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Become a Diehard to Live Longer

Posted by on Dec 8, 2014 in Blog, Happy Together

Stadiums, gyms, and fields are filled with men and women dressed from head to toe in their team’s colors, holding encouraging signs and babies with painted faces. The passionate rivalry and hunger for victory on the court begins to spread through the crowd. Arenas are quickly divided as the supporters of each team compete to be the loudest in the league or to be named the best fans of their sport. They travel from state to state, standing in snow and rain through the wins and losses. Parents introduce their children to the lifestyle, and another generation of diehards is created. But is it healthy to be a sports fan?

Over the years, sports have become a significant aspect of our culture, and this significance continues to expand. Children are being introduced at younger ages and the intensity of each competition has magnified. Some may label the world of sports and all that comes with it as being “too extreme” or “insignificant,” but the human body has a different response. According to a number of studies, being a sports fan is actually beneficial to physical, emotional, and psychological health.

An article published by Prevention suggests the connections created by people who follow the same team, or sports in general, add years to their lives. “Maintaining a strong social network, especially one with healthy pals, improves your chance of living longer by 50%. It doubles your odds of surviving cancer and wards off colds,” according to a Brigham Young University study. Meeting up at a friend’s house for a Super Bowl party or carpooling to a Blackhawks game create friendships and bonds that drastically improve physical health.

These social ties also create a sense of belonging that boosts emotional and psychological health. When fans step into Arrowhead Stadium wearing Dwayne Bowe jerseys, they instantly become part of the “Chiefs Kingdom.” When University of Illinois students from all different states and countries stand side by side to cheer on their classmates, they become part of the “Orange Krush.” Sports create a bond between people who might otherwise have nothing in common. Being able to identify with a group and experiencing social acceptance is a crucial part of boosting self-esteem. This sense of belonging is also created between fans and the team itself. For better or worse, people tend to experience emotions along with the players, such as the high of a win, the low of a loss, the exhilaration of an overtime goal, and the heartbreak of a missed free throw.

Following sports greatly exercises the brain and increases its function. According to an Everyday Health article, “In one University of Chicago study, hockey players and fans listening to a hockey game broadcast used more parts of their brain, especially those related to controlling, planning, and performing, than a group of nonfans listening to the same broadcast.” Keeping the brain engaged for a few hours a day while watching the Masters can extend its capabilities and improve its health, which could help prevent neurological disorders.

Walt Whitman once wrote of baseball, “It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” We knew these words to be true the moment we walked into the stadium as kids, and now science agrees: Become a diehard to live longer. Let’s go, Mets!


Everyday Health:


Director of Employee Benefits

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Thanks and Gratitude

Posted by on Nov 22, 2014 in Blog, Happy Together

Thank you. Those two words are among the most important and appreciated in any language. He who does a good deed is often satisfied to hear “thank you” as his only reward. It’s too bad the phrase is so underused. Some people rarely say thank you. You wonder what holds them back. We should have developed the habit of expressing our gratitude by the time we were three years old.

On the day of Thanksgiving, people around the United States are expressing gratitude for the bounty of their lives, but many may not realize that in doing so, they are also improving the quality of their health and increasing their life expectancies.

Scientific evidence is conclusive when it comes to mood, outlook, and health. Happy people live 7 to 10 years longer than unhappy people and optimistic people have a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimistic people. But how can you become happier and more optimistic, and how does gratitude boost happiness?

Research shows that consistently grateful people are happier and more energetic, hopeful, helpful, empathetic, spiritual, and forgiving, as well as less materialistic. They’re also less likely to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, neurotic, or sick.

According to Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California, gratitude:

  • Promotes savoring of positive life experiences.
  • Bolsters self-worth and self-esteem.
  • Helps people cope with stress and trauma.
  • Encourages caring acts and moral behavior.
  • Helps build social bonds, strengthens existing relationships, and nurtures new relationships (and we know lonely people have twice the rate of heart disease as those with strong social connections).
  • Inhibits harmful comparisons.
  • Diminishes or deters negative feelings such as anger, bitterness, and greed.

You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to enjoy the benefits to your health and happiness that accompany gratitude. Let’s make every day a day of giving thanks – a thanksgiving day. I’m going to try harder, and I hope you’ll join me. Come on. You can say it: THANK YOU!

