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Small changes can help you live a healthier lifestyle

  • Written by BPT

A new year often brings with it the desire to make improvements in your life, and kick old habits to the curb in the pursuit of healthiness. But for most Americans, resolutions fail within the first few months because goals are too ambitious, intimidating or unrealistic in nature. If you’ve resolved to be healthier this year, the good news is that successful, positive change – whether it be spending more time with friends and family, being more physically active, or choosing healthier foods – is more achievable than you think. It’s important to think positively, stay focused and take baby steps versus one giant leap towards a lofty goal.

Many goal-setters achieve their desired health goal by starting with small changes. In fact, more than half the respondents to the Aetna "what’s your healthy?" survey like to do small things such as taking the stairs instead of using the elevator each day to be more physically active.

The approach to healthiness is a personal one and is not a "one size fits all" solution. To help inspire you to achieve your health goals this year, Alison Sweeney, an actress, author, television host and mother of two, offers her tips on simple changes you can make to your day-to-day life to ensure happiness and healthiness year-long:

• 100-calorie snacks. Thirty-three percent of respondents to the Aetna "what’s your healthy?" survey say they could, in an instant, drop eating large portions in order to become healthier. While it can be difficult to just start eating less than you are used to, you can set yourself up for success with 100-calorie snacks. A handful of almonds, homemade ranch dip with vegetables, or six cups of fresh-popped popcorn are all great low-calorie options to take on the go.

• Run your first race. Determined to run your first race in 2014? Here’s a secret to getting started: run walks. Alternating between running and walking quickly builds up your endurance and confidence – a great way to train and get fit. Start with 20 minutes a day, three times a week. During the cold winter months when you can’t get outside, try walking or running wherever you can – whether it is on a treadmill, taking the stairs more, or even parking further away when you are shopping. Increasing your physical activity in any way possible will definitely help toward your fitness goal.

• Strike a child’s pose. Many people take yoga classes to help them decompress and get in some exercise. You can also try it at home with the kids. This allows everyone to release extra energy, handle frustration or just relax, which is especially good right before bed. Deep breathing is the key. Try a child’s pose, which is a resting pose in the fetal position. The family gets to cool down together, making bedtime calmer for everyone.

• Eating clean. Many people probably included "eat clean" on their list of New Year’s resolutions. Ready to make the change, but not sure where to start? When you’re at the market, avoid the middle aisles where you’ll find most of the processed, packaged foods with artificial ingredients. Instead, shop the perimeter of the store for fresh foods like seasonal produce and lean meats.

• Get your exergame on. It’s often hard to squeeze in both "me time" and "family time" when you have a busy day, and especially when you want to stay fit to boot – 18 percent of respondents to Aetna’s "what’s your healthy?" survey cite family demands as a reason for not having time to be physically active. "Exergaming" (short for exercise gaming) is a great way to work out alone or with your kids. Grab the kids’ game console and get moving. You can dance, play tennis, and even golf – and get your entire body into it.

Setting health goals does not have to be intimidating. Set yourself up for realistic success with small, fun changes to your lifestyle that will lead to big results. For healthy inspiration and resources to help you achieve your health goals, visit www.WhatsYourHealthy.com.

Why older adults must understand their flu vaccine options and get vaccinated

  • Written by BPT

With the 2013-2014 flu season officially here, it’s important to consider the single best way to prevent influenza (commonly known as "the flu") – the flu vaccine. What many older adults don’t know is that the immune system weakens with age, meaning older adults are at a higher risk for flu and related complications.

More than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year from flu-related illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adults aged 65 and older typically account for more than half (60 percent) of these hospitalizations and almost all (90 percent) flu-related deaths, the CDC reports.

To help spread the word about this serious public health issue, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) has launched the second year of Flu + You, an educational program that encourages older adults and their caregivers to learn about the seriousness of the flu, the importance of annual vaccination, and vaccine options for adults 65 and older. Actor Lee Majors, best known for his iconic television role as The Six Million Dollar Man, is joining the campaign this year as a national spokesperson.

"According to the CDC, the leading reason older adults do not get the flu vaccine is because they are unaware they need it," says Majors. "I get the flu shot every year and encourage my peers to do the same. It’s a simple step you can take to help protect yourself from the flu."

The flu can make existing health conditions worse, and it is especially dangerous for people with lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer, conditions that commonly affect older adults. Nationwide, 86 percent of adults 65 years of age and older have at least one chronic health condition and approximately 66 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more chronic conditions, according to the CDC. These conditions put them at increased risk of the flu and flu-related complications, which include hospitalization and even death.

