Category Archives: Health and Wellness

Fighting Hunger Through Food

Long View: Solving Hunger One Bite at a Time

It seems I might be a little fixated on food. A number of friends and family members seem to think I live mealtime to mealtime, which may explain my recent weight gain. As many of us enjoy Central Illinois’ bounty, it’s important to remember many of our neighbors are not so lucky.

In Illinois, we are fortunate to have access to food banks across the state. Julie Melton is the director of Marketing and Development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank (EIF). They distribute millions of pounds of food to over 100,000 individuals across their network of more than 220 sites. She told me, “Based on our Hunger in America Study, a full third of the seniors in the Eastern Illinois Foodbank’s service area experience food insecurity rates of 15 percent to 41 percent. In some areas, more than 42 percent of seniors are food insecure, which is among the highest rates of senior hunger in Illinois.”

You can help fight food insecurity, which means someone doesn’t have reliable access to nutritious, affordable food.

“Every $1 donation can buy $10 worth of food or provide 6 meals for neighbors in our community,” Melton said.

Jim Hires, executive director at the EIF, said, “Older American food insecurity is a growing problem. Addressing senior hunger has become an increasingly major concern and focus across the nation, and especially in our 14-county region. The Eastern Illinois Foodbank and our agency partners are committing more of our resources to this issue in the coming months and long term.”

Donating and volunteering at your local food pantry or soup kitchen are better ways to give. Your nearest food bank will be thankful for any support you offer. Search for one nearby at FeedingIllinois.org.

Solving hunger won’t happen overnight. But we can all help one small bite at a time. There are people in all of our communities who don’t have enough to eat. After seeing these statistics, I am more thankful for my food. I bet you will be, too.

Air Quality Index

Keeping Track of Air Quality

Just like a stoplight tells you when to go, the Air Quality Index (AQI) tells you when it’s safe to go outside and how clean the air is to breathe.

Across America, the AQI tracks smog, pollution from cars, soil dust, pollen, and ash. Every day, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) gives the air quality a color.

Green is the best, and as it goes from green to yellow to orange, the air gets less clean.

Poor air quality is a threat to everyone’s health, but children, the elderly, and those with breathing problems need to be even more careful. The worse the air, the more likely it will trigger an asthma flare-up.

Green is when it’s perfect to play outside, but as it changes colors, slow down or maybe even stay in.

AQI Color

AQI Status

Advice

Green

Good

Enjoy the outdoors.

Yellow

Moderate

Enjoy the outdoors, but maybe limit how long you’re outside.

Orange

Unhealthy for elderly, kids, and those with breathing problems

Take it easy, and if you’re at risk, think about staying inside.

Red

Unhealthy

Stay inside.

Purple

Very unhealthy

Stay inside.

Maroon

Hazardous

Definitely stay inside.

 

Before you head out, you can check the day’s color at AirNow, and protect yourself from the start.

Blood Sugar Maintenance

Tips for Managing Your Blood Sugar

Stress and Your Blood Sugar

Everyday stress can make your diabetes  worse by triggering hormones that change blood sugar. Plus, when you’re stressed out, you’re less likely to practice good self-care.

According to Livestrong, stress causes blood glucose to rise by releasing two hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase your glucose in order to help reduce your stress.

Stress can make you emotional, which for many people can lead to binge eating. People usually turn to foods filled with sugar and carbohydrates for comfort, which raise your blood sugar.

To cope with stress and reduce its impact, try to:

  • Breathe deeply. Practice breathing slowly and deeply at least once a day to calm yourself.
  • Move more. Even simple exercises like a quick walk or dancing around the living room can make you feel better.
  • Focus on the positive. Find something you enjoy that takes your mind off whatever is causing your stress.
  • Practice good self-care. Eat right, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.

Move More

Outdoor play helps keep your blood sugar in check. It’s also a great way to have fun with your friends and family.

Do something you love or would like to try. Here are some ideas to get you started!

