Category Archives: Health and Wellness

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than 30.3 million people in the US have diabetes (that is 9.4% of the US population). And 7.2 million people may be undiagnosed. The count is rising every year.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes  is a chronic disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. The insulin hormone, which is made by the pancreas, helps the body turn blood sugar into energy. Blood sugar levels are a measure of how well a person’s body uses glucose. A diabetic person has high blood sugar (glucose) when his/her body does not produce enough insulin or because his/her body cells do not respond adequately to insulin, or both.

How are diabetics classified?

Type 1 – The body does not make insulin. It can appear at any age but is usually  diagnosed in children and young adults. Their bodies do not make insulin,  and they must take it to stay alive.

Type 2 –  The body does not make enough insulin or use it well. One can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, but it most often occurs in middle-aged to older people. This is the most common type of diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes – This diabetes type develops in some pregnant women but usually  goes away when the baby is born.  About 50% of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Risks for developing diabetes

A person’s risk for developing diabetes depends upon a number of factors, some of which can be controlled and some (age, family history, ethnicity) which cannot.

Some of the risk factors that can be controlled are these:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having a low level of  HDL (good) cholesterol, or a high level of triglycerides
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a history of heart disease or stroke
  • Having a history of gestational diabetes

Getting an A1C test (sometimes called the hemoglobin A1C) at your next physical will indicate whether you have diabetes or are at risk for developing it. The higher your A1C levels, the greater your risk of diabetes complications. With an A1C level over 6.5 percent, type 2 diabetes is indicated.

Tips to Avoid Gaining Weight After You Stop Smoking

Do you plan to participate in the Great American Smokeout this month (Nov. 15) and kick the nasty habit once and for all?

You can do it!

We all know that smoking is an addiction which produces withdrawal symptoms when stopped. But did you know that the  physical withdrawal symptoms last only a few days to about a week. After that, it is the psychological symptoms (cravings) that are the most difficult to overcome. But cravings will lessen the longer you resist the urge to smoke until finally, you find that you really have quit smoking.

Some people say they smoke because it helps to keep them from gaining weight, and experts have said that it is common for people to gain some weight when they give up the habit permanently. Since smoking increases metabolism, quitting causes your metabolism to slow slightly; however, most smokers gain less than 10 pounds.

For those who gain more weight, it is likely that they use food (especially sweets and high-caloric foods) to help curb nicotine cravings.

Here are four tips to help keep you from gaining weight after stopping smoking:

1. Plan for healthy eating before you quit smoking.

Stock your kitchen with healthy food choices so when the urge to snack hits, you will have them within easy reach. You may start to crave sweets after you quit (your sense of taste and smell improve)—and satisfying these cravings can prevent you from reaching for a cigarette. Just make sure the sweets you eat are not calorie-laden, sugary treats. (Fruits like grapes, strawberries, sugar-free candy and gum are acceptable substitutes).

2. Substitute the cigarette in your hand with something else.

Your body and brain are accustomed to the pattern of constantly putting your hand to your mouth when smoking, so replace the smoking pattern with an alternative. According to the AHA (American Heart Association), eating a food like air-popped popcorn will take time to eat, keep your hands busy, reduce the urge to smoke, and help you to feel full. (Five cups of air-popped popcorn has only 150 calories.)

3. Drink lots of water. It not only keeps your body hydrated, but also fills you up and lessens the desire to snack.

4. Amp up the exercise! If you are sedentary, adding exercise or increasing the exercise you already do will increase your metabolism. Walking and extra 30-45 minutes a day can make up for the metabolism slow-down from quitting smoking and keep your weight stable.

Smoking releases thousands of toxic chemicals into your body, which damage your heart, lungs, and other organs. But quitting, even after years of smoking, can reverse these effects and add years to your life.

 

 

 

 

 

How Sleep (or Lack of) Affects Your Overall Health

Americans are not getting enough sleep. According to the CDC, adults need between seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but most people average only six hours per night or less. Insufficient sleep can do more than make you cranky and groggy  – poor sleep can have lasting effects on your overall health, especially if it becomes a chronic problem.

