Thursday, December 1, 2016

Get Your ZZZ's

Sleep -- some people love it, some struggle with it, but we all need it! Even if you have mastered the food and exercise aspect of your health, if you aren’t getting enough quality sleep, your health is likely taking a beating.

When we look at all the neural, cellular and endocrine systems that benefit from sleep, it is no wonder that sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on everything from our memory to our metabolism and, maybe most noticeably, our mood.

Unfortunately, an estimated one-third of our population suffers from chronic sleep deprivation (aka insomnia). Each generation seems to be getting less and less sleep, however, there is no indication that our needs have changed. This additional stress on the body can have an overall systemic response, leading to increased risk for diabetes, cardiac disease, obesity and overall decreased cognitive function.

Don’t despair. If you or someone you know struggles with sleep, there are small interventions you can utilize to improve this essential part of your health. Besides the conventional wisdom to limit caffeine, alcohol, exercise or large meals close to bedtime, try some of these tips to improve sleep habits:

1. Support your body’s natural rhythms: Keep your bedtime and wake-up time consistent as much as possible, and try to keep naps to 30 minutes or less.

2. Limit exposure to blue light: Put electronics away at least two hours before bed.

3. Don’t lie in bed awake: If more than 10 minutes have passed and you are still awake, get up and do something relaxing without bright lights.

4. Leave your worries behind: Use a journal or to-do list to write down those racing thoughts and forget about them until tomorrow.

5. Create a sleep-conducive environment: What do you prefer -- a cool, quiet, dark room; noise machine; or black out curtains?

6. Use your bedroom for sleep only: Remove any stimulating or anxiety-provoking activities from your room.

7. Choose food wisely: If you need a bedtime snack choose low-protein, healthy carbohydrates paired with dairy (or dairy alternative) to keep your blood sugar stable overnight. If you are very hungry before bed, this may be a sign you need more carbohydrates in your overall diet.

Bottom Line: Sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Adequate sleep is an important part of overall wellness. Make getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night a priority to boost your mood and reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Lunchboxes: Not Just for Kids

We often get questions about what to pack children for lunch, but what about packing lunches for adults? Are we just an afterthought? When we don’t plan, we’re left hungry, searching for any fast food that will bring our blood sugar levels up quickly. What’s the answer? The healthiest and most affordable option is to pack a lunch from home. Make it great with these eight tips:

1. Stay organized and well stocked. Keep your fridge, freezer and pantry fully stocked with healthy fruits and vegetables, yogurts, beans, hummus or guacamole, and whole wheat products (tortillas, sandwich thins, pitas, brown rice and barley). At the beginning of each week, try a new grain such as quinoa, wheat berries or farro. Challenge yourself to incorporate this grain in your lunches for the week.

2. Pack lunch the night before. Sure, you're exhausted from your day – we get it! But if you can muster ten more minutes, you’ll be thanking yourself when lunchtime rolls around. This way you aren’t rushing and making last-minute food choices in the morning.

3. Don’t be afraid to use leftovers or to repurpose them. If you have any leftovers from dinner, use them. Either pack leftovers as is, serve what is left over on a bed of salad greens (adding in some more veggies or grains) or wrap it in a whole-wheat tortilla or pita with your favorite spreads.

4. Aim to balance your lunch. Pack a meal with a lean protein (eggs, beans, chicken or shrimp), a whole grain, vegetables and fruits, and healthy fats like avocado and olive oil. This will ensure that you stay satiated and have energy to stay focused and productive during the day. Don’t forget to pack a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit with some nuts; cut up bell peppers, baby carrots or cherry tomatoes; or a yogurt with flaxseeds and chia seeds.

5. Make your lunch colorful! Challenge yourself to eat all of the colors of the rainbow in one day to get the most phytonutrients.

6. Find tips on social media. Instagram, Pinterest and food blogs often have great ideas.

7. Pack an ice pack. Remember to pack at least one ice pack to keep food safe.

8. Use containers that help portion-size lunch components and keep it fun. Great brands include Bentgo, EasyLunchBoxes, Yumbox and Fit & Fresh.

Bottom Line: Stick to your budget and health goals by packing your lunch at home. With a little planning, you can have a delicious and nutritious lunch that will keep you energized throughout the afternoon.

Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

De-stress for Your Health

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. In fact, stress is a fundamental part of life that we could not live without. The right amount of stress provides the stimulation to keep us moving forward and keeps us safe in certain situations.

In our fast-paced world, however, many people feel like they are in a constant state of stress, and this chronic stress can negatively impact our health. When you are in a stressful situation the nervous system sends a message to the amygdala, the part of your brain that handles decision-making and emotions. The nervous system will start to release adrenaline and cortisol. This is your body’s fight or flight response. 

While this stress can be beneficial in certain situations, experiencing this reaction multiple times per day can quickly burn up energy, leaving you feeling less focused and productive. Chronic stress can cause the body to constantly activate the stress response, leaving the body and brain unable to reset hormones and inflammatory chemicals to normal levels, which leads to a strain on your immune system. 

Figuring out ways to better manage stress is a very key piece of self-care. Try these techniques the next time you are dealing with a stressor.

For stressors that are uncontrollable, try to adapt your response to the situation:

1. Remind yourself that you have successfully handled a similar situation before. 
2. Reward yourself after the situation is over. 
3. Make a list of similar situations and how you successfully handled them in the past. 
4. Reassure yourself that you will be fine regardless of the outcome.
5. Use relaxation breathing to control your physical response.

Manage stressors with a problem-solving approach:

1. Keep a detailed stress journal to identify your daily stressors. 
2. Brainstorm solutions to your stressors. 
3. Make a plan to deal with one stressor at a time. 
4. Execute the plan. 
5. Reflect on the results and start over if necessary.

Bottom Line: You do not have to live with chronic stress and ignoring it can severely impact your health. Activities such as yoga, meditation, relaxation breathing and exercise have been proven to help manage stress. If you are having difficulty managing your stress, speak with your doctor.
Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Heart Healthy Holidays

Tis’ the season for office cookie trays, after work gatherings and holiday parties! However, the holidays don’t have to tip the scales or your blood pressure in the wrong direction. Enjoy the holiday season while keeping these heart healthy tips in mind.

Check the salt. Bread, rolls, poultry and canned ingredients are some of the top sodium culprits. When grocery shopping for your holiday meals, compare the sodium content on the nutrition label using the % Daily Value column. Look for products labeled low in sodium or reduced sodium. You can rinse away excess sodium in canned goods by straining with water in a colander.

Mind the bird. Opt for lighter pieces of poultry and skip the skin to cut calories and saturated fat. When plating, keep in mind that a portion of meat is three ounces, roughly the size of a deck of cards. Before reaching for seconds, fill up on a serving of roasted veggies or salad.

Go light on the casserole.
That holiday vegetable casserole is not so innocent. Let’s be honest, green beans don’t taste like green bean casserole and maintain the same nutritional benefits. One cup of standard green bean casserole contains 200 calories and 11 grams of fat. Make your own healthier version using milk instead of cream and spices in place of salt.

Make veggies shine. Veggies do not have to be the boring side dish that everyone skips over. Roasting vegetables caramelizes natural sugars and accentuates their delicious flavor. Roast winter root vegetables with rosemary, thyme and olive oil, winter squash with cinnamon and a dash of maple syrup, or carrots with cardamom and ginger.

Be selective with sweets. Savor a few bites of your favorite desserts and stop there. Add sweetness without the calories by using extracts like vanilla, almond or peppermint, or spices such as cinnamon or cloves.

Sip wisely. Both hot chocolate and eggnog fly off the shelves this time of year -- but beware of the sky high sugar and fat content in these beverages. Just one half cup serving of standard eggnog contains 160 calories, 8.5 grams of fat and 18 grams of sugar. Opt for the low-fat version to save 40 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving. For a lighter treat, try making your own cocoa using a low-sugar recipe.

Bottom Line: This season, savor your favorite holiday dishes while keeping heart healthy modifications in mind. Before adding items to your grocery cart, take a good look at the nutrition facts panel. Compare products and leave behind those that are noticeably high in sodium, salt or saturated fat.

Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies

Trying to get kids to eat vegetables can be like a game of tug-of-war, one that the parent rarely wins. Marketing plays a huge role in persuading healthy or unhealthy food choices. With almost all advertising associated with less healthy choices, it’s no wonder that kids tend to prefer a colorful bowl of Trix cereal over a colorful plate of salad vegetables.

