Category Archives: For Your Health

Keeping Cool

By Sherry Steinman

Break out the blender and clean out the cooler! It’s summertime. There are many things we can do to keep cool and avoid heat-related stress when temperatures and humidity are high.  We’ve probably all known people who have overdone the yard work, or overextended their walk on a hot day, and passed out or gotten sick.  People experience heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded. As library employees, it’s a good idea to watch for certain signs that patrons may be exhibiting upon entering the library. Here are some ideas to keep one’s personal thermostat adjusted.

Cool and Cooler

Get in the habit of keeping a small cooler handy in the car, filled with ice and bottled water or packages of real fruit juice — water is best. Have it in the car with you when you head out to run errands, or spend any time at all on the road. It’s a fact that we (especially women) usually do a lot more running around than we originally planned once we get out and about to do errands!  Grocery shopping, a trip to the mall, dropping off books at the Library — and pretty soon you’ve gotten out of the car and into the heat six times in an hour!  How’s your body thermostat supposed to keep you comfortable with all that going on?  Plan your trips and pace yourself.

Bonus: By keeping the small cooler in the car you’ll save yourself money by not having to pull into a drive-thru for a cold drink.

If you get in the habit of keeping that little cooler handy, refill it with some fresh ice or an ice pack each day. Again, try to stay with the water and maybe some juice, not pop. The carbonation, sugars, and chemicals in soda pop don’t do your body any good in the heat. And, golfers beware! That golf cart cooler should hold something other than beer.  Regardless of the activity level, hot weather calls for increased water intake.

Young and Older

Both young children and older adults are more likely to suffer heat exhaustion, so if you’re a grandparent in charge of young children on a hot day, remember to pace yourself while you keep an eye on them. Offer frequent breaks if they’re playing outside. Break out that handy cooler, and offer fruit or a light snack along with the drinks. Bringing the kids inside for break-time is a good idea, too.  Kids love to press blender buttons, so supervise them as they spin chipped ice and fruit into a smoothie. They’ll love it!

More ideas for keeping cool, regardless of age, include wearing layers of light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and a brimmed hat or sun visor. Again, keep this stuff in the car so you have it when you’re on the run.

Safe and Safer

So you can be of help to someone who may be experiencing heat exhaustion, here are several symptoms to watch for.  This includes library patrons who may come in the door on a hot day and not realize they are at risk:

  • Very pale or grayish skin color
  • Heavy sweating
  • General weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fainting

Move the person to a cool or shaded area, and provide cool water. Remove a layer of clothing if possible and — very important — loosen any constricting clothing like a tight elastic waistband or belt. Heat stroke is potentially life-threatening, and is characterized by a body temperature of 103 or above. Symptoms include red, hot, dry skin, no sweating, rapid pulse, headache, dizziness, general confusion, and nausea or unconsciousness. People experiencing heat stroke need immediate medical attention including cooling them off by any means possible. Getting back to those foolhardy golfers you know, start packing that cooler for them! Take out the beer and put in the water and juice.

Perhaps their body temperatures will be lower than their golf scores next time around!

In a Slump?

by Sherry Steinman

It’s quite likely that many of you at this moment are in a slump. I’m referring to the posture kind of slump – we’ll have to deal with any social or financial slumps in another column!

Since slumping is unhealthy, unattractive, and nearly unavoidable at least once in a while, here’s a little information to help set you on the straight and tall path.

Think Tall

Whether you’re on your feet working all day or facing a computer monitor several hours per day, standing and sitting with upright yet relaxed posture is a choice you make – or fail to make – every minute of your life. Body Alert! Right now, as I am typing this, I inadvertently have slumped back down from my original square-shouldered position just minutes a go! It’s so easy to do.

Whether consciously controlled or not, your sitting position creates its own momentum. If gravity gets a grip on your tilted head or drooping shoulders, your whole body starts to feel like a slow wave moving downhill. A little innocent slouching gradually becomes slumping, and the unhealthy posture takes over your body.

How you sit and stand has major consequences for the health of your spine and back. It makes scientific sense when you realize that slouching or hunching over in your chair creates ten to fifteen times as much pressure on your lower back than as does sitting up straight!  Why?  Because the architecture for your back was designed with optimal posture alignment in mind.  The engineering goes woefully out of whack when it’s not in correct alignment from the top down.