Weight gain

Lack of sleep has been linked to being overweight, especially in women. Without enough sleep, you may be hungrier than usual and have cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. Additionally, your body’s ability to signal when you are full may also be hindered, which can all lead to unwanted weight gain.

Weakened immune system

Even when you’re only moderately sleep-deprived, your immune system will be comprised. You’ll be more susceptible to catching colds, the flu and other viruses, and recovery time will take longer.

Poor mental performance

In short, poor sleep will keep your brain from functioning optimally. Concentration, memory, and cognitive function are all affected by sleep deprivation. When you’re overly fatigued, you’ll have a harder time learning something new and paying attention. This can impact your creativity, decision making, problem solving, and work or school performance.

Heart health

Your risk for developing high blood pressure or worsening high blood pressure if you already have it is increased if you get less than six hours of sleep per night. Over time, lack of sleep can increase your risk for developing heart disease despite other factors such as age, weight, and exercise habits.

Premature aging

If you’re regularly skimping on sleep, you’re more likely to get premature wrinkles and sagging of your skin, in part because cortisol, the stress hormone that’s released when you are sleep deprived, can break down collagen in your skin.

Improve your sleep habits

The good news is, many of the negative effects of sleep deprivation can be reversed or avoided by improving your sleep habits so you get quality sleep. Aim for eight hours per night.

  • Choose a bedtime and stick to it, even on weekends.
  • Avoid TV, smartphones, tablets, or computer screens before bed. These can be stimulating and affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Don’t eat or drink late at night, especially avoid caffeinated beverages past 6 p.m. Water is OK.
  • Create a bedtime routine, such as brushing your teeth, showering or taking a warm bath, and listening to soft music or reading a book.
  • Make sure your room is dark except for a very soft nightlight if needed. This means TVs, smartphones, and other devices are turned off completely.

 

 

 

 

Recognizing the Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Summer may be winding down, but the weather outside is still hot. With fall just around the corner, you may be dreaming of pumpkin spice lattes and cozy sweaters, but in many parts of the country, September is still one of the hottest months of the year, so exercising outdoors should still be done with caution to prevent heat exhaustion.

 

Heat exhaustion happens when your body overheats. This condition is caused by exposure to high temperatures, especially when there is a combination of high humidity and strenuous activity. It is usually accompanied by dehydration. If not treated quickly and properly, heat exhaustion can progress to a more serious, life-threatening condition known as heatstroke. That’s why knowing the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and how to treat it is so important.

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion

  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling faint or weak
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Rapid pulse
  • Muscle cramps

Anyone can experience heat exhaustion, but infants, children, and the elderly are especially at risk during hot weather. Don’t forget that dogs and other pets can also get heat exhaustion and heat stroke, so never leave your furry friends outdoors for extended periods during hot weather, and never leave a pet, child, or infant in a hot car.

Treatment for heat exhaustion

If you experience any of the symptoms of heat exhaustion when exercising or spending a lot of time outdoors in the heat, the first thing to do is stop the activity and move indoors to a cooler place. Rehydrate your body with water or a sports drink to replace important electrolytes that are lost when your body overheats. Applying ice packs or cold, wet towels to your forehead, back of neck, and wrists can also help. With prompt treatment, your symptoms should resolve in a couple of hours, but if they do not or you feel worse, seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

If you do not get out of the heat and properly treat heat exhaustion, symptoms can quickly progress to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening emergency. Signs of heatstroke include confusion,  odd behavior, agitation, high fever, and seizure. If you or anyone you are with are displaying signs of heatstroke, always call 911 immediately.

You can prevent heat exhaustion by being aware of symptoms anytime you are outdoors in hot weather and staying hydrated by drinking fluids before, during, and after any activity.

