Winter fun for everyone

The snow has fallen, the lakes have frozen, and there isn’t a mosquito in sight. It must be winter! For many cold-weather outdoor enthusiasts these are all great signs, and for them it’s time to get out in the snow and have some fun. But even for those who might not like winter, it will be hard to avoid being out in the elements at some point. So whether you are out frolicking in the snow or begrudgingly trying to clear it from your driveway, we all need to be aware of one of the dangers of winter: Frostbite.

Frostbite is caused when extreme cold freezes the skin and underlying tissues. The first stage of frostbite (called frostnip) is characterized by red or pale skin, prickling, and numbness. Frostnip doesn’t cause lasting harm, but it does mean that you should get out of the cold immediately and let your skin warm up. Failure to do so could lead to more severe frostbite which may result in lasting damage to your skin, tissues, and muscles. If you see signs of severe frostbite, like hard/waxy skin or blisters, you should consult a medical provider immediately.

In order to protect you and your family from frostbite, it’s important to plan ahead and dress warmly while protecting skin from any prolonged exposure to cold or moisture.

What you wear is your most obvious defense from the cold, but harnessing your own body’s heat is truly your greatest ally. Strive for loose, light, and comfortable layers. These help to trap warm air close to your body and don’t restrict your movement. Ideally, the innermost layer should be a moisture-wicking material, followed by an insulating layer like fleece or wool. The top or outer layer should be windproof and waterproof.

And don’t underestimate the value of warm extremities. The areas most commonly affected by frostnip and frostbite include the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Make sure hats completely cover your ears. Especially in wind, cover your face with a facemask or scarf. Keep feet and toes safe by wearing two pairs of socks with insulated winter boots. You can get frostbite even under mittens, boots, or other clothing. For that reason, what you wear on your head, hands, and feet should follow the same rules as what you wear on the rest of your body: moisture-wicking, insulated, windproof and waterproof material.

In intense cold and wind, frostbite can occur in a matter of a few minutes, so prepare for it as you would any other winter emergency. Carry an emergency kit in your car with blankets, supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded. Have your cell phone charged and ready to go. Make sure someone else knows your route and expected arrival time.

So there you have it: dress smart, prepare for the worst, and take care of yourself. Winter can remain a fun and active time of year for everyone as long as we adapt to the weather. Stay safe and have a great winter!

How to beat the holiday blues

It’s no secret that with the holiday season comes increased stress. There are travel, baking, holiday parties, greeting card family photos, choosing an amazing present for everyone, worrying about the 10 pounds you gain every year—the list goes on and on. It’s perfectly normal to feel some extra pressure this time of year. However, if the pressure starts to turn into the “holiday blues” or depression, it’s time to do something about it. Here are some suggestions to help bring back your holiday cheer no matter what you celebrate, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or New Year.

1. Focus on what truly matters. Why do you celebrate this holiday? Family? Faith? Tradition? Most likely you wouldn’t say to “buy presents” or to “attend as many holiday parties as you can.”

2. Forget Perfection. Remember that no one’s perfect. If your turkey is slightly overcooked or you forget to sweep the bathroom floor, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are your own worst critic, and there’s no shame in asking for help. The time you would have spent sweeping that floor is better spent with your family anyway.

3. Budget. Figure out what you can realistically spend and stick to it. You can also try to hand-make some gifts, discuss a small gift exchange with your family or plain old cut down on the spending.

4. Avoid family conflict. We’ve all been there before. There’s that one subject that always sends your aunt into a fit. There are controversial topics in any family, and the holidays just seem to make them sneak up to the surface. Life pro tip: Plan a neutral response to questions you know will come up and have an escape strategy in case of conflict.

5. Engage in mood-boosting behaviour. Exercise and sleep. Your body (and brain) will thank you. Exercise (even a 30-minute walk or yoga session) releases endorphins, which are your natural antidepressants, and helps you to get better sleep. Over the holidays, you should try to maintain your and your kids’ normal sleep patterns. Take a short nap if needed.

