Prevent Heart Disease with Life’s Simple 7

There’s something about a bright-orange sunrise that can motivate even the most industrious among us to stop what we’re doing and simply soak up nature’s splendor. Dan Merritt is no exception, but he’s come to appreciate sunrises as much for their promise as their beauty.

“I love sunrises because they say, “Hey, you made it to another day.’”

Not that long ago, Dan wasn’t sure he’d live to see another sunrise.

Maintaining a healthy weight is critical in preventing heart disease. This 1-minute video offers five tips for making smart choices when eating out.

“We threw a Halloween party for my grandchildren,” remembered Dan. “I was sitting there drinking a glass of punch, and I noticed I was drooling down the side of my face.”

Dan couldn’t talk, but his frantic motioning told Barbara, his wife of 43 years, something wasn’t right.

At the hospital, doctors discovered Dan had suffered his second stroke of the day. As is often the case, the symptoms of the first stroke subsided quickly, so Dan ignored them.

Doctors couldn’t definitively diagnose Dan’s strokes that day, but they suspected an irregular heart rhythm. When he suffered a third stroke months later, they implanted a cardiac monitor and uncovered the cause: atrial fibrillation.

Dan’s doctors immediately adjusted his medication, and he’s been stroke-free ever since.

You don’t emerge from a serious health scare like a stroke without learning a few things. Dan is eager to share one simple piece of advice with all of us.

“Pay attention to your body. It’s always trying to tell you something. It could be things you’re doing great or things are going a little off kilter.”

Heart disease by the numbers

Strokes, heart attacks and heart failure are just a few conditions that fall under the cardiovascular disease umbrella. Collectively, these conditions represent the leading global cause of fatalities, claiming 17.3 million lives per year.

Here are some other eye-opening statistics about heart disease, courtesy of the American Heart Association:

  • Cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all forms of cancer combined.
  • Someone in the U.S. dies from heart disease about once every 84 seconds.
  • About one in every three U.S. adults reports participating in no leisure time physical activity.
  • About 69 percent of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
  • Worldwide, tobacco smoking (including secondhand smoke) was one of the top three leading risk factors for disease, contributing to an estimated 6.2 million deaths in 2010.

Heart-healthy tips

Dan’s advice is consistent with the American Heart Association’s (AHA)proactive approach to preventing heart disease. Here are some more heart-healthy tips we can all follow every day:

Learn the signs: Heart attacks, cardiac arrest and strokes are life-threatening emergencies, so every second counts. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you experience any of the warning signs.

Follow Life’s Simple 7: The AHA recommends seven easy-to-embrace tips for reducing your risk of heart disease. Life’s Simple 7 include getting active, controlling your cholesterol, eating better, managing your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your blood sugar and giving up smoking.

Know your heart score: AHA medical experts designed the My Life Check tool to help you assess your heart health and move closer to your personal health goals. Simply provide some basic information about yourself, answer seven questions and get your heart score.

Focus on workplace wellness: We spend most of our waking hours at work. If we want to follow Life’s Simple 7, we have to learn to do it on the job, as well as at home. Employers can help by offering a workplace wellness program. The AHA offers a free suite of evidence-based tools to help you get the most out of your program.

Life is why

austin-mhml-lockupThe AHA is on a mission to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent and reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent, by the year 2020.

In support of that mission, the AHA will host its annual Heart Walk fundraiser on Saturday, October 15. Approximately 1 million people in 300 cities across the country will participate. In fact, Texas Mutual will be well-represented at the Austin event, and we hope you will join us.

Flu Season is Serious Business for Employers

Click here for a one-minute podcast on preventing the flu, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Click here for a one-minute podcast on preventing the flu, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Have you used an office phone, had a face-to-face conversation or inhaled today? If so, you could be one of the estimated 62 million Americans who will catch the flu this year.

Each flu season, Americans miss nearly 111 million workdays. That equals approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity.

Flu season starts in the fall and peaks in January and February. Texas Mutual encourages employers to promote these everyday preventive measures among their employees:

  1. Get a flu shot. Experts agree that getting a flu shot is the most effective thing you can do to protect yourself from the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone who is six months old or older get vaccinated, especially those in a high-risk group. Many pharmacies, clinics and community centers offer free or low-cost flu shots.
  2. Learn how the flu spreads. Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Flu viruses also may spread when people touch something with the flu virus on it, and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose.
  3. Each flu season, Americans miss nearly 111 million workdays. That equals approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity.
  4. Wash your hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. And avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. That is how germs spread.
  5. Get some space. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  6. Take care of yourself. Employee wellness and safety are inseparable. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy food.
  7. Keep coughs and sneezes to yourself. Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. If you use a tissue, immediately throw it in the trash.
  8. Learn the symptoms of the flu. Symptoms can include coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and chills. It is important to note, however, that not everyone who has the flu will experience fever.
  9. Know what to do if you get sick. If you suspect you have the flu, the CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, without the use of fever-reducing medications, except to seek medical care. It is important to see your doctor as soon as possible because the flu can exacerbate chronic medical conditions. It can also lead to other illnesses, such as bacterial pneumonia and ear infections.
  10. Get more information. Free resources for protecting yourself, your family and your co-workers are available from the American Red Cross, CDC, flu.gov and texasflu.org.

