Category: Recommendations

What went wrong with this CDC Guideline?

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Last week the CDC released a report and the Internet exploded in anger. The CDC warned that women of childbearing age who aren’t using contraception and who are consuming alcohol are taking a risk that may endanger the health of their potential future children. According to the CDC report, every month 3.3 million women in the United States risk having an alcohol-exposed pregnancy.

Soon after this was released, headlines began springing up all over such as “An Unrealistic Warning from the CDC to Women: Don’t Drink Unless You’re Using Birth Control,” “The CDC’s Alcohol Warning Shames and Discriminates Against Women,” and “Non-Pregnant Women Now Guilted for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”

When I first started reading these articles, I was in shock. Half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended and many women have an unmet need for contraceptive methods. Additionally, research and guidelines regarding the relationship between alcohol and pregnancy have not always been very clear or consistent. All contraceptives are not created equally and different methods have varying levels of effectiveness. Furthermore, family planning is not just an issue that pertains to women, and lastly, not all pregnancies will result in a live birth.

The CDC does report that three in four women who wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible reported that they continued to drink alcohol. I believe their message regarding ending alcohol consumption was aimed more that this population of women who intentionally wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible rather than all women of reproductive age not using a contraceptive method.

The one thing I am clear on regarding this issue is how poorly this information was messaged by the CDC. What is a better and less paternalistic way that they could have framed this recommendation to avoid receiving such a negative and immediate reaction?

How Wearable Technology is Shaping the Future of Health Care

From activity-tracking fitness bands to smart-watches, wearable technology has become a growing trend in the health and fitness industry over the last decade. While wearable technology can date all the way back to 1961 with the invention of the wearable computer, the recent rise of wearable technology products for monitoring personal health began in 2006 with Nike+, the collaboration between Nike and Apple that allowed users to track fitness via a shoe embedded tracker.

Wearable technology for the purpose of monitoring health can have a variety of beneficial features, including allowing users to set goals and reminders, track meals and activity, and overall be aware of and accountable for their health habits. Personally, I love my fitness tracker because it reminds me to be get up and move, especially on long days of classes where I’m extra sedentary.

Now, companies are even incorporating wearable technology into the workplace by purchasing FitBits for their employees and giving larger bonuses for more steps in a given quarter or month. For employers, this initiative can also help cut back on healthcare costs and sick time off.

The use of wearable technology in the healthcare industry has grown significantly in the last few years with big name companies like Apple, Nike, and Google involved in releasing more and more new products, and the industry will continue to see innovations as time goes by. So, what kinds of innovations do you think we’ll see from the industry in the next five years?

Why You’re Not Too Young to Worry About Heart Disease

February is American Heart Month, a time to raise awareness about heart disease and how to prevent it. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, causing 1 in 4 deaths each year.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “I’m too young to worry about heart disease,” it’s time to think again. How you live your life now strongly affects your risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. In fact, the plaque that causes heart disease can build up starting as early as in your twenties.

The good news is that heart disease can easily be prevented with just a few lifestyle changes, even if you have family history of the disease. Here are a few things you can do to reduce your risk:

1.) Get your blood pressure checked- Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Since there are no signs or symptoms of high blood pressure, getting it checked regularly is an important step in prevention. If you discover you have high blood pressure, make goals with your doctor and work towards lowering it.

2.) Reduce your sodium intake- Excess sodium can greatly increase blood pressure, and most Americans consume way more sodium then they need. While those “instant” products and canned food are quick and easy, they can run high in sodium. One package of Ramen is almost half the recommended daily dose. Being aware of the sodium in products you buy and making small changes like buying low, reduced or no salt versions of products can make a big impact.

3.) Exercise regularly- While sometimes it might feel like there are not enough hours in the day to fit in a workout, exercise is an important part of keeping a healthy heart. If you’re not a fan of going to the gym or don’t have the money to shell out for a membership, try going on hikes, kicking a soccer ball around outside, or just enjoying a jog around the block.

Wellness in the Workplace: Opportunity or Obligation?

