Picture of senior woman doing yoga

Help for Pain When You Need It Most

Anne (pseudonym) often felt pain related to her chronic conditions, including chronic pancreatitis and an autoimmune disorder. But the intense radiating pain had been more problematic lately. She had been hospitalized recently and, despite taking several pain medications, she was still suffering from significant pain related to her chronic conditions. She reached out to her health insurer, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, for guidance.

Excellus BCBS Care Manager Joanne Richards, RN, answered the call for help. Joanne asked questions to understand Anne’s situation and connected her with a specialized provider to evaluate her pain, manage her medications and ultimately get the pain under control. “Managing pain is a critical part of managing certain chronic conditions,” Joanne said. “And how we help members address their pain is not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Not Something You “Just Have to Live With”

Anne’s experience with lasting pain is not unique. About 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences chronic pain, or pain that lasts for more than three months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Pain can also be acute, usually coming on suddenly and lasting for less than three months. Pain can be slightly bothersome or excruciating. For some, pain can become such a problem that it interferes with work and normal daily activities. It can cause depression and irritability.

Pain is a major driver of visits to the doctor, a major reason for taking medications, a major cause of disability, and a key factor in quality of life and productivity. Chronic pain contributes to an estimated $560 billion each year in direct medical costs, lost productivity and disability programs. But pain is not something you “just have to live with.”

A Part of Life That Needs to Be Managed

There are many ways to treat pain. The type of treatment depends on the type of pain. Treatment does not have to include prescription medication or procedures like X-rays or surgery. In fact, for certain conditions, like acute lower-back pain, experts usually recommend against imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.

“While 80 percent of us suffer from acute back pain at some point in our lives, most episodes of back pain go away on their own within six weeks, but then often recur” said Dr. Brian Justice, a chiropractor and medical director at Excellus BCBS. “Back pain is often not caused by a specific known disease that can be cured, but it can be more practically thought of as a part of life that needs to be managed.”

Pain Management: A Member-Centric Approach

The goal of pain management is to control the pain while also identifying and treating the underlying issue to help with healing and recovery. Pain management techniques can help reduce pain and improve quality of life – physically, emotionally, and socially.

“When we learn that a member is experiencing pain, we ask lots of questions to learn more about their pain level, how much activity they are doing, and ask about any pain medications they may be taking,” said Joanne. “When it comes to treatment, some people may want to try exercise, acupuncture, or work with a chiropractor or physical therapist. We can also connect members with a pain specialist or another medical provider. Treatment is individualized based on what kind of pain they are having – it’s member-centric,” said Joanne.

Self-Help Options for Managing Pain

We all have a role to play in managing our own pain too. “Because chronic pain impacts the whole person, self-management options acknowledge that the patient’s own role in the healing process has the potential to provide more efficient and comprehensive chronic pain management,” said Dr. Pat Bomba, MACP, FRCP geriatrician and medical director at Excellus BCBS. “Active self-care therapies allow for a more diverse, patient-centered treatment of complex symptoms, promote self-management, and are relatively safe and cost-effective.”

According to CompassionandSupport.org, these options include:

  • Exercise, yoga, tai chi: Helps reduce tension, anxiety, depression and fatigue
  • Heat: Reduces pain caused by sore muscles and muscle spasms
  • Ice: Alleviates pain that comes from joint problems or irritated nerves
  • Massage: Supports the healing process by breaking down muscle tension and pressure on nerves
  • Relaxation by deep breathing: Enhances one’s ability to cope and control stress
  • Meditation: Brings awareness to breathing, body sensations and feelings, retraining your brain to feel less pain

Speak up!

If you are experiencing pain and looking for relief, a conversation with your doctor is a good place to start. Acting quickly when pain starts can often prevent it from getting worse.

There’s an App for That

Like Anne, Excellus BCBS members can call the Customer Care phone number on their member ID card to find pain management help. Many Excellus BCBS members are also eligible for the free Wellframe® app, which provides access to a dedicated care manager, dietitians, social workers, physical therapists and other health care professionals to help members with issues like pain management, back and neck pain, and migraines. For more information, visit ExcellusBCBS.com.

Man and woman sitting on a hill by valley

Hidden Gems: The Mohawk Valley Region

Two undeniable blessings of living in the Mohawk Valley are its beautiful summer months and its wealth of opportunities for outdoor adventure. People who know me have heard me talk about the stress-relieving properties and other health benefits of being outdoors and in nature. Now I have some recommendations for where you can go to reap those benefits for a stronger mind and healthier body!

Mohawk Valley Gems

The Mohawk Valley region sits between the resplendent Catskill Mountains and the largest of all state parks in New York, the Adirondack State Park. At 6.1 million acres, the Adirondacks abound with year-round opportunities for just about every outdoor activity from kayaking and mountaineering to ice fishing and snowmobiling.

