boy playing in snow

Hidden Gems: Winter in the Mohawk Valley

Those of us who choose to live in upstate New York do so for a variety of reasons. For many of us, one of the biggest is because we love the region’s four very distinct seasons, each with its own unique opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure.

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Eve snowshoeing at Moss Lake

Winter Traditions in the Mohawk Valley

Usually, at this time of year, there would be annual winter-themed festivals that would pull people out of the warm confines of their homes and into the crisp winter air, such as the Ice Harvest Festival in East Meredith and the Cooperstown Winter Carnival, both traditionally held in February.

Even though we can’t do most, if not all, of those types of things right now, we still have plenty of options in the Mohawk Valley when it comes to getting outside and being active during the winter.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Potato Hill Farm in Boonville: My favorite place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is Potato Hill Farm. It’s part of the Black River Environmental Improvement Association (BREIA); it’s amazing, beautiful land, and there’s a bonus: there are bathrooms on the trail!
  • FT Proctor Park in Utica: In the winter season, there are few better places to partake in one of my favorite activities, snowshoeing. The park has some hills and a creek – and provides a very tranquil setting for getting out and exercising.
  • South Woods Switchbacks at Roscoe Conkling Park in Utica: Another favorite is Roscoe Conkling Park and its South Woods switchbacks. The wooded hills provide a good work out whether you’re hiking, shoeing or skiing; and I’ve seen many deer and a few wild turkeys while out on the trail!
  • Sherrrillbrook Park in New Hartford: Sherrillbrook Park is great for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with its varied landscape through open fields and woods. Dog owners should also take note of the park’s dog run.
  • Moss Lake Trail in Eagle Bay: The Adirondack Park has a lot of places to go, obviously, but one gem that’s on my favorites list is Moss Lake and the Moss Lake Trail. It’s a relatively short jaunt around the lake, but its location deep in the Adirondack Park makes it a particularly beautiful spot – you’re bound to see plenty of wildlife, and the wooden bridges on the trail afford a pleasant view of the surrounding woods and water.

These, of course, are only a handful of the vast number of great locations to get out and explore, exercise or just relax and do a little sightseeing. If you’re looking for more ideas and other places to go, check out the NYS Parks website here: https://parks.ny.gov/ and the Discover Upstate New York website here: https://www.discoverupstateny.com/. Now get out there!

Girl brushing her teeth

Expert Q&A: How Has Dentistry Been Impacted By COVID-19?

Our expert:  Dr. William Zugner has been a clinical peer review consultant for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for more than six years. He is a past president of New York State’s 7 District Dental Society. He is a Fellow in the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists as well as a Member of the Pierre Fauchard Academy. Dr Zugner maintains a private practice in Webster, N.Y. and has for 20 years.

How has the pandemic been impacting the health of our teeth?

(Dr. Zugner) Since the start of the pandemic, one issue within my own practice that I have seen a concerning increase in has been patients presenting with jaw and muscle pain and tooth sensitivity/pain from clenching and grinding due to increased stress.

If left untreated, damage such as fractured/cracked teeth and musculoskeletal disorders can occur. The sooner treatment is initiated, the easier it is to break the habit.  As always, I recommend to my patients to continue taking good care of your teeth at home and to follow through with all recommended treatments by your dentist.

How have precautions at the dentist’s office changed?

It is true that since the start of the pandemic, the administering of dental care has changed, but not as much as you think. Dentistry has always followed certain precautions that other parts of healthcare haven’t, because historically, the exposure in dentistry has always been high. Universal precautions, like wearing a mask and gloves, were introduced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1985, mostly in response to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic. The profession has adhered to these requirements, and to this day the dental operatory is one of the safest places where healthcare is administered.

For example, between each patient, every surface is wiped and sterilized. Additionally, all instruments are immediately removed, cleaned and sterilized. Anything which is deemed single patient use is disposed of and replaced. Moreover, operatories are not set up or prepped for the next patient until right before the appointment. The doctor and all staff change PPE between each patient, and whenever soiled. These are all standard protocols and have not changed in recent times, thus securing a safe environment for both patients and clinicians.