"The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine as the single best way to protect yourself from the flu, yet a third of people 65 and older still don’t get vaccinated," says Dr. Richard Birkel, NCOA senior vice president for Healthy Aging and director of NCOA’s Self-Management Alliance. "As NCOA continues to educate older adults about the flu and the potential severity of the illness, we hope to encourage more people to help protect themselves and their loved ones by getting an annual flu shot."

There are now many types of flu vaccines, with several specifically indicated for certain age groups or immunization needs, including a higher dose flu vaccine, for adults 65 and older, that is designed specifically to address the age-related decline of the immune system. By improving the production of antibodies in older patients, the higher dose vaccine can provide a stronger immune response to the flu than traditional vaccines. Whichever vaccine option is selected, an annual flu shot is a Medicare Part B benefit. This means that the vaccine is covered with no copay for Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older.

Older adults and their caregivers can learn more about vaccine options and the importance of getting an annual flu vaccine on the Flu + You website, www.ncoa.org/Flu, which features free educational materials, a public service announcement with Majors and more facts about the flu.

Flu + You is a national public education initiative from the National Council on Aging with support from Sanofi Pasteur.

Move over carrots: other key nutrients for healthy vision

  • Written by BPT

Move over carrots and beta-carotene, there are other foods and nutrients that appeal to eye health. Dr. Michael Roizen, author and co-founder of RealAge.com, provides a brief tutorial on the best nutrients for eye health.

Vitamin E, found in oils, wheat germ and peanuts, is an antioxidant that supports eye health. It may be difficult to get the recommended daily amount of vitamin E through diet alone – 15 mg/day for anyone older than 14. For example, to get 15 mg of vitamin E, you would need to eat one cup of peanuts that comes with about 827 calories.

You can also get this vitamin in foods such as spinach, salmon and walnuts. But, if you’re not eating foods rich in these nutrients on a daily basis, consider adding supplements specifically formulated for eye health. Some of these supplements include Ocuvite, i-Caps and Centrum Specialist Vision. Check with your physician before starting any supplement program.

Roizen’s quick tips on how you can help support the health of your eyes include:

1. Avoid smoke, including second-hand smoke;

2. Wear UV protective sunglasses;

3. Take in 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin every day;

4. Get 900 mg of DHA omega-3 a day.

Your zzz’s count this holiday season,

  • Written by BPT

Between squeezing extra activities into your schedule, finding time to bake holiday treats for your children’s classrooms and organizing a mini family reunion, the holiday season might be causing you a bit of stress. And if that stress is affecting your sleep, you could be caught up in the vicious cycle of exhaustion causing stress and stress causing more exhaustion.

Creating a personal sleep sanctuary will help you meet your needs for rest and rejuvenation and give you plenty of opportunity to count your zzz’s and not lie awake wishing for sleep.

By improving your quality and quantity of sleep, you are able to better handle all the stresses of the holiday season, and instead share in the fun activities at this time of year.

"A lack of sleep negatively impacts our mood and outlook, as well as our physical health," says Terry Cralle, a registered nurse and certified clinical sleep educator. "Sufficient sleep, a good diet and regular exercise are the three ingredients to staying healthy all season long."

You may be surprised at how many people experience issues sleeping. The Better Sleep Council reports that 66 percent of people 18 to 34 claim that they have trouble falling and staying asleep. That number drops to 53 percent of people ages 35 to 54, and just less than half of people 55 and older. If you fall into the portion of the population experiencing sleep troubles, consider these tips from the Better Sleep Council:

• Build a good sleep environment – A good sleep environment is imperative when it comes to counting zzz’s each night. Start off with a quality mattress.

"A mattress is an investment, not only financially but for your health," says Karin Mahoney, director of communications for the Better Sleep Council. "To help improve your sleep – and your quality of life – it’s a good idea to compare the mattress you are sleeping on to new models every five years and to consider replacing your mattress if it is more than seven years old."

• Sleep in your ideal bedroom – Light, noise and even temperature can disrupt sleep or make it difficult to fall asleep. Purchase light-blocking shades and install them in windows to keep the sun, streetlights and passing car headlights from shining in.

Consider finding a source of white noise – such as a fan or sound machine producing soft ocean sounds – to cover up other noises happening in the house like the heater kicking in, or someone getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Finally, you should consider turning the temperature in the bedroom down a degree or two – or getting it as close as possible to the ideal bedroom temperature of 65 F. A cooler temperature can help the body relax and fall into sleep much more easily.

