April 27

Spring’s breathtaking beauty

There is no question that as trees and plants burst into bloom each spring it is a thing of beauty. But for some, a spring landscape can be quite literally breathtaking. That’s because outdoor allergens like pollen and mold can trigger an asthma attack.

As trees and plants that were dormant through winter come alive in spring, they release pollen into the air. This airborne pollen is almost impossible to avoid. So if you have allergy-induced asthma, you may want to think twice before spending much time outdoors.

One of the best ways to manage asthma is to be aware of what can trigger an attack. If you know that pollen is a trigger, you should try to limit your time outdoors. So part of your “Asthma Action Plan,” according to National Institutes of Health, could be checking daily pollen counts before planning outdoor activities. One way to do this is by looking at an allergy forecast.

Knowing your triggers can help you better predict (and prevent) an asthma attack. If you haven’t identified your triggers and don’t have a plan in place for managing your asthma, there is an easy way to change that. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) offers members a variety of tools to help manage health. For chronic conditions such as asthma, the Healthy Companion program provides a wide array of timely information, education, and one-on-one support that will help you control—not simply cope with—your asthma.

Spring surveillance

Even though spring’s official start date isn’t until around March 20 each year, spring can come earlier or later, depending on winter temperatures. This year’s mild winter fooled many plants into an earlier-than-usual blooming season in Kansas City. A rainy spring season can also increase allergens, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

There are also certain climate factors that can make allergy symptoms worse, also triggering your asthma. ACAAI lists these factors:

  • Tree, grass and ragweed pollens thrive during cool nights and warm days.
  • Molds grow quickly in high heat and humidity.
  • Pollen levels tend to peak in the morning hours.
  • Rain washes pollen away, but pollen counts can soar after rainfall.
  • On a day with no wind, airborne allergies are grounded.
  • When the day is windy and warm, pollen counts surge.

 

 

Exercise: The hardest part is getting started

What’s your excuse for not working out? No time? Too tired? No motivation? Whatever the reason, know this: Starting an exercise program will make the biggest difference to your health and your quality of life.

Ideally, you would pair working out with other healthy lifestyle choices like eating well and not smoking. But even if you didn’t, even if you could choose only one thing, exercising and being active would have the biggest impact on your overall health.

Dr. Steven Blair, University of South Carolina, discovered in his research study of more than 50,000 men and women that fitness is the best indicator of health. Low fitness is the strongest predictor of death. It is a stronger predictor than even high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and smoking.

The benefits of exercise have been well documented. Exercising can help you lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, sleep better, boost your energy, improve your mood, and protect you from some serious chronic diseases and conditions (high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke—even cancer).

How do I get started?

Before beginning any exercise program, you should talk to your doctor. Ask if you are healthy enough to begin exercising and if you are taking any medications that would prevent you from being more active. This is an especially important first step if you have any health problems, if you haven’t been active for a while, if you are pregnant, or if you are an older adult.

How much exercise do I need?

In general, experts recommend that adults in good health exercise 30-60 minutes five days a week. If you are just starting out, you will need to work up to this level. Do not do too much too soon. You may end up with an injury. Start with an easy activity, like walking. Slowly increase how long you exercise as well as your level of intensity.

If you don’t have time to spend a 30-minute chunk of time on exercise, consider breaking up your workout into three 10-minute sessions. Experts report that it doesn’t matter how you divide the time just as long as you put in the work.

How do I choose an exercise?

Starting out, walking may be your best choice for exercising. It doesn’t require a gym membership, you don’t need fancy equipment, and you already have an expert skill level. But as you progress with your fitness program, consider choosing an exercise that is something you like to do or something you can do as part of a team or with a friend. That will help keep you motivated and help you stay on track.

 

 

For good eats, go local

Eating locally grown fruits and vegetables is the healthiest way to eat, period. Not simply because you are consuming lots of fresh produce, but because locally-grown produce holds more nutrients than the produce you typically find in the grocery store.

Fresh, local produce actually has a high nutrient level because it doesn’t spend as much time from harvest to table. The sooner you can eat a fruit or vegetable once it is picked, the better its nutrient profile, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

As an employee or retiree of the City of Kansas City, Missouri, you have your very own access to farm-to-table food—and even get a discount! Read through these frequently-asked questions to learn more about the program and how you can sign up.

What is a CSA? CSA stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture. Fountain of Health has partnered with Just Natural Farms to provide the City of KCMO employees a convenient, economical way to access fresh, local, healthy food. Consumers agree to purchase food throughout the season, which allows farmers to better provide a consistent supply of fresh food directly to customers.