6. Watch what you eat and drink. Caffeine can decrease your level of serotonin, which is a chemical necessary for good moods, while too much alcohol makes sleep less fulfilling and makes you more likely to get into an argument. Instead, try some serotonin-boosting foods for extra help fighting the blues, such as those high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies), healthy fats (e.g., coconut, avocado, sunflower, olive oils), and lean proteins (e.g., turkey). Keep your blood sugar stable and decrease mood swings by eating regular meals, rather than “saving up” calories for later in the day.

7. Make time for yourself. Find a few minutes every day to focus on you. Family time is great, but you’ll enjoy it all the more if you spend some time relaxing by reading a short story, meditating or praying, listening to music, walking outside, watching a funny movie, or however else you like to take a break.

I hope these tips help you get through the holiday season with a smile on your face. Do keep in mind that depression is a very serious condition and should not be treated in the same way as the “holiday blues.” Please contact our providers at RetraceHealth if you want to discuss any medical testing, supplements, or the way you are feeling in more detail. We would be happy to help create a personal plan just for you.

Eat and be merry

Turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, pies, stuffing, cornbread, wine, beer… the gluttony of Thanksgiving is upon us once again. But I’m not here to tell you what you think I’m going to tell you. I’m not here to lecture you on the danger of simple carbs and or the threat of rich sauces. In fact, as a healthcare professional, I’m here to tell you to go ahead and enjoy your Thanksgiving feast. It may surprise you that someone in healthcare would condone this behaviour, but it’s only one day of the year and everyone participating knows that they’re dumping their bodies with sugar. What concerns me is the sugar that you consume on a regular basis that you aren’t aware of. Let me tell you more about that.

Sugar is necessary for our brain and bodies, but it’s not something you need to go out of your way to find. Even if we don’t eat the white powdery sugar, we find sugar in other products that end in “-ose.” For example, lactose is in milk and fructose is in fruit. These sugars feed our cells, and once our cells have had their fill we store the excess in our livers, and once our liver has its fill, we store the rest as fat. So, a little bit of sugar — taking into consideration its many forms — is not inherently bad; it’s when we eat too much of it that it can lead to obesity, high triglycerides, fatty livers, and diabetes.

Unfortunately, many forms of sugars are often not obvious in our foods. Sugar is used to provide flavour and texture to foods, preserve foods, decrease acidity, ferment and help increase the bulk of foods. When it’s used in these different ways, it’s not labelled specifically on the label as “sugar.” Instead, you see it disguised as high-fructose corn syrup, cane juice, cane syrup, crystal dextrose, anhydrous dextrose, honey, fruit juice concentrate, and molasses. This makes it hard to track how much sugar you’re taking in.

So here’s a guide to reducing your sugar consumption on a daily basis. Look at the label. Ingredients are listed in the order of weight. If sugar (fructose, glucose) or one of its codewords is near the top of the list, then you know the item is laden with sugar and should be avoided. However, an even better way of avoiding these sneaky sugars is to eat a diet with more whole foods, where no added sugars are lurking (read: no weird ingredients on the label).

One of the dangers of sugar is that it’s hiding in foods that we buy regularly. Of course, when you’re checking out a new food, you will probably read the label. But what about foods you buy all the time? When’s the last time you checked if your favourite cereal is really as healthy as you remember? Every once in a while, check your staples to see if they’re as good for you as you think. Surely you’ll find that you can switch out some of them with healthier alternatives.

So on Thanksgiving, enjoy your food, family, and friends. But when it’s over, pay some attention to what you eat on a regular basis. Happy Thanksgiving!

Shoo flu, don’t bother me

When everyone around you is getting sick, you know the obvious rules, like “don’t share water bottles,” and “don’t stand in the way of your friend’s sneeze,” but what if you want to go above and beyond this year? What if you want a perfect track record – no sickness at all? With cold and flu season just around the corner, we thought it would be the perfect time to help you in your quest to keep yourself and your family healthy.

The easiest way to stay healthy is to avoid the bugs in the first place and to accomplish that there are a few things you should do:

1. Wash your hands frequently. Preferably with soap, but hand sanitizer works too.

2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

3. Carry your own pen. People share pens, but people don’t clean pens.

4. Sanitize public gym equipment before using it.

5. Be careful where you set your cell phone. Consider all of the places your phone has been, and then consider the fact that you put that phone on your face.

