Yet another CNN article provides a talking point for living a healthier lifestyle. This one is about smoking.

This stressful age in history may be the wrong time to advocate giving up a comforting habit, but knowingly continuing to batter your body with harmful toxins is nonsensical. In fact, this might be the perfect time to push quitting smoking, because doing so would free up spending money and prevent the need for expensive medical procedures down the road. It also takes the foot off the gas pedal of the car sending you racing towards your death.

The big craze these days is ultimately about doing the smart thing – well, what’s smarter than throwing away those cigarettes? According to the article linked above, society is becoming more and more hostile to smokers, whether it raises the price of a pack or shoves the smokers’ break out into the cold.

Just do whatever it takes to stop – cold turkey, nicotine patches, help clinics, e-cigarette –  because stopping is far better for you than continuing.

Because colds are highly contagious during the first 24 hours, it is recommended that you stay home from work for a day or two. But telling the difference between cold symptoms and signs of non-contagious problems like allergies can be difficult. In some cases you can still be productive later in the day and go in.

If you think you are suffering from the oh-so-common cold, check this quick reference distilled from a WebMD article to see how you should respond to symptoms.


  • Achy/tired/have a fever: cold or flu, so stay home.
  • No aches/fever: likely allergies, you can work.


  • Drenched clothes: fever likely, stay home and see doctor if severe (102 degrees+)
  • Fever and white patches on tonsils: stay home, call doctor for strep test.


  • Achy/tired/have a fever: cold or flu, so stay home.
  • No aches/fever: likely allergies, you can work.

Ear pain:

  • Accompanies cold symptoms: stay home, call doctor.
  • No cold symptoms: call doctor.

Sinus pain: stay home, likely only for 1 day.


  • With sneezing/congestion/aches: likely a cold, stay home.
  • Cannot tolerate noise/light: migraine, consult doctor for medication to resume day.


  • Red eyes, white/yellow stuff in eye corners, matted eyelashes: pinkeye – stay home and call doctor.

New Year’s Day is the perfect time to begin living a healthier lifestyle. If you have been putting off practicing the advice from this blog or from other health advisors, you have the chance to say that 2009 is the year of losing weight, quitting smoking, or giving up those extra drinks. However, while making a resolution  is a great start, some detailed adjustments are needed to follow through. A timely article on gives some tips:

  1. Be specific about your goal (Instead of saying, “I will lose weight,” say, “I will lose 20 pounds”).
  2. Make sure that goal is realistic.
  3. Establish a set of steps to reach that goal (e.g. Exercise three times a week and eat smaller portions).
  4. Set a specific time frame, perhaps only a few weeks or months, and then see how you’re doing.

Setting these standards works far better than setting a vague, seemingly distant goal. By being realistic from the start and in the followthrough, 2010 may indeed come with a fitter, healthier you!

The BenefitsVIP team wishes you a happy new year!

In most parts of the country, winter is certainly here. The weather is cold and rainy and the days are getting shorter. Some people love it (mostly just in anticipation of snow) but the rest of us will be looking forward to summer in a month or two at the latest. Most of these winter-resenters accept the changing of the seasons as a fact of life – since changing the Earth’s rotation is more than our nation can handle in a recession, we must either grin and bear it or move to Florida.

But 4 to 6 percent of Americans have a genetic disposition for depression and sluggishness catalyzed by the colder, darker days of winter, as brought up by this CNN article. These people have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression. Symptoms of SAD, according to WebMD, may remind you of hibernation habits:

  • Losing interest in your usual activities.
  • Eating more and craving carbohydrate-based foods, such as bread and pasta.
  • Gaining weight.
  • Sleeping more and feel drowsy during the daytime.

    It’s not just getting in touch with your inner grizzly bear, though, since the disorder also causes depression and mood swings including sadness and anxiety. These symptoms indicate SAD when they occur at about the same time every year, usually late autumn to early winter. Experts believe that shortening days are the prime catalyst, as they can disrupt the Circadian rhythms that help keep the body clock in order.