Senior System Administration Technician

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Individually, We Are Responsible for Our Own Health

Posted by on Nov 7, 2014 in Blog, Happy Together

Whether they are rich or poor, many people fail to see the link between their habits and their health. They may regard enjoying good health as a matter of chance or as something over which they have little control. Whatever your financial circumstances, there are basic steps you can take to protect and greatly improve your own health and that of your family. You can increase the quality of your life and avoid needlessly shortening it. By word and example, parents can teach their children to form good habits, resulting in better health.

Eat Wisely

Eat fresh foods. Concentrate on eating “real” food—whole, fresh foods that people have been enjoying for millenniums—rather than modern processed foods. Commercially prepackaged foods and fast food from chain restaurants usually contain high levels of sugar, salt, and fat, which are associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other serious illnesses. When cooking, try steaming, baking, and broiling instead of frying. Try using more herbs and spices to cut down on salt. Make sure meats are properly cooked, and never eat spoiled food. Do not eat too much. The World Health Organization reports a dangerous worldwide increase in overweight and obese people, often the result of overeating. One study found that in parts of Africa, “there are more children who are overweight than malnourished.” Obese children are at risk of present as well as future health problems, including diabetes. Parents should set a good example for their children by limiting their own portions.

Eat mostly plants. A balanced plate favors a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over meats and starches. Once or twice a week, try substituting fish for meat. Reduce refined foods such as pasta, white bread, and white rice, which have been stripped of much of their nutritional value. But avoid potentially dangerous fad diets. Parents should protect their children’s health by helping them to acquire a taste for foods that are healthful.

Drink plenty of fluids. Adults and children need to drink plenty of water and other unsweetened liquids every day. Drink more of these during hot weather and when doing heavy physical work and exercise. Such liquids aid digestion, cleanse your body of poisons, make for healthier skin, and promote weight loss. They help you to feel and look your best. Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and too many sweetened drinks. One soft drink a day can add 15 pounds (6.8 kg) to your weight in a year.

Take Care of Basic Body Needs

Get enough rest. The demands and distractions of modern life have whittled away at the time people spend sleeping. But sleep is essential to good health. Studies show that during sleep our body and brain repair themselves, benefiting memory and mood. Sleep reinforces the immune system and reduces our risk of infection, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancer, obesity, depression, and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than artificially bypassing sleepiness—our natural “safety device”—with sweets, caffeine, or other stimulants, we should heed it and simply get some sleep. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night to look, feel, and perform their best. Young people need more. Sleep-deprived teens are more prone to having psychological troubles and to falling asleep when driving. Sleep is especially important when we are sick. Our body can overcome some illnesses, such as a cold, if we simply get extra sleep and drink plenty of fluids.

Take care of your teeth. Brushing your teeth and flossing them after meals, and especially before going to bed, will help ward off tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss. Without our own teeth, we may not benefit fully from the food we eat. Children who have been taught to brush and floss their teeth after eating will enjoy better health in youth and throughout life.

Go to the doctor. Some ailments call for professional medical attention. Early diagnosis usually results in a better outcome and less expense. So if you do not feel well, get help to find and eliminate the cause instead of merely seeking to relieve the symptoms. Regular checkups from accredited health care providers can head off many serious problems, as can getting professional medical attention during pregnancy.

Keep Yourself Moving

Exert yourself. Leading a physically active life can help us feel happier, think more clearly, have more energy, be more productive and, along with proper diet, control our weight. Exercise need not be painful or extreme to be effective. Regular periods of moderate exercise several times a week can be very beneficial.

Exercise is beneficial for people of all ages, and membership in a gym is not required to get it. Simply using your feet instead of a car, bus, or elevator is a good start. Parents, encourage your children to participate in physical play, outdoors whenever possible. Such activity strengthens their bodies and helps them to develop whole-body coordination in ways that sedentary entertainment, such as video games, cannot.

