Wellness Wednesday: No Child Left Behind

Toddler boy sleeping in car seatIt’s that time of year again. The heat waves, days at the pool or beach, and a steamy hot car. We’ve all been there. Your car has been out in the sun for hours and you first get inside. Your sunglasses steam up and the steering wheel burns your hands. Wow, it’s hot in there!

Now imagine that when you open the car door, you realize your child had been in the backseat.

Yes. It’s almost unimaginable. It’s horrifying. And yet it happens. Sometimes it’s semi-intentional …  mom or dad figures little Tommy is sleeping and he/she just needs a couple things. So I’ll run into the store alone. I won’t be long. Then mom or dad runs into an old friend or is stuck in a particularly long line. A ‘few minutes’ grows longer and Tommy is in danger.

Sometimes, though rarely, it’s a crime … a parent intentionally leaves a child to die for whatever horrible reason.

But most often, it is simply a horrific, tragic accident. A rushed mom or dad, who isn’t the usual daycare drop-off parent, drives straight to work forgetting Tommy is in the back because he’s quiet. And mom or dad only realizes the mistake when he/she approaches the car at the end of the workday.

What?! How can you forget your child? A cell phone, your lunch, paperwork … yes. But your child??

We’ve all said this. We try not to judge; but in our minds, we are thinking the same thing, “How can a parent not remember his or her child is in the car? I could never do that.”

But you could. Anyone can. It’s all in your mind.

Baby Car seat
Tip: Experts suggest leaving a stuffed toy in your car seat and when you place your baby in the car, move the toy to the front seat as a reminder the car seat is occupied.

Have you ever started driving to work and suddenly realize you arrived and have hardly a recollection of the actual movements of getting there? You’ve done it so many times, it’s a ‘habit’ and as if you’re on autopilot. You no longer have to think, “I need to make a left here, a right there.” According to memory expert David Diamond, Ph.D., there are scientific, biological explanations for this.

There are separate areas of the brain that are for short-term memory (hippocampus), for thinking/analyzing information (prefrontal cortex), and for voluntary but barely conscious actions (basal ganglia)—like driving to work every day. These areas typically work in harmony with each other but experts say outside forces, such as stress, can throw a proverbial wrench into the operation.

Stress can weaken the areas of the brain responsible for immediate memory and analyzing, which then allows the basal ganglia to essentially take control. So if you’re a parent who is suddenly the one taking Tommy to daycare in the morning, which is out of routine for you, and you are sleep-deprived and stressed and have a million things on your mind (like every parent out there, ever!), you put Tommy in the car and set off to daycare, but your mind is going through the day’s ‘To Do’ list and Tommy is quiet. Now, as you’re driving, the part of your brain responsible for getting you from point A to point B takes over and follows its normal routine—home to work. You’ve forgotten all about daycare. Or more likely, you arrive at work thinking you actually did drop Tommy off at daycare.

The medical explanation for how a parent can walk away from a car without realizing their child is inside is called Forgotten Baby Syndrome. Diamond, who is an expert in cognitive and neural sciences at the University of South Florida, says it’s a form of memory lapse involving the portions of the brain that store new information and help plan for the future.

“It is the hippocampus that processes that a child is in the car, while the prefrontal cortex enables a parent to plan the route, including a change in plans to go to daycare rather than straight to work,” says Diamond.

It’s not an excuse. But it is an explanation of how the unthinkable can happen. And it is a reason to set into habit a different routine … one that ensures Tommy’s safety every day, especially when stress levels are high.wheresbaby4

Experts suggest you get in the habit of always, always opening the back door of your car after leaving your vehicle. This tip has actually morphed into a campaign from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), called “Look Before You Lock,” which was created to ensure a child is never left behind.

Here are some additional tips to keep your ‘Tommy’ safe:

  • Create a reminder to check the back seat. Always put the items you will need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., in the back seat so that you have to open the back door to retrieve that item every time you park. Do not let yourself simply reach around and grab it from the driver’s seat. You must get out and open the back door.
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat. When the child is placed in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It’s a visual reminder that the child is in the back seat.
  • Always place the car seat on the passenger side of the vehicle, not behind the driver. It is easier to see and remember the child.
  • Be especially careful during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays. This is when many tragedies occur. There are apps you can download and gadgets you can buy that will also signal a reminder. But you don’t want to become reliant on those technologies.
  • Keep a note posted to your computer at work, “Did you drop Tommy off at daycare this morning?” or “What did [caregiver’s name] say before you left Tommy at daycare today?” This might trigger a reminder that you never saw the caregiver this morning.
  • If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely. Make sure that your daycare or caregiver is someone who will contact you if your child is expected but doesn’t arrive. If schools can follow up on truant children, so can your daycare.