 

 

 

 

 

Decoding Different Types of Sunscreen

Daily sunscreen use is the best way to protect your skin from both the short-term and long-term effects of the sun. Yet choosing the right sunscreen can be confusing with all of the different products on the market.

Which sunscreens are best for your skin? Understanding the differences among sunscreen products can help you make the best choice for you.

Chemical vs. physical

To put it simply, there are two types of sunscreens: chemical blockers and physical blockers.  Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays while physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin and reflect harmful UV rays.

Chemical sunscreens are the big-brand products that you can easily find on most drugstore shelves. They usually contain ingredients such as octylcrylen, avobenzone, and octinoxate. While they may be widely available, they can also be more irritating to your skin, especially for those with sensitive skin, skin conditions, or acne-prone skin.

Physical sunscreens use natural ingredients like zinc and titanium oxide to block the sun’s rays. They have become more popular recently with consumers’ increasing concerns about chemical safety, but still aren’t as easy to find as chemical sunscreens, though they do have a longer shelf life. Physical sunscreens are more gentle on the skin and are recommended by dermatologists and pediatricians for those with sensitive skin or skin conditions, as well as for children and babies.

UVA vs. UVB rays

Both UVA and UVB rays can be harmful to your skin, but not all sunscreens block both types of rays. UVA rays are the ones that cause sun damage such as premature wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays are the ones that cause those red, painful sunburns. Too much long-term exposure to either UVA or UVB sunscreens can cause skin cancer. For the best protection, chose a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, which will be labeled “broad spectrum.”

SPFs

A sunscreen with SPF30 protects against 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays while an SPF50 blocks 98 percent : beyond that, the amount of extra protection is negligible. Higher SPF sunscreen products only add more chemicals that can irritate your skin and are usually more expensive. There are no products that offer 100 percent protection. That’s why all sunscreen labels remind you to reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating.

The bottom line

So which sunscreen is the best? Dermatologists recommend one that is broad-spectrum, contains SPF30, and is water-resistant. The brand or whether you choose a lotion or spray are personal preferences—what is most important is that you choose one that you will use on a regular basis.

 

Is It Time for a Little Spring Cleaning?

Spring cleaning is a popular worldwide tradition. Why spring? While the roots of this tradition are unclear, some suggest that European winters are responsible. In the days before central HVAC systems, Europeans barred their homes against the cold by shutting windows tightly and lighting fires all winter long. By the end of such a winter, houses were stuffy, musty, and dirty from all the soot from the fires. Spring was a good time to open the windows, air out the house, and clean out the winter’s dirt.

 

Spring Cleaning for your lifeThe way we live—and clean—has changed, but the tradition of spring cleaning remains. Many people take this time of year to take stock, declutter, and deep clean their homes and workplaces. Is now a good time for you to do the same? Here are some ways to do your own spring cleaning.

  1. Spring clean your diet: You don’t have to go whole hog with the Whole30 in order to eat more cleanly. “Eating clean” doesn’t mean eating without making a mess, or washing your food before you eat it; it means limiting processed foods and eating more whole foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.
  2. Spring clean your exercise routine: Try something different to spice up your physical fitness. Walk to work once a week, work out with a virtual trainer, or try a cardio dance class. The break in routine will help you burn more calories and maybe have some fun!
  3. Spring clean your workspace: How many Post-it® notes are stuck to your computer? How many unread emails are in your inbox? How many folders can you see on your desk, or tools left out in your workspace? If the answer is more than five, then set aside some time this spring to do a big clean of both your physical and your virtual workspaces to enjoy a nicer environment and increased productivity.
  4. Actually spring clean your home: Even if you don’t have dust from sooty coal fires all over your home, spring is a great time to donate old clothes and furniture, take old taxes to a professional shredder, and clear the cobwebs from the corners. Read more here to do a really deep spring clean.