In addition, when you’re slumped in your seat, your breathing is restricted and your circulation is impeded. Not to mention what happens to your digestion and related elimination processes!  It’s all rather disturbing, so you may as well concentrate on sitting and standing tall until it becomes your habit.

Five Second Head Lift

Great posture begins with your head and neck position, which strongly affects the placement of our shoulders, chest, neck, and back. Body Alert! I just noticed my shoulders have rounded and I have almost started slumping again!

OK — back to the spine. At the crest of your spine is a small muscle called the rectus capitus anterior. It flexes and rotates your head and is an often-overlooked key to maintaining good neck positioning and, therefore, good overall posture – since everything’s connected.

One of the simplest ways to tone this muscle is with a gentle ‘head nod’ exercise. Start in a comfortable sitting or standing position and place your hands on the base of your skull just behind and above your earlobes. Let your neck lengthen, gently extending upward, as if it’s being lifted by an imaginary cord attached to the top of your head. With your neck in this slightly-elevated position, nod your head as if in agreement and bring your forehead a little forward with your chin slightly tucked in. Repeat this nodding motion a few times each day to strengthen this area.

TIP: Use a pillow behind your lower back in your chair or car. See if it helps to support your improved posture all the way up your back.

Now you’re on your way to a stronger back and better posture. The rest of your body will thank you!

6 Soothing Ways to Ease Stress

Feeling stressed out? Learn ways to calm the stress in your life.

Feeling stressed out? Most Americans do.

Not all stress is bad. A certain amount of stress enables executives to perform at their peak.But too much stress can be harmful. Stress is linked to such chronic conditions such as heart disease and depression.

The trick is to manage or control stress to keep it within healthy limits. If your stress meter is soaring, learn to relax. Here are some soothing ways to handle the stress in your life.

1. Breathe
You’ve heard the expression, “take a breather”? Sometimes just five minutes of deep breathing is enough to ban stress.

Most people take shallow breaths that fill only part of the lungs. Deep breathing gets more oxygen into the lungs and can help calm the brain. Try these steps:

  • Sit or lie with one hand on your belly.
  • Breathe in through your nose, filling your lungs. Focus on making the hand on your belly rise.
  • Breathe out through your mouth, trying to empty your lungs as much as you can. The hand on your belly should move in as your muscles tighten.
  • Continue these deep, slow breaths, in through your nose, out through your mouth, making your belly rise and fall.

This simple but powerful exercise can be done almost anywhere. It can be combined with meditation or muscle relaxation.

2. Relax your muscles
Progressive muscle relaxation is another simple way to ease stress. Practicing it can help you become aware of when you are holding stress in your body. Relaxing your muscles can help your mind relax.

  • Lie down in a quiet place. Take a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply.
  • When you feel relaxed, start with your right foot. Squeeze the muscles as tightly as you can. Hold while you count to 10.
  • Relax your right foot. Take a few deep breaths.
  • Next, squeeze the muscles in your left foot while you count to 10.
  • Relax and breathe.
  • Slowly work your way up your body (legs, belly, back, chest, arms, neck, face), squeezing and relaxing each group of muscles.

3. Say yes to yoga
Yoga is a system of exercises (called asanas) for gaining bodily or mental control and well-being. The philosophy is that the breath, the mind and the body are so closely linked that whatever you do to one will affect the other. In addition to easing stress, yoga can improve strength, balance and flexibility.

Yoga is gentle form of exercise that is safe for most people when it’s practiced correctly. Consult a trained yoga teacher. Make sure you ask your doctor before you start any new activity.

4. Try tai chi
Tai chi is a series of postures that flow into one another through connecting transition moves. These slow, graceful and precise body movements are said to improve body awareness and enhance strength and coordination. At the same time, they are supposed to help the practitioner achieve inner peace. Like yoga, it is designed to enhance both physical and emotional well-being.

Tai chi is a low-impact aerobic activity, so you can chill out and burn some calories at the same time. Another advantage to tai chi is its low risk of injury.