Where might patients notice a difference when visiting the dentist now?

The changes that have occurred in response to the pandemic include enhanced patient and clinician screenings prior to and upon entering the office. Masks are always being worn by everyone in the office, excluding the patient during treatment. All patients and employees are encouraged to stay home if they feel ill. Also, during certain procedures, specialized masks are being worn by those who provide the treatment and are at a higher risk of exposure.

What would you tell a patient who is weighing the decision to visit the dentist during the pandemic?

One must consider the harm that is caused when treatment is delayed. On routine appointments, dentists screen for not only issues with the teeth, but also thoroughly examine supporting structures and assess for any pathology of the head and neck. Routine care is essential in the proper maintenance of one’s health and to allow for early diagnosis of problems.

Woman using telehealth to talk to doctor

Telehealth Is Here to Stay

The COVID-19 pandemic is shedding new light on telehealth. Telehealth is when a patient and a provider communicate by audio, video or text messaging. The number of telehealth visits soared in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. According to a review of claims data from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, the insurer processed 2.2 million telehealth claims in 2020. In 2019, the insurer processed 28,529 telehealth claims.

More Upstate New Yorkers Are Using Telehealth

Most adults in upstate New York (77 percent) have heard of or used telemedicine, according to a recent survey by Excellus BCBS. Of those adults who reported using telehealth, 90 percent did so since the outbreak of COVID-19. According to the survey, the most important features of telehealth were the ability to get prescriptions, the ability to avoid in-person visits and the cost of the visit.

New Government Action Expands Access to Care

In addition to helping people avoid in-person visits and get prescriptions, telehealth also increases access to care for people who may not have otherwise had it. Expanding access to care through telehealth was an area of focus in New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 11th State of the State Address. “The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the inequities in our healthcare system and showed that telehealth is a critical tool to expand access and lower costs for low-income communities, especially for behavioral health support,” said Cuomo, as he took executive action to expand access to remote care.

“When seeing a health care provider in person isn’t possible, or preferable, telehealth offers an effective alternative,” said Stephen H. Cohen, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Telehealth is here to stay, and our health plan will continue develop and support ways to increase access to this innovative way to get care.”

To learn more about your options for telehealth, talk with your doctor or visit ExcellusBCBS.com/Find-a-doctor/Telemedicine.

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Helping Small Businesses in High-Need Neighborhoods Stay Healthy

Ify Azogi’s African and Caribbean Central Market has seen a decline in customers since the pandemic began.

The owner of a small business in one of Monroe County’s poorest neighborhoods, she’s doing her best to keep the doors open.

“People feel afraid. They’re scared of coming out,” she said. “I’ve been here since 10:30 this morning and the store has been mostly empty.”

Hit hard by the pandemic, many small businesses are struggling – especially those in minority neighborhoods with high infection rates.

Business owners like Azogi and their employees put themselves and their families at great risk every day so we have access to the services and goods we need.

“This pandemic has put many local small businesses at risk,” said Jim Reed, president and CEO-elect of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “It is important for our community’s businesses to have the personal protection equipment they need to safely stay open and continue serving their customers.”

Personal Protective Equipment –essential for essential businesses and workers

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer have been essential tools throughout the pandemic, protecting businesses, workers and customers from infection and the spread of the virus.

On a Saturday morning in early December, owners of 200 small businesses turned out to receive kits containing personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep their employees and customers safe. The kits contained a digital thermometer, face masks and shields, disinfectant, hand sanitizer and paper towels.

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Excellus BCBS provided $40,000 to Monroe County to purchase and distribute 400 PPE kits to essential minority and women-owned businesses in the county’s neediest zip codes. Regional Distributors packaged the PPE kits and delivered them to the distribution sight.