Additionally … children can also find their way into unlocked parked cars on the street. So always, always lock your car doors. You should do this not only to protect your car and any valuables inside of it from theft, but also from a child (maybe not even your own) finding his/her way into your car and accidentally locking the doors.

Sources: NHTSA, kidsandcars.org, parents.com

Additional Information:

Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?
Yes, You Could Forget Your Kid in the Car—I Did

Wellness Wednesday: Life’s Simple 7

Do you know there are seven easy ways to help control your risk for heart disease? Manage your heart risk by understanding “Life’s Simple 7.”

Get active

Red puzzle heart with stethoscope on grey wooden backgroundDaily physical activity increases the length and quality of your life. If you get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day (like brisk walking), five times per week, you can almost guarantee yourself a healthier and more satisfying life while lowering your risks for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

What To Do:
Start by learning the basics about fitness. Also, children need 60 minutes a day—every day—of physical activity, so find ways to workout with your kids to help ensure their heart health in addition to your own.

Control cholesterol

When you control your cholesterol, you are giving your arteries their best chance to remain clear of blockages. Cholesterol is a waxy substance and our bodies use it to make cell membranes and some hormones, but when you have too much bad cholesterol (LDL), it combines with white blood cells and forms plaque in your veins and arteries. These blockages lead to heart disease and stroke.

What To Do:
Try these tips to lower cholesterol with diet and foods.

GRFW-Food-DiaryEat better

Healthy foods are the fuel our bodies use to make new cells and create the energy we need to thrive and fight diseases. If you are frequently skipping out on veggies, fruit, low-fat dairy, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean meats including fish, your body is missing the basic building blocks for a healthy life.

What To Do:
Want more ways to eat better? Try these tips:

  • Track what you eat with a food diary.
  • Eat vegetables and fruits.
  • Eat unrefined fiber-rich whole-grain foods.
  • Eat fish twice a week.
  • Cut back on added sugars and saturated fats.

Manage blood pressure

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer.

BPHigh blood pressure, also known as hypertension, means the blood running through your arteries flows with too much force and puts pressure on your arteries, stretching them past their healthy limit and causing microscopic tears. Our body then kicks into injury-healing mode to repair these tears with scar tissue. But unfortunately, the scar tissue traps plaque and white blood cells which can form into blockages, blood clots, and hardened, weakened arteries.

What To Do:
To manage blood pressure, you should:

Lose weight

If you have too much fat—especially if a lot of it is at your waist—you’re at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease by successfully losing weight and keeping it off. Even losing as few as five or ten pounds can produce a dramatic blood pressure reduction.

What To Do:
Calculate your body mass index (BMI) to help you determine if you need to lose weight.

Reduce blood sugar

Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose (or blood sugar) that our bodies use for energy. Your body makes a hormone called insulin that acts like a carrier to take your food energy into your cells. If your fasting blood sugar level is below 100, you are in the healthy range. If not, your results could indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Although diabetes is treatable and you can live a healthy life with this condition, even when glucose levels are under control it greatly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, most people with diabetes die from some form of heart or blood vessel disease.

What To Do:
The following tips can all help reduce your blood sugar:

  • Reduce consumption of simple sugars that are found in soda, candy and sugary desserts.
  • Get regular physical activity! Moderate intensity aerobic physical activity directly helps your body respond to insulin.
  • Take medications or insulin if it is prescribed for you.

Stop smoking

iStock_000018054489_LargeCigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Smoking damages your entire circulatory system, and increases your risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots. Like a line of tumbling dominoes, one risk creates another. Blood clots and hardened arteries increase your risks for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease. Smoking can also reduce your good cholesterol (HDL) and your lung capacity, making it harder to get the physical activity you need for better health.

What To Do:
Whatever it takes for you to stop smoking, it is worth it! Visit the American Heart Association’s Quit Smoking website for tools and resources.

Learn more about “Life’s Simple 7” and take action with MyLifeCheck from the American Heart Association.

Source: American Heart Association, Go Red for Women

More Information:

Go Red For Women’s food diary

Wellness Wednesday: Making New Year’s Resolutions You Can Keep

HappyNewYearIt’s that time again. A new year is just ahead and millions of people vow to lose weight, get fit, stop smoking, etc. It’s the New Year’s Resolution, which often includes new gym memberships and weight loss program sign-ups that are forgotten by February.

But you don’t have to fall into this trap. You can make small resolutions that are easier to keep and can help you down the path towards a better you.

Make healthier food choices. Grab a healthy snack such as fruit, nuts, or low-fat cheese. Maybe switch out one ‘bad’ treat a day for a good treat. You might start to feel better and have more energy. And if you splurge once in a while, don’t give up. All is not lost.