6. Avoid touching heavily used items, like water fountains and coffee pots.

7. Consider an annual flu shot. It’s best to get one in October to give your body more time to develop the antibodies that fight viruses but later is fine too. Remember that the shot only protects against 3-4 strains of influenza, so don’t get careless.

We recognize that it’s impossible to avoid all exposure to viruses, so it’s just as important to keep your immune system strong. There’s no single way to do that, but there are a lot of little things you can do that will go a long way:

1. Try to eat a little more fruits and vegetables. Fresh and raw is best, but frozen is the next best option if fresh produce is unavailable. Eating an actual piece of produce is better than a multivitamin for your immunity.

2. Limit your alcohol intake – keep it to a maximum of one drink per night.

3. Get plenty of sleep. Most adults need at least 7-9 hours of good, quality sleep a night. (Psst, we actually have an entire blog post about it.)

4. De-stress. Relax with family and friends, laugh often, or even consider getting a massage every once in a while.

5. Take care of your stomach. 80% of your immune system is thought to be located in your digestive system. Boost the good bacteria by eating yoghurt, kefir, and probiotics. And avoid unnecessary antibiotics as they can kill off immunity-boosting bacteria in your gut.

6. Don’t forget about Vitamin D in the winter. Aside from taking a nutritional supplement, you can also eat foods with Vitamin D, like fish, dairy, soy, and mushrooms, or use a safe tanning bed.

7. Drink hot tea with lemon and honey. The lemon will help thin mucus, and the honey kills bacteria.

You don’t have to do all of these things of course, but trying one or two can go a long way to keeping away colds this winter! Ultimately though, we just want you and your family to be healthy and happy. So whether it be our suggestions, or someone else, we encourage you to try out some new better for you habits – we’re sure you’ll be happy that you did.

Don’t let cyberchondria scare you

With Halloween just around the corner, we’re reminded of all the ghosts, mummies, monsters, and zombies to fear. Sometimes we even psych ourselves out into thinking that something is scary: the stairs leading down to the basement? Not scary until we let our imagination run away with us. You know what else sounds scary? cyberchondria (cue the creepy music).

Wait a minute… cyberchondria? That sounds awful – better Google it to see what it is. As you’re typing it into the search engine though, you notice a little bit of discomfort in your chest. It’s probably just indigestion, but to be safe, you switch your search to “chest pain”. The first link has a list of causes and symptoms of chest pain. As you read through the list, you start to get a little nervous; you’re pretty sure that you’ve had most of the listed symptoms at some point though you can’t quite remember… but you’re still pretty sure. Soon you start reading stories about misdiagnosed deadly illnesses and clicking on never-ending links to the next terrifying condition. Now you have more worries than when you started. What now?

Although at times overwhelming, the internet can be great for patients and healthcare providers alike. Having so many resources available allows a patient to be informed, ask great questions, and really partner with their healthcare provider. One survey reported that at least eight out of ten Americans were using the internet to look for health information. From a healthcare provider’s point of view, the internet allows us to network with other providers, stay in touch with our patients, and stay up-to-date on new health recommendations and research.

However, it can be difficult to sift through the information overload to figure out what is accurate and what isn’t. The internet offers information ranging from regulated medical sites to unregulated personal health bloggers. Social media, in particular, is a very popular way to read and share information, with one survey showing that 90% of 18-24-year-olds would trust medical information shared by their network on social media. Trusting erroneous information can lead you down a dark spiral of health anxiety, with the constant worry that something is seriously wrong with your body.

Paired with the internet’s sensationalism, health anxiety can turn you into a “cyberchondriac,” a person who succumbs to the power of suggestion of medical symptoms. It sounds like a funny term, but it can be life-altering as people become preoccupied with possible health issues, fall behind at work, miss precious time with family, make trip after trip into the clinic and emergency rooms, and undergo a battery of expensive, painful, and often dangerous tests. Obviously, this is the extreme end of the condition, but many people who don’t have true cyberchondria would still probably admit to occasional increased anxiety about their health due to internet searches.