The same can be said for the Catskills, the second largest state park at 700,000 acres. It, too, is rich with possibilities such as scenic drives, hiking, fly fishing and camping. With these formidable neighbors, collectively known as the New York State Forest Preserve, it should come as no surprise that the Mohawk Valley also boasts its own plentiful and varied selection of excursion-worthy destinations.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. FT Proctor Park in Utica and Lock 20 Canal Park in Marcy. The Lock 20 site features access to the Erie Canal tow path which affords miles upon miles for walking or riding bikes.  In the winter season, you can partake in one of my favorite activities, snowshoeing.
  2. Utica Zoo – Another great place for walking and snowshoeing, with the animals as an added bonus!
  3. South Woods Switchbacks at Roscoe Conkling Park in Utica. Anywhere that’s great for snowshoeing in the winter is great for walks and hikes in the spring, summer and fall, and this is no exception. For added fitness opportunities, take advantage of the 12 fitness stations around the 2.2-mile perimeter of the South Woods Loop.
  4. Hiking at Pixley Falls State Park in Boonville. The main attraction may be the 50-foot waterfall (and it is beautiful), but Pixley Falls also features a nature trail and miles of trout fishing.
  5. Trenton Falls Scenic Trail. This hidden gem is open just a few weekends a year. The main trail offers wonderful views of the Trenton Falls Hydro Dam. Secondary trails take you along West Canada Creek and the limestone and fossil-encrusted gorge. Unfortunately, they recently cancelled the final open date for 2020, but I recommend keeping this on your list for a future visit – it’s worth the wait!

I’ve only scratched the surface of opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure the Mohawk Valley has to offer. I encourage you to get out and explore one or more of the places I have listed, or ask friends and family, and search the internet for other recommendations. The great outdoors is a natural stress reducer and always a healthy choice. You’re never wrong when you step outside.

Sepsis: A deadly condition that happens fast

Something in Jean Hopkins’ gut told her to take her daughter to urgent care.

It was after school, and her 8th grader didn’t feel well enough for cheerleading practice. She had a slight fever, nausea and was tired. Her daughter said she felt like she did when she had a bladder infection.

Hopkins’ husband wondered whether they should wait until morning for the trip to urgent care.

Hopkins’ daughter, Riley

“But something in me told me she needed to go to urgent care now,” said Hopkins, of Rochester.

Her husband took their daughter to urgent care while Hopkins, a youth cheerleading coach, went to practice. By the end of practice, her husband called to say their daughter needed to go to the hospital.

Once in the emergency room, her daughter’s health quickly spiraled downward.

Her daughter threw up green bile that looked like antifreeze. She had dangerously low blood pressure that staff couldn’t control. By 4 a.m. her daughter was in the intensive care unit.

“It’s scary how quickly Sepsis can happen”

Hopkins’ daughter had sepsis, a condition that can come on quickly and lead to death. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. If not treated quickly, Sepsis can cause tissue damage, organ failure and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Sepsis Alliance, there are 1.7 million cases of sepsis and 270,000 deaths each year in the United States. The sepsis death toll exceeds annual deaths in the U.S. from breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined. A recent study reports that  sepsis may have been responsible for 20 percent of all deaths worldwide in 2017.

Hopkins’ daughter did recover. She spent a week in the hospital.

“It’s scary how quickly sepsis can happen,” Hopkins said. “Just listen to your inner voice.  We were very fortunate that everything happened as it should. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if we didn’t take her right away to urgent care.”

Sepsis: Get treatment quickly

It’s critical that patients with sepsis receive treatment as early as possible, said Gregory Carnevale, M.D., a chief medical officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in upstate New York. Early treatment with antibiotics and large amounts of intravenous fluids improves your chances for survival, he said.

“Act fast and get medical care immediately if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse,” said Carnevale.

Barkley Klaiber of Syracuse said she’s grateful. She acted quickly when she didn’t feel quite right and had some abdominal cramping. Klaiber was 20-weeks pregnant with her second daughter.

Barkley Klaiber with husband Karl and daughters Sutton and Carson.

Normally, Klaiber would have waited a little before seeking treatment. She figured the cramping was related to kidney stones. She’s prone to getting them when pregnant.

But Klaiber had just been in a minor car accident a few days earlier. She thought she should go to the emergency room as a precaution.

Turns out Klaiber did have kidney stones, along with a bladder infection. But she had also developed a kidney infection as a result. Barkley went into septic shock after arriving at the hospital.

Barkley did recover after a 9-day stay.

“The car accident was a blessing,” she said. “Otherwise, I don’t think I would have gone to the emergency room as quickly. If I had gone into septic shock and I wasn’t in the hospital? I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”

Her daughter remained strong throughout the ordeal. “We just celebrated her second birthday,” she said.

Who gets Sepsis?

Anyone can get sepsis. But those at higher risk include babies and those with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems.

The elderly are also at high risk. Meg Thoin of Buffalo said her 86-year-old mother died of sepsis about a week after breaking her hip. She was in rehabilitation at a nursing home when her mom started suffering from diarrhea and confusion, and then nausea and vomiting.

Her mom was transferred to the hospital. She had kidney failure and had become septic. She died the next day, Thoin said.

“My hope is that others become more aware of what sepsis looks like, especially if you have elderly family members or if you know someone who is in a hospital or nursing facility,” she said.

There are a variety of warning signs associated with sepsis. The most common signs include:

  • Fever, shivering or feeling very cold
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Clammy or pale skin

“I was an educated person,” added Thoin, who is a nurse. “I knew what to look for, and I really wished I pushed harder for her to be tested when I started to notice certain symptoms.”

