Lifestyle

 

Maintaining decent posture and moving around every few hours can work wonders.

 

smiling woman stretching arms at deskPhoto: Jupiterimages
Let’s start with the most obvious tips for the modern worker’s guide to health: Eat healthy, balanced meals and bring healthy snacks with you to work. Also, get out of your chair at least once an hour or two and exercise and stretch, keeping fresh blood flow moving throughout the day.
 
Here, we offer other strategies to keep worker bees happy and healthy.
 
Long-term health starts with posture and ergonomics
Sukey Novogratz and Jackie MacLeod, publishers of an online health guide, tell Mother Nature Network that better office posture can make an enormous difference in not only how you feel on a daily basis but also the longevity of your knees, neck, shoulders and back. “Changing your posture at work will not happen overnight, but the first step is to become aware of how you are sitting,” says Novogratz. “Because so many of us spend our days sitting at a desk in front of a computer, the way we sit has become more important to our overall health and physical well-being,” she adds.
 
The typical office setup of desk, desk chair, computer and phone is a recipe for tight hip flexors, rounded shoulders, sore wrists and weary eyes.
 
The first rule of a healthy worker is to place the keyboard a few inches above lap level. “Most people have their keyboards and computers placed too high, which puts chronic tension on the shoulders. In time, the shoulder muscles become as hard as iron, and because this occurs for so many hours a day, the constant tension starts to feel normal,” Novogratz cautions.
 
Even the most expensive chair can lead to unhealthy posture. “Chairs need to be deep but not so deep that your feet can’t rest comfortably flat on the floor with your knees at right angles,” MacLeod says. "Your weight should be balanced between your sit bones and your feet, and your back should be straight so that your sacrum is touching the back of the chair.” Instead of a regular chair, opt for a stability ball, which can help improve posture and ease upper back and neck tension.
 
For optimal ergonomics, make sure your eyes are centered in the middle of the screen, or, at most, half an inch above the screen. Sit directly on your sit bones. Keep your heels directly under your knees, not under the chair or on the rungs as both of these positions are hard on the knees and put unnecessary stress on the neck and shoulders.
 
Start your own wellness program with your health insurance company's help
Steve Kane, chief revenue officer at SpaFinder Wellness, suggests that even if your employer does not provide a wellness program, many insurance companies now offer rich online wellness programs and support. “Most of the large insurance companies have a website with a dedicated ‘health and wellness’ channel, offering everything from online health assessments, personalized wellness plans, online health coaching and support groups and exercise and stretching videos,” says Kane, adding that these website health channels also offer relaxation and de-stressing podcasts you can do right at your desk.
 
Another bit of advice Kane offers for workers without a formal corporate wellness program in place at the job is initiating grassroots activities, like starting a wellness committee to put in place easy-to-execute items. Weekly group walks, or a discount program at nearby healthy restaurant, or assigning people to bring in fresh fruit to share several times a week are some examples Kane suggests.
 
“The best way to get your employer to consider a corporate wellness program is to show your bosses how you and others would embrace a wellness program and how you're helping push them in the right direction to get moving on setting one up,” Kane says.
 
Get off your butt as often as possible
Although taking several breaks for exercise was mentioned in the introduction as an obvious example of how the modern worker can lead a healthy life, it begs to be mentioned again. Setting an alarm to ring every hour to two hours on your desktop or smart phone will remind you to do simple healthy routines like standing up for a quick stretch or taking quick walk. Never, ever, use the elevator if you want to get in better shape. Take the stairs instead.
 
“No one can work continuously; you will get fatigued, your mind will wander and you will make mistakes,” says David Sack, M.D., and CEO of Promises Treatment Centers. “If you have been grinding along at your desk for two hours, stop. Stand up. Leave your desk. If possible go for a 10-minute walk. Don’t like walking? Go down to the break room. Read a paper for 10 minutes or work on a crossword puzzle and leave the smartphone on your desk,” Sack adds.
 
