Breast Cancer – The who, what, where, when, and sometimes, why.

What affects your risk of breast cancer? 

The exact causes of breast cancer are not fully known. No one knows why one person gets breast cancer, yet another doesn’t. However, some things increase (or decrease) the chance of getting breast cancer, called risk factors.

Breast Cancer is complex and likely caused by a combination of multiple risk factors. Some you can control, like leading a healthy lifestyle, while some are out of your control, like getting older.

Since you can only control some factors, you cannot completely avoid the chance of getting breast cancer. Plus, most of the risk factors that can be mitigated have only a minimal effect on the probability of developing the disease. This means no one behavior will prevent breast cancer, but it also means there’s no single factor that will guarantee cancer will develop. The best advice in breast cancer prevention is to talk with your doctor about your risk.

Make healthy lifestyle choices

Most people with breast cancer were at average risk. We don’t know which factors came together to cause breast cancer. However, some healthy lifestyle choices may reduce the risk of cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Add exercise to your routine.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Limit menopausal hormone use.
  • Breastfeed, if you can.

Get the facts about breast cancer

Because the causes of breast cancer are not fully known, there are many myths about the disease. Here are some basic facts to know:

  • The most common risk factors for breast cancer are being female and getting older.
  • Risk factors can vary by race and ethnicity.
  • Most women who get breast cancer don’t have a family history of breast cancer
  • Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.
  • Wearing a bra doesn’t cause breast cancer.

Other Resources

Visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. for safe, accurate, and current breast cancer information.

Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool (the Gail Model) is often used by doctors to estimate risk. Although the tool can estimate your risk, it cannot tell whether you’ll get breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society provides information on breast cancer awareness, diagnosis, treatment, and staying well after treatment.

Join the Challenge – 35 miles in 31 days

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Smoke-Free Environment

We have all been told that smoking is bad for our health and the health of those around us. It is currently the leading cause of preventable death and is responsible for 480,000 deaths per year in the United States; including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. In keeping with Henrico County’s commitment to providing a safe and healthy work environment, as of August 1, Henrico’s Western and Eastern Government Centers are smoke‐free. According to the new policy, “County‐owned and County‐leased buildings over which the County Manager has control shall be smoke‐free, including private offices. For purposes of this policy, this also shall include County‐owned vehicles. The smoke-free designation also pertains to vaping, e-cigarettes, and other like devices.” Subsequently, designated smoking areas, including cigarette boxes, at these locations will be eliminated and new “Smoke-Free Environment” signage will be added.

Employees that do smoke are encouraged to consult a medical professional regarding tobacco cessation. There is no doubt that quitting smoking is difficult, but it is not impossible. It is estimated there are 45 million smokers in the U.S., but there are at least 48 million former smokers, and if they could do it, maybe you could join their ranks. Just remember, most people have to try to quit more than once, so don’t get discouraged if that is the case for you. Consider talking to your doctor about smoking cessation strategies that might be right for you or look into these resources offered to Henrico County Employees:

  1. Employee Health Services (EHS) is available to meet with employees individually to discuss smoking cessation strategies. If an employee prefers a prescribed cessation medication, they will be referred to their Primary Care Physician (PCP). Please contact EHS over the phone at (804) 501-1600 or stop by their office at 7740 Shrader Rd, Suite A, Henrico, VA 23228.
  2. Quit Now is a free service through the Virginia Department of Health that assists Virginians to quit smoking and using tobacco products. They can be contacted at 1(­800) ­784-8669, www.QuitNow.net/Virginia, or via a referral from Employee Health Services.
  3. Anthem members have access to cessation support services and benefits. Please visit anthem.com or reach out to the Human Resources Benefits Division at (804) 501-7371 or HR-Benefits@henrico.us for more information.
  4. The Employee Assistance Program through Optima Health offers My Life My Plan “Staying Healthy” a collection of self-paced at-home programs including a tobacco cessation program called “Get Off Your Butt: Stay Smokeless for Life” and additional resources.