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is proud to provide educational content regarding topics such as sepsis. For more information, view our infographic on sepsis.

 

A Healthier Take on Takeout Food

Takeout food.

Greasy, delicious and convenient. Americans love getting takeout, whether picking it up or having it delivered. And it’s a $30+ billion industry. We all have our go-to options —pizza, subs, burritos and Asian food are among the traditional favorites. Is your mouth watering yet?

We all know takeout isn’t the healthiest food. Enjoying it every now and then is okay, but eating it too often could hurt your wallet and your waistline.

Let’s transform Takeout

Instead of getting takeout, try healthier dishes that you can make at home . It’s a change that can improve your health and may save you money. And the best part? You can satisfy still your takeout cravings while maintaining a healthy diet.

I spoke with Pat Salzer, Registered Dietitian and Workplace Wellness Support Coordinator with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, about tips and tricks to make it happen.

photo of Pat Salzer

Pat Salzer, Registered Dietitian and Workplace Wellness Support Coordinator with Excellus BCBS

Be Prepared

Why do we love takeout food so much? It’s easy. Instead of having to worry about making food, it’s already done for you. Want to make home-cooked meals easier? Get prepped.

The first step is meal planning. Salzer suggests planning meals for the week during the weekend and stocking your kitchen with the right ingredients. Meal planning helps  you make sure you have what you need ahead of time.

When it comes time to cook, you will already have all the ingredients you need to get started. I even prefer to cook two or three meals at once to save time. That’s called batch cooking.

Looking for some great recipes to get started? Here are some of our personal favorites:

Change the Norm

For many people, getting takeout at the end of the day is simply a habit. People become so used to ordering food that it becomes part of their routine.

Salzer said that making cooking at home the norm will make it much easier to avoid getting takeout. This goes back to the idea of planning your meals ahead and having the winning ingredients ready to go. Start small by planning to eat home-cooked meals most days of the week.

Get the Family on Board

Change is much easier with the support of those around you. Instead of going at it alone, Salzer suggests getting other members of your household to eat home-cooked meals with you. Ask others to help with planning meals for the week,and keep each other accountable with sticking to the plan to eat what you cook. Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your significant other or the whole family, making meals at home that everyone will enjoy is a fun way to start a new healthy habit.

Easy swaps and additions for your favorite takeout food

Want to cook more at home but not ready to give up your beloved pizza or subs? Some simple swaps and additions can help you enjoy the food you love at home, in a healthier way.

If you’re a lover of subs and sandwiches, try making a sandwich at home on whole grain bread. If you can’t imagine a Friday night without pizza, try a homemade pizza with a side salad to help fill you up with veggies. You can also try adding greens or fruit as a side to make-your-own tacos or burritos. Salzer recommends that fruits and vegetables make up half of our plate at any meal.

For more tips on finding healthy meal alternatives, check out our guide on how to avoid drive thrus, which features much of the same greasy fare as takeout.

11 Places to Picnic in Upstate NY

Summer is a short season in upstate NY. That’s why it’s the perfect time to exchange your usual lunch out with a meal “al-fresco” at one of these picnic spots in upstate NY.

1. Porter Park, Youngstown, Niagara County

There is no better place to have a picnic than on Lake Ontario. You can see Niagara on the Lake, and on a clear day, you have a full view of Canada! The beach is rocky but there is always plenty of driftwood to sit on and enjoy the view. There is a large grassy area, picnic tables and pavilions as well. This hidden gem is set back from the road and most people drive right by it.

2. Hamlin Beach State Park, Hamlin, Monroe county

Further east on Lake Ontario is Hamlin Beach State Park. This park also offers sweeping views of the lake,  beach swimming (when it is warm enough!) and great picnic facilities including pavilions. While you’re there, explore the self-guided trail of the Yanty Creek Marsh.

3. Highland Park, Rochester, Monroe County

Highland Park may be known for the Lilac Festival in the spring, but there’s plenty to see all summer long in this park. Not only does it have plenty of places to sit in the grass or at a picnic table, but in the early summer, the trees are still flowering and bringing in a wonderful smell. Also, within the park is Lamberton Conservatory, which is full of large palms and ferns, as well as little button quails that run around your feet.

Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park (photo by Rachel Dowling)

Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park (photo by Rachel Dowling)

 

4. Stony Brook State Park, Dansville, Livingston County

Head south to visit Stony Brook State Park. Enjoy a day in the park with a picnic and an adventure on the hiking trails. You can also go swimming in the natural pool, fed by the stream that is always refreshing.

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5. Harriet Hollister Park, Springwater, Livingston County

Less than an hour from Stony Brook State Park, Harriet Hollister Park is another beautiful spot with picnic tables, biking trials and a pavilion. This park comes with a breathtaking view of Honeoye Lake and the Rochester skyline in the distance. Sixteen miles of hiking, biking and even cross-country ski trails are available.

6. Onanda Park, Canandaigua, Ontario county

Located on the western shores of Canandaigua Lake, Onanda Park park offers picnic tables, a small beach, a swimming area, and a lake view. The park also features numerous hiking trails across the street. Trails can be found that are close to the stream, as well as more challenging hills that give you views of the multiple waterfalls upstream.