More advice for the modern worker
Employee of the month parking spaces are always closest to the building’s front door. Perhaps a new paradigm shift is needed; employee of the month parking spots should be awarded farthest away from the entrance.
 
Also, learn relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises done for 10 minutes a couple of times per day will decrease your stress, lower your blood pressure and improve your concentration. Also decrease your caffeine intake, as the drug can make you jittery and disrupts your sleep, Sack advises. And perhaps most importantly, forge strong relationships with your co-workers. According to an online corporate health newsletter, a sense of belonging and attachment to a group of coworkers is a better motivator for some employees than money. The newsletter cites a University of Iowa study that was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
 
Oh, and one more thing for the healthy modern worker: Don’t forget to frequently wash your hands.

 

Aromatherapy oils and lavender

Aromatherapy can improve your mood, ward off unfriendly bacteria and help reduce stress, according to various studies. Researchers just aren't sure how that happens.

 
Photo: Olga Miltsova/Shutterstock
Only a decade ago, the mainstream medical establishment scoffed at alternative healing techniques like acupuncture and massage, which were considered quackery by some doctors.
 
Now Americans spend in the ballpark of $30 billion annually (latest figures from the National Academies Institutes of Health) — much of that amount out of pocket — on what the federal government now calls complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and a slew of research validating the healing power of some of these non-Western approaches has been published.
 
And perhaps the most difficult form of CAM to scientifically validate is aromatherapy, in which essential oils of plants are extracted for various uses, including:
 
  • Relaxation
  • Pain relief
  • Immune stimulation
  • Mood improvement
  • Constipation
  • Psoriasis
  • Beauty products
 
Does aromatherapy really work?
Ancient cultures certainly thought so. Aromatherapy has been used for centuries. Legend has it that Hippocrates — the so-called father of modern medicine and the namesake for the oath that physicians recite, ensuring they will do the patient “no harm” — used the oil of rose petals to cure disorders of the uterus.
 
Fast forward a couple thousand years and essential oils may have been proven to help those with serious mental disorders. In the British Journal of General Practice, an analysis of a dozen aromatherapy trials concluded that aromatherapy has “a mild, transient anxiolytic effect” on dementia.
 
The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health concludes on itswebsite that aromatherapy may result in positive effects on behavior and the immune system. (The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate aromatherapy products.)
 
In a review of small clinical trials published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 72 patients with severe dementia were treated with lemon balm essential oil and they demonstrated improvements in behavioral symptoms comparable with results seen in patients with less severe dementia treated with “neuroleptic agents”(i.e. tranquilizers).
 
Who doesn’t think aromatherapy works?
Oddly enough, aromatherapy’s biggest critics may be the authors of the aforementioned studies. Though some of the research proves the medicinal potential of essential oils, the authors say the findings are inconclusive. In the British Journal of General Practice study on dementia, the authors suggest that the findings are not strong enough to solely recommend aromatherapy. “Nor is [aromatherapy] effective for any other indication,” says the review’s hypothesis. 
 
The other study on aromatherapy’s potential to treat dementia, in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, concludes that although aromatherapy can be beneficial as an adjunctive therapy, “the study cannot be used as evidence that it is a viable alternative to sedative drugs in people with severe dementia.”
 
The same authors suggest that aromatherapy oil should not be seen as a “safe alternative to existing pharmacotherapy until properly conducted safety trials have been completed.”
 
Why the mixed results?
There are several reasons why it’s difficult for modern medicine to unequivocally support aromatherapy’s benefits. For one, weather and geography can produce different yields and strengths of the same plant in two different locations. Also, funding for aromatherapy studies hasn’t exactly been pouring in. Although more widely accepted than even a decade ago, essential oils aren’t as high a priority for study as pharmacological compounds, though both contain plant extracts.
 
There may be too many variables and not enough money to properly conduct large-scale double-blind controlled studies.
 
How does aromatherapy work?
All plants contain molecular gases. Through the processes of distillation and evaporation, these molecular gases, which proponents of aromatherapy sometimes refer to as the plants’  “life force” or “essence” (hence the term essential oil) these gases break down into liquid form. It can take thousands of flower petals to create one small bottle of essential oil.
 