  • Go fishing at a local lake.
  • Try hiking in a nearby state park.
  • Plant a family garden in your backyard.
  • Ride your bike through your neighborhood.
  • Go roller skating, walking, or running with a friend.
  • Play a backyard sport like basketball or catch with your family.

Remember to check your blood sugar before starting. You might need to eat an extra snack if it’s too low.

If you’re leaving home, pack testing gear, meds, extra snacks, and water. Wear your medical ID bracelet and bring contact numbers and a copy of your emergency plan.

Diabetes shouldn’t stop you from having fun. Just plan ahead so you have what you need, and always take a break right away if you start feeling dizzy.

Planning Ahead

You can never be too prepared with your diabetes. Take time to pack a diabetes emergency kit now before an emergency strikes. Here are some important items for packing the perfect kit:

  • A 3-day supply of:
    • Medicines, marked with their name and correct dose
    • Insulin
    • Insulin pump
    • Lancets
    • Syringes
  • Extra batteries
  • Alcohol wipes for cleaning the injection area
  • A cooler for storing insulin and meds
  • Flashlight, in case you lose power
  • Medical ID bracelet to help first responders quickly know your needs. Your tag should have:
    • Your name
    • Diabetes, insulin pump, or insulin dependent
    • Known allergies
    • Medicines
    • Emergency contact numbers
  • A list of your meds and doses
  • A blood sugar log to help you keep track of your numbers in an emergency
  • Drinks and snacks like water, juice, fruit cups, and hard candies
  • Your doctor’s name and contact information
  • Emergency contact information with cell and work phone numbers, emails, and home addresses

Be sure to update your kit with new meds and supplies as things change. Also, mark on your calendar when your supplies and meds will expire.

There is no better time than now!

Work Up a Sweat with a Workout Buddy

Sweat Glands Work Better in Pairs

There’s something special about being part of a group. Spoken or unspoken, you rest easier knowing, “We’re in this together.”

You experience that feeling when you exercise in groups, too. Research shows those who sweat socially, like with a workout buddy, are more likely to stick with their fitness plan and see success.

In a Baylor University study, after teaching 53 female college students a specific weight-training workout, the researchers told them to do it on their own 3-days a week for 6 weeks.

Can you guess what happened? Every single one of them quit the study.

A workout buddy doesn’t guarantee success, but it makes success more likely, a review of 87 studies on 50,000 people found this link to be clea).

Still not convinced? Here are 5 more reasons to think about grabbing a friend and workout buddy before hitting the gym:

  1. Time flies. This isn’t to say your 60-minute workout will be easy, but instead of constantly watching the clock, you can catch up on each other’s lives between sets, laugh, and have fun.
  2. No more Debbie Downer. Who likes canceling plans with a friend? If your workout partner is counting on you to be there, you’ll be less likely to bail.
  3. Share a babysitter. If your gym doesn’t have a kid center, share the cost of a sitter.
  4. Keep perspective. Most of us are hard on ourselves. When you have workout buddies, they can help you see your progress and remind you of how far you’ve come.
  5. Stay on track. Not only do friends help you see how far you’ve come, they also keep you thinner. Harvard University researchers found that a person’s risk of becoming obese goes up by 2% for every 5 obese friends or family members he or she has. Yikes!

Give social sweating a try, and let us know what you think.

And if you’re looking for a gym to join, check out our Fitness Discounts section.

Your Pets and Asthma

Your Pets’ Breathing

You’re not the only one who sometimes has trouble breathing, your pets do too. Cats, dogs, and even horses can have a hard time catching their breath.

It might sound strange, but their triggers and symptoms look a lot like yours:

Pets Triggers

  • Smoke
  • Cleaning products
  • Dust (in the house, litter, or barn)
  • Trees, grass, and mold

Pets Flare-ups

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Panting

62% of American households have pets. 95.6 million people own cats, and 83.3 million have dogs. And just like you, staying away from triggers and taking meds can help control animals’ breathing problems.