Tired? Take a Deep Breath and Relax

Employers can help workers manage stress and its symptoms, including fatigue, by giving them more control over their schedules. Click the image above to listen to a CDC podcast for more information.

Employers can help workers manage stress and its symptoms, including fatigue, by giving them more control over their schedules. Click the image above to listen to a CDC podcast for more information.

Ever wonder why there are only 24 hours in a day? You can thank the ancient Egyptians and their base 12 system of counting.

The concept worked well in 3000 BC, when shadow clocks and sun dials were all the rage. But things have changed a bit in past 8,000 years, including technology and the demands on our time.

Busy people juggling personal and professional lives are the norm, not the exception. Conference calls, meetings, kids’ soccer games, doctor’s appointments and longer commutes consume more of our attention. Sandwiched between our myriad responsibilities, if we’re lucky, is an ounce of “me time.” We’re putting more on our plates, but the clock isn’t adjusting accordingly. If we could ask the Egyptians one thing, it would likely be: “Why’d you stop at 24 hours?”

Eventually, the stress of trying to do more with less can break even the most organized, efficient of us. One in seven people report that they quit a job because of stress, according to a study by the mental health charity Mind.

Firefighting is America’s most stressful job, followed by military personnel and airline pilots, according to an annual survey by CareerCast. It seems shift work, hazardous situations and putting someone else’s life in your hands can be disregulating, to put it mildly.

Stress is the body’s reaction to anything that disrupts our routine. You’re probably familiar with the emotional symptoms of stress: moodiness, difficulty relaxing and lack of concentration. But did you know stress can also sap your energy as much as a sleepless night? Here are a few tips for keeping stress in check:

  1. Learn the signs of stress, and recognize when it might be time to see a physician.
  2. Exercise regularly. Exercise produces endorphins, the body’s “feel good” chemical.
  3. Choose foods that tame stress. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm oatmeal, boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical, according to WebMD. Salmon, tuna and other fatty fish can cut levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress hormones that take a toll on the body.
  4. Avoid the urge to take on more commitments than your schedule allows.
  5. Manage your time effectively. If you find yourself consistently focusing on urgent tasks, your life can seem like a fire drill. Make time for tasks that are important but not urgent, and you can lay the foundation for long-term success and less stress.
  6. Carve out time for yourself, without worrying about responsibilities.
  7. Call it diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing or paced respiration. For our purposes, it’s called deep breathing, and it has been proven to ease stress.

Missed our previous posts?
This is the last in a series of four posts showing how a commitment to wellness can help workers manage fatigue. If you missed our previous posts, click the links to read them:

Sleep Well

Eat Your Way to a Healthier, More Energetic You

7 Tips for Working Out Fatigue

More information on wellness
Worker health and safety are inseparable. Healthy workers tend to get injured less, and when they do get injured, they recover faster. For more information on the symbiotic relationship between health and safety, click on these links:

Why Wellness Matters in Workers’ Comp

10 Tips for Integrating Health and Safety

Worker Health and Safety: A Symbiotic Relationship

The Business Case for Employee Wellness Programs

3 Tips for a Healthier, Safer You

Make Wellness Part of Your Benefits Package

7 Tips for Working Out Fatigue

In a Standford University study, cycling helped cut the time insomniacs needed to fall asleep by nearly half. Here, Texas Mutual president and CEO Rich Gergasko (right) and Randy Johnson, senior vice president of investments, take a well-deserved break after completing the annual MS 150 bike ride.

In a Standford University study, cycling helped cut the time insomniacs needed to fall asleep by nearly half. Here, Texas Mutual president and CEO Rich Gergasko (right) and Randy Johnson, senior vice president of investments, take a well-deserved break after completing the annual MS 150 bike ride.

Visions of a beach-ready body are all the motivation some of us need to run that extra mile or squeeze out a few more pushups. For others, avoiding obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic diseases is the carrot that gets us off the couch and on the stationary bike.

If swimsuit season and a longer life aren’t enough motivation to break a sweat, consider this: Exercise can help you ward off fatigue.

Of course, when you’re tired, a good nap likely trumps a brisk walk. But if you can muster the motivation to get moving, you just might find yourself refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of your day.

More than 90 percent of studies show that sedentary people who complete a regular exercise program report reduced fatigue. The benefits of exercise prove even greater than those of stimulant medications.