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7. Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, Schuyler County

At the southern end of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen State Park is a perfect place for a relatively flat hike. You may get a little wet from the spray from the absolutely gorgeous waterfalls, but it is well worth it. They also have ample picnic tables to use after your hike.

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8. Clift Park, Skaneateles, Onondaga County

A short drive from Syracuse, this park offers an incredible view of Skaneateles Lake. Make it an even better trip by stopping at Doug’s Fish Fry for take-out to eat on the benches in the park. After your picnic, you can walk down the pier that stretches out into the water. The park also has a public beach that is open during the summer.

Skaneateles Lake (photo by Erika Gruszewski)

Skaneateles Lake (photo by Erika Gruszewski)

 

9. Green Lakes State Park, Fayetteville, Onondaga County

Named for its two glacial lakes, Green Lakes State Park has plenty of pavilions and picnic tables throughout the park, offering sun or shade depending on what you like best. After your picnic, enjoy a leisurely walk around the lakes or enjoy a swim in the blue-green waters.

 

10.  Southwick Beach State Park, Henderson, Jefferson County

It’s the closest thing you can get to being at the ocean within an hour’s drive from Syracuse. The sand dunes and miles of beach are beautiful with good sized waves for jumping or boogie boarding. There are plenty of picnic tables to use and a nice new playground. You can get ice cream at the pavilion after a long day at the beach.

11. Verona Beach State Park, Verona, Oneida County

This park has a large picnic and cookout area with a lot of tall shady trees. You can feel the breeze coming off Oneida Lake, which makes it a very pleasant place to spend a summer afternoon. Plus, there’s the beach!

50 Small Changes for a Healthier Life

I’m obsessed with my popcorn popper. My hot-air wonder has been popping healthy treats since before I met my hubby and had kids – even before I got the now-elderly feline.

You come to my house, I serve you popcorn. You invite me to your house, I come with popcorn.

My friends mock me for my love of air-popped popcorn. But they lust after salty chips and fudgy ice cream, while I happily embrace my popper and bag of popcorn kernels.

It’s my simple solution to healthy snacking.

“Swapping out junky treats for air-popped popcorn is a simple change that can lead to a healthier tomorrow,” said Patricia Salzer, registered dietitian, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.  “One cup of popcorn is about 30 calories – if you don’t add gobs of butter and other unhealthy stuff!”

It’s not the only simple solution to life’s healthy living problems. Consider these 50 small healthy changes that can make a big difference, and visit ExcellusBCBS.com/LiveFearlessNation for more on how to make small changes – one fearless step at a time. Help spread the word with family and friends and inspire others to be part of this Fearless Nation.

Eat better

Let’s start with my biggest hurdle – eating right! I generally eat OK, especially when I’m inhaling popcorn, but I’m a sucker for sweets. Here are some ideas:

  1. Invest in an air popper! (Are you surprised this is tip #1?) You, too, can be mocked by friends for snacking on nothing but popcorn. But, get this. One of those friends ran out a few years ago and BOUGHT HER OWN POPPER! It changed her life.
  2. Banish the Oreos to the highest of shelves! Exile the double fudge ice cream to the back of your freezer!  Out of sight, out of mind, right?
  3. Wash and cut-up raw veggies and coax them to the front of your fridge. When you’re looking for something quick to eat, you can grab and go. For an added treat, dip them in a hummus or a yogurt mix.
  4. Swap out the cookie jar for a bowl of apples. Apples are guilt-free because they have just traces of fat and sodium and no cholesterol. The skin of the apple is loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants.
  5. Ditch the gigantic plates. Smaller plates can help control portion size. The bigger the plate, the bigger the portions . . . and the more calories you’ll consume.

  1. Fill that smaller plate with the right stuff. Fill half the plate with fruits and veggies and split the rest between lean protein (chicken, fish, beans, etc.) and grains.
  2. Hey ladies: If you’re thinking of having a baby at some point, consider stocking up on folic acid. This vitamin helps to prevent birth defects. Aim for 400 micrograms of folic acid daily in vitamins or foods, such as fortified breakfast cereal.
  3. Ditch the “I need to get Vitamin D” excuse for excess sunbathing. Don’t risk getting skin cancer. Consider eating foods high in the vitamin, such as tuna fish, salmon and fortified milk. The vitamin is critical to having strong and healthy muscles and bones.
  4. Carry around a water bottle for easy drinking. Drinking lots of water can help curb your hunger and help you lose weight.
  5. Not a fan of water? Add flavor to tap water with slices of cucumber, cinnamon sticks, apples, fresh cranberries or a sprig of mint.
  6. Now that you have an air-popper, consider adding a crock-pot to your collection of small appliances. Become a wiz at making easy, healthy meals. It can even save your sanity and your marriage.
  7. Add veggies to your meals, whenever possible. Got fussy kids? Find ways to sneak veggies into their foods. Try this Stealthy Zucchini Meatball recipe.
  8. Eat breakfast. Lose weight. Really.
  9. Indulge in healthy snacks. Think plain Greek yogurt, a few nuts, fruit, veggies or nut butter. If you get too hungry, you’ll likely overeat at your next meal.
  10. Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season in the fallwinterspring and summer. Eat foods at their peak for flavor and freshness.
  11. Drink your greens. You won’t taste the added veggies, but you’ll be getting an extra serving of produce without even trying. Check out this recipe.