    If you think you are suffering from winter depression, you should talk with your doctor. If SAD is diagnosed, treatments ranging from light therapy (periodically staying close to a large, bright light) to medication (which should always be taken as directed). Experts also recommend exercising and making the most out of the season by skiing, ice skating and enjoying the holidays.

    Acknowledging and treating SAD is a way to insure your health and happiness throughout the year.

    This may be one of the most stressful holiday seasons in a while, what with the economic turmoil affecting us all in some way or another. Just like any other time of the year, stress can lead to fatigue, exhaustion and even life-threatening incidents like a heart attack or a stroke.

    In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle through the holidays, (and to actually enjoy them, too!) it pays to read this primer provided by Mayo Clinic. It outlines the causes of holiday stress and gives tips to curb it.

    We at BenefitsVIP wish you a happy holiday.

    The three main trigger points of holiday stress or depression:
    Relationships. Relationships can cause turmoil, conflict or stress at any time. But tensions are often heightened during the holidays. Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify — especially if you’re all thrust together for several days. Conflicts are bound to arise with so many different personalities, needs and interests. On the other hand, if you’re facing the holidays without a loved one, you may find yourself especially lonely or sad.
    Finances. Like your relationships, your financial situation can cause stress at any time of the year. But overspending during the holidays on gifts, travel, food and entertainment can increase stress as you try to make ends meet while ensuring that everyone on your gift list is happy. You may find yourself in a financial spiral that leaves you with depression symptoms such as hopelessness, sadness and helplessness.
    Physical demands. The strain of shopping, attending social gatherings and preparing holiday meals can wipe you out. Feeling exhausted increases your stress, creating a vicious cycle. Exercise and sleep — good antidotes for stress and fatigue — may take a back seat to chores and errands. High demands, stress, lack of exercise, and overindulgence in food and drink — all are ingredients for holiday illness.
    Tips you can try to head off holiday stress and depression:
    Acknowledge your feelings. If a loved one has recently died or you aren’t able to be with your loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness or grief. It’s OK now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
    Seek support. If you feel isolated or down, seek out family members and friends, or community, religious or social services. They can offer support and companionship. Consider volunteering at a community or religious function. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Also, enlist support for organizing holiday gatherings, as well as meal preparation and cleanup. You don’t have to go it alone. Don’t be a martyr.
    Be realistic. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Hold on to those you can and want to. But accept that you may have to let go of others. For example, if your adult children and grandchildren can’t all gather at your house as usual, find new ways to celebrate together from afar, such as sharing pictures, e-mails or videotapes.
    Set differences aside. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Practice forgiveness. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. With stress and activity levels high, the holidays might not be conducive to making quality time for relationships. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
    Stick to a budget. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then be sure to stick to your budget. If you don’t, you could feel anxious and tense for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
    Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make one big food-shopping trip. That’ll help prevent a last-minute scramble to buy forgotten ingredients — and you’ll have time to make another pie, if the first one’s a flop. Expect travel delays, especially if you’re flying.
    Learn to say no. Believe it or not, people will understand if you can’t do certain projects or activities. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you’ll avoid feeling resentful, bitter and overwhelmed. If it’s really not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
    Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a dietary free-for-all. Some indulgence is OK, but overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and schedule time for physical activity.
    Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Steal away to a quiet place, even if it’s to the bathroom for a few moments of solitude. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
    Rethink resolutions. Resolutions can set you up for failure if they’re unrealistic. Don’t resolve to change your whole life to make up for past excess. Instead, try to return to basic, healthy lifestyle routines. Set smaller, more specific goals with a reasonable time frame. Choose only those resolutions that help you feel valuable and that provide more than only fleeting moments of happiness.
    Forget about perfection. Holiday TV specials are filled with happy endings. But in real life, people don’t usually resolve problems within an hour or two. Something always comes up. You may get stuck late at the office and miss your daughter’s school play, your sister may dredge up an old argument, your partner may burn the cookies, and your mother may criticize how you’re raising the kids. All in the same day. Accept imperfections in yourself and in others.
    Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for several weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You may have depression.