If you want to reap the benefits of exercise, you have to make it a lifestyle. Some experts will tell you it takes 22 days to create a habit. Others say 66 days. What matters most is day one. Here are some basic tips for introducing physical activity into your daily grind:

  1. Consult your physician. The Mayo Clinic suggests you talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. Together, you can create a plan that is right for you.
  2. Start slowly. To maintain cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week. Don’t think of exercise as an all-or-nothing endeavor, though. With your doctor’s guidance, start slowly and build as your stamina increases.
  3. Take a brisk walk to ward off a post-meal crash.
  4. Eat a light snack 45 minutes to an hour before you exercise.
  5. Mix it up. If you limit your exercise to one or two activities, you are more likely to get bored. And boredom can derail the best-laid plans to get fit. Choose a good mix of the four basic exercises: aerobic, strength, flexibility and balance.
  6. When doing strength training, choose exercises that target multiple muscle groups, such as pushups and lunges.
  7. Allow time to recover. If you experience irritability, anxiety, delayed recovery, decreased interest in exercise or other signs of overtraining, your body might be telling you it needs a break.

Missed our other posts?
This is the third in a series of four posts showing how a commitment to wellness can help workers manage fatigue. If you missed our previous posts, click the links to read them:

Sleep Well

Eat Your Way to a Healthier, More Energetic You

Up next
In our last post in this series, we’ll share some tips for managing stress and the fatigue that often accompanies it.

More information on wellness
Worker health and safety are inseparable. Healthy workers tend to get injured less, and when they do get injured, they recover faster. For more information on the symbiotic relationship between health and safety, click on these links:

Why Wellness Matters in Workers’ Comp

10 Tips for Integrating Health and Safety

Worker Health and Safety: A Symbiotic Relationship

The Business Case for Employee Wellness Programs

3 Tips for a Healthier, Safer You

Make Wellness Part of Your Benefits Package

Eat Your Way to a More Energetic You

A balanced diet includes sensible portions of the five primary food groups.

A balanced diet includes sensible portions of the five primary food groups.

Have you ever resolved to start eating healthy but eventually given up because didn’t know where to start? You’re not alone.

Expert nutritional advice seems as fickle as Central Texas weather. The good news is that if you don’t like what you’re hearing, give it a few years and it’ll change.

Three decades ago, Congress issued the first dietary guidelines and pinned America’s obesity epidemic squarely on fat. “Big food” responded with low-fat versions of chips, cereal, crackers and other household staples.

Unfortunately, when you remove fat from food, you often sacrifice taste. To make low-fat items palatable, manufacturers bumped the sugar content, which only facilitated our plunge toward obesity.

Today, many experts have redirected their efforts toward warning the public about the ill effects of excess sugar. The food companies have predictably introduced a range of sugar substitutes that promise to satisfy our sweet tooth while keeping us trim, fit and swimsuit-ready.

Given the veritable buffet of nutritional advice and fad diets, it can be difficult for even the most well-intentioned of us to know exactly what constitutes a healthy diet. What we do know is that the food we choose affects our body’s performance, including its ability to fight fatigue. Here are a handful of time-tested tips for eating your way to a more energetic you:

  • Consult your physician. Together, you can craft a nutritional plan that meets your unique needs.
  • Jump-start your day with a healthy breakfast.
  • Don’t skip meals. Studies published in Nutritional Health found that missing any meal during the day led to an overall greater feeling of fatigue.
  • Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and foods that help you beat fatigue.
  • Avoid fried food, white bread, white potatoes, doughnuts, chips and other foods that trigger post-meal sleepiness.
  • Don’t be afraid to snack, but choose wisely. Energy-boosting snacks combine protein, a little fat and some fiber, such as peanut butter on a whole-wheat cracker.
  • Stay hydrated. Sometimes, when you feel tired, your body is trying to tell you it needs water. Keep a tall glass of water at your desk to make hydration easier
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants several hours before bed.
  • Steer clear of spicy and acidic foods at night. They can cause heartburn and derail your sleep.

Missed our last post?
This is the second in a series of four posts showing how a commitment to wellness can help workers manage fatigue. If you missed our first post, click here to read it. In our next post, we’ll share tips for working exercise into your daily grind.

More information on wellness
Worker health and safety are inseparable. Healthy workers tend to get injured less, and when they do get injured, they recover faster. For more information on the symbiotic relationship between health and safety, click on these links:

Why Wellness Matters in Workers’ Comp

10 Tips for Integrating Health and Safety

Worker Health and Safety: A Symbiotic Relationship

The Business Case for Employee Wellness Programs

3 Tips for a Healthier, Safer You

Make Wellness Part of Your Benefits Package

Sleep Well

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep. Lack of sleep can affect your performance at work, which is especially dangerous when you get behind the wheel.