Protect Your Health

Keep yourself clean. “Hand washing is the single most important thing that you can do to help prevent the spread of infection and to stay healthy and well,” reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As many as 80 percent of infections are said to be passed on by unclean hands. So wash them often throughout the day. Do so especially before eating, preparing food, or dressing or even touching a wound, and do so after touching an animal, using the toilet, or changing a baby’s diaper. Washing with soap and water is more effective than using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Children stay healthier when parents train them to wash their hands and to keep them away from their mouth and eyes. Bathing every day and keeping your clothes and bed linens fresh and clean also contribute to better health.

Keep your home clean. Make whatever extra effort is needed to keep your home tidy and clean, inside and out. Eliminate any places where water can collect and mosquitoes can breed. Litter, filth, and uncovered foods and garbage attract insects and vermin, all of which can bring in microbes and cause disease.

Avoid injuring yourself. Obey safety laws when working, riding a bicycle or motorcycle, or driving a car. Make sure your vehicle is safe to drive. Use appropriate protective equipment and clothing, such as safety glasses, headgear, and footwear, as well as seat belts and hearing protection. Avoid excessive sun exposure, which causes cancer and premature aging of the skin. If you smoke, stop. Quitting now will significantly lower your risk of heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.

Whatever adjustments you need to make, you may experience more success by starting gradually and not setting unreachable goals for yourself. For example, try cutting down on less healthful foods, rather than cutting them out. Try going to bed a little earlier and getting a little more exercise. Doing something is better than doing nothing. It normally takes time—weeks or months—before a new good habit becomes second nature. In the meantime, if you do not see immediate benefits from your extra efforts, do not despair. If you persist, despite setbacks, your health is likely to improve.

Policy Issue Associate

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The Perks of Having a Pet

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Blog, Happy Together

Owning a pet can have a wide array of therapeutic and health benefits. Those who have a pet know the joy that goes along with them but may not realize the benefits that accompany playing or snuggling with their furry friend. The benefits extend far beyond the love they show as we are eagerly met at the front door or the warmth they provide as they lay next to us. Studies are scientifically exploring the benefits of the human-animal bond. The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of pets, especially dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.

Studies have also found that:

  • Simply petting your cat or dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine (the feel-good nerve transmitters in our brains), which can calm and relax you. Pets have the unique ability to calm and soothe.
  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.
  • People with pets have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels which may reduce the risk of heart attacks down the road. Pets can help lower heart rates and reduce muscle tension.
  • Heart attack patients with pets survive longer that those without.
  • Pets can ease feelings of stress. Chronic stress can increase your risk of a number of health problems from heart disease to cancer.
  • Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
  • Pets can provide people with a sense of purpose, especially the elderly and those who live alone.

While people with dogs often experience the most significant health benefits, studies have shown that aquariums filled with brightly colored fish can also lower stress and produce a calming effect.

On a much lighter note… Single?? Pets can be a great conversation starter, and dogs are natural date magnets. Who wouldn’t want to pet and talk with that dog on the end of your leash? With more and more dog parks, it is easier for people to get out, socialize and meet others while providing their dogs with fun and exercise at the same time.

But… pet ownership, rather it be a dog, cat, horse, or whatever your pet of choice is, is not for everyone. Becoming a pet “parent” is a big decision that should not be made lightly. Pets require, and deserve, a lot of our resources including: time, money, and not to mention our love.

Case Management Nurse

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Learning to Appreciate the Little Things

Posted by on Oct 8, 2014 in Blog, Happy Together

My youngest daughter was born with CHARGE syndrome. As an infant and toddler, she was in and out of the hospital so much that the hospital was like a second home and everyone there knew her. She has undergone 15 to 20 surgeries. She came home from the hospital on a feeding tube, pulse ox monitor, and oxygen and had to be suctioned frequently. She has a list of 20-plus doctors and specialists that she sees. She is legally deaf-blind and has balance issues. We were told that she would probably never walk independently. She did not eat by mouth until she was 3 years old and didn’t walk independently until she was 4 years old.

So what is CHARGE syndrome? CHARGE syndrome is a complex syndrome that involves many systems of the body. CHARGE is an acronym that stands for Coloboma of the eye, heart defects, atresia of the choanae, retardation of growth and/or development, genital and/or urinary abnormalities, and ear abnormalities and deafness. CHARGE syndrome is a rare syndrome that affects one in every 9-10,000 births throughout the world.