    We at BenefitsVIP know that the best efforts of dieting maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout the year can easily be set back by a month of holiday overeating. There are ways to prevent that weight gain, though. This blog discussed (here) the connection between developing certain diseases and overeating, and how family culture can play a role in that development.

    Greta Macaire of the Community Health Resource Center provides this helpful guide for avoiding post-feast tragedy:

    The BenefitsVIP team wishes you a happy holiday.

    1. Be realistic. Don’t try to lose pounds during the holidays, instead try to maintain your current weight

    2. Plan time for exercise. Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevent weight gain. A moderate and daily increase in exercise can help partially offset increased holiday eating. Try 10- or 15-minute brisk walks twice a day.

    3. Don’t skip meals. Before leaving for a party, eat a light snack like raw vegetables or a piece of fruit to curb your appetite. You will be less tempted to over-indulge.

    4. Survey party buffets before filling your plate. Choose your favorite foods and skip your least favorite. Include vegetables and fruits to keep your plate balanced.

    5. Eat until you are satisfied; not stuffed. Savor your favorite holiday treats while eating small portions. Sit down, get comfortable, and enjoy.

    6. Be careful with beverages. Alcohol can lessen inhibitions and induce overeating; non-alcoholic beverages can be full of calories and sugar.

    7. If you overeat at one meal go light on the next. It takes 500 calories per day (or 3,500 calories per week) above your normal/maintenance consumption to gain one pound. It is impossible to gain weight from one piece of pie!

    8. Take the focus off food. Turn candy and cookie making time into non-edible projects like making wreaths, dough art decorations or a gingerbread house. Plan group activities with family and friends that aren’t all about food. Try serving a holiday meal to the community, playing games or going on a walking tour of decorated homes.

    9. Bring your own healthy dish to a holiday gathering.

    10. Practice Healthy Holiday Cooking. Preparing favorite dishes lower in fat and calories will help promote healthy holiday eating.
    Incorporate some of these simple-cooking tips in traditional holiday recipes to make them healthier:
    • Gravy – Refrigerate the gravy to harden fat. Skim the fat off. This will save a whopping 56 gm of fat per cup.
    • Dressing – Use a little less bread and add more onions, garlic, celery, and vegetables. Add fruits such as cranberries or apples. Moisten or flavor with low fat low sodium chicken or vegetable broth and applesauce.
    • Turkey – Enjoy delicious, roasted turkey breast without the skin and save 11 grams of saturated fat per 3 oz. serving.
    • Green Bean Casserole – Cook fresh green beans with chucks of potatoes instead of cream soup. Top with almonds instead of fried onion rings.
    • Mashed Potato – Use skim milk, chicken broth, garlic or garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese instead of whole milk and butter.
    • Quick Holiday Nog – Four bananas, 1-1/2 cups skim milk or soymilk, 1-1/2 cups plain nonfat yogurt, 1/4 teaspoon rum extract, and ground nutmeg. Blend all ingredients except nutmeg. Puree until smooth. Top with nutmeg.
    • Desserts – Make a crustless pumpkin pie. Substitute two egg whites for each whole egg in baked recipes. Replace heavy cream with evaporated skim milk in cheesecakes and cream pies. Top cakes with fresh fruit, fruit sauce, or a sprinkle of powdered sugar instead of fattening frosting.

    Enjoy the holidays, plan a time for activity, incorporate healthy recipes into your holiday meals, and don’t restrict yourself from enjoying your favorite holiday foods. In the long run, your mind and body will thank you.

    Sodium is not just salt; any chemical listed in the ingredients with the word “sodium” counts, including sodium chloride (table salt).

    Sticking with salt as sodium for now, though, take this picture into mind:

    The average adult needs only about a tablespoons worth of sodium, but they often get twice as much

    The average adult needs only about a tablespoon's worth of sodium, but they often get twice as much

    You’ll know all you need to know about sodium after reading this impassioned Cooking Light article on, written by a chef who had a sodium-induced heart attack. There are links to some great low-sodium recipes, too.