Move more

I used to run – a lot. But then then I had kid #1 and kid #2, and started running less. I stressed over my inability to find enough time to run.

I finally faced reality. As long as I moved a lot in a day, it’s OK if I didn’t run. My new outlook saved my sanity, and kept me active.

Here are ideas for moving more:

  1. Buy a FitBit or another activity tracker — if you don’t mind spending the cash! It might be the motivation you need to hit certain activity goals, like 10,000 steps or more a day.
  2. Walk out your front door and keep walking. Walking has the lowest dropout rate of any physical activity. It’s so easy to do!
  3. Loop around the perimeter of a big box store such as Walmart, Target or Wegmans before you fill your cart. Destiny USA in Syracuse has a walking path around its stores, or check out these community walking paths if you live near Monroe County.
  4. Race your kid. Run outside with the little ones, climb that tree, jump rope and kick the ball. When I’m low on steps for the day, I race my kindergartener around our yard to boost my activity totals.
  5. Stand up! More than half of your day is likely spent sitting. Too much sitting is linked to heart disease and other serious issues. Sit all day at work? Set a reminder to stand every hour. Stand when on a conference call or eating lunch. Or, try a walking meeting with co-workers.

  1. Wake up 10 minutes earlier for a quick workout. I’m currently hooked on a 12-minute Tank Top Arms Workout on YouTube. My co-worker swears by the free workout app, Seven, for — you guessed it – seven-minute workouts.
  2. Time strapped in the morning? Squeeze in a few push-ups (on toes or knees) before you brush your teeth.
  3. Keep refilling the water bottle or glass of water. That’ll get you extra steps – especially from added bathroom breaks!
  4. Skip the email! Get up, walk to your co-worker’s desk and have an actual conversation in person.
  5. While watching TV, stand, stretch or squeeze in exercises.
  6. Schedule a gym date with a friend. You’re more likely to go if you have a buddy holding you accountable.

Feel better

My neighborhood is full of big weeping willows and other park-like, mature trees. A creek winds through my yard. A walk around my yard or street is the perfect stress buster, since being in nature is a great mood booster. Here are other ideas to help you stay sane:

  1. Trek through a park, forest or trail. As I mentioned — nature is believed to reduce stress and depression.
  2. An even simpler solution? Go outside and breathe in the fresh air.
  3. When you’re outside, look up! The sky can be beautiful and a great distraction from your troubles.
  4. Gardening – Fixing up your yard or tending to rows of tomato plants can help reduce stress.
  5. Breathe … deeply. It’ll help distract you from your thoughts and might actually help you (really) relax.
  6. Power Pose!  Stand tall with your hands on your hips! Or, flex your muscles! Do whatever pose makes you feel powerful for two minutes. It might boost your confidence before a job interview or another high-pressured event.

 

  1. Exercise to . . . relax? It’s a real thing. Exercise can decrease stress levels while stimulating the feel good chemicals in your brain, called endorphins.
  2. Pen thank you notes. Focusing on the good things in your life, such as how others have helped you, can make you feel happy.
  3. Write only happy thoughts. Journal about what makes you feel good. It’s the same idea behind #33. Gratitude can boost the positive emotions that make you happy.
  4. Call a friend. Connecting with good friends can prevent you from feeling lonely, offer companionship and boost your overall mood.
  5. Smile! I mean a real, full-fledged smile that leaves crinkles around the eyes. Smile your way out of your crabby mood.
  6. Volunteer. If you want to fight depression and loneliness, helping others is a great antidote.
  7. Hey road-ragers: Get a stress ball. Instead of shrieking at the car in front of you, find other ways to alleviate stress.

Sleep more

I took an amazing nap the other day. It was Sunday, and I was up early with the kids. After a morning of chasing them around, doing errands, laundry, etc., I was cranky and exhausted. Then I took that amazing 20-minute nap. I woke feeling unusually refreshed and pleasant!

Here are tips for grabbing more of that elusive shuteye:

  1. Nap! A short, 20-30 minute nap can help fix a poor night’s sleep.

  1. No bedtime iPhone-ing. That light from your smartphone might wreck your ability to sleep.
  2. Read a book. When I’m struggling for shuteye, I grab the Kindle and read until my eye lids start to droop. It. Works. Every. Time.
  3. Quiet your racing mind. One large sleeping roadblock is your obsession with your to-do list, your workload, your kids, etc. But meditation can help calm your mind and relax. Sleep.org has tips for meditating before bed.
  4. Skip the booze. I’m really sorry about this one. The wine before bed might help you quickly doze off, but you might not get a restful night’s sleep. Everyone’s body is different, so listen to yours in deciding if and how much to drink before bed.
  5. Exercise during the day. When I run, I sleep. Doing aerobic exercise for at least 10 minutes and you might have a more satisfying slumber.
  6.  Snack before bed. This blog article, “11 easy snacks to help you sleep better,”  will get you thinking about nighttime indulgences.
  7. Adult lullabies. Sure, you’re a big adult with big adult responsibilities. But even big adults sometimes need “adult lullabies” to wind down and fall asleep.
  8. Thin, firm or no pillow? Are you a back, side or stomach sleeper? Certain pillows will work best for certain sleepers. Get tips HERE.

