Food safety tips for when your power’s been knocked out

August 31, 2011

Are you one of the millions of people who, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, has no power at home?  If so, you’re likely reading this on your laptop at a coffee shop–hope you’re having a cuppa something tasty and warm!  But when you get home, you’ll still have a big problem on your hands–or, more accurately, on your kitchen floor: the refrigerator/freezer.

CNN offers the following tips to help keep your food safe when there’s no power:

  • While the power is out, do your best to maintain the refrigerator/freezer’s proper temperatures by keeping the fridge and freezer doors closed.  If the refrigerator door is not opened, it can keep food properly chilled for 4 hours; if the freezer door isn’t opened, food can be safely stored there for up to 48 hours.
  • If you have gone more than 4 hours without power, throw out perishables from the refrigerator, such as milk, eggs, poultry, fish, soft cheeses, leftovers, and deli items. 
  • Watch out for flood water.  If flood water has gotten into your fridge, throw out any food the flood water has come into contact with that isn’t in waterproof containers.   Also, don’t forget about making sure your kitchen implements are safe from the flood water.  If any metal pans, ceramic dishes, or utensils have come into contact with flood water, thoroughly wash them with hot, soapy water and sanitize them by boiling them in clean water.  If pacifiers, baby bottle nipples, wooden cutting boards, and plastic utensils have been affected, don’t try to sanitize them–in the interest of safety, just throw them out.
  • Your freezer/appliance thermometer will become your new BFF.  Use it to check if your freezer is at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.  If so, great news–your food can be refrozen!  (Buy some dry or block ice to help with this–50 pounds of dry ice can keep an 18 cubic foot freezer cold enough to keep food safe for 2 days.)  If you don’t already have that thermometer in the freezer, there’s another way to check if food is safe to keep or refreeze.  Check each package of food to see if it still contains ice crystals.  If so, go ahead and try to refreeze it.
  • For food sitting around your kitchen–but not in the fridge or freezer–commercially prepared foods in undamaged all-metal cans or retort pouches (juice and seafood pouches) can be saved.
  • If you need water, use bottled water that hasn’t been exposed to flood waters.  If you don’t have any bottled water available, you can use tap water–but first, boil it so that it’s safe to use.
  • Last but definitely not least–when in doubt, throw it out!  Don’t gamble with your safety by taste-testing food to try to find out if it’s still good.  If it isn’t good, there’s a good chance you’ll find out in an unpleasant way–from the food tasting bad to the food actually making you ill.

Best of luck to all East Coasters who are still without electricity or otherwise inconvenienced due to Hurricane Irene–here’s hoping your power gets fixed soon and that you can cook yourself a delicious home-cooked meal with food that you’ve been able to keep safe in your freezer!


Exercise tips for people of all ages

August 24, 2011

Exercise and physical activity are good for you, no matter how old you are. In fact, staying active can help you:

  •  Have more energy to do the things you want to do.
  • Keep and improve your strength so you can stay independent.
  • Improve your balance.
  • Prevent or delay some diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
  • Perk up your mood and help reduce depression.

You don’t need to buy special clothes or belong to a gym to become more active. Physical activity can and should be part of your everyday life. Find things you like to do. Go for brisk walks. Ride a bike. Dance. Work around the house. Garden. Climb stairs. Swim. Rake leaves. Try different kinds of activities that keep you moving. Look for new ways to build physical activity into your daily routine.

Four Ways to Be Active

To get all of the benefits of physical activity, try all four types of exercise:

  • Endurance:

    Be sure to get at least 30 minutes of activity that makes you breathe hard on most or all days of the week. That’s called an endurance activity because it builds your energy or “staying power.” You don’t have to be active for 30 minutes all at once. Ten minutes at a time is fine. Just make sure you are active for a total of 30 minutes most days.

  • Strength:

    How hard do you need to push yourself? If you can talk without any trouble at all, you are not working hard enough. If you can’t talk at all, it’s too hard.  Also, keep using your muscles. Strength exercises build muscles. When you have strong muscles, you can get up from a chair by yourself, you can lift your grandchildren, and you can walk through the park.