Take a tai chi class or buy a book or instructional video. Once you learn how to do tai chi, you can practice almost anywhere.

5. Meditate
Meditation is a centuries-old practice spiritual practice that is also a powerful stress-buster. Here, you learn to relax while focusing on a word, a sound or your own breathing. It can have a deeply calming effect.

There are many different types of meditation. One type is mindfulness meditation. You can practice mindfulness while sitting in a quiet place or while walking. The key is to keep bringing your focus back to your breathing or your steps. When distractions come into your mind, observe them without judging and let them go. The technique is simple, but achieving the desired result takes practice.

6. Get a massage
In massage therapy, the hands (or sometimes forearms, elbows and feet) are used to manipulate the soft body tissues. A good massage is not only relaxing, but it may also have some real healing benefits. Some studies have shown that the kneading and pressing of muscles slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, improves blood circulation, relaxes muscles and helps reduce stress levels.

If you can’t fit in or afford a visit to a spa, ask your partner or friend for a neck, back or foot rub. Trading massages can be a relaxing way to reconnect after a stressful day.

 

 

 

© UnitedHealthcare

 

Staying in the Game: How to Keep Your Back Healthy

Back pain robs workdays and keeps people on the sidelines. Learn how your back works and why certain motions can raise your risk for injuries.

Back pain is one of the most common conditions in the United States. Over the course of a lifetime, eight in 10 Americans will have at least one episode of back pain.

The problem results in over 100 million lost work days per year. And over 41 million people visited a doctor for back pain in one year.

Back injuries – common causes
Many back injuries are the result of cumulative damage. But certain motions and movements can contribute to back injuries more than others. These include:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Twisting at the waist while lifting or holding a heavy load
  • Reaching and lifting
  • Lifting or carrying objects with awkward or odd shapes
  • Working in awkward positions
  • Sitting or standing too long in one position
  • Poor posture

How the back works
A spine consists of small bones called vertebrae. They are stacked to form a column. Vertebrae are held together by ligaments, and muscles are attached to the vertebrae by tendons. A cushion, or disc, sits between each vertebra. The spinal cord runs through the column and nerves branch out through spaces between the vertebrae.

The lower back holds most of the body’s weight. Stress is placed on your back every time you bend over, lift something heavy or sit leaning forward. While standing, bending or moving, even minor problems with bones, muscles, ligaments or tendons can cause lower back pain. Discs may then irritate nerves from the spinal cord and cause pain.

Sudden back injuries can be due to a tear or strain in ligaments and muscles. Back pain may also come from injuries that break down discs or by muscles that have involuntary contractions (spasm). Stress or tension can bring on back spasms, too.

What can you do to avoid back problems?
Three practices may help avoid serious problems: Lift safely, sleep correctly and keep up with core conditioning.

Lift safely. When possible, use lift-assist devices for heavier objects. When you can’t avoid lifting, remember to reduce the amount of pressure placed on the back. Bending the knees keeps your spine in better alignment and allows legs to do the work

  • Keep feet apart for better stability and lifting power.
  • Keep your back straight so spine, back muscles and organs align right.
  • Tuck your chin to keep the neck, head and spine straight.
  • Grip an object with your whole hand for more lifting power.
  • Keep arms and elbows tucked in for more gripping power.
  • Center your body over your feet for better balance and lift.
  • Bend your legs and then lift by straightening the legs. The leg muscles will carry the load instead of your back.

Sleep better. A poor sleeping position can create back stress. The best sleeping positions are:

  • On your side with knees slightly bent
  • On your back with a pillow under knees

Conditioning. Regular exercise can improve overall fitness and lower the likelihood of back problems and injury. Exercises for strength, flexibility and aerobics are best.

Get into a daily flexibility routine and do strength training for your core muscles. The core muscles surround your midsection, support spine and torso movement, and coordinate limb motion. Strong core muscles improve posture, balance and stability. They can also reduce back and neck pain.

Yoga and Pilates classes offer good core workouts. Each uses the body as its own form of resistance. If you have trouble doing certain exercises, swimming, walking, or bike riding may be good options. Always check with your doctor before you increase your activity level.