Safety…

Azogi said the PPE helps her customers feel safe. “Before, if a customer came to the door without a mask, I couldn’t let them in,” she said. “Now, I can gladly give them one. Customers are grateful. They say, “oh, I can have one?! Thanks! And I don’t have to turn anyone away.”

…and peace of mind

Lorna Underwood is using the PPE at her family-owned Caribbean Heritage Restaurant.

After years in the catering business, she and her husband, Jerome, opened the restaurant in March 2019 and, in March 2020, they had to close. Two weeks later, they reopened for take-out only.

“We’re not as busy. We lost business, but we keep going. We’re doing everything we possibly can,” she said.

She’s been putting the disinfectant to good use, cleaning and wiping down counters and door handles. “And masks, especially,” she said. “If someone doesn’t have one, I can hand them one with a reminder they need to wear a mask. Especially the young people, the invincible ones!”

Receiving the PPE, she said, gives her a great deal of peace of mind, helping with customer and employee safety, as well as some financial relief. “Otherwise we would have had to find money to buy it,” she said.

Picture of Adam Bello

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and volunteers distribute PPE kits.

“We want to ensure that essential retail and other businesses have the tools they need to better serve their customers and keep our neighborhoods safe,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “I am grateful to Excellus BCBS for their generous grant, and to Regional Distributors for stepping up to help us with this important initiative.”

Underwood is optimistic. “We’re not going to close our doors. Customers are glad we’re open and this helps us find a way to stay open. In the meantime, we’ll stay the course. We do what we can to help our customers. Hospitality is who I am – it’s still working out.”

Picture of Adam Bello

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and volunteers distribute PPE kits.

Runner sitting and stretching

5 Ways to Set and Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Many of us start the year by setting New Year’s resolutions or making plans for what we want to accomplish over the coming months. Here are five tips for setting New Year’s resolutions that will stick.

Determine resolutions you really want

Ask “do I really want this?” and “why have I not done this yet?”  When I got married, I worked hard to get into the shape I wanted to be in.  I had a strict exercise routine and an extremely healthy diet.  I was in the best shape of my life for my wedding.  In the five years since then,  I slipped back into old habits but I keep resolving to do it again.  I finally had to realize the truth is – I know how to do it; I just don’t want to.  While I eat healthy most of the time and work out regularly, I also enjoy cake and nachos and I don’t want to give them up! Realizing that I am happier as I am, I have shifted my goals to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and not worrying as much about the number on the scale.

Set realistic resolutions

If what you want to do feels too overwhelming, you probably won’t do it at all. For example, maybe this year you want to finally clean and organize that cluttered basement storage area. If your basement looks anything like mine, that may feel like a very overwhelming task. So instead of looking at the whole room and not knowing where to even begin, break it down. Make your resolution small, for example pledge to spend one hour every Saturday cleaning the basement or going through one storage bin each week to find items to donate. Small actions feel doable and will be more likely kept.

Do not set too many resolutions

If you set too many resolutions, it is unlikely you will keep any of them, therefore, focus on one or two at a time and build in more later.  If you want to organize that basement, start a new fitness regimen, learn to cook, and paint three rooms in your home – you are either going to need a lot of free time or just focus on one to start.  In the same way, one resolution can feel too large, having too many can result in doing none!

Make changes

These are YOUR goals. If what you are trying is not working, adjust it instead of quitting.  When I set out to run a 5K, I found I was terrible at running and did not enjoy it.  Instead of quitting, I started walking instead.  I shifted the goal to walking each day, until I got up to five miles a day and then got myself to start running.  The shift let me still keep the main point (physical activity) and kept me from quitting when it was initially too hard.

Find ways to hold yourself accountable

Share your resolutions with friends and family or share it on social media.  Talk about what you are doing and find people who will cheer you on as you get to your goal.  It may sound simple, but it works!  When I was learning to run a 5K, every time I went out to run, I came home and told my husband how far I had made it that day.  He was thrilled and proud (or at least he said he was) every time I hit a new longest run or best time.  Every run when I felt I had given it my all and was ready to stop, I would think, “If I can go just 5 more minutes, it will be my longest run yet and I can go home and share the good news.” It kept me pushing harder every time!