Our last small change is….

Have you seen how kids clean their teeth nowadays? They’ve got bags of colorful, flavorful “flossers” to sharpen their fangs. All I got as a child were boring containers of … floss.

  1. Speaking of floss, do it! Flossing helps prevent gum disease, which in turn can lead to a host of health issues. So floss, and you might reduce your risk of heart disease.

A dog may be the key to losing weight

Want to Lose Weight? Grab Your Dog’s Leash

Losing weight is…well, hard! Eat healthy, be more active…you know the drill. But getting started and sticking with it are two of the hardest parts. So, what if you had someone to keep you on track, was always available, and never said no? Would it also help if they were one of your best friends?

If you answered yes, the answer may be just a few feet away from you.

If we’re out of shape, then our pets probably are too. About 54 percent of dogs (and 58 percent of cats) are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. About 2 in 3 upstate New York adults, meanwhile, are also overweight or obese, according to an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report. Heavier adults are at risk for serious chronic diseases and health problems. But, did you know that obese pets also face many of the same health problems as humans, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, urinary disease, skin problems, and breathing problems. Also, overweight pets often have shorter life spans (up to 2.5 years less). Taking steps to stay in shape with our pets may help keep them around longer.

Taking “steps” to be active

In 2015, the U.S. Surgeon General encouraged people to be active and walk more. Strong evidence exists that physical activity has substantial health benefits,” according to “Step it Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities.” “Walking is an excellent way for most Americans to increase their physical activity.

It’s a simple formula. One overweight adult + one overweight dog = one really good reason (and motivation) to lose weight together. One easy way to get started would be to just go on regular walks together a few times each week.

The Wake-up Call that Saved Brad’s Life

A walk or a run can be great exercise.

Brad, a 6-foot-6-inch former athlete, had a wake-up call in his mid-30s. His doctor said he was at risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke, because of his weight and lack of exercise. He adopted Buddy, a black Labrador retriever. ”The energetic dog became Brad’s running buddy and ticket to better health. “  (More on the story of Brad and Buddy.)

Couch Potato to Athlete – The Story of Eric and Peety

Eric, a 57-year-old salesman from Spokane, Washington, says a plump dog named Peety helped turn him from a couch potato struggling with obesity into a slim athlete. Eric weighed 330 pounds. He lived by himself and would often eat two extra-large pizzas (consuming potentially thousands of calories) for dinner. He spent more than $1,000 a month in medications for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

One month before Eric was due to have weight-loss surgery, he was advised to eat a whole-foods diet AND to rescue a dog. The thinking was that having a dog might force Eric to get outside and be more active. (Maybe he’d even meet other people?) Peety, a 7-year-old border collie/Australian shepherd mix, “came into his life and changed it forever.” More on how Eric and Peety changed each other’s lives  (Their video.)

The Tale of Otto the Bulldog

how to help a bulldog to lose weight

Otto the Bulldog started taking longer walks and lost 15 pounds.

Typically you can’t get an English bulldog off the couch, let alone walk more than 50 feet,” says Brittany, a digital marketing manager from Rochester, NY. “Ever since he was a puppy, Otto, our 6-year-old English Bulldog, has enjoyed going on walks.”

As he grew older though, Otto’s vet wanted him to drop from 65 to 55 pounds. Brittany gradually extended their typical route. We often forced him to take breaks, just to catch our own breath!” Combining longer walks with better food, Otto has dropped down to 50 pounds, has a softer coat and is happier than ever. No need for a Fitbit® alarm – Otto reminds us to walk every day with a long, dragged out whiny mumble. What a great way to unwind after work, talk about our day, and get our steps in as a whole family.

Set up a routine and stick with it

The philosopher Lao Tzu had a saying that went something like, “The journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step.” If you’re just getting started, go for shorter walks, gradually increasing them as you feel comfortable. It’s important to set up a routine. Try walking at the same time every day. Dogs like routine and will likely come and encourage you on those days when you may not feel like it (just like Otto).

Also, if your friend or neighbor has a dog, maybe you can walk together.

Keep safety in mind for both of you. Stay hydrated. In hot weather, try going early or later in the day when it may be cooler. In cold and snowy weather, wear good boots and check their paws for snow and ice buildup.

Nutrition is also an important part of the puzzle.

If food were in front of your dog all day, they would likely keep eating. We often have the same instincts. says Janette Westman, a workplace wellness consultant at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. A dog’s food is controlled by their environment. The owner puts it out when it’s time to eat and controls the amount. We could create a similar environment for ourselves. By reducing how much food is constantly in front of us, we could be less tempted to snack all day long as well. Also, planning ahead is another way to make healthy eating easier.”

You can also try modifying some of your habits using the “Five Rules for Eating” from Stephen Cook, M.D., MPH, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. If you do choose to snack during the day, there are healthy options that can give you a boost between meals. Try keeping a banana, apple, or a handful of almonds handy. Pat Salzer, a registered dietician for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, has suggestions for healthy snacking throughout the day.