Thankfully, there are several tactics parents can use to get kids interested in trying new foods and excited to eat their vegetables. If you can relate to this common parenting struggle, consider these tips and strategies:

-Have kids take part in a coloring contest to design the next “Super-Veggie.”
-Allow kids to participate in the prepping and cooking process at mealtime.
-Offer kids two choices for the vegetable they would like to see in their lunch box or at the dinner table.
-Be a good role model and eat your vegetables too!
-Provide fruits and vegetables as snacks and during celebrations to create positive associations.
-Sneak veggies into dishes; consider trying fruit and vegetable blended smoothies, popsicles, muffins or quesadillas.
-Make a garden or set up small planters where kids can grow their own produce and herbs.
-When a child doesn’t like a vegetable, try cooking or incorporating it in a new way; you can even try presenting it with their favorite food (such as macaroni and cheese with broccoli).

Bottom Line: Encouraging kids to eat their vegetables can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. The key is to stick to your efforts, keep a positive attitude and continue to try different strategies. Above all, remember that eating should be a pleasant experience; aim to make trying new vegetables fun and positive.

Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Do Artificial Sweeteners Increase Hunger?

Artificial sweeteners have been an increasingly popular diet aid over the past few decades, but recent studies suggest that consuming “fake sugars” may cause an increase in hunger. Now, a study co-led by the University of Sydney has revealed the potential mechanism behind artificial sweeteners and appetite stimulation in the brain.

The artificial sweetener studied, sucralose, is one of the most commonly used on the market—found in products such as Splenda, diet sodas and other low-calorie foods. When sucralose was fed to fruit flies and lab mice for more than a week, researchers noticed that they began eating more calories when given naturally sweetened foods afterwards—specifically, 30 percent more for the fruit flies.

The mechanism was found in the brain’s reward center; the artificial sweetener was tricking the brain into starvation mode. The chronic consumption of sucralose increased the sweetness of naturally-sweetened foods, such as fruit. This, in turn, led the brain to think it needed to consume more food because it was not consuming enough calories from the artificially sweetened foods. The researchers also noticed that the fruit flies experienced an increase in hyperactivity and insomnia as well as decreased sleep quality.

Bottom line: This study revealed yet another “red flag” involving artificial sweeteners. Although they may prove to be an effective short-term fix for sweet cravings, be cautious about using them over longer periods of time. What you think may be helping you reduce your sugar intake may be causing you to crave more calories the next time you eat naturally-sweetened foods. For now, try reducing sugar intake gradually and over time your body’s cravings will adapt.


Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Higher Well-Being Increases Employee Engagement

A valuable relationship between employee well-being and employee engagement was recently measured in a research report on workplace wellness. The study found that when employees feel they have higher well-being they’re more likely to be engaged at work.

Let’s start with a quick definition of each term. Employee well-being is a state of optimal health and sense of purpose while employee engagement is the emotional connection employees have with their work, team, company and higher purpose.

The survey questioned more than 1,250 employees across 45 US markets and found that 88 percent of employees who cited feelings of high well-being (i.e., access to healthy options, the flexibility and freedom to pursue healthy programs, the ability to achieve work/life balance, and/or a sense of belonging and value to their employer), also reported feeling engaged at work. For those employees reporting lower well-being, only 50 percent felt engaged at work. Furthermore, for employees in the higher well-being category, 83 percent said they enjoy their work versus 41 percent in the lower well-being group; and 84 percent of employees who reported higher well-being felt loyal to their office co-workers, versus 54 percent of employees who reported feelings of low well-being.

While this connection may seem intuitive, little research has been conducted on the relationship between employee well-being and employee engagement. Employers can use the findings from this study to take steps to make positive organizational changes that will increase employee well-being and drive up engagement rates.

It was discovered in this study that managers, not executive officers, are the primary source of support, or non-support, in organizations. As perceptions of organizational support diminish, so do perceptions of well-being. The study found 72 percent of people who felt their employer cared about their well-being also reported having higher organizational support, whereas only seven percent of employees with lower organizational support reported feeling higher well-being. Employers should educate managers about the impact of well-being on employee engagement and provide the necessary tools, training and support to make it a priority.


Visit Wellness Workdays for more information about our worksite wellness programs.