Vaporizers, sprays, diffusers, steam inhalation or breathing in a soaked cloth are some of the ways medical professionals or massage therapists administer essential oils.
 
Scented candles may also include essential oils, though candles may contain synthetic oils.
 
What else are essential oils good for?
Your teeth and gums might also benefit from essential oils. In a study in the journal of Periodontology, researchers concluded that essential oils could aid in the reduction of plaque and gingivitis.
 
And if you’re a bacteria-phobe, you’ll be glad to know that there is some scientific validity that essential oils help ward off unfriendly bacteria. It’s only been in the last 25 years or so that the oils’ potent anti-microbial properties have been clinically proven, such as this review in Current Medicinal Chemistry, which concludes that certain oils of spices and herbs — specifically thyme, oregano, mint, cinnamon, salvia and clove — are perhaps the strongest neutralizers of bacteria and fungus.
 
Is aromatherapy safe for everybody?
For the most part, yes. But certain populations should avoid  the practice or at least ask their physician if it’s OK to use essential oils as an adjunct therapy. This includes pregnant women, those with asthma and other respiratory diseases and allergies, as well as those with epilepsy and high blood pressure.
 
Have you received aromatherapy? Did it help you? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Eco friendly soap

Eco-friendly soap isn't just better for the environment, it's good for your skin and you.

 
Photo: Shutterstock
There’s little shortage of scientific proof why you should wash with eco-friendly soap rather than synthetically produced antibacterial soap, which can be detrimental to both your health and the environment’s.
 
Even those who exclusively clean with biodegradable soap at home, however, may at some point be faced with a dilemma: being exposed to potentially contagious germs (think: shaking hands with someone at a party who just sneezed, or going to the bathroom in an airport) or cleaning their hands with, say, antibacterial soap.
 
Assuming your immune system is strong, if you don’t have access to eco-friendly soap outside your home, consider risking exposure to some bacteria rather than using non-biodegradable soap, especially antibacterial varieties, which may:
 
  • Weaken your immune system
  • Decrease fertility
  • Alter hormones
  • Cause birth defects
 
Triclosan found in several products, declared ‘toxic’ by the EPA: The Orthodontic Cyber Journal reports that triclosan, developed about 30 years ago, is found in many household products, including popular name-brand soaps. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered triclosan, found in anti-microbial and anti-bacterial-marketed soaps, as a pesticide.
 
Studies, such as one published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have also proven that triclosan negatively impacts cardiac and skeletal muscle health. Another study in Toxological Sciences concluded that triclosan impaired thyroid hormones in rats.
 
No ‘lye-ing’ about it, eco-friendly soap is better for the environment: The EPA, which has been prodded by several environmental advocacy groups to ban triclosan, has recently updated its assessment on triclosan, stating on its website that the inorganic compounds “bioaccumulate, potentially posing a concern for aquatic organisms.”
 
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Public School of Health concluded in a study that antibacterial soaps were leaching into municipal wastewater treatment systems, ultimately accumulating as “municipal sludge,” which oozes into crop fertilizers.
 
A common ingredient in eco-friendly soap [here’s an example of a soap that helps preserves orangutan habitat] is lye. If you need an environmentally friendly upgrade to your home, also consider castile soaps that are made exclusively from plant oils and do not contain animal-derived sources, common in most leading brand-name soaps.
 
Home-grown eco-friendly soap: If you want to make your own home-made eco-friendly soap, one way to do so requires just three ingredients: water, oil and lye.
 
There are also online recipes for shea butter soap and many other varieties of eco-friendly soap. Just remember to pack some with you next time you’re out and about.
 
Do you use eco-friendly soap? Have any recipes you’d like to share for homemade soap? Let us know below….
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif., and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Man smoking.

Breaking bad habits is easier said than done. But, we've got a few tips to help you get rid of those daily digressions.