Less than one semester stands between some students and their entry into the professional workforce. For many of these students, the job hunt has already begun. While most people are researching the usual aspects of a position such as the salary, benefits, and time off when considering different employers and offers, a company’s insurance enrollment requirements and wellness programs may also be worth asking about.

Wellness programs are theoretically a win-win situation- employees have the opportunity to access resources to improve their health and take more control in managing or improving chronic health conditions, and with healthier employees, employers are able to lower their costs for both insurance premiums and money lost due to sick days and other productivity losses due to health reasons.

The problem occurs when wellness programs and health screenings come with penalties for opting out, rather than incentives for participating. These compliance penalties are legal under the Affordable Care Act and have been upheld in court, however, they have not been met with unanimous support, especially considering the health information privacy issues and ethical implications of these coercive strategies for employee compliance.

Employee wellness programs are typically positive opportunities, however, it’s good for both employers and employees to be aware of the potential drawbacks and continue to work toward collaborative solutions to control healthcare costs and to create a positive culture of health in the workplace.

For a more in-depth discussion of the debate surrounding employee wellness programs, check out this week’s article in the New York Times.

New Year, New You. Why Mental Health Is Just As Important.

At the start of the new year, my conversations with friends and social media feeds are usually filled with people talking about their New Year’s resolutions. Every year it seems people wait for January 1st to make big changes in their life, usually health-related, whether it’s losing weight or vowing to eat healthier. While these goals (if followed through) can be beneficial to your overall physical health, most people tend to neglect mental health along the way.

However, mental health can be just as, if not more, important to our overall well-being and one in four people worldwide will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life. So this year, I challenge everyone to go back and add at least one mental health resolution to their list. If you can’t think of any, here are a few examples:

1.) Compliment yourself more. New Year’s resolutions usually involve pointing out the things you don’t like about yourself, or want to “fix”. To counter this, try to find one thing every day to compliment yourself on. Whether it’s how great you look in the new sweater you bought or reminding yourself how smart you are, the more you begin to love yourself, the better you’ll feel.

2.) Try meditation. Meditation has been shown to have a variety of mental health benefits, including improvements in memory, empathy, sense of self, and stress relief. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require a large time commitment. Try beginning or ending each day with just five minutes of meditation.

3.) Say yes to new things, but also learn to say no when you need to. Go to that new spin class with your friend, enter that essay contest you’ve always wanted to, and don’t let your anxiety get in the way of pursuing new opportunities. At the same time, saying “yes” to everything can bring more harm then good, so make sure to learn your limit and find a good balance between the two.

Inspiration for a Healthy New Year

As another year winds down, we prepare ourselves for our return to the daily grind. And coming off the heels of the holiday season, we may find this adjustment back to normality a bit more difficult than we thought it would be. Below are some tips for getting back into the swing of things and for getting motivated to actually keep some (if not all) of those resolutions you’ve set for yourself.

Healthy eating. Eating better doesn’t have to mean giving up everything bad. In fact, research shows that making smaller changes in diet lead to increased uptake in the future. For instance, if you typically consume 2 sodas per day, cut back to 1 every 2 days (instead of quitting cold turkey). Over time, you’ll begin to notice your cravings aren’t as intense. Before you know it, you’re down to 1 soda per week — 1 per month — and possibly none at all!

Make exercise fun. Most of us aren’t fans of getting out of bed at 5am to go for a run in 25-degree weather; however, there are steps you can take to actually sticking to an exercise regimen. Studies have shown that having a workout partner is likely to increase your chances of staying with your plan. Accountability is a huge factor in helping us loose weight or stay fit. And who says you have to stick to boring walks or runs. Try something fun, like taking a step class or hot yoga. Mixing up your workout regimen is also a strong sign you’ll stick with you plan after the first week. So, get creative and have fun!

Schedule an annual exam. While this may not be the most exciting thing in the world, an annual physical is an important part of remaining healthy throughout the year. So, go ahead and get it over with sooner before later.