How does it work? Employees sign up through the online store at: www.justnaturalfarms.com. Shares of food are delivered to KCMO worksites once a week. Many items are also available for purchase à la cart and can be picked up at CSA sites. You do not have to be a CSA customer to use the online store.

When does it start? The CSA program begins the week of May 1st. The program will run 26 weeks (end date is the week of October 23rd). Participants will be able to enroll as long as there are shares available.

What are the pickup sites? City Hall, Parks and Recreation Administration, and Eastwood.

What is in a share? Items will vary based on what is in season. A July share might include: 3 large tomatoes, 2 large peppers, 6 ears of sweet corn, 1 jar of salsa, 1 cantaloupe, 4 onions, and 1 dozen eggs.

Why should I join a CSA? A CSA is win-win-win situation. The farmer benefits by having a steady customer base. The City wins because employees who eat more fruits and vegetables are healthier and more productive. Employees win because they have convenient, economical access to fresh, local food. CSA participants have increased their average daily fruit and vegetable by nearly two servings during the last three years of the CSA’s existence. And because the food is local, transportation, packaging, and treatments to the food are minimized, so there is less stress on the environment. With a CSA you have a better connection to the food you are eating and giving to your family. You can even talk to the farmer who grew it!

How do I pay for it? Enroll at Just Natural’s online store: www.justnaturalfarms.com. A full share is $30 a week with a $60 deposit. A half share is $20 a week with a $40 deposit. The City Employee and retiree price includes a $10-per-week savings!

What if there is something I don’t like in the share or don’t know how to prepare? One of the great benefits of a CSA is the opportunity to be introduced to new items. Last year, many folks developed their own systems with colleagues and traded items. Farmer Steve and KCMO Registered Dietician Kathy Barry are also great resources for recipes and food preparation.

Can I cancel if it is not right for me? Yes, you can cancel your subscription at the online store: www.justnaturalfarms.com at any time.

Where does the food come from? The food is grown primarily by Amish families who live just south of Kansas City. They use no conventional chemicals, no GMO, and no gas powered equipment used on the farms.

What if I forget to pick up my food or just can’t make it? Food that is not picked up will be donated to a local food program. If you will be on vacation or just can’t make it, the best option is to have someone pick up for you.

For more information, please email KCMO Wellness Coordinator Jeanine Scrogum or call her at 816-513-1965.

Healthy sleep habits

When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? If you can’t remember, chances are good that you are one of the millions of Americans suffering from sleep deprivation.

An estimated 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep or wakefulness disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The two most notable disorders are insomnia and sleep apnea, but there could be a number of other things preventing you from sleeping, including restless leg syndrome (RLS), general stress or anxiety, depression, or simply not leaving enough time for sleep during your day or making it a priority.

How much sleep do you need each night?

The National Sleep Foundation conducted a world-class study on sleep that took more than two years of research to complete. Eighteen scientists and researchers took part in the study to create guidelines about how much sleep you really need at each age. The recommendations:

  • Newborns (0-3 months ): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

The dangers of not getting enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on your health. It also can put you at a much greater risk for having an accident while driving. In fact, many experts are beginning to draw parallels between drowsy driving and drunk driving. They report that sleep deprivation can affect your body in much the same way as drunk driving.

“Being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is considered drunk). If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive—say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep—it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10,” according to the National Sleep Foundation.

About 60 percent of U.S. adults admit they have driven drowsy. And, in a recent sleep study, more than one-third report that they have unintentionally fallen asleep during the day at least once in the past month. All of this daytime sleepiness can lead to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, medical errors, errors at your job, and general difficulty even performing daily tasks.

Physically, sleep deprivation has been associated with a number of diseases. Lack of sleep can put you at greater risk for high blood pressure, depression, diabetes, obesity, even cancer.

What to do if you can’t sleep

There is a difference between sleeping at night and sleeping well at night. If you are not sleeping well at night, it could be that sleep apnea is interfering with your sleep and you should see a doctor.

If you can’t go to sleep because you have insomnia or because something is bothering you, you may be able to adjust your approach to sleeping.

If you get into bed and haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes, get up and go to another room. Do something relaxing. Have a cup of warm milk or non-caffeinated tea, read, or listen to music.

“Lying in bed awake can create an unhealthy link between your sleeping environment and wakefulness. Instead, you want your bed to conjure sleepy thoughts and feelings only,” reports the National Sleep Foundation.

Improve your sleep hygiene

To get a good night’s sleep, try these tips from the CDC and National Sleep Foundation:

  • Make sleep a priority
  • Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime
  • Avoid nicotine
  • Exercise