What are your resolutions this year? Share with us in the comments section below.

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Your Questions About Medication Adherence Answered

The following article was written by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield SafetyNet Medical Directors Sudha Bakshi, MD, and Saba Abaci, MD

Often when patients are given a new prescription medication, they wonder why it’s being prescribed, how often they should take it, and what side effects to expect. Taking a medication as prescribed, also known as medication adherence, is especially important for prescription medications designed to treat mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. Questions about these medications are common, and it’s important for you, if you do have questions, to get the answers you need.

 

Start the Conversation

If you have questions about prescription medications for mood disorders, having a conversation with your health care provider is the right place to start. Your provider knows you and your medical history best and can determine if any symptoms you are experiencing are indicative of a mood disorder. Common symptoms of mood disorders include extreme sadness, loss of enjoyment, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, and difficulties with motivation and attention. Often, these symptoms are severe enough that they impact a person’s ability to function effectively in their daily lives. The goal of mood disorder treatment is to help improve those symptoms and, sometimes, that treatment involves prescription medications.

Being on a prescription medication, and for how long, depends on the condition you are experiencing. There are different medications for different diagnoses. Your provider will work with you to develop the course of treatment that is right for you. For example, the typical recommendation for depression is to take the prescription medication for nine months to a year. Some individuals may need to take medication longer.

 

Ask Questions and Speak Up About Side Effects

It is very important to take medications for a mood disorder exactly as prescribed. Before leaving your provider’s office, make sure you know how to take the medication safely, including the correct dosage (how much) and frequency (how often). It is also important to ask about potential side effects you may experience while taking the medication.

Side effects have been cited as a reason people stop taking their prescribed medications. Depending on the medication, side effects may include changes in sleep, appetite, mood, anxiety, energy, and sexual function. Talk with your provider about any changes in behavior or physical symptoms that are new and/or difficult to manage while taking a medication. It is also important to be aware of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning of a new and sudden onset of negative or self-harming thoughts. These can be addressed by your provider and may require changes in the medication or dosage.

 

Keep the Conversation Going

After starting a medication for a mood disorder, you may not feel better right away. Mood disorders impact the neurochemical nature of the brain over time. Therefore, typically, you’ll need to take your medication for four to six weeks before your provider can assess your true response to it. However, for some, there can be a reduction in symptoms within the first two weeks. Taking your medication as prescribed can help you better manage your condition.

As your treatment continues, your provider will continually monitor and evaluate your progress. If you have additional questions or concerns related to prescription medications, talk with your health care provider.

For more help with taking medications, visit ExcellusBCBS.com and click on the “health and wellness” tab in the menu.

Gym Closed? Build Your Own – It’s Easier Than You Think!

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things in our lives, and many activities that directly contribute to our personal mental and physical health have not been exempt. One activity in particular –going to one’s favorite gym or fitness club – has been particularly hard-hit by the demands to stop the spread. But, with a little ingenuity and persistence, you’ll find you have all you need to build a little gym of your own at home.

You may not have needed to think about it before, but you can build your own home gym out of many things you already have at home, and you can make it as basic or as ambitious as you desire.

There are many options for building a home gym that meets your specific needs. According to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Wellness Specialist Sharon Field, your home gym plan should have three main considerations: space, technology, and equipment.

 

Space

“When setting up your home gym, you have to consider what you want to do in that space,” says Sharon. “You need space to move. Whether its yoga, resistance training, indoor cycling, jumping jacks or any combination of those and more, you’ll need to plan accordingly.”