It is your individual choice to quit smoking, but you do not have to do it alone! If you have questions or concerns regarding the new smoking policy, please contact John Neal at John.Neal@henrico.us.

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Say ‘Good Night’ to Improve Health

A good night’s sleep is just as important to your health as dieting and exercising. Unfortunately, there is a lot that can interfere with natural sleep patterns and quality. Here are 10 reasons why good sleep is so important.

1. Poor sleep is linked to higher body weight.

Adults that do not get enough sleep tend to weigh significantly more than those who get adequate sleep. In fact, short sleep duration is one of the strongest risk factors for obesity. The effect of sleep on weight gain is believed to be mediated by hormones and motivation to exercise. If you’re trying to lose weight, getting quality sleep is crucial.

2. Good sleepers tend to eat fewer calories.

Sleep deprivation disrupts the daily fluctuation in appetite hormones and is believed to cause poor appetite regulation.

3. Good sleep can improve concentration and productivity.

Sleep is important for various aspects of brain function, including cognition, concentration, productivity, and performance. Good sleep improves problem-solving skills and enhances memory performance in both children and adults.

4. Good sleep can maximize athletic performance.

Longer sleep is shown to significantly improve speed, accuracy, reaction times, and mental well-being – just a few aspects of athletic and physical performance.

5. Poor sleepers have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sleep quality and duration can have a major effect on many health risk factors such as an increased risk of chronic diseases. For example, sleeping less than 7-8 hours per night is linked to a heightened possibility of heart disease and stroke.

6. Sleep affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes risk.

Poor sleep habits are strongly linked to adverse effects on blood sugar in the general population. Those sleeping less than 6 hours per night have repeatedly been shown to be at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

7. Poor sleep is linked to depression.

Mental health issues, like depression, are strongly linked to poor sleep quality and sleeping disorders. Those with sleeping disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea also report significantly higher rates of depression than those without.

8. Sleep improves your immune function.

Even a small loss of sleep has been shown to impair immune function. Those who sleep less than 7 hours a night are 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more.

9. Poor sleep is linked to increased inflammation.

Sleep loss is known to activate undesirable markers of inflammation and cell damage. In fact, poor sleep has been strongly linked to long-term inflammation of the digestive tract, in disorders knows as inflammatory bowel disease.

10. Sleep affects emotions and social interactions.

Researchers believe that poor sleep affects the ability to recognize important social cues and process emotional information.

 

The bottom line… along with nutrition and exercise, good sleep is one of the pillars of health. You simply cannot achieve optimal health without taking care of your sleep.

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Fill up with Fiber

Fibrous Foods

National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign created by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. During March, everyone is invited to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. Join the “Personalize Your Plate” Campaign with weekly tips on meal planning, adding variety to your diet, and nutrition through all stages of life. Visit the Fitness and Wellness Division’s SharePoint site to find these tips and more

Keep reading to learn more about fiber and easy ways to boost fiber in your daily diet.

What Is Fiber?

Dietary fiber is the part of foods that the body cannot digest or absorb. It is found naturally in plant-based foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans, and legumes. Fiber is not broken down and instead passes through your body relatively intact. There are two different types of fiber, each with its own benefits:

Soluble fiber (dissolves in water)

  • Lowers blood cholesterol.
  • Lowers blood sugar.
  • Sources include oatmeal, peas, beans, apples, oranges, carrots, and barley.

Insoluble fiber (does not dissolve in water)

  • Promotes movement of food through the digestive system.
  • Increases stool bulk.
  • Sources include whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, vegetables, nuts, and beans.

Why Do We Need Fiber?

Diets rich in fiber are associated with many health benefits. Fiber helps keep you feeling fuller longer, which helps prevents overeating and hunger between meals. The soluble fiber in oatmeal, beans, and flaxseed can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Fiber slows down the digestion of food and keeps blood sugar from rising too quickly. It also adds bulk to your stools to keep waste moving through your intestines, preventing constipation.

 

How Much Fiber Do I Need?

Fiber is an important part of a balanced diet, yet 95% of Americans do not meet dietary fiber intake recommendations. The average target is about 25-35 grams of fiber per day but varies depending on your age.