What about healthy eating for my dog? According to the American Kennel Club, there are things you can do to prevent them from packing on unnecessary pounds, like establishing a regular eating schedule, limiting between-meal snacks, and choosing low-calorie treats.

Don’t already have a “workout” buddy?

Consider adopting/rescuing a dog. Check with your local animal rescue organization if interested in pet adoption. Some will allow local volunteers to come and walk their dogs. That can also be an option if you’re not quite ready to adopt.

Please consult with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise regimen for yourself and a veterinarian for your furry friend.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little UGH. Solutions for Parents who Hate Kids’ Music.

Becoming a parent stirs up a lot of fears. Will I be a good caretaker? Who will take care of my child when I go back to work? How do you keep one of these things alive? You mean we can just take them home?!

And that’s just the stuff you talk about publicly.

The Creepiness of Children’s Music

One of the secrets I’ve harbored in the deep recesses of my mind is a disdain for kids’ music (and those weird music videos!). The chipper, high voices. Bright primary colors. People singing while wearing spandex.

I’ve tried to get on board. I attended a newborn story time at our local library,* where they handed out lyrics to  kids’ songs and taught interactive movements. A totally cool idea, and very helpful for someone like myself who hasn’t been around kids that much and has no idea where to start with such things. Story time was met with marginal success:  my baby slept on my lap while I sang and clapped. My mind kept wandering along with the ridiculous lyrics we were singing. The song “Hickory Dickory Dock” reminded me of a Hickory Farms summer sausage gift basket. Ants marching one by one in the house are usually met with the sole of my shoe, because I’m the resident exterminator. And spiders? During a discussion of “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” my brother texted, “I hate spiders. Why would I sing about them?” Well said, sir.

Then the time of reckoning arrived. A beautiful, innocent, googly-eyed baby staring up from the crib, longing for some parental interaction. When I opened my mouth to croak out something, I didn’t know what to sing other than “Happy Birthday.” That experience showed me the need to create some playlists that wouldn’t be too terrible to sing along with over and over again. Because what is more fun in life then creating your own soundtrack?

The Positive Effect That Music Has on Children Makes It A Must

Solutions for People Who Hate Kids' Music

Studies have shown that music can have a really positive impact on childrens’ development.

I appreciate and support the benefits that music (even lullabies like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) can have on child development. I have Sesame Street records and sing “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Buzz Buzz” like it’s my job. Study after study has shown so many positive effects that music and music therapy can have on a child at any stage, even in-utero . While listening to music, premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit  show signs of improved breathing and heart rates, along with advances in neurological development, weight gain and appetite..

It’s just that the entire universe-altering shift to parenthood is so overwhelming that it’s hard to let all facets in at once and the preordained music playlist, well, sometimes it just hurts. So you try to preserve some small semblance of your past that you want to share with your little one.

Playlists That Don’t Suck

There is nothing revolutionary here and obviously you can put any music you like on your soundtrack.  I’ve been known to sing the jingle from the Cellino & Barnes commercial when desperate. Sleep deprivation causes things like an inability to remember your once-favorite songs, the words to the ABCs or those melodies earmarked for kids. I’ve found it helpful to have playlists queued up so I can spend more time interacting with our little one instead of racking my brain for songs to sing.

Playlist for bouncing, clapping & tummy time:

Listen to this playlist on Spotify

  • Ophelia, The Lumineers
  • Take it all Back, Judah and The Lion
  • HandClap, Fitz and the Tantrums
  • I am the Walrus, The Beatles
  • Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song), Otis Redding
  • Budapest, George Ezra
  • Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • Welcome Home, Radical Face
  • Dog Days are Over, Florence and the Machine
  • I Feel the Earth Move, Carole King

Playlist for mellowing out:

Listen to this playlist on Spotify

  • Three Little Birds, Bob Marley
  • Here Comes the Sun, The Beatles
  • Morning Song, Avett Brothers
  • In the Dark, Nina Simone
  • Hello My Old Heart, The Oh Hellos
  • The Circle Game, Joni Mitchell
  • Our House, Crosby, Stills and Nash
  • Mercedes Benz, Janis Joplin
  • Half Acre, Hem
  • Lullaby, Lord Huron

Playlist for loud crying (either the baby’s or yours):

Listen to this playlist on Spotify

  • Renegade, Styx
  • Crying, Waiting, Hoping, The Beatles
  • Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, The Temptations
  • Helter Skelter, The Beatles
  • I Bet My Life, Imagine Dragons
  • New York, Alicia Keys

*Looking for a kid’s story time in your community? Check your local library. Here’s a place to start:

 

How I Learned to Avoid Drive-Thrus and Eat Healthier on a Budget

When I moved off campus my junior year of college, I was excited to have an actual kitchen to cook in and a place to eat that I didn’t have to share with hundreds of other students.
That feeling quickly faded when I remembered how much time and money it takes to cook and grocery shop when you’re a broke college student and also going to classes, club meetings, working and seeing friends.
Staying up late was normal for me. Some nights I’d leave work at 1:30 a.m., or I was up late studying or hanging out with friends. There was no way I was going to take the time to cook myself an actual healthy meal. Even if I wanted to cook, I probably didn’t have anything in my fridge to make it.