Rest. This actually shouldn’t be a hard resolution to keep, but busier schedules make it harder for us to get the rest we need to remain healthy. Make a promise to yourself to get between 7-8 hours per night. The more often you get in the habit of going to be early, the more your body will respond naturally and will begin to train itself to receive more sleep. The important thing is to remember sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. And your body will thank you for it by feeling better throughout the day!

Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season

The holidays are often everyone’s favorite time of year—buying gifts for those we love and traveling to see the folks we only see once a year. However, interrupted schedules and the consumption of special foods often make this time of year one in which we put on a few extra (usually unwanted) pounds.

Here are a few extra tips to keep in mind as you enter the winter season of celebrations.

Walk before meals. Sources say one of the most important things you can do during the holidays is to remain active. While you may not be running a 5k anytime soon, little things like walking or jogging can make a difference in raising your metabolism and keeping your blood circulating. So, no matter how cold, don’t be afraid to bundle up and face the chilly air!

Smaller servings. Since we’re likely to go back for seconds anyway, taking smaller serving sizes out the first time can almost “trick” our bodies into thinking we’re full. Also, it’s wise to actually leave room for dessert, instead of stuffing ourselves past the point of where we can actually enjoy it.

Try everything. If you find yourself dining with a large group of people, chances are there will food that is foreign to you. Don’t be afraid to try things you’ve never eaten before, especially if it is a vegetable. Make sure your plate ends up being colorful, with lots of fruits and veggies.

Stay hydrated. The holiday season can be a time where we consume more alcohol than usual (we’re in festive spirits, right?). However, it’s also important to remember to drink plenty of water. Sources say drinking one full glass of water in between alcoholic beverages keeps us from consuming too many extra calories.

Bitter is better. While most of us go for the sweet treats, sources say consuming bitter foods, such as dandelion greens, chicory, burdock, and radishes are work to get our digestive juices flowing and our GI tracks ready to handle whatever we put its way.

Healthy dessert? While it may seem a bit of an oxymoron, sources say to avoid too many flour and sugar-heavy dishes, and opt for those homemade items, as they are likely to include less processed ingredients. Pumpkin or sweet potato pie is a good example of a “healthier” option.

Tackle illness early. No one wants to be sick during the holidays, so it’s important to be in tune with our bodies. If you develop a sniffle, pay attention to it and take measures to fight it off. Remedies such as elderberry syrup, garlic and ginger tea are inexpensive ways to fight off any warning signs of winter-related illness. We can boost our immune systems by eating extra veggies and getting plenty of rest, too.

Have fun. While most of us intend for the holidays to be fun, many of us end up finding ourselves more stressed than ever. Last minute shopping, preparing enormous meals, greeting family members, traveling, can all take their toll on us if we’re not careful. The important thing is to be mindful that this time comes only once a year. Remember what’s really important—such as being with family and getting rest. So what if you burn pumpkin pie or forget the stuffing. There’ll always be next year to get it right.

 

May your holiday season be filled with joy, peace, and good food, and special memories!

 

 

Host a Healthy Holiday

In recent years, attention has been shifting away from medication-only treatment plans to incorporating special diets into comprehensive disease management strategies, for example rather than just giving a patient a pill to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, a doctor will prescribe a diet low in sodium and fats (saturated and trans) as well as refer the patient to a dietitian. Consequently, many Americans are following, or at least should be following, a “special” diet. From a health professional perspective, it is encouraging to see efforts to reduce medication, which often have numerous side-effects, and increase healthier long-term lifestyle changes.

However, all the holiday parties, feasts, and edible gifts can be a real threat to staying committed to healthful diets and lifestyle habits. A lot of pressure is placed on the individual to resist temptation, exercise moderation, or swap unhealthy options for healthier choices. Yet little attention is focused on the host or hostess for providing less healthy options.