 

Power Fibers

Getting enough fiber each day is not difficult if you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Use these foods and portion sizes as a guide.

  • Chia seeds – 1 ounce (2 Tbsp) = 10.5 grams
  • Flaxseeds – 1 ounce = 8 grams
  • Almonds – 1 ounce (~23 almonds) = 3.3 grams
  • Raspberries – 1 cup = 8 grams
  • Pear – with skin = 6 grams
  • Apple – with skin = 4 grams
  • Whole-wheat spaghetti, cooked – 1 cup = 6.3 grams
  • Bran flakes cereal – ¾ cup = 5.5 grams
  • Instant oatmeal, cooked – 1 cup = 4 grams
  • Whole-Wheat English Muffin – 1 whole muffin = 4 grams
  • Air-Popped Popcorn – 3 cups = 3.6 grams
  • Brown rice – 1 cup = 3.5 grams
  • Green peas, boiled – 1 cup = 8.8 grams
  • Black beans, cooked – ½ cup = 7.5 grams
  • Baked Potato – 1 medium baked potato with skin = 4 grams
  • Black beans, cooked – ½ cup = 7.5 grams
  • Brussel sprouts, boiled – 1 cup = 4 grams

Try some of these easy and tasty ways to increase the amount of fiber you eat. Be careful, if you do not eat much fiber now, make gradual changes to the amount of fiber in your diet. Increasing the amount of fiber too quickly can cause gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps.

  • Choose a breakfast cereal with 5+ grams of fiber per serving and top it with strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries.
  • Enjoy fruits and vegetables throughout the day – aim for at least 5 servings.
  • Eat more beans, peas, and lentils. Add them to soups, salads, and casseroles.
  • Enjoy a handful of dried fruit, nuts, or air-popped popcorn as a snack.
  • Substitute whole-wheat flour for half of the white flour your recipe calls for when you are baking.
  • Enjoy whole-grain bread. Look for the ingredient terms “whole wheat”, “whole-wheat flour”, or “whole grain” as the first ingredients on the label and for at least 2 grams of fiber per slice.
  • Eat the peel! Taking the peels off fruits and vegetables reduces the amount of fiber.
  • Switch to brown rice or whole-grain pasta instead of white rice or pasta.
  • Choose whole fruit instead of drinking juice. You will get more fiber and consume fewer calories.

Fiber Face-Off

Here are a few examples of great-tasting fiber-rich foods readily available and how you can “power-up” your preferred food choices. On the left are examples of commonly eaten foods. The options on the right are power-up versions of the same food. The hope is when you see the power-ups you will say “Wow! it really is easy to eat more fiber”-and, “I can do that!”

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Make Heart Health Part of Your Self-Care Routine

Devoting a little time every day to care for yourself can go a long way toward protecting the health of your heart. Simple self-care, such as taking a moment to de-stress, giving yourself time to move more, preparing healthier meals, and not cheating on sleep can all benefit your heart.

And that’s a good thing, because heart disease is largely preventable and focusing on improving your heart health has never been more important. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women and men in the United States, and many Americans remain at risk of getting it, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). People with poor cardiovascular health are also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

“Studies show self-care routines, such as taking a daily walk and keeping doctor’s appointments, help us keep our blood pressure in the healthy range and reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke,” said David Goff, M.D., NHLBI’s director of cardiovascular sciences. 

It may be easier than you think to “put your heart” into your daily routine. Each Sunday, look at your week’s schedule and carve out 30 minutes daily for heart-healthy practices. Take an online yoga class, prepare a heart-healthy recipe, schedule your bedtime to get at least seven hours of sleep, or make a medication checklist. Then seek out support from others, even if it’s online or via a phone call, to help you stick to your goals.

Here are few self-care tips to try every day to make your heart a priority:

 

Self-Care Sunday

Find a moment of serenity every Sunday. Spend some quality time on yourself.

 

Mindful Monday

Be mindful about your health and regularly monitor your blood pressure or blood sugar if needed. Keep an eye on your weight to make sure it stays within or moves toward a healthy range. Being aware of your health status is a key to making positive change.

