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Exercise: A prescription for reducing your chronic disease risk

Exercise: A prescription for reducing your chronic disease risk

When you hear the word “exercise” what comes to mind? Do visions of frantically running on a treadmill or being locked in a grueling gym session with a personal trainer flicker through your head? Take heart. Getting the regular exercise you need to stay healthy and protect yourself from developing a chronic disease doesn’t mean you have to participate in a full-blown, hour long, muscle-burning workout.

What is regular exercise?

Exercise is anything that gets your body moving. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to:

    • reducing your risk of developing several chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers like colon cancer and breast cancer
    • improving your mental health
    • preventing falls
    • reducing pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia
    • controlling the frequency and duration of asthma attacks
    • increasing your chances of living longer

Exercise doesn’t have to be overwhelming to provide you with all kinds of wonderful benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week—that’s about how long it takes to watch a movie. The CDC also recommends doing muscle-strengthening exercises 2 or more days a week.

The great news is that exercising for 10 minutes at a time is perfectly acceptable and will provide you with all of the above benefits.

What is moderate-intensity aerobic exercise?

To be moderately intense, the exercise you are doing should raise your heart rate and make you break a sweat. One way to tell if you’re working at a moderately intense rate is being able to talk, but not being able to sing the words to your favorite song. Here are some examples of activities that require moderate effort:

      • walking fast
      • doing water aerobics
      • playing doubles tennis
      • pushing a lawn mower
      • cleaning (washing windows, vacuuming, mopping)
      • biking 10–12 mph
      • dancing

What are muscle-strengthening exercises?

Muscle-strengthening activities work all the major muscle groups of your body (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms). Examples include:

      • lifting weights
      • working with resistance bands
      • doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (i.e., pushups, situps)
      • heavy gardening (i.e., digging, shoveling)
      • yoga

When lifting weights, doing resistance bands or using your body weight for resistance, you should try to do 8–12 repetitions per activity. That counts as 1 set. Try to do at least 1 set of muscle-strengthening activities. To gain even more benefits, do 2 or 3 sets.

What does the research say about the benefits of exercise?

Cardiovascular disease

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), exercise can boost heart health by improving blood pressure and glucose, lessening stress, reducing body fat and fueling the production of heart-protective HDL cholesterol while lowering artery-clogging triglycerides and bad LDL cholesterol.

Diabetes

Researchers from the U.K. combined results from 28 studies and found that the more exercise people did, the lower their risk of Type 2 diabetes. The studies found that exercise helps insulin work better on cells and helps muscles use sugar more effectively.

A small study conducted by researchers in New Zealand found that walking 10 minutes after meals, and dinner in particular, proved to be more effective in controlling blood sugar levels for Type 2 diabetics than doing 30 minutes of exercise all at once during the day.

Cancer

The NIH reports that ongoing clinical trails are examining physical activity and/or exercise interventions in cancer prevention and treatment. Research indicates that being active may have beneficial effects for several aspects of cancer survivorship—specifically:

      • weight gain
      • quality of life
      • cancer recurrence or progression
      • prognosis (likelihood of survival)

Most of the evidence comes from people diagnosed with breast, prostate or colorectal cancer.

Getting started

Even if you haven’t been physically active for years, be sure to talk with your doctor before starting any kind of exercise program to determine the kinds of activities and intensity levels you can handle. Then set a reachable goal. Maybe it’s taking a 5-minute walk after dinner. Work to increase the time you are active as you get stronger. You’ll start feeling the benefits of exercise right away.

Make getting and staying healthy easier:

Consider signing up for CarePlus—a free concierge health care service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:

      • find the right doctor
      • get appointments quickly
      • get faster access to your medical information—like lab results
      • obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
      • get your insurance questions answered
What is a mini-stroke? What you should do about it.

What is a mini-stroke? What you should do about it.

How is a mini-stroke different from a stroke? Who is at risk? And, how can you prevent it?

A mini-stroke is a name for what doctors call a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow. This causes stroke-like symptoms that can last as briefly as one minute or up to 24 hours. Often, the symptoms are gone by the time you get to a doctor.

The National Stroke Association list three things that usually cause TIAs:

  1. Low blood flow at a narrow part of a major artery carrying blood to the brain, such as the carotid artery.
  2. A blood clot in another part of the body (such as the heart) breaks off, travels to the brain, and blocks a blood vessel in the brain.
  3. Narrowing of the smaller blood vessels in the brain, blocking blood flow for a short period of time; usually caused by plaque (a fatty substance) build-up.

Unlike a stroke, a TIA doesn’t kill brain tissue or cause permanent disabilities. However, since symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are nearly identical, you should ALWAYS seek immediate emergency attention if you experience any symptoms. In addition, a TIA can be a warning to an actual stroke—40 percent of people who have a TIA will have an actual stroke, some within the first few days after a TIA.

Symptoms of a TIA are:

  • vision changes
  • trouble speaking
  • confusion
  • balance issues
  • tingling
  • an altered level of consciousness
  • dizziness
  • passing out
  • an abnormal sense of taste
  • an abnormal sense of smell
  • weakness or numbness on just one side of the body or face

Are you at risk for a mini-stroke?