If you are planning a holiday meal, I encourage you to be cognizant of your friends’ and family’s health and lifestyle choices. Just because you make “the best creamy mashed potatoes” every year, doesn’t mean you can’t find an equally delicious substitute or alternative. It’s only logical; if a dish is available, it has a chance of being consumed, but if it’s not available, it can’t be eaten.

tableLuckily, there are a wide variety of recipe websites dedicated to special diets, such as Allrecipes.com, MyRecipes.com, FoodNetwork.com. I would suggest trying out the recipes prior to the “big” feast, as light cooking or cooking with substitute ingredients is not always the same and may take a practice run or two. Try not to think of creating a healthier meal as an inconvenience or break in tradition, but rather a fun, worth-while challenge and opportunity to show loved ones you care about their health. After all, we want to celebrate many more holiday seasons with all our friends and family.

Please post links to your favorite healthful recipes or websites for others below.

Good luck and happy holidays!

Lower Your Stress This Holiday Season

Managing gift and travel expenses, navigating crazy crowds, and preparing big family meals all on top of other year-round stressors can make the holidays a stressful time for many. While the holidays are meant to be a vacation, they tend to be more of a busy time for most. This holiday season, keep in mind that this stress can have a long-lasting impact on your body and your mind. Here are some simple steps you can take to reduce holiday stress and enjoy the season more.

1. Lower your expectations. Relieve yourself of some of the holiday pressure and forget about perfection. Having high expectations will lead to bigger disappointment if something goes wrong, so stay realistic, and if something goes wrong, don’t be afraid to take a deep breath and say “oh well.”

2. Leave time for yourself. Between all the planning, shopping, and cooking, it can be easy to forget about leaving yourself some down-time to relax. This year, schedule at least a half hour of time dedicated to yourself. Go for a walk, get a massage, or just mediate. It will make all of the difference.

3. Set a budget. If money is tight, the holiday season can be especially stressful, as it can add on a lot of extra expenses. Make sure to set a budget for gifts, food, and decorations and stick to it in order to avoid monetary stress. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, make sure to book your travel in advance to get the best prices.

4. Stay healthy. Even though the holidays are busy, don’t abandon all healthy habits until the new year. Make sure to get enough sleep, incorporate physical activity into each day, and don’t overindulge. Maintaining these healthy habits will help you better manage the holiday stress.

Overall, remember that the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, and a time of reconnecting with loved ones. Stay in the moment, enjoy yourself and take time to appreciate the small things. Happy Holidays!

Why You Should Run A Turkey Trot Tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and while you’re probably looking forward to the big meal, don’t forget that between drinks, snacks, dinner, and dessert, calories can add up quick. Most Thanksgiving meals can range anywhere from 1,200-3,000 calories easy. However, Thanksgiving is a time for family and good food, so rather than stress about overeating, why not join the other 800,000 runners in a pre-meal Turkey Trot!

Worried about missing out on some of the family-filled holiday? Bring the family with you! Most Turkey Trots offer races for all ages. Worried about missing the parade or the football games? Most Turkey Trots are early in the morning, so you’ll be back before the parade or games even begin! Besides burning off some extra calories, running a Turkey Trot can also make you feel more energized throughout the day and can prevent you from overeating.

Convinced yet? Most races offer same-day registration, so it’s not too late to sign up to burn some calories before the big meal! Here are some Turkey Trots going on in the area:

Durham: The Renaissance Center Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. With a choice to run an 8k (5 miles), a 5k, a 1 mile fun-run, or a 100 meter dash (for kids), this Turkey Trot is one for the whole family! Races start at 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.

Burlington: The Truliant Turkey Trot 5K and Family Fun Run. Costumes encouraged! Race starts at 8:00 a.m., Fun Run starts at 8:05 a.m.

Carrboro: The Gallop & Gorge 8k. This 5 mile race may sound daunting, but both walkers and runners are welcome! Race starts at 8 a.m.

Cary: Inside Out Sports Turkey Trot. The 1-Mile Fun Run/Walk starts at 8:30 a.m. The featured 8K starts at 9 a.m., and the 100-yard Kid’s Dash for children ages 7 and under starts at 10:00 a.m.

Raleigh: Just Think First 5K and Skinny Turkey Half Marathon. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, this race offers a half marathon (starts at 7:30 a.m.). If not, the 5k begins at 8 a.m.