  • Balance:

    Keeping your muscles in shape helps prevent falls that cause problems like broken hips. You are less likely to fall when your leg and hip muscles are strong.

    Do things to help your balance. Try standing on one foot, then the other. If you can, don’t hold on to anything for support. Get up from a chair without using your hands or arms. Every now and then walk heel-to-toe. When you walk this way, the toes of the foot in back should almost touch the heel of the foot in front.

  • Flexibility:

    Stretch. Stretching can help you be more flexible. Moving more freely will make it easier for you to reach down to tie your shoes or look over your shoulder when you back the car out of your driveway. Stretch when your muscles are warmed up. Don’t stretch so far that it hurts.

Who should exercise?

Almost anyone, at any age, can do some type of physical activity. You can still do some types of exercise even if you have a long-term condition like heart disease or diabetes. In fact, physical activity may help such conditions. For most older adults, brisk walking, riding a bike, swimming, weight lifting, and gardening, are safe, especially if you build up slowly. But always check with your doctor if you are over 50 and you aren’t used to energetic activity.

You also should check with your doctor before exercising if you have any of the following conditions:

  • A chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease
  • Any new symptom you haven’t discussed with your doctor
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or the feeling that your heart is skipping, racing, or fluttering
  • Blood clots
  • An infection or fever
  • Unplanned weight loss
  • Foot or ankle sores that won’t heal
  • Joint swelling
  • A bleeding or detached retina, eye surgery, or laser treatment
  • A hernia
  • Had hip surgery

Safety Tips

Here are some things you can do to make sure you are exercising safely:

  • Start slowly, especially if you haven’t been active for a long time. Little by little build up your activities and how hard you work at them.
  • Don’t hold your breath during strength exercises. That could cause changes in your blood pressure. It may seem strange at first, but the rule is to breathe out as you lift something; breathe in as you relax.
  • Use safety equipment. For example, wear a helmet for bike riding or the right shoes for walking or jogging.
  • Unless your doctor has asked you to limit fluids, be sure to drink plenty when you are doing activities. Many older adults don’t feel thirsty even if their body needs fluids.
  • Always bend forward from the hips, not the waist. If you keep your back straight, you’re probably bending the right way. If your back “humps,” that’s probably wrong.
  • Warm up your muscles before you stretch. Try walking and light arm pumping first.

Exercise should not hurt or make you feel really tired. You might feel some soreness, a little discomfort, or a bit weary, but you should not feel pain. In fact, in many ways, being active will probably make you feel better.

How to Find Out More

Local fitness centers or hospitals might be able to help you find a physical activity program that works for you. You can also check with nearby religious groups, senior and civic centers, parks, recreation associations, Young Men’s or Women’s Christian Associations (YMCAs and YWCAs), or even area shopping malls for exercise, wellness, or walking programs.

Backpack safety tips to help your child carry books, not pain, on their back

August 16, 2011

Back to school doesn’t have to mean back to pain…backpack pain, that is!  Too often, students are unknowingly causing themselves damage because of the type of backpack they use or how they’re packing it.  Help protect your child or teenager’s back by following these tips recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Purchase a safer backpack.  Backpacks made from lightweight materials such as canvas and that have two wide, padded shoulder straps can be safer than packs made of heavier materials (like leather) or that have narrower straps.  The pack should also have a padded back–this increases comfort and decreases the likelihood that the student will be poked with an ill-placed, sharp pen or pencil in the backpack.
  • A backpack that has a waist belt as well as multiple compartments can both help to distribute the backpack’s weight more evenly across the student’s back.
  • Keep the load light.  Doctors and physical therapists recommend that a student should only carry 10% to 15% of his or her body weight on his back.
  • Organize the backpack smartly.  Make sure heavier items are kept closest to, and centered on, the back.
  • Use the backpack properly.  Make sure your child or teenager has both backpack straps on his shoulders–just slinging the backpack over one shoulder could cause pain and/or damage to the back.
  • Bend at the knees and use both hands to pick up a heavy backpack that’s been placed on the ground. 
  • Encourage the student to make frequent trips to their locker in order to lighten their load by dropping off some books.  Additionally, make sure they’re only bringing home the books and notebooks they need to do their homework–unneeded books should be kept in their locker.
  • Remind your child or teenager to only carry necessary items in a backpack–unnecessary portable video game systems, laptop computers, and other entertainment items can add unnecessary and painful poundage to the pack.
  • Be a “backpack advocate”—encourage your child or teenager’s teachers to go textbook-less, offering downloadable assignments and lesson plans that don’t require the student to lug a heavy book around.  Or, better yet, talk to school administrators and suggest the idea of going paperless, where students forgo the textbook in favor of a laptop on which they can read and complete their assignments.