 

Tasty Tuesday

Choose how you want to approach eating healthier. Start small by pepping up your meals with a fresh herb or spice as a salt substitute. Get adventurous and prepare a simple, new, heart-healthy recipe. Or go big by trying a different way of eating, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, which is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure. DASH is flexible and balanced, and it includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, lean meats, beans, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.

  

Wellness Wednesday

Don’t waffle on your wellness. Move more, eat a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried, make a plan to quit smoking or vaping, or learn the signs of a heart attack or stroke. You could be having a heart attack if you have chest and upper body pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, or lightheadedness. You might be having a stroke if you have numbness in the face, arm, or leg; confusion; trouble talking or seeing; dizziness; or a severe headache.

 

Treat Yourself Thursday

Treats can be healthy. Try making a dessert with fresh fruit and yogurt. Then stretch your imagination beyond food. Host a family dance party, take a few minutes to sit still and meditate, go for a long walk, or watch a funny show. Laughter is healthy. Whatever you do, find a way to spend some quality time on yourself.

 

Follow Friday

Follow inspiring people and pages on social media, or text a friend to help you stick to your self-care goals. Remember to take care of your mental health, too. Two of the main hurdles to self-care are depression and a lack of confidence, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. If your mental health gets between you and your fabulous self, take action to show your heart some love. Reach out to family and friends for support, or talk to a qualified mental health provider.

 

Selfie Saturday

Inspire others to take care of their own hearts. Talk about your self-care routine with loved ones or share a selfie on your social media platforms. Having social support and personal networks can make it easier to get regular physical activity, eat nutritious foods, reach a healthy weight, and quit smoking.

 

Learn more about heart health and heart-healthy activities in your community, and see what others are doing for their heart health, at nhlbi.nih.gov/ourhearts or follow #OurHearts on social media.

 

 

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10 Surprising Health Benefits of Love

“I need somebody to love,” sang the Beatles, and they got it right. Love and health are intertwined in surprising ways. Humans are wired for connection, and when we cultivate good relationships, the rewards are immense. But we’re not necessarily talking about spine-tingling romance.

“There’s no evidence that the intense, passionate stage of a new romance is beneficial to health,” says Harry Reis, PhD, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. “People who fall in love say it feels wonderful and agonizing at the same time.” All those ups and downs can be a source of stress.

It takes a calmer, more stable form of love to yield clear health benefits. “There is very nice evidence that people who participate in satisfying, long-term relationships fare better on a whole variety of health measures,” Reis tells WebMD.

Most of the research in this area centers on marriage, but Reis believes many of the perks extend to other close relationships — for example, with a partner, parent, or friend. The key is to “feel connected to other people, feel respected and valued by other people, and feel a sense of belonging,” he says. Here are 10 research-backed ways that love and health are linked:

 

  1. Fewer Doctor’s Visits

The Health and Human Services Department reviewed a bounty of studies on marriage and health. One of the report’s most striking findings is that married people have fewer doctor’s visits and shorter average hospital stays.

“Nobody quite knows why loving relationships are good for health,” Reis says. “The best logic for this is that human beings have been crafted by evolution to live in closely knit social groups. When that is not happening, the biological systems … get overwhelmed.”

Another theory is that people in good relationships take better care of themselves. A spouse may keep you honest in your oral hygiene. A best friend could motivate you to eat more whole grains. Over time, these good habits translate to fewer illnesses.

 

  1. Less Depression & Substance Abuse

According to the Health and Human Services report, getting married and staying married reduces depression in both men and women. This finding is not surprising, Reis says, because social isolation is clearly linked to higher rates of depression. What’s interesting is that marriage also contributes to a decline in heavy drinking and drug abuse, especially among young adults.

 

  1. Lower Blood Pressure

A happy marriage is good for your blood pressure. That’s the conclusion of a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers found happily married people had the best blood pressure, followed by singles. Unhappily married participants fared the worst.