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Things to consider:

  1. Flooring: Cement and wood floors are unforgiving and can contribute to injury. Look into having at least a yoga mat, or cover your floor in rubber matting or Styrofoam padding to save your knees, joints, feet, etc.
  2. Storage: Seems like a minor concern, but in order for your home gym to be a safe and inviting environment that you feel good about, you’ll need a place for things such as resistance bands, jump ropes, hand & ankle weights, equipment/stack pins, etc. A cluttered gym, or not being able to find what you need for your next exercise, can be the difference between a workout and workout-killing frustration.
  3. Mirrors: No one is going to stop you from using a mirror for a selfie after a satisfying go in your own home gym. But far more importantly, mirrors are in fact a very important workout tool. Use a large wall-mounted mirror (preferably large, but a small mirror will suffice in a pinch) to ensure that you are using proper form during your exercises. You’d be surprised at the difference between what you think you are doing and what the mirror tells you. Improper form can cause of injury and ineffective exercises.

 

Technology

We’ve entered the third decade of the 21st century and, while flying cars still seem to be at least a light year away, technology in the home gym has become a near-necessity.

According to Sharon, here are the things to consider:

  1. Mobile device/laptop: This can serve as your hub – whether to catch a workout video on YouTube or live stream online or simply to listen to some inspirational music, you’ll want a laptop, iPad, or mobile phone.
  2. Tripod/Stand: To go along with #1 above, a convenient accoutrement for your viewing device is a suitable tripod, stand, or small table on which to prop/place your device in a manner so that you can watch the workout and simultaneously perform the exercises comfortably.
  3. Online videos: In addition to YouTube, do some online searching for workouts that appeal to you. Yoga, bodyweight, dumbbell, Tabata, kickboxing, and much, much more are all available online.
  4. Smart TV/monitor/DVD player: An upgrade to #1, but not a necessity; if you have a treadmill or stationary bike in your gym, you may want a smart TV or monitor with a DVD player or Apple TV, etc. (or the capability to mirror one of your devices) so that you can play your own workout DVDs or catch your favorite show while reaping the benefits of exercise and without squinting.

 

Equipment

The pandemic has created some shortages in the home fitness equipment world as more people than ever have flocked online to buy what they need to get their fitness on at home. So, whether you want to save money or your favorite equipment is out of stock, here’s where your ingenuity can really shine. Some of you may already have some hand weights, dumbbells, a treadmill or stationary bike, while others may be thinking they have no gym equipment at all. Not true. You can outfit a gym with many things you already have at home. And, that’s in addition to the fact that simple bodyweight exercises, using no equipment at all, can provide a very challenging full body workout for even the most experienced fitness enthusiast. Here are some of Sharon’s recommendations:

  1. No handweights? No problem! Use (filled) water bottles or unopened 16 oz. food cans.
  2. No kettlebells? Use laundry detergent containers with handles
  3. No ankleweights? Put dry beans in a Ziplock bag, put the bag into a sock, and tie it around your ankle.
  4. No resistance bands? Use a towel! In fact, a towel can fuel a full body workout:
  5. No time to even prep household items? No problem. Try these bodyweight workouts:
  6. Surprisingly, you can work out with nothing but a simple chair. Try it!

 

Other considerations

Fitness can be a family affair. It’s much more difficult to shrug off a workout when your loved one(s) are putting on their sneakers and getting ready to go. And don’t forget your pets. A dog can make a great workout buddy. Let him or her take you for a walk. “A home gym is a place where you can feel completely at ease doing as much, or as little, as you want, however you want to do it—as long as you use proper form,” Sharon concludes. “With no one else watching, it’s a judgement-free zone!”

Now build that gym! No excuses!

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(VIDEO) Why We Need Resilience and How to Build It

“Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and responsibility to pick yourself up.” –  Mary Holloway

2020 has been unlike any other year.

Carlette Bradley, from Erie County, knows that all too well. Earlier this year, her life was turned upside down. Back in June, Carlette suddenly lost her husband, Antwain, to a heart attack. Her birthday was a few days later.

While grieving, Carlette, an ordained minister at Edison Street Community Church in Buffalo, N.Y., manages to continue to encourage, uplift and inspire others through her social media pages.