• Count your sleep – not sheep – Track your sleep using a sleep app. Several apps reviewed by the Better Sleep Council provide users with a variety of benefits.

For example, some are designed to monitor your breathing and movements, and they encourage you to wake up when you’re in the lightest stage of the sleep cycle. Others can record your snoring and breathing habits to help determine if you are experiencing any distractions mid-slumber.

Catching the right number of zzz’s can lead to better health and more energy this holiday season, helping to reduce your stress level. Make good sleeping habits and creating a sleep environment a priority, so you can wake up feeling refreshed every morning.

Learn more about how to give yourself the gift of a better sleep this holiday season at www.facebook.com/BetterSleepCouncilOrg.

Outside the pill bottle: 5 simple, drug-free ways to reduce lower back pain

  • Written by BPT

Pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and one of the main reasons Americans miss work. For example, 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time, according to the American Chiropractic Association, with experts estimating that as many as 80 percent of Americans will experience a back problem at some point in their lives. Meaning it is quite possible you may have symptoms right now.

Dealing with chronic pain in your back, arms or legs can be frustrating and costly. The aches and tenderness can cause you to stop doing the things you love most like playing with your children and participating in your favorite activities, like gardening or golfing, or even doing regular exercise.

"Some people accept lower back pain as a way of life, but it doesn’t have to be that way," says Brian Elsemore, who has practiced as a registered physical therapist for a decade in Florida and New England. "There are simple things that everyone can do to treat their pain without resorting to drugs or surgery."

Here are five drug-free steps Elsemore recommends to reduce the pain:

Exercise daily

A body in motion tends to stay in motion, according to Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. This notion applies to the human body and back health as well, so fight the urge to sit or lay for lengthy periods. Exercises that maintain the natural spinal curve and help strengthen the core (abdominals, back and pelvic area) to support the spine are key to eliminating back pain naturally. Even if your back is hurting, increasing blood flow and stretching can help provide relief.

Block the pain signals

Technology called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) has been used for decades by health professionals to safely block nerve pain in patients. Now, this clinically proven, drug-free technology is available without a prescription in an affordable, portable device called Rapid Relief Electronic Pain Relief Pad from HoMedics. Simply apply where it hurts and the discreet pad that easily fits under clothing emits a controlled micro-electronic current through the skin to block the nerves from transmitting pain signals to the body’s pain center. The result is fast, effective relief for aches and pains without drugs, creams or messy applications. The device, available in versions calibrated for the lower back as well as the arms/legs, offers 15 levels of adjustable intensity and includes one standard lithium battery, one set of self-adhesive, replaceable gels and a travel storage case. At $29.99, Rapid Relief is one of the lowest cost-per-use topical pain relief options sold without a prescription at CVS, Walgreens, Walmart and Amazon.com. Learn more at RapidReliefPad.com.

Stand, sit and lift smart

Being aware of how you use your back throughout the day is important to reducing lower back pain. When standing, particularly for long periods of time, maintain a neutral pelvic position. Be aware of your posture, keeping the back straight when standing and sitting. Stand up or walk around at least once an hour if you’re job requires long periods of sitting. Hunching and poor posture eventually cause soreness. When lifting - whether a load at work or your child at home - let your legs do the work, according to MayoClinic.com. Additional lifting recommendations include bending only at the knees, holding the load close to your body and avoiding lifting and twisting simultaneously.

Evaluate shoes

It’s common knowledge that fashionable high heels are terrible for back health, but it’s not only stylish shoes that can cause extreme pain. Ill-fitting shoes without proper support can shift a person’s center of gravity, causing him or her to walk out of alignment and put undue pressure on the back. To relieve back pain, only wear supportive shoes that fit well. Keep in mind, shoes should never require a "breaking in" period; if they fit correctly, they should be comfortable right away, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.

Sleep well

Sleep is important for overall well-being, allowing the body to recover from daily activities. Inadequate sleep and back pain go hand-in-hand, quickly creating a vicious cycle. To get a good night’s sleep and encourage pain relief, it’s wise to take a few steps before lights out. Start by placing a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back or between your knees if you’re a side sleeper - this helps reduce stress on the spine. For a firmer, more supportive mattress, place wood supports between the mattress and base, or place the mattress directly on the ground. If back pain still persists, it may be time to go shopping for a new mattress.

"Lower back pain is so prevalent in our society, but drug-free relief is an option for many people," notes Elsemore. "From proper exercise and sleep to relieving pain using innovations like Rapid Relief, a few simple steps can dramatically improve quality of life."