 

April Is National Walk to Work Month

National Walk to Work day was during the first week of April… when most of the Eastern Seaboard saw rain, snow, and record low temperatures. Since spring appears to be on a delay this year, let’s extend this celebration for the rest of the month—and enjoy the health benefits that walking brings.

National Walk to Work Month

It should be no surprise that walking gets its own national holiday. Walking has many proven benefits, including these, according to the Arthritis Foundation:

  • Improved circulation
  • Better bone density
  • Extended life expectancy
  • Improved mood
  • Weight loss
  • Stronger muscles
  • Better sleep
  • Joint support
  • Better lung function
  • Improved memory retention and lowered risk of Alzheimer’s

You may not be able to actually walk to work, whether because of distance, safety, or  the amount you have to carry. However, for National Walk to Work Day, Week, or Month, you can walk at work. Aim for 30 minutes a day; that may seem like too long a break to take, but how about six breaks of five minutes each? This has the added benefit of improving your concentration and staving off the back pain that results from excessive sitting.  Add an alarm to your smartphone or computer to remind you to walk, or set your fitness tracker to vibrate a reminder.

If you have to hold a meeting with only one or two co-workers, why not have it while walking around the building a few times? Or build time into your lunch break to walk before and after eating; it will improve your digestion as well as your after-lunch productivity. To make sure you are set up to walk at work, leave a pair of good walking shoes at your desk, so you’re always ready to get some steps.

The goal of National Walk to Work Day is to encourage people to make walking a habit: not just for one day, but every day. Let this April be the month you start a lifetime of walking.

 

How’s Your Sleep Hygiene?

We’ve all heard about the importance of food hygiene, as well as personal hygiene, dental hygiene, and even workplace hygiene. But sleep hygiene? What does sleep have to do with keeping things clean and healthy? It turns out that sleep hygiene is related to health: to the healthy practices that lead to a good night’s sleep. The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”

How’s Your Sleep Hygiene?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 35 percent of adults in the United States suffer from “short sleep duration,” that is, fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. Further CDC reports show that short sleep duration “impairs [the] ability to perform daily tasks,” and that “Chronic sleep deprivation also has a cumulative effect on mental and physical well-being and can exacerbate chronic diseases.” Are you among the over one-third of Americans who do not get enough sleep? Read on to learn how the experts suggest you improve your sleep hygiene for a better night’s rest.

According to Harvard Medical School and others here and here, there are many concrete steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene:

  1. Reduce caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.  Alcohol may seem to make you sleepy, but it actually decreases your sleep quality.
  2. Create a sleep-friendly environment. You can do this by limiting light, noise, and the chance of interruptions. Keep TVs, computers, and work out of the bedroom to keep it a place for sleep. If you must have a phone or tablet, make sure it has a blue light filter or night mode, as studies have shown that the blue light from screens can disrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle.
  3. Create a pre-sleep routine to prepare your body for sleep. If you have insomnia or have difficulty falling asleep, try these methods from the National Institutes of Health.
  4. Try to sleep only when you’re ready to sleep. If you’re lying in bed for over 20 minutes, get out of bed and read a book or do something relaxing before trying again to get back to sleep.
  5. Connect your body to the sun’s rising and setting to achieve a more natural rhythm.
  6. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Try to get up and go to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends.
  7. Avoid naps, or take them as early as possible during the day.
  8. Eat and drink earlier, reducing intake before bed.
  9. Exercise earlier,too, to keep your body physiology read for sleep.
  10. Be consistent with all of these before writing them off. If your sleep hygiene is impeccable, but you’re still having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about possible medical conditions that may be affecting your sleep.

 

 

This February, Love Your Heart!

A Heart-Healthy Roundup

This February, Love Your Heart!

February is the month when whole sections of stores turn red and fill up with heart-shaped treats: most of them edible, and most of them very unhealthy. This February, in addition to celebrating the people you love, why not also celebrate one of your most important organs: your heart! We’ve checked with the experts and gathered the best heart-healthy advice from two well-respected organizations when it comes to heart health: the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Clinic.