The characteristics from the acronym are only a few of the many abnormalities children with CHARGE syndrome may be diagnosed with. There are three categories listed as diagnostic criteria. The first category is the major characteristics. These characteristics are common in CHARGE syndrome but relatively rare in other conditions and are easily diagnosed in the newborn stage. The major characteristics include: 1. coloboma of the eye—clefting of the eye that can cause vision loss; 2. choanal atresia or stenosis—blockage or narrowing of the nasal passages; 3. cranial nerve abnormalities— missing or decreased smell, swallowing difficulties, and facial palsy; 4. CHARGE outer ear—specific shapes or missing parts of the outer ear; 5. CHARGE middle ear—malformed bones in the middle ear causing a conductive hearing loss; and 6. CHARGE inner ear—malformed cochlea and underdeveloped or missing semicircular canals that cause sensorineural hearing loss and balance problems.

The minor characteristics are also common in CHARGE syndrome; however, they are also common in other syndromes and not easily used in diagnosing CHARGE syndrome. The minor characteristics include:

1. heart defects—many are complex; 2. cleft lip and/or palate; 3. tracheoesophageal fistula—hole between the trachea and esophagus; 4. kidney abnormalities—small, missing, or misplaced kidney and/or kidney reflux; 5. genital abnormalities; 6. growth deficiency; 7. typical CHARGE face; 8. hockey-stick palmar crease; and 9. CHARGE behavior —autistic like tendencies and OCD.

The last group is “Other” characteristics that are important in managing health but may not be helpful in diagnosing CHARGE syndrome. The “Other” characteristics include: 1. chronic ear issues, 2. sloping shoulders, 3. limb/skeletal issues, 4. central nervous system abnormalities, 5. thymus or parathyroid abnormalities, 6. omphalocele, 7. nipple anomalies, 8. hypotonia, and 9. scoliosis.

Many children with CHARGE syndrome spend many months in the hospital during infancy and undergo multiple surgeries. Many will be diagnosed as deaf-blind and will be unable to walk independently for several years. A majority of these children will be unable to eat by mouth for many years and will be fed via a g-tube. Several will need to have a tracheostomy and be on a ventilator for many years. Most children with CHARGE syndrome will have a large list of specialists that they will have to see their entire lives.

Children with CHARGE syndrome will be affected in varying degrees. Not all children will have all characteristics, and the severity of each will vary. Many of these children overcome these insurmountable obstacles and lead happy and productive lives.

Today my daughter is a happy, active, and determined 11 year old. She now runs and jumps even though the doctors said she wouldn’t. Although we hadn’t anticipated all of this and our lives have forever changed, she has taught us to never give up. We learned to appreciate all the little things in life that many take for granted.

Administrative Assistant

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Slow Down and Enjoy the Scenery

Posted by on Sep 22, 2014 in Blog, Happy Together

As we enjoy the first week of fall, it is a good time to remember that more farm vehicles are on the road and motorists need to be more aware of collision hazards. As the population is increasing in rural areas, traffic is increasing on rural roads. As today’s farms increase in size, land that is farmed is often separated by long distances, making it necessary to transport farm machinery on public roads.

A major reason for farm machinery accidents on public roads is the difference in speed between cars and tractors. Most farm machinery is transported at speeds of 25 miles per hour or slower while vehicles are traveling at much faster speeds. This difference causes motorists to miscalculate how fast they are approaching farm machinery. Motorists approach slow-moving farm equipment so quickly that they only have a few seconds to identify the hazard and react appropriately. That is why it is so important for motorists to slow down and be alert for slow-moving farm vehicles.

A report released by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Center stated crashes involving farm tractors and other farm vehicles/equipment followed seasonal trends coinciding with planting and harvesting; most were likely to occur between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.; and most were likely to involve a collision with a two- or four-door passenger vehicle or pickup truck. Crashes were more likely to occur on secondary routes or unnumbered highways with poor visibility. More than 70% of all farm vehicle collisions occurred on roads with posted speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour. Speeding violations accounted for four of the top five non-farm vehicle driver violations.

Advice from the Livingston County Farm Bureau:

Getting behind slow moving farm equipment for two miles in the country is equivalent to waiting for two stop lights in the city.

You’ll survive.

Stay back, enjoy the scenery, and share the road this harvest season.

Employee Benefit Coordinator

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