 
Photo: LawPrieR/Flickr
Sure, breaking bad habits is easier said than done. But we’ve got a few tips to help you get rid of those daily digressions that are no longer serving you.
 
First, it’s good to focus on the positive. Write down every single good habit you partake in. Eat an apple every day? Floss most days? Drink plenty of water? Walk to the mailbox instead of drive? Wash your hands frequently?
 
 
Writing all of your good habits down will change your perspective. No longer will the crutches and obstacles impeding your health and happiness seem as burdensome.
 
Hopefully, you’ll come up with a laundry list of good habits, which will prove you’re not as unhealthy as you think you might be.
 
Visualize how your bad habits physically affect you
Now, to confront the demons: It’s critical to be aware of what your bad habits are and the full extent to which they are causing disharmony in your life.
 
For example, if you smoke a pack of cigarettes every day, you’re probably aware that smoking is bad for you, but chances are, for every “cancer stick” you smoke, you’re not thinking about the physiology that occurs with every cigarette consumed.
 
If you know this vice is detrimental to your health, mentally picture yourself with one of the many deadly conditions and diseases that smoking causes and how it would affect you and your family and friends.
 
Perhaps if you focused on how you’d look with a tracheotomy tube or having to talk with a voicebox (satirized and made popular by the "South Park" supporting character Ned) each time you smoked a cigarette, it would perhaps help you cut down and eventually quit.
 
This bit of advice might sound like tough love, but tobacco addiction is a life and death matter and a bad habit you’ll be glad to break.
 
Recite an affirmation each time you’re about to partake in your bad habit
Continuing with the smoking cigarettes example, right before you light up, try to say out loud, or even in your head, an affirmation — even if you don’t believe it. Try this one: “I enjoy a superior state of well-being and health. I have the choice to continue to be healthy from this moment forward.”
 
Combining visualization of what your bad habit can physically — and psychologically — manifest if you continue indulging in it, along with saying positive daily affirmations can help you eventually break your bad habit.
 
It’s especially important to state the affirmation every time before you’re about to indulge. Make it as automatic as reaching for that cigarette or extra bonbon. 
 
Speaking of candy ... I don’t smoke, but I do eat lots of sugar
What about less egregious bad habits? Maybe you’re not one of the approximately 35 percent of American adults who are overweight, but you do overdo it with junk food.
 
Many people struggle with overindulging in simple carbohydrates that convert easily into sugar, or just plain sugary treats that cause a rush of energy and then eventually a sugar crash.
 
What kind of energy do you want to have?
It’s important to visualize how you want to feel during the day. If you genuinely enjoy the rush you feel from drinking three cups of coffee in the morning, while skipping breakfast and then ultimately hitting the proverbial brick wall at 2 p.m., you probably won’t break the bad habit of drinking too much caffeine, which can wreak havoc on your adrenal glands.
 
But if you do prefer to have steady energy throughout the day without crashing in the afternoon, you’ll stand a good chance of kicking your sugar addiction.
 
Eating more often and making sure that you consume some protein and a little natural fat with every meal will help keep your blood sugar levels steady and you’ll feel satisfied for longer. Instead of feasting on candy bars and countless other junk snacks, you’ll find that you only need a tiny portion to satisfy your sweet tooth. Hopefully, you’ll go with something healthy like a piece of fruit or a tiny wedge of dark chocolate.
 
Shortly after you start the good habit of eating more frequent, smaller well-balanced meals, you’ll be able to conquer your sugar habit.
 
Get the 'dope' rush
Overeating, drug addiction and other bad habits can cause a surge and then an eventual long-term suppressed level of the pleasure chemical in our brain,dopamine.
 
Exercising can bring about the “natural” high feeling, which will hopefully replace the false pleasures our bad habits use to trick us.
 
Exercise, visualization and positive affirmations can all help in trying to break bad habits. It won’t be easy, but at least you’ll have a few tools to start with.
 
Judd Handler is a wellness consultant and health writer in Encinitas, Calif. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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