Reis says this study illustrates a vital aspect of the way marriage affects health. “It’s marital quality and not the fact of marriage that makes a difference,” he tells WebMD. This supports the idea that other positive relationships can have similar benefits. In fact, singles with a strong social network also did well in the blood pressure study, though not as well as happily married people.

 

  1. Less Anxiety

When it comes to anxiety, a loving, stable relationship is superior to new romance. Researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook used functional MRI (fMRI) scans to look at the brains of people in love. They compared passionate new couples with strongly connected long-term couples. Both groups showed activation in a part of the brain associated with intense love.

“It’s the dopamine-reward area, the same area that responds to cocaine or winning a lot of money,” says Arthur Aron, PhD, one of the study’s authors. But there were striking differences between the two groups in other parts of the brain. In long-term relationships, “you also have activation in the areas associated with bonding … and less activation in the area that produces anxiety.” The study was presented at the 2008 conference of the Society for Neuroscience.

 

  1. Natural Pain Control

The fMRI study reveals another big perk for long-term couples — more activation in the part of the brain that keeps pain under control. A CDC report complements this finding. In a study of more than 127,000 adults, married people were less likely to complain of headaches and back pain.

A small study published in Psychological Science adds to the intrigue. Researchers subjected 16 married women to the threat of an electric shock. When the women were holding their husband’s hand, they showed less response in the brain areas associated with stress. The happier the marriage, the greater the effect.

 

  1. Better Stress Management

If love helps people cope with pain, what about other types of stress? Aron says there is evidence of a link between social support and stress management. “If you’re facing a stressor and you’ve got the support of someone who loves you, you can cope better,” he tells WebMD. If you lose your job, for example, it helps emotionally and financially if a partner is there to support you.

 

  1. Fewer Colds

We’ve seen that loving relationships can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression — a fact that may give the immune system a boost. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who exhibit positive emotions are less likely to get sick after exposure to cold or flu viruses. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, compared people who were happy and calm with those who appeared anxious, hostile, or depressed.

 

  1. Faster Healing

The power of a positive relationship may make flesh wounds heal faster. Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center gave married couples blister wounds. The wounds healed nearly twice as fast in spouses who interacted warmly compared with those who demonstrated a lot of hostility toward each other. The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

 

  1. Longer Life

A growing body of research indicates that married people live longer. One of the largest studies examines the effect of marriage on mortality during an eight-year period in the 1990s. Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, researchers found that people who had never been married were 58% more likely to die than married people.

Aron tells WebMD marriage contributes to longer life mostly through “mutual practical support, financial benefits, and children who provide support.”

But Reis sees an emotional explanation. Marriage protects against death by warding off feelings of isolation. “Loneliness is associated with all-cause mortality — dying for any reason,” he says. In other words, married people live longer because they feel loved and connected.

 

  1. Happier Life

It may seem obvious that one of love’s greatest benefits is joy. But research is just beginning to reveal how strong this link can be. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology shows happiness depends more on the quality of family relationships than on the level of income. And so we have scientific evidence that, at least in some ways, the power of love trumps the power of money.

 

Nurture Your Relationships

To foster a loving relationship that yields concrete benefits, Aron offers four tips:

  1. If you are depressed or anxious, get treatment.
  2. Brush up on communication skills and learn to handle conflict.
  3. Do things that are challenging and exciting with your loved one on a regular basis.
  4. Celebrate each other’s successes.

This last point is crucial, Aron tells WebMD. Although partners often provide support during a crisis, this support is even more beneficial during good times. As the proverb goes, Shared sorrow is half sorrow; shared joy is double joy.

 

https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/health-benefits#4

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A healthy boost to your day in less than 5 minutes

Start your day with this green smoothie packed with a variety of fruits, like pineapple and banana, in each serving and a nutrient-rich combination of fiber, vitamins and minerals in each sip. The healthy boost comes from the 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables in this smoothie recipe meeting the American Heart Associations’ daily intake recommendations to prevent Cancer and disease.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup spinach
  • ½ medium banana, frozen
  • ½ cup pineapple, frozen
  • 4 ounces orange juice (can substitute coconut water to lessen sugar grams and calories)
  • 4 ounces water
  • 1 cup ice

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients into the blender. Blend until smooth.
  2. Spinach is packed with nutrients and antioxidants and it is low in calories. The leaves have a very mild flavor making is an easy option for green smoothies. You can barely taste the spinach when its combined with frozen bananas and pineapple.