I saw fast food as my only option.

Drive-Thru Voodoo

Frequenting fast food drive-thrus became a regular habit for my friends and me. They were the only places open late at night and the cost seems cheap when you can get a meal for only a few dollars. If I did go to the grocery store, I’d buy chips or microwaveable meals that were easy to make. I probably used my oven a handful of times over an entire semester.
But the truth is, with a bit of planning, broke college students and young professionals can eat healthy without spending a lot of time or money. Pat Salzer, registered dietitian and workplace wellness consultant at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, shares eight tips to help you save time while eating healthy on the cheap.

8 Tips for Healthy Eating on a College Student’s Budget

  1. Have group meals. Find friends who like to cook and make your meals together. Having a group of people working together to make dinner is more fun than cooking alone and will help you avoid fast food restaurants.
  2. Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. This might seem like an obvious tip that you’ve heard a thousand times, but it’s true! When you’re hungry, your willpower goes out the window. Everything will look good, especially the things that don’t take long to make.
  3. Buying in bulk isn’t always a good thing. Bulk can be good if you know that you’ll eat all of it. However, it’s not worth buying large quantities, especially produce, if you’ll just stress about not eating it all before it goes bad.
  4. Have a plan when you shop so you’ll get what you need and only what you really need. You won’t overspend if you stick to a grocery list. This strategy might also help you avoid filling your cart with junk food—like those little pints of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream that I love so much!
  5. Be realistic about what you will eat. I would always buy Greek yogurt because I knew it was healthy. Only problem was, I don’t like Greek yogurt. I tried to force myself to like it, but it wasn’t happening. The yogurt would sit in my fridge until it hit the expiration date and then I’d have to (thankfully!) throw it out. There’s no point in spending your money on something that you know you won’t eat.
  6. Prepare big batches of healthy, delicious foods that’ll leave you with lots of leftovers (and unlike in tip #3, you know you’ll eat it). Whatever you make for dinner, you can also eat the next day for lunch. It’s also a good way to keep yourself from overeating at a meal if you know that you need to save some for the next day.
  7. Buy fruits and vegetables that are in-season. Not only will that sweet Red Delicious apple you bought in the fall taste better, but it’ll likely be cheaper, too. Try different types of produce—you might be surprised by what you like! I was shocked (shocked) to learn that I actually liked the taste of broccoli!
  8. Stash affordable, healthy foods for snacks—yogurt, string cheese, cottage cheese, peanut butter, etc.—around your apartment, house or dormitory. These foods will help satisfy late-night cravings and deter you from embarking on fast food runs.
Finding the Right Gym in 2017

7 Steps to Finding the Right Gym

If you’re like me, you ended the year celebrating the holiday season just a little too much and you’ve started the new year looking for the perfect gym to undo the damage of rich desserts and not enough activity.

Finding the right fitness facility can be tricky if you’re looking for more than just the lowest-cost option.

treadmill upstate ny

A treadmill is great for running in the winter months.

“You need to assess your fitness goals before selecting the best gym for you,” said Janette Westman, workplace wellness consultant, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Do you want a basic gym with treadmills for a daily run or walk, for example, or do you prefer one with a variety of classes or state-of-the art equipment to keep you motivated?”

My needs as a gym buff have evolved over the years. When I was a broke, recent college graduate, I went with the cheapest option. All I needed was a place to run in the winter—at the lowest possible price!

Spinning Class Upstate NY

Select a gym close to your job.

As I earned a little more, I gravitated toward facilities that also had early morning spinning classes. But once I had kids and was paying daycare bills (yup, I was broke again!), I gravitated toward the free workplace gym.

Given my holiday weight gain, I’m now also hunting for a fitness facility to use on the weekends, when I don’t want to trek into work to work out. I’m considering a  gym or a facility that also offers classes, such as kickboxing.

Westman, a former personal trainer, offers the following tips for finding the right fitness facility in the new year:

  1. Location: People often stop exercising because they lack the time. If you exercise after work, select a gym close to your employer. Weekend warriors in the battle against the bulge may want a facility close to home.
  2. Hours of operation: The gym should be open when you plan to exercise. Early birds, for example, may need a fitness center that opens at the crack of dawn to allow for the 5 a.m. swim before work.
  3. Classes: Ask if classes such as spinning and yoga cost extra. If you’re solely interested in classes, a studio instead of a fitness facility may be a better option.
  4. Equipment quality: Ensure the cardio and weight machines are clean and in good condition.
  5. Staff: Are staff members friendly and qualified with the right certifications? You may want a gym with fitness trainers and dieticians to help you get healthier.
  6. Free trial pass: Test the gym during the times you’ll likely exercise. Is it too crowded? Are the classes, equipment, and atmosphere right for you? Are showers and changing facilities up to par? Is the parking convenient? Will you feel comfortable asking staff for advice or posing questions, such as how to use unfamiliar equipment?
  7. Cost: Ask if the gym will waive the enrollment fee so that you’re only responsible for the monthly dues.

Important Tip:  Some health care insurers may offer a benefit that helps pay for a gym membership. Be sure to check your policy to see what’s available to you. Don’t leave money on the table!