“We manage your pet’s triggers and use all the same human drugs to treat them, and that really helps,” says Dr. Brendan McKiernan, a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist and University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital director. He’s practiced for more than 40 years and is known around the world for his work on cats’ and dogs’ breathing diseases.

If you notice your cat or dog is having trouble breathing, and it’s more than the occasional hairball, take your pet to the vet. If it’s serious, take them right away.

Even though you have things in common, don’t ever share your meds with your pets. Even though their troubles might look like yours, Dr. McKiernan says, “You have to be careful. It’s like a little 10-pound baby.” You can really hurt pets with too much medicine which could make them much sicker.

Fried Chicken Diet

Long View: Why the Fried Chicken Diet Doesn’t Work

I am guessing many of you are in the same boat as me—wondering what to do about that pesky winter weight.

It’s a common problem, and I know I should do something about it. I get inspired with the first nice days of spring, but it seems by wintertime, I am adding another layer of winter warmth, so to speak.

I know many fad diets don’t work long-term. I have heard about the Paleo Diet, but I can’t picture myself eating like a caveman. The Grapefruit Diet worked for me, sort of, but only because I hate grapefruit.

Probably not the way for me to go.

When I have a question, I go to an expert, and we have one here at Health Alliance. Her name is Karen Stefaniak, and she is our wellness program administrator. She told me many diets don’t work long-term because people limit what they eat but don’t make behavior changes.

“Unfortunately most people on restrictive diets eventually gain back the weight they lost and possibly a little more,” she said. “It’s a shame to go through all that effort to end up where you started. Changes in a person’s behavior are the only way to ensure a long-term success.”

She continued: “The key to successful weight loss is to set specific goals you can reach. For example, rather than saying you are going to lose 20, set a goal to lose one pound a week. Each week, pick  a couple of things you can do that will help you lose that pound, like exercising more, limiting sweets or cutting down on snacks after dinner. Success breeds success.

“Reaching the goal of losing that first pound in week one will motivate you to keep going. You’ll begin to lose the weight slowly and at the same time learn behavior patterns that will help you keep the weight off. As always, talk with your doctor before starting any type of diet or exercise program.“

Well, Karen shared some do-able suggestions for starting a weight-loss plan. You could recruit a friend or coworker to start the journey together. I will give it a try, but I’m still hoping someone will come up with The Frito and Fried Chicken Diet. Oh wait, I am on that one now.

Wellness Visits to Prevent

Vantage Point: Wellness Visits – Well Worth Your Time

Every spring I look forward to taking my horse for a checkup. I like to hear how healthy and well taken care of he is. I cannot say I feel the same about taking time from my busy schedule for my own yearly wellness visits. Still, as I read my recent screening results and compared them to last year, I saw my scores got better. That makes me feel good about taking care of myself.

I also like the quality time I get with my doctor compared to more urgent visits when I’m sick. During the wellness exam, doctors really take the time to ask how you feel, talk about concerns and help you set health goals to help keep problem visits at bay.

Health Alliance Medicare plans cover wellness visits at no charge. Our plans also cover the routine screenings that are right for your age and gender. Please note, though, that if you bring up a problem during the wellness visit and your doctor treats or helps you deal with that problem, you might have to pay for the visit. Remember, your health is most important, so don’t be afraid to share concerns with your doctor, just be aware that doing so could change the visit from a wellness visit to something else.

Wellness (also called preventive) visits change when you move to Medicare. Medicare covers a “Welcome to Medicare” exam within 12 months of getting your Medicare Part B benefit and an annual wellness visit after that. Be sure to say you have Medicare when you schedule the exam so it is billed correctly.

Health Alliance Medicare supports members not just when they’re sick, but throughout their lives, and focuses on prevention by covering the wellness exams, immunizations, and disease screenings you need. In addition, Health Alliance Medicare may offer you a free health risk assessment with our nurse practitioner, right in the convenience of your own home. If so, I encourage you say yes to this important and free part of your coverage.

Like I do with my horse, sometimes we take care of others better than we do ourselves. But early detection of health problems through a wellness visit can save your life. The time is well worth it.