Spinach Benefits:

  • Nutrient dense food packed with magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C and K.
  • Great source of antioxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthin to promote eye health by protecting the eyes from UV light.

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Intermittent Fasting: Scratching the Surface

Intermittent fasting has become a popular trend over the last few years, but do you know what it truly is? Let us look at the general idea and its key components. Intermittent fasting simply means that you are going an extended period of time without eating (or drinking caloric beverages). This timeframe could be 12-hours, 24-hours, or even longer, but most traditionally intermittent fasting falls somewhere between the 14-hours to 24-hours without eating. The key is to consume the same number of calories as you typically would, but in a shorter timeframe. For example, if you typically hold yourself to a 2,000 calorie diet, your eating may look like this: 7 am you eat scrambled eggs with vegetables and a piece of toast, 9 am you eat an apple with peanut butter, lunch is a chipotle burrito bowl at noon, 2 pm your afternoon snack consists of veggies and hummus, and for dinner at 7 pm you eat pizza with a side salad and a scoop of ice cream for dessert. With intermittent fasting, the focus isn’t on what you are eating (although it is still important) but rather when. To continue the example, with intermittent fasting 7 pm to 9 am, your day may look more like the following: at 7 am you grab a cup of black coffee, at 9 am enjoy your egg breakfast, apple snack is at 11 am, lunch is at 1 pm, afternoon snack is at 3 pm and dinner is 6 pm. You are done consuming calories by 7 pm to begin your fast. Remember, while fasting, you can still enjoy freshly brewed tea, water, seltzer, or black coffee. So, if at 9 pm you are feeling bored or antsy about fasting, drink some hot tea and wind down before bed.

Why has intermittent fasting become so popular? Not to get too specific, but there are several health benefits associated with it. These benefits include blood sugar regulation improvement which can aid with certain diabetes situations, improved memory function, blood pressure, resting heart rate, and many more. From a physiological and fitness aspect, there is an increased amount of testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) that is released into the body with intermittent fasting which can lead to improved results when paired with resistance training. Research also shows that the hormone, Ghrelin, which is released when your body is ‘hungry’, decreases with intermittent fasting.

It is important to realize that not everyone is going to respond the same way to intermittent fasting. You may see good benefits with intermittent fasting, or you may not realize any changes. The way we should view intermittent fasting, in my opinion, is that it is meant to break our normal cycle and make us more conscious of our dietary decisions. It gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you think: “Am I eating because it is time to eat?” “Am I eating because I am bored?” “Do I really need to eat right now?”

Are you now wondering how do you get started? Select a day in which you would like to try the intermittent fasting and start with a 12-14 hour fast. Now, this may sound intimidating, but if you eat dinner at 7 pm then you only need to make it until 7 am the following day to accomplish a 12-hour fast, or 9 am to make a 14-hour fast. Once you have accomplished this a few times, then you can start to expand your timeframe from 12-14 hours to 16 hours and eventually 24 hours or longer.

 

Give it a try and see how you do! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to Joey Pacelli or Joshua Gaskins.

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Understanding the Stress/Health Connection

Stress exists in your mind — but it’s also evident in your stomach, heart, muscles and even your toes.

“In fact, stress may affect every cell in your body,” says Ronald Glaser, Ph.D., a researcher at Ohio State University Medical School.

During stressful times, your body produces various chemicals, including cortisol, an immune-suppressing hormone. The more cortisol produced, the weaker your immune cells become and the more susceptible you are to illness.

“A one-day stressor isn’t going to make a big change in your risk of getting a cold, for example,” says Dr. Glaser. “But a chronic stressor that lasts a few weeks could dampen your immune response and create a risk of disease.”