Now that we’ve drawn attention to health anxiety and cyberchondria, how can we avoid that extreme and feel more Zen about our health?

1. Take a deep breath and log off.

Even a few minutes away from the screen can give your mind and body the time it needs to calm and refocus.

2. Write down your specific concerns and details.

You’ll worry less about forgetting something important that you want to tell your healthcare provider. Try to focus on what you’re actually feeling, not what you read that someone else was feeling.

3. Schedule a healthcare visit.

Find a health care provider that will listen to your concerns. Continuing to worry without taking action will only make matters worse and increase health anxiety. Choose a provider that will give you the time you deserve and is easy to keep in touch with as it is likely you will need to have some continued conversations.

4. Focus on your wellness.

Staying healthy beats fighting an illness or disease any day of the week.

Cultivating scientific curiosity and researching medical conditions is generally good because it allows for a more educated public (in a theoretical, ideal internet with fact-checked articles galore). However, obsessively searching for validation of imaginary conditions is harmful to your sanity. RetraceHealth is here to support your health and wellness goals. Our medical providers are easily accessible 7 days a week by online visits, emails, phone calls, and even a visit to your home or office if needed. We are dedicated to truly listening to your needs and concerns. But if you find a monster under your bed, you’re on your own.

Make the most of your medical visit

A New York Times op-ed from this summer described marijuana dispensaries as a model for effective medical care. The praise, of course, was not about marijuana at all, but rather how they are organized in such a way as to provide greater service to their patients. Specifically, the marijuana dispensaries know that the medical provider has limited time to address the concerns of the patient, so they make sure that the support staff can fill in to answer any lingering questions or concerns.

This got me thinking about what patients can do to make sure that their medical provider answers their most important questions. What can they do to maximize their time during their medical visit, regardless of whether the experience lasts for 15 minutes or an hour? Well, here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your next visit – whether it’s a clinic, a hospital, or yes, even a marijuana dispensary:

1. Make a list of your questions and concerns and prioritize them.

One of the most frustrating things for both provider and patient is not getting to what needs to be addressed during a visit. No matter how long the visit, you and your provider still won’t be able to cover every aspect of your health. Listing and prioritizing your questions/concerns ahead of time ensures that the most important aren’t missed.

2. Ask about medication side effects.

The benefits of taking any medication need to be weighed against its side effects, and only you can ultimately decide if it’s worth it.

3. Ask about treatment options.

From alternative medications to lifestyle changes, to doing nothing, discussing your options and understanding the benefits and risks of each is as much your responsibility as it is your provider’s. Insist on having this discussion.

4. Be able to repeat back to the provider the plan of care.

This is simply a way to prove that you understand your care plan. It’s frightening how often patients don’t know why they are on a certain medication. The medical provider may think you understand, but you may have no clue! Again, it’s as much your responsibility as it is your provider’s to ensure understanding, so when in doubt ask questions.

The more time a patient and provider have, the better the communication; however, the better the communication, the less time the patient needs to have a worthwhile experience. Advocating for yourself and coming with a plan will help ensure that you get the best care – for you.

The case for Kegels

I’m going to reveal a huge secret: 33% of all women have urinary incontinence within the first 3 months after giving birth. What’s urinary incontinence? It’s when you pee your pants. For most women it’s quite embarrassing to talk about something they haven’t done since they were 3 years old, so peeing while sneezing is not a common topic at the girls’ night out. But here at RetraceHealth, we’re fearless, and we’re tackling the issue head-on. We’ll explain why it happens and how to prevent it.Urinary incontinence is an issue with the pelvic floor, which is a group of muscles that hold up all the organs in your lower abdomen (your bladder, your intestines, your uterus). After pregnancy (read: pushing out a small human being), these muscles become injured and weakened. Of course, like any injured muscle, they can heal over time. However, they don’t always heal 100%, and as a result, a woman can struggle with “holding it” throughout her lifetime. Fortunately, exercising the pelvic floor can strengthen it and help it heal.Now that the secret’s out, let’s talk about the solution: the Kegel. The Kegel is an exercise for the pelvic floor that mimics the muscle contraction that you would use to stop urinating mid-stream or to “hold your pee.” You hold the contraction for 10 seconds and then release. Do ten of these in a row three times a day for your daily pelvic floor workout.The concept seems easy, but knowing if you’re doing the exercise correctly can be challenging. Mayo Clinic is a great resource for proper technique. And for keeping you on track with your goals, Apps like the Kegel Trainer (available for Apple and Android) remind users to do their daily Kegels and track their progress over time. The important thing is to make the exercise part of your routine – do Kegels before meals, set an alarm on your phone, or find an app like Kegel Trainer to help incorporate them into your day.