Recently, Kandis Fuller, communications manager at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, interviewed Carlette on how to overcome adversity during tough times. Watch the video to learn more.

 

Carlette’s Tips for Building Resilience

  1. Connect between being productive and your well-being
  2. Live a life of gratitude
  3. Emotional intelligence – develop a high sense of self-awareness
  4. Know your triggers
  5. Practice your new behaviors

Resilience Resources

To learn more about resiliency, check out a few of Carlette’s book suggestions:

  • “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren
  • “Mindset: Changing the Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential” by Dr. Carol S. Dweck
  • “Until Today!: Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind” by Iyanla Vanzant
  • Any book by John Maxwell
gingerbread house

Surviving The Annual Holiday Food Fest

Holidays and food go hand in hand, or more accurately, hand to mouth. This time of year can present a challenge to even the most disciplined among us to stick to a healthy diet and enjoy the treats of the season in moderation.

On average, Americans gain one to two pounds during the holidays, and research shows these pounds tend to stick, accumulating year after year. This year, our new normal of COVID-19, shutdowns, and social distancing, add stress eating to the mix to make keeping to a healthy diet an even greater challenge. Here are some tips to make it through the holiday season with your waistline intact, and to jump start resolutions to eat better in the new year.

 

Tips for the holiday food fest

  1. Focus on portion size and be aware of what you are eating. Stick to healthy eating habits such as filling half your plate with fruits and veggies and making half of the grains you consume whole grains.
  2. Keep to a consistent sleep schedule, and avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  3. Make it a habit to go for an after-dinner walk, whatever the weather. It’ll get you away from the table and the temptation to keep picking at the food.
  4. With social distancing, there’ll likely be fewer mouths to feed, so cook what you need, and nothing more. Sending doggy bags home with guests is not an option this year.
  5. And, when it comes to holiday gift giving, Salzer suggests subscriptions to healthy eating or healthy cooking magazines. They serve as a fun monthly reminder to stay focused on healthy eating and portion control. It’s a gift that’ll be enjoyed throughout the year.

Find information on nutrition, healthy cooking, and more, online at the Health & Wellness page at ExcellusBCBS.com.

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Maintain, Don’t Gain: Take Charge of Your Weight this Holiday Season

Did you know that the average American gains 1-2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? “While this may not sound like a lot, most people never lose it, so that weight accumulates over the years,” said Amanda Shanahan, RD, Employee Wellbeing Manager, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “By controlling holiday weight gain and adopting a healthier lifestyle, risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke and lifestyle-related illnesses can be decreased. This holiday season, make a pledge to Maintain, Don’t Gain!”

Amanda suggests these tips to avoid those extra holiday pounds:

Keep Moving

Exercise can help you beat stress, boost energy and burn off all those homemade cookies. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day of exercise. If you currently aren’t active, start with 5-10 minutes and build up to 30. Any exercise is better than none. One way to make sure you are getting the exercise you need is to track it. You can use the American Heart Association’s free Activity Tracker to track your activity. Pick an activity that you enjoy, make a plan and stick to it.

Add Lots of Color

Eating lots of colorful fruits and vegetables can help with weight management. They are low in calories and loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which helps you feel full. Try to make half of each meal vegetables and fruits.

Go Low

Swap low- or nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream in dips, appetizers and casseroles. Instead of full-fat cheese, choose low-fat cheese. For dishes that call for lots of butter, like stuffing or sweet potatoes, use half or two-thirds the butter called for – you will cut calories without affecting the taste.

Know When to Stop

Still hungry? Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you’re full. So if you think you want second helpings, take a break for 20 minutes, then ask yourself if you’re still hungry.

Set a Goal and Celebrate Your Successes

Making exercise and healthy eating a regular habit takes commitment and planning. Set an achievable goal and then celebrate your success. Then set a new goal, and soon you will have lots of new healthy habits!

For more information on weight management, check out the CDC’s Healthy Weight website.