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep. Lack of sleep can affect your performance at work, which is especially dangerous when you get behind the wheel.

The benefits of strong leadership in the military are a bit different than they are in the corporate world. When CEOs lead by example, stockholders make money. And making money makes most people happy.

When military officers lead by example, soldiers go home safely. And sending people home safely at the end of a day’s work should be every business’ priority.

Chad Storlie was the type of leader soldiers looked up to. As an Army Reserves Special Forces officer, Storlie modeled the behavior he wanted his troops to practice, right down to the naps he took during combat operations.

“I would go and take naps whenever the opportunity presented itself,” Storlie recalled in an article that appeared in the June 11, 2015, edition of Advisen FPN. “As the leader, you have to set the example. You have to practice what you preach.”

For Storlie, that meant making sure his body and mind were rested and ready to react on a moment’s notice. Two decades of military service that included stops in Iraq, Bosnia and Korea taught him that fatigue breeds poor decisions. Poor decisions, in turn, get you or your fellow soldiers killed.

The same principle applies in the workplace.

Fatigue is about four times more likely to contribute to on-the-job impairment than drugs or alcohol, according to studies cited by the American Society of Safety Engineers. Furthermore, impaired employees are more likely to be involved in workplace accidents, especially when they get behind the wheel.

If you exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and manage stress, you can ward off fatigue and its potential consequences.

If you exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet and manage stress, you can ward off fatigue and its potential consequences.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that driver fatigue causes 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries each year. Many of those deaths and injuries happen when employees are driving on company business. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are consistently the leading cause of workplace fatalities across industries.

Employers looking to the reverse the trend typically turn to mandatory rest periods and limits on consecutive driving hours. Those are solid fundamentals of any fleet safety program, but don’t forget about another powerful, often-overlooked tool for combating fatigue: employee wellness.

Wellness programs prepare employees for the physical demands of their jobs. They also help ward off depression, obesity, diabetes and other factors that drain workers’ energy.

If you are among the thousands of small businesses that do not have a comprehensive employee wellness program, don’t worry. You can leverage a few basic wellness program components to fight fatigue in your workplace.

Up next
This is the first in a series of four posts showing how a commitment to wellness can help workers manage fatigue. In our next post, we’ll discuss how eating a balance, nutritious diet can deliver the energy you need to tackle your day.

More information on wellness
Worker health and safety are inseparable. Healthy workers tend to get injured less, and when they do get injured, they recover faster. For more information on the symbiotic relationship between health and safety, click on these links:

Why Wellness Matters in Workers’ Comp

10 Tips for Integrating Health and Safety

Worker Health and Safety: A Symbiotic Relationship

The Business Case for Employee Wellness Programs

3 Tips for a Healthier, Safer You

Make Wellness Part of Your Benefits Package

What’s Your Morning Routine?

3 Tips for a Healthier, Safer You

We spend a lot of time on this blog promoting emergency preparedness, safe driving and other tips for avoiding common workplace injuries. Now, we’re switching gears and discussing an often-overlooked aspect of safety: health and wellness.

What’s in it for you?
healthy livingThe potential benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle include weight loss, reduced stress, improved self-image, and lower risk of heart disease and other preventable illnesses. Wellness and workplace safety are also strongly connected. Healthy, fit employees tend to be less prone to certain types of workplace injuries, including strains. And when healthy employees do get injured, they often recover and return to the team faster.

Wellness is a lifestyle
Wellness is a lifestyle rooted in choices we make every day, on and off the job. Of course, meetings, conference calls and deadlines also demand our attention. So how do we work wellness into our daily grind? Here are three general workplace tips to help you on your journey to a healthier, safer you.*

Eat right:

  • Don’t skip breakfast.
  • Pack a lunch instead of eating out.
  • Make hydration convenient by keeping a large glass of water at your work station.
  • Avoid the vending machine. If you get hungry between meals, munch on fruit, nuts and other healthy snacks.

Get moving:

  1. Consider walking or biking to work, safely, of course.
  2. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  3. Join a lunchtime exercise group.
  4. Stretch lightly at your desk.

Manage your mood:

  1. Counter stress by swapping “comfort food” with whole grains, lean protein, nuts and black tea, all of which increase your feel-good hormones.
  2. Keep a funny picture, toy, joke book or something else that makes you smile at your work station.
  3. Manage your workload by recognizing the difference between what is urgent and what can wait.
  4. Breathe deeply when you’re stressed. Deep breaths help slow your heart beat and lower your blood pressure.

*Consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Celebrate Global Employee Health and Fitness Month
May is Global Employee Health and Fitness Month, a time for employers and employees to partner toward making wellness part of their company culture. For more information, visit www.healthandfitnessmonth.com.

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