Pelvic floor training is for everyone, not just women post childbirth (though it’s especially important for them). So women, don’t be afraid to share! Keeping urinary incontinence a secret only creates shame around a natural phenomenon. Talk to your healthcare provider, your friends, and other women about incontinence, and support each other in doing your Kegels.

Sleep on it

Americans don’t get enough sleep. And that’s really unfortunate because sleep has so many benefits besides the obvious one of avoiding grogginess. Getting enough sleep affects our decision-making, our ability to accept change, our temper, our immune system, our sexual health – and that’s just the short list. It also helps us prevent not just one but all kinds of cancer make us five times less likely to develop depression, and half as likely to die of heart disease.

While you sleep, your brain sifts through everything you experienced throughout the day and decides what to do with it. It cleans out your day’s inbox – throws out the “spam”, “archives” the memories it thinks you might need, and “stars” the really important stuff (if you’ve seen Inside Out you probably know this already). But it’s not just maintenance – your brain is also sifting through your experiences and making connections in order to solve problems that you struggled with during the day. That’s right – you’re productive while you sleep!

With all this good stuff happening while you snooze, it’s a bummer that so many people think they are too busy to invest precious hours in a good night’s sleep. But to function at your best, you need to allow your body to consistently get the rest it needs. The only way you can truly learn your personal sleep requirements is to consistently see how long it takes for you to wake up when not using an alarm, but luckily scientists have put together a handy cheat sheet that works for the vast majority of people:

Age Daily sleep
Babies 14-16 hours
Toddlers 12-14 hours
Children 10-12 hours
Teenagers 8-9 hours
Adults 7-8 hours

These are the average hours of sleep you should get each day. You may think that you can always catch up on the weekend, but it’s the streak of days spent getting the appropriate amount of sleep that helps protect your body from sleep deprivation related illnesses. The only remedy for sleep deprivation is to get enough sleep each day – it’s that simple. We do know that it can be hard to get a good night’s though, so we’ve put together some tips to improve your sleep schedule.

1. Regulate your sleep schedule. Even on weekends, try to go to bed at the same time so you and your body don’t have to make the decision every night on when to go to bed. Of course, this means waking up at the same time every day, too.

2. A nap is better than sleeping in. When you go to bed late (let’s be honest, it happens), take a nap rather than sleeping past your regular wake-up time. This way you maintain that same sleep schedule (sort of) and you make up for lost sleep.

3. Nap early in the day and shoot for 30 minutes. Those 30 minutes include an estimated 12 minutes to fall asleep – the clock starts when you lay down. It sounds brutal, but this way you’ll still be able to sleep at your regular bedtime.

4. Increase light exposure during the day. Your body will accept this as a signal that this is “wake time”.

5. Stay away from screens at night. Screens also signal “wake time,” which isn’t great when bedtime is coming up.

6. Avoid caffeine. Duh.

7. Eat well and exercise. C’mon guys. This is not only for your sleep health but also for your general health. Just don’t eat carbs or do a heavy workout within the 2 hours before bed, or you might have a hard time falling asleep.

While it’s true that you’ll sleep when you’re dead, it’s also true that you’ll likely die sooner if you don’t get enough sleep. Don’t skimp on sleep. Sleep is the last thing in your schedule you should cut if you want long-term health and well-being.

Concussions aren’t just for quarterbacks

Concussions are a topic that many in the sporting community would like to downplay or avoid entirely (hey NFL, we’re talking to you), but it’s important to take them seriously and be able to identify them when you see one. This message is particularly relevant for the upcoming fall sports season, but really it’s applicable to everyone as any blow to the head – whether it be a fall from the monkey bars or crash on a bicycle – can result in a concussion just as easily as a jarring hit on the football field. So no matter who you are, it is a good idea to learn a little bit about concussions.

