multi-colored tasteless candies with pithy expressions such as “Be mine,” and “love u 4ever” on them? Then, as we grew older, there were the ubiquitous chocolates and roses, perfumes and colognes, dinner at jammed restaurants and, for the truly lucky, sexy lingerie or boxers with hearts to be viewed and enjoyed.

But it all became pretty straightforward, ritualistic . . . and stressful. Sales of diamond engagement rings, jewelry and sweet and sappy greeting cards still soar in February. For all the ballyhoo, though, it remains a much-heralded and often feared annual rite of love, joy, disappointment and loneliness for millions of Americans of all ages, ethnicities, genders and religions.

Today, of course, we have social media and a variety of electronic tools to use in communicating with loved ones, families, friends and potential amours.  You typically don’t have to purchase anything; you can simply reach out and touch someone through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, send email notes or electronic cards, text, or use any of the dozens of messaging and dating media available at your fingertips.

Many people now meet through social media or online dating sites. Electronic communication is an established norm, and allows users to more safely probe and analyze a potential love interest or find ways to disqualify them before they actually meet in person.

It’s easy to get excited when you are flirting or feeling drawn to someone, based on repeat electronic interaction. Because so much communication takes place through rapid-fire texts, messaging and the exchanging of photos, a false sense of intimacy is quickly created. This type of personal interaction, warn relationship counselors, also amplifies the desire for immediate gratification and constant access to someone you hardly know.

In fact, therapists say that many online candidates put off actually meeting because they are afraid of disappointment, either in the other person or in facing their own insecurities. The fantasy, in this case, becomes more attractive than reality, due to fear, uncertainty or previous experiences. And because relationships solidify or start to fall apart after several face-to-face dates, many people are reluctant to burst the bubble of an attractive online flirtation and face the variables and challenges present in actual relationships.

These safer online interactions might be enough to gain a smile, spread some warmth, push a boundary or potentially light a fire. And if you grew up with a smart phone attached to your hand, it is a pretty normal way to communicate. But researchers and psychologists looking at the bigger mating picture beg to differ:  In their professional opinions, if you truly want to build, cement or embolden a personal connection, romantic or otherwise, phone calls and face-to-face encounters still are the best way to go.

Electronic Media Distract from True, Healthy Intimacy

We are constantly linked to our phones checking emails and news alerts, scrolling through social media apps, playing games or interacting virtually. Much new research is being done concerning addiction behaviors linked to phones, computers and social applications, but you can do your own research, any day of the week, by walking into a bar, restaurant, coffee shop, library or anywhere people gather and observing their behavior.

Chances are, their phones are on the table or counter near them or they’re using them, even when they’re with another person or in a group. And as long as this appealing electronic candy is there, vying for our attention, we aren’t fully focused on the conversation or interaction going on right in front of or around us. Sadly, our phones are getting in the way of true listening, bonding and intimacy.

Venues for instantaneous communication work for and against us. In the old days, we might pen a letter or write a love or hate email note, and then have the wisdom to sit on it until the next day, when we were thinking more clearly. On the other hand, writing something is often safer than saying it face to face, though you lose the advantages of eye contact and body language, all-important nuances in love and life.

So, while it’s important to not respond to a post or comment when you’re feeling emotionally charged, angry or frustrated, oftentimes those are the emotions that drive honesty, as well . . . if you react on the spot, you don’t take the time to soften the edges, edit yourself or manipulate the message. It’s more from the gut than it is politically correct, and that can have positive and negative consequences.

Remember, also, that everyone is entitled to their own opinions . . .and learning those opinions is an important part of developing a personal relationship. How much do you want to glean by voyeuristically scouring someone’s Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter posts, compared to sitting across the table from them, sipping a beverage of your choice and talking about movies, hobbies, roommates and world events?

And keeping our private lives private is still a valuable commodity – when birthdays, breakups, job woes and vacation chatter is splashed across social media for your “friends” and the world to see, it loses much in the translation, or worse, allows someone to make a less-informed, virtual choice about your potential worthiness as a romantic partner or friend. All without you being able to defend or explain yourself.

Part of the thrill of getting to know someone is through personal exploration. And while you can ask plenty of questions online, it doesn’t replace those quiet moments together when your prospective partner talks about his or her fears, likes and dislikes, families, work associates, dramas and joys. It’s these surprises and this sharing that gain us valuable insight and either turn us on, romantically or fraternally, or push us away.

So, if you’re on the market for a love interest, trying to get to know someone better, or just conversing with a new or old friend, pick up the phone or meet in person. Conducting mating rituals online and playing 20 questions electronically may be less risky than face-to-face encounters, but it’s not as rewarding, either.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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!

Putting Disease Management Programs to Work

People with chronic health conditions can benefit from specialized healthcare outreach and self-management programs in place at CBIA’s health benefits partners, ConnectiCare and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. These programs help patients manage their conditions more effectively, with the goal of enhancing patient knowledge about specific diseases, encouraging compliance, preventing painful or dangerous complications as much as possible, and mitigating flareups when they occur.

ConnectiCare’s Touchpoints Program offers options to help members manage specific conditions including:

  • BREATHE – Asthma: for all members with asthma.
  • BREATHE – COPD: for members with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • DiabetiCare – for adult members with diabetes.
  • HeartCare – CAD: for members with coronary artery disease.
  • HeartCare – HF: for members with heart failure.
  • Birth Expectations — for pregnant members with a history of a previous pre-term delivery or of carrying more than one baby.

Additionally, they offer a Kidney Case Management Program designed to help ConnectiCare members and their families manage kidney disease. A registered nurse with specialized training calls members to provide guidance and support and to monitor health conditions and complications that are commonly related to kidney disease.

Harvard Pilgrim takes a comprehensive approach to disease management, focusing on patient-centered care that coordinates resources across the health care delivery system and throughout the life cycle of a disease. Harvard Pilgrim’s disease management programs include a range of components specifically designed to reinforce clinicians’ treatment plans. These include:

  • Clinical practice guidelines for effective care
  • Patient identification and outreach
  • Patient education in managing their condition in order to reduce adverse outcomes and maximize quality of life.

These programs assist patients by helping them better understand their condition, giving them useful and timely information about their disease, and providing them with assistance from clinical health educators, nurses and pharmacists who can help them manage their disease.

If you think you qualify for a disease management program, or have other questions, contact your health benefits provider directly using the customer service number on your member identification card.


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!