If you have questions about how to keep your child safe and well while hauling textbooks, check into whether your employee benefits package includes any type of wellness advice or education.  For example, Health Advocate’s Wellness Coach can help its members get the health and wellness information they need on kids’ back health, how to pack a healthy lunch for your child, and more.

How to eat healthy without breaking the bank

August 9, 2011

By now, everyone knows that eating healthier foods is better for you than eating junk food.  What people are just starting to realize is how expensive eating healthier can be.  Nutritional guidelines for the U.S. have recently been updated to include recommendations for even more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and Vitamin D.  But scientists reported in the Health Affairs journal last week that following these recommendations could result in your grocery bill being close to $400 more each year.  So how do you have a healthier diet without taking a trip to the poorhouse in the process?  Read on for some handy tips on eating healthy for less.

  • Pick nutritional overachievers.  For instance, bananas are not just an excellent source of potassium–they’re also high in dietary fiber.  That’s two benefits for the price of one!  Beans do double-duty, too, as they’re a good source of dietary fiber and often contain lots of calcium, too.
  • The freezer is your friend.  Fresh produce can spoil easily.  Don’t buy more than you and your family can eat before it goes bad.  If you like to stock up on food, buy frozen fruits and veggies that will keep for longer.  If you do buy fresh produce and know you can’t eat it all, package it up and freeze it right away, making sure to label it with the date.
  • If you’re buying fresh produce, check into whether you have a farmer’s market or produce stand nearby–often, fruits and veggies from these types of places are cheaper.
  • Consider buying in bulk.  Often, buying in bulk can be cheaper than buying individual items.  Choose healthy items with a long shelf life, like bottled water, oatmeal, canned beans, peanut or almond butter, etc.  Many warehouse markets that sell food in bulk charge a membership fee, but if you buy nonperishable staples there often, the membership will pay for itself in savings.
  • Go generic.  Why buy brand-name foods when your local grocery store makes the same food, but under their store brand?  Store brands are often cheaper than the bigger brand names, and product quality is generally about the same.
  • Get carded.  If you don’t have a savings or loyalty card for your local grocery store, go to the store’s customer service counter and sign up for one.  These cards are generally free, and swiping them each time you’re at the register can result in savings.
  • Cut it out.  Scour your grocery store’s circular for coupons.  If your favorite grocery store doesn’t have a circular, go online and see if they have coupons on their website that you can download and/or print out.
  • “Like” stuff.  Consider “liking” the Facebook pages of your favorite food brands and/or grocery stores.  Often, companies offer exclusive coupons or savings to people who “like” them on Facebook.
  • Get growing.  Consider creating a vegetable garden for your backyard.  No backyard?  You could try growing herbs in little pots.  Seeds are inexpensive to buy, and maintaining a garden and/or potted herbs can be a fun family activity.

Now there’s no excuse for eating inexpensive and nutritionally bankrupt foods from your local fast food joint–as you can see, there are many ways to eat well while cutting costs.  Your health will thank you–and so will your piggy bank!

Free & Low-Cost Health & Wellness Events – August

August 3, 2011

As a part of our ongoing effort to help you optimize your health without breaking the bank, we’ve researched and compiled a list of free and low-cost health resources for the month of August, including health clinics and wellness events.

Take a look at the list below to see if there are any events near you, and be sure to check back regularly – we update the list as we find additional resources. If you yourself know of any events that aren’t on our list, feel free to let everyone know in the comments section below!