Identify

There are quite a few concussion warning signs, but symptoms are not always consistent. So how can you tell a simple head bump from a concussion? Both make your head hurt; however, a concussion can also affect your actions, emotions, and memory. It takes time for some of these symptoms to emerge as immediate changes to things like behaviour, school performance, concentration, or energy are rarely obvious right away.

The potential delay in noticeable symptoms is particularly problematic when dealing with sports injuries. Luckily, many sports teams now use a computerized test (such as Impact) to measure the brain activity of all players before the start of the season. Then, should a player get injured, medical providers have an individualized scale to help them more quickly and accurately determine a player’s readiness to return to normal activities.

Since identification is often difficult, it is best to be prepared. Know the symptoms, and if you or your child is participating in an organized sport, verify in advance that an objective concussion protocol is in place that will prevent you, your kids, or a coach from having to make a judgement call at the moment.

React

Until fully healed, concussions leave the injured extremely vulnerable to a severe brain injury. As such, with any head injury, the best course of action is to limit any further physical activity and immediately seek medical assistance for evaluation and treatment. Return to normal activities should be under the guidance of a medical provider to give the injured the best chance at avoiding a second and likely more severe head injury during recovery.

Prevent

Of course, the best way to deal with concussions is to avoid getting them in the first place, and the best way to do that is to protect your head. This sounds like a “duh” suggestion, but it’s true. Sports-specific helmets, softer playing surfaces, and proper sporting techniques have all been shown to greatly reduce concussions. And environmental adjustments such as childproofing, air-bags, and non-slip mats can do the same by preventing those everyday mishaps. In short, concussions CAN be prevented with a little bit of prep work.

No matter how careful you are, bad things do happen, but with a little bit of knowledge, you will be prepared. Being able to properly identify, react to, and prevent concussions will help lessen the likelihood of head injuries in your life and will lead to better outcomes if they do happen. But it’s not all on you, your friends at RetraceHealth are always just a click away to help out!

Sunscreen demystified

Everyone knows that sunscreen protects our skin from painful sunburn and skin cancers, but determining how to choose and use sunscreens properly can be confusing. You could always Google it, but sorting through all of those results to actually find useful information is difficult. Luckily your friends at RetraceHealth are here to help with a list of some important things to keep in mind.

1: Choose SPF30 to SPF50

Anything below 30 is likely to provide inadequate protection, and anything above 50 is unnecessary.

2: UVA ages, UVB burns – get a sunscreen that protects against both

SPF only protects against UVB rays. Make sure your sunscreen says “broad spectrum,” meaning it protects against both UVB and UVA.

3: Pay attention to the ingredients in your sunscreen

Ingredients like titanium dioxide (okay) and/or zinc oxide (best) are thick, broad-spectrum, have been well tested, and are not absorbed into the body. Other common ingredients like retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone, have potentially dangerous side effects, so use with caution.

4: Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before sun exposure

This allows the ingredients to soak into or create a barrier layer on your skin.

5: Reapply every 2 hours

Doesn’t a higher SPF allow for longer protection? In theory, but sunlight breaks down the active ingredients in sunscreen within a few hours regardless of SPF and water/sweat will negate the effectiveness of all SPF in a similar amount of time. So if you’re actually you know outside or active when using sunscreen you should reapply every 2 hours.

6: Protect yourself even on a cloudy day

The UV rays go right through an overcast sky, so you can burn and permanently damage your skin even if you can’t see the sun.

7: Throw out expired sunscreen

Sunscreens actually do expire as the chemicals in them break down over time, reducing their effectiveness. To get the best out of your sunscreen store it properly (i.e. not in a hot place like a car) and replace it when needed.

So now you know. Follow these basic tips and you will have a fun, enjoyable time in the sun with no worries about a miserable sunburned week to follow. And if you are wondering when you should use sunscreen, we have one final tip for you: Don’t try to figure out when you should and when you shouldn’t use sunscreen. Just always use it and you’ll have no regrets.