There are two types of risk factors when it comes to stroke and to mini-strokes. They include factors you can control and those you cannot control.

Risk factors you can control include:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • heavy alcohol use
  • being overweight
  • physical inactivity

Other factors that are associated with an increased risk include:

  • atrial fibrillation
  • sleep apnea
  • clogging of the carotid arteries in the neck

Risk factors you cannot control include:

  • Age—the risk of having a TIA increases with age
  • Race—African Americans, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives all have a higher risk of suffering a TIA
  • Gender—women are at higher risk
  • Family history—your risk increases if a parent or a brother or sister has had a TIA or stroke

A good way to find out your risk factors is to take the National Stroke Association TIA risk calculator.

6 things you can do to lower your TIA risk

  1. Lower your blood pressure—try to maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80 or a less aggressive goal of 140/90. Eat less salt. Avoid high cholesterol foods, eat more fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains.
  1. Manage your weight—if you’re overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk.
  1. Exercise—do something you like at a moderate pace for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week.
  1. Drink in moderation—limit yourself to one glass of alcohol per day.
  1. Treat health problems—see your doctor and treat problems such as atrial fibrillation, diabetes and sleep apnea.
  1. Quit smoking—ask your doctor for advice on the most appropriate way for you to quit.

A TIA is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment. Treatment for a TIA will also help prevent a stroke from happening in the future. It’s important to stick with your treatment plan and to go to follow-up medical appointments. You and your doctor can determine the best preventive steps for you based on your specific medical needs.

Make getting and staying healthy easier:

Consider signing up for CarePlus—a free concierge health care service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:

  • find the right doctor
  • get appointments quickly
  • get faster access to your medical information—like lab results
  • obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
  • get your insurance questions answered
4 Ways Happiness is Good for Your Health

4 Ways Happiness is Good for Your Health

Have you ever wished a friend or relative health and happiness? If so, you may have been onto something that recent research confirms—happiness and health have a strong correlation. Scientific studies have verified that happiness can make our hearts healthier, our immune systems stronger and our lives longer. How good is happiness for you and how can you make a conscious effort to be happier?

  1. Happiness and your heart

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center followed 1,739 healthy adults living in Nova Scotia, Canada, for 10 years to determine whether their attitudes affected their health. After accounting for known heart disease risk factors, the researchers found that people with a positive outlook, who experienced joy, happiness, excitement and contentment in their lives, were 22% less likely to develop heart disease.

  1. Being happy strengthens your immune system

Several studies confirm a link between happiness and our ability to fight diseases. One by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has shown children who have a more positive outlook at age seven, report better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.

A string of studies done by the Cole Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the University of California, Los Angeles found that negative mental states such as stress and loneliness can affect our immune responses at the gene level and shape our ability to fight disease.

  1. A positive attitude may ease pain

Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers. Research on rheumatoid arthritis in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found evidence that mood can affect people’s perception of pain and related symptoms, like stiffness and swelling.

  1. Being happy is life extending

Aging gracefully can add years to your life. One study examined 660 people and found that those who felt positive about getting older lived seven and a half years longer than those with a negative outlook about aging.

Happy people tend to cope better with stress and the challenges of daily life. Experts agree that happiness has nothing to do with circumstances or material possessions. Rather, it comes from a person’s outlook on life.

Strategies that could help naturally negative people become happier.

You certainly don’t need to be happy all the time, however, being mindful about your happiness and cultivating a few habits that lead to a happier life could make you healthier.

  • Express gratitude and acknowledge the good on a regular basis
  • Practice being optimistic
  • Add happiness by subtracting things that don’t bring you joy
  • Engage in frequent acts of kindness
  • Savor joyful events
  • Practice forgiveness
  • Connect with other people

Finally, devote at least 15 to 20 minutes a day to doing something enjoyable and relaxing. Make sure you don’t abandon this activity on busy days.

Be happier with your health care:

Consider signing up for CarePlus—a free concierge health care service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:

  • find the right doctor
  • get appointments quickly
  • get faster access to your medical information—like lab results
  • obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
  • get your insurance questions answered
Why Your Brain Demands Sleep and How to Get More

Why Your Brain Demands Sleep and How to Get More

Sleep. Glorious sleep. We all need it. Some of us wish we had more time for it. Most of us don’t get enough of it. The National Sleep Foundation reports forty-five percent of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep affected their daily activities at least once in the past seven days. If you are among them, here’s what you need to know about sleep.

Why is sleep so important?

Researchers are beginning to learn more about sleep and why we need it. What they’ve discovered is that sleep enables our bodies, especially our brains, to recover from the day.

The newest research from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that during the day excess protein builds up in our brains. Sleep allows our brain to clean up that protein. Here’s how it works. While we sleep the cells in our brain actually shrink by 60 percent. This contraction creates more space between the cells and allows our cerebral spinal fluid to wash more freely through our brain tissue to clean up or flush out protein buildup.