*Denotes recurring event.

Scottsdale, AZ – Anterior hip replacement screening (Free, 8/23); Bone Density Screening ($20, 8/23, 1-4pm); Heart Health Evaluation ($20, 8/24, 9am–Noon); Cholesterol & Bone Density Screening ($35, 8/30, 8-11:30am); Children’s Immunizations (Free, 8/6, 8am-Noon).

Free Support Groups: Pregnancy & Postpartum Depression (times/dates vary by subject & location)

Hanford, CANOTE: Cost is undisclosed unless otherwise noted. Most services require appointment. Immunizations* (times/dates vary by location); Reproductive Health Services* (times/dates vary by location); STD Clinic (M-F, 8-5); Preventive Care – Screenings and Referrals (Free); Women, Infant and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (times/dates vary by location); TB Clinic & HIV Testing (times/dates vary by location); Diabetes Information (Free)

Riverside, CA – Meditation Group* (Free, Thursdays, 7:30-9pm); Senior and Caregiver Expo (Free w/free transportation to the event, 8/20, 7:30-11:30am. Requires RSVP by 8/5).

Miami, FL – Cholesterol & Diabetes Screening (Free, times/dates vary by location); “For Your Health” online chats (Free, times/dates vary by subject)

Detroit, MI – Prostate Health (Free, 8/3, Noon-1pm, RSVP); Medication Management (Cost unspecified; 8/4, 10:30-11:30am); Health & Wellness Expo for Seniors & Caregivers (Free if you RSVP, $3 at the door, 8/5, Noon-7pm); Senior Summerfest & Health Screenings (Includes seminars – injury & cancer prevention and joint replacements, screenings, blood tests, blood pressure check, vision, hearing and foot checks. Free, 8/7, 1-4pm. RSVP is required); Advancements in Hip Replacement/Surgery (Free, 8/10, 6pm)

Support Groups: Mental Illness (Cost unspecified, 8/9, 7-9pm); Prostate Cancer (Free, 8/9, 7-9pm)

Queens, NYAll events are free. Yoga 50+* (Registration required, Tuesdays, 10:30 am & 11:45 am); Blood Pressure Screening (8/10, 9-10am & 8/17, 9-10:30am); Caregiver Support (8/11, 11am)

Again, we’ll be updating this list as we find more events, so check back often! To stay up-to-date on health news, wellness tips, and cost-saving healthcare advice, you can follow us @HealthSurvival and ”like” our Facebook page here.

Good news for American women: No-cost preventive services coming soon

August 1, 2011

There’s good news on the horizon for American women.  Today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced historic new guidelines that will ensure that women can have access to preventive health services at no additional cost to them.  These guidelines, which are part of the Affordable Care Act, require new health insurance plans to cover a variety of services for women without charging a deductible, co-insurance, or even a co-payment.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius believes that the Affordable Care Act helps stop health problems before they start and will help make sure that women get the preventive health benefits they need.  New health plans must include these services without cost sharing for insurance policies with plan years beginning on or after August 1, 2012.  Plans will still have the ability to control costs by, for example, continuing to charge cost-sharing for branded prescription drugs if generic versions are available to the patient and are just as effective and safe for the patient to use.

Under these guidelines, the services that women will have access to at no additional cost are as follows:

  • Well-woman visits
  • DNA testing for HPV for women 30 years of age and older
  • Counseling on sexually transmitted infections
  • HIV screening and counseling
  • Domestic violence screening and counseling
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling
  • FDA-approved contraceptive methods and contraceptive counseling  (although the administration released an amendment to these regulations allowing religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees to have the choice of whether or not they cover contraceptive services)

These guidelines are another facet of the Obama Administration’s package of initiatives–which include the President’s Obesity Task Force, the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, the National Prevention Strategy, and the National Quality Strategy–to address the health and well-being of Americans.   It’s estimated that Americans used preventive care at approximately half the recommended rate due to the costs of these services; because of these new guidelines, the hope is that people will use these preventive care measures since they no longer have to worry about paying for them.