Migraine headaches, sleep disorders, backaches, skin rashes, fatigue, irritability, headache, depression, worry, mood swings, chest pain, anxiety, upset stomach, ulcers, and high blood pressure are common reactions to stress.

By gaining a better understanding of the stress/disease connection, you can reduce your stress and, in turn, improve your health and well-being.


Keeping stress in check

No one can avoid all stress — and a certain amount actually is good for you. But it’s best to keep unhealthy levels in check.

The following steps can help you control everyday stress:

  • Recognize your stress signals. Once you’re aware of your stressors, you’ll have a better idea of when you’re stressed and can take steps to reduce them.
  • Notice when you’re most vulnerable to stress and prepare yourself. Are you most affected in the mornings? On Mondays? In the winter?
  • Exercise. Aerobic workouts — walking, cycling, swimming, or running — can release pent-up frustrations while producing endorphins, brain chemicals that counteract stress.
  • Eat a healthful diet. A balanced diet can help stabilize your mood.
  • Communicate with friends and family. Social ties relieve stress and contribute to a positive attitude.
  • Spend time enjoying your hobbies. Doing so allows you to focus on a pleasurable activity instead of your problems.
  • Try relaxation techniques. Meditation, creative imagery, visualization, deep-breathing exercises, yoga, and listening to relaxation tapes can help you relax.
  • Learn to set limits. Don’t agree to unnecessary, stressful obligations.
  • Get enough sleep. Stress interferes with relaxation, making it hard to get a good night’s sleep, which can lead to fatigue and a reduced ability to cope. To get the best sleep possible, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Steer clear of caffeine. Caffeine can add to your anxiety, making you feel even more stressed.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Using alcohol or other drugs to relieve stress only masks symptoms and can worsen stress in the long run.
  • Learn something new. The excitement of learning something new, such as how to speak a different language or play a musical instrument, can make your worries seem far away.
  • Take a breather. Stressful situations can make you breathe more shallowly or hold your breath. When you have to relax fast, belly breathing can be done in seconds. To do it: Concentrate on making your abdomen move out as you inhale through your nose, then in as you exhale. Using imagery as you belly breathe can help you further deepen and slow the pace of your breathing. As you inhale, close your eyes and imagine the air swirling into your nose and down into your lungs. As you exhale, imagine the air swirling back out again.


Combating serious stress

“In combating serious stress, you should first carefully appraise the seriousness of the situation and the adequacy of your coping resources,” says Kenneth B. Matheny, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., director of counseling psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

When faced with a highly stressful event in your life — perhaps the death of a loved one, a life-threatening illness or a serious financial loss — the following strategies will help you cope:

  • Avoid unnecessary changes in your life. Instead, reserve what energy you do have for dealing with the stressor at hand. If possible, stabilize your work and home environments while working out the primary problem.
  • Quiet your mind. In times of stress, the mind makes things seem worse than they are by creating endless versions of impending disaster. Because the body can’t tell the difference between fact and fantasy, it responds with heightened physical response.
  • Keep in the present. You can calm both your mind and body by keeping your mind in the present, which is seldom as stressful as an imagined future or regrettable past. To keep your mind in the present, focus your attention on your breathing, a sound or visual pattern, a repetitive movement, or meditation.
  • Courageously and aggressively face the stressor. Resist any temptation to ignore the stressor. Instead, carefully appraise the seriousness of the problem without magnifying it out of proportion. In addition, confirm your view of the stressor by talking with others. Make a special effort to speak to family, friends, or co-workers who have dealt with similar experiences.
  • Take inventory of your coping responses. Confidence is a valuable ally in combating stress, and it builds on memories of past successes. Review successes you’ve had with other stressful life situations. Recall some of the specific things you did to cope.
  • Take action. Commit yourself to a reasonable course of action to deal with the stressor. Action is a powerful stress-reducer. Research shows the body lowers its production of epinephrine, a powerful stress hormone, when a person shifts into action.
  • Take time out to relax. At least once or twice a day, take time to decompress by relaxing — perhaps by listening to soothing music, taking a walk, gardening, reading, or exercising.

The StayWell Company, LLC ©2020

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