Getting enough sleep also allows our brain the opportunity to:

  • Reorganize data to help find a solution to a problem.
  • Process newly learned information.
  • Organize and archive memories.

More sleep benefits include:

  • Letting our muscles, bones and organs repair themselves.
  • Keeping our immune system healthy.
  • Keeping us safe from household, automobile or other accidents that can occur when we become sleep deprived.
  • Regulating our emotions and putting us in a better mood.
  • Helping us to better control our weight.

How much sleep do you need?

Three years ago, the National Sleep Foundation brought together sleep experts, as well as experts in anatomy and physiology, pediatrics, neurology, gerontology and gynecology to reach a consensus about the recommended amount of sleep we all need. Here is what these experts recommend:

  • Newborns (0–3 months) 14–17 hours
  • Infants (4–11 months) 12–15 hours
  • Toddlers (1–2 years) 11–14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3–5 years) 10–13 hours
  • School age children (6–13 years) 9–11 hours
  • Teenagers (14–17 years) 8–10 hours
  • Adults (18–64 years) 7–9 hours
  • Older adults (65+) 7–8 hours

7 tips to help you get more sleep

Our brain needs it. Our body needs it. And now we know how much of it experts say we should get each night. So, how do we turn off the work stress and family responsibilities and get the sleep we need?

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. And try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Staying up late and sleeping in on weekends can disrupt your body clock.
  2. Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  3. Avoid large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. Also avoid alcoholic drinks, nicotine and caffeine. The effects of caffeine can last as long as 8 hours. So, a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
  4. Spend time outside every day and be physically active.
  5. Keep your bedroom quiet, cool and dark.
  6. Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.
  7. Limit naps or take them earlier in the afternoon. Adults should nap no more than 20 minutes.

It’s not uncommon for anyone to have the occasional sleepless night. However, if you’re having troubling falling or staying asleep more often than not, it may be time to contact your doctor.

Take the worry out of getting the care you need:

Consider signing up for CarePlus—a free concierge healthcare service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:

  • find the right doctor
  • get appointments quickly
  • get faster access to your medical information—like lab results
  • obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
  • get your insurance questions answered
Arthritis: 6 tips to reduce your risk

Arthritis: 6 tips to reduce your risk

Arthritis is an informal way of referring to more than 100 different types of joint diseases. According to the Arthritis Foundation:

  • arthritis affects 53 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States
  • people of all ages, sexes and races can suffer from arthritis
  • it is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older

Arthritis can be broken down into three main categories. Here are some of the most common types:

  1. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most frequently diagnosed form of arthritis. It is also called degenerative joint disease and occurs when the cartilage inside a joint deteriorates. It most commonly affects the knees, hips, low back, neck and hands.
  1. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the lining inside the joints becomes inflamed causing joint damage and pain. It occurs in small joints like the wrists, fingers and hands.
  1. Juvenile arthritis (JA) is any type of arthritis that strikes a person younger than 18. It typically strikes the ankles, knees, wrists, hips, neck, jaw and shoulders.

Symptoms of arthritis

Typical symptoms of arthritis include joint:

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Decreased range of motion

7 risk factors

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists seven risk factors for the disease, including:

  1. Family history—specific genes are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis.
  2. Age—the risk of developing most types of arthritis increases with age.
  3. Gender—60 percent of all people with arthritis are women.
  4. Previous joint injury—damage to a joint can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in that joint.
  5. Obesity—excess weight can contribute to both the onset and progression of knee osteoarthritis.
  6. Infection—many microbial agents can infect joints and potentially cause the development of arthritis.
  7. Occupation—jobs that involve repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

6 tips to reduce your risk

There is no way to actually prevent arthritis, but you can reduce your risk and delay the potential onset of certain types of arthritis. The key is taking care of your joints now while they are healthy.

  1. Maintain a good body weight—the more pressure you put on your joints, the faster they wear out. Maintaining a good body weight is one thing you can do to lower the workload for your joints.
  1. Women: take off your high heels—they are okay to wear occasionally, but if you wear them all the time the joints in your feet will make you pay the price.
  1. Do non-impact exercises—high impact sports like running put a lot of stress on the joints and can wear down the cartilage faster than normal. Think about taking up swimming or biking.
  1. Use good body mechanics and avoid injuries—lift with your legs instead of your back, take precautions when playing sports to avoid injury.
  1. Check your vitamin D—according to the National Institutes of Health about 60 percent of us are deficient in vitamin D. Ask your doctor about the right dosage for you.
  1. Stay hydrated—the cartilage in our joints is made up mostly of water, which is what makes it such a great cushion for the joints. When we’re dehydrated, water gets sucked out of the cartilage and it’s more easily damaged by wear and tear.

Staying healthy and preventing chronic conditions like arthritis is a little easier with help.

Consider signing up for CarePlus—a free concierge health care service. When you sign up for CarePlus our team will help you:

  • find the right doctor
  • get appointments quickly
  • get faster access to your medical information—like lab results
  • obtain referrals to specialists and the pre-authorizations you may need
  • get your insurance questions answered