Let’s start with the American Heart Association, which has some basic guidelines to follow:

  • Use up at least as many calories as you take in.
  • Eat a variety of nutritious foods from all the food groups.
  • Eat less of the nutrient-poor foods.
  • As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations:
    • Eat a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars.
    • Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
    • Choose poultry and fish without skin.
    • Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
    • Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans-fat in your diet.
    • Limit saturated fat and trans-fat, and replace them with the better fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
    • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
    • Choose foods with less sodium, and prepare foods with little or no salt.
    • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
    • Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out, and keep an eye on your portion sizes.

The Cleveland Clinic has some specific recommendations for heart-healthy meals and snacks, including what nutrients they provide:

  • Eat fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, and trout.
  • A handful of healthy nuts, such as almonds or walnuts will satisfy your hunger and help your heart.
  • Berries are chock full of heart-healthy phytonutrients and soluble fiber. Try blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, or raspberries in cereal or yogurt.
  • Flaxseeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and phytoestrogens to boost heart health. Take them in ground or milled form to reap the greatest benefit.
  • Eat oatmeal: the comfort-food nutrient powerhouse.
  • Dark beans, such as kidney or black beans, are high in fiber, B-vitamins, minerals, and other good stuff. Veggie chili, anyone?
  • A 4-ounce glass of red wine (up to two for men and one for women per day) can help improve good (HDL) cholesterol levels.
  • Try marinated tofu in a stir-fry with fresh veggies for a heart-healthy lunch or dinner.
  • Red, yellow, and orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and acorn squash are packed with carotenoids, fiber, and vitamins to help your heart.
  • Popeye was right—spinach packs a punch! Use it in sandwiches and salads instead of lettuce.
  • Fruits such as oranges, cantaloupes, and papaya are rich in beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
  • Tender, sweet asparagus is filled with mighty nutrients such as beta-carotene, folate, and fiber, and only provides 25 calories per cup, or 5 calories per large spear.
  • Tomatoes—even sun-dried varieties in winter months—provide lycopene, vitamin C, and alpha- and beta-carotene.
  • Dark chocolate is good for your heart health, but just be sure that it’s at least 70 percent cocoa.
  • Crisp, fresh broccoli florets dipped in hummus are a terrific heart-healthy snack with a whopping list of nutrients, including vitamins C and E, potassium, folate, calcium, and fiber.

 

How to Protect Yourself From the Flu

Flu 2018: How to Protect Yourself

Buckle up: this year’s influenza virus (flu) is a doozy. Every year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks how widespread the flu is in each state. And this year, for the first time in 13 years, flu activity is “widespread” across the entire continental United States; only Hawaii has escaped the 2017-2018 flu season.

This year’s flu features the H3N2 strain of the influenza A virus, which is more difficult to treat and deadlier to vulnerable populations, like infants and people over 65 years old. H3N2 is also much more difficult to prevent with the flu vaccine. The CDC reports that “flu vaccines provide better protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses than against influenza A (H3N2) viruses,” with average vaccine efficiency of only 33 percent against H3N2 viruses, compared with 61 percent efficiency against H1N1, and 54 percent against Influenza B.

So does that mean you should just skip the flu vaccine? Absolutely not! Even if it’s only 33 percent effective, it will help you to reduce your chance of getting the flu by one third? If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, it’s not too late; flu seasons can often stretch into May, and the CDC is starting to see more strains of influenza B and H1N1 show up as well. So run, don’t walk, to your nearest pharmacy to get this vaccine.

Apart from getting the vaccine, the CDC also recommends these precautions to keep the germs at bay:

  • Avoid close contact.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Clean your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits.

You can also boost your immune systems with heathy choices from USConnect’s fresh meals, snacks, and beverages. Look for antioxidant-rich foods like spinach and blueberries, or vitamin C-rich citrus. Drink plenty of fluids; get plenty of rest, and hopefully you can avoid the flu when it comes knocking.