Be more active to improve overall health. You don’t need to join a gym to get healthier. Try simple things such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Park farther away from your office so you have to walk a little more. Be active for at least 2½ hours a week. That’s roughly 20 minutes a day. Maybe take a 10 minute walk at lunch time and another 10 minutes of activity in the evening.

iStock_000018054489_LargeBe smoke-free. If you are ready to quit, call 1.800.QUIT.NOW (1.800.784.8669) for free resources, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to other resources where you live.

Get enough sleep. Remember that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Your body heals itself and recuperates during sleep.

Always use seat belts and use child safety seats and booster seats that are appropriate for your child’s age and weight.

Lower the risk of foodborne illness as you prepare meals for your family.

Gather and share family health history. It’s important for you and your family to keep track of illnesses or disease and to know about any family health risks.

iStock_000040286742_LargeGet pets vaccinated and keep pets healthy. Our pets are part of our family. Keeping them healthy helps ensure they will be by your side for a while.

Make an appointment for an annual check-up, vaccination or screening.

Wash your hands often with soap and water to prevent the spread of infection and illness. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Wellness Wednesday: Tips for Handling the Holiday Blues

Sometimes the holidays are not merry and bright for everyone.

Cover photoMaking time for social events; doing the cooking, the shopping and the entertaining and all while doing our best to care for ourselves and our families, the holidays are a busy time for many (even “decking the halls” can be stressful!)

While the holiday season can be a lighthearted time full of joy and good cheer, the hustle and bustle, and the stress that comes along with it, can lead to a dark period of anxiety, loneliness and regret for some.

As we go through this season, Mercy Health System would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to care for yourself, and your loved ones, by reminding you of the importance of preventive care, including embracing a healthy spirit.

Mental Health America offers the following tips on how to help make the season brighter:

  • Be realistic about what you can do. Don’t put the focus of the entire holiday season on just one day. Activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment. Make a list and prioritize the important activities.
  • Life brings changes. Each season is different and can be enjoyed and celebrated in its own way. Don’t set yourself up in comparing today with the “good ol’ days.”
  • Try volunteering some of your time to help others.
  • Enjoy activities that are free, such as taking a drive to look at holiday decorations, going window shopping or making a snowman with children.
  • Be aware that excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends or contact someone you haven’t heard from in a while.
  • Save time for yourself and recharge your batteries! Let others share in the responsibility of planning activities.

Recognize when it’s more than just ‘the blues’

sad_man1As the days get shorter, with longer, colder nights, many people find themselves feeling sad. They tend to suffer from symptoms of depression during the winter months, with symptoms subsiding during the spring and summer months. For many, it’s simply a normal response to less sunlight, but for others, it can be a clinical form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a mood disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light. SAD affects half a million people every winter between September and April, peaking in December, January and February.  Some people respond well to light therapy, while others also need an anti-depressant.

If you are experiencing feelings of sadness or despair, have changes in your sleep patterns or appetite, lack of concentration and interest, you could be suffering from a major depressive episode and you should seek immediate professional help for a diagnosis and treatment.

You can contact your primary care physician (PCP) who can refer you to a specialist. If you don’t have a PCP, finding one is easy. Just visit your insurance carrier’s website, look for the “find a doctor” area and follow the instructions.

To find a Mercy Health System physician, go to www.mercyhealth.org/find-a-doctor.

Wellness Wednesday: Regular Physical Activity, Health Screenings Can Improve Your Well-Being

Andrew R. Whalley / Source / CC BY-NC

According to the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, people of all ages can improve the quality of their lives and reduce the risks of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and type 2 diabetes with regular physical activity.

That’s why Mercy Health System would like to encourage you to care for yourself and your loved ones by reminding you of the importance of maintaining a consistent fitness routine and getting regular health screenings.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults participate in two types of physical activity, aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activity, each week to improve health.

Specifically, the Guidelines suggest two hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (like brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week, focusing on working on all major muscle groups. According to the CDC, muscle-strengthening activities can include:

  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Doing movement that uses your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups and sit ups
  • Heavy gardening like digging and shoveling
  • Yoga

The CDC recommends spreading your activity out during the week and even breaking it up into smaller periods of time each day—that way 150 minutes may not seem so overwhelming. It all counts as long as you’re keeping a moderate or quick pace for at least a 10-minute session each time. If you have any concerns about starting a fitness program, remember to check with your doctor.
Another way various disorders, such as diabetes, depression and hypertension, can be identified early is by knowing and properly managing your biometric numbers—such as your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

The best way to find out if your numbers are within a healthy range for your gender, height and age is to have annual screenings.

Having a Primary Care Physician (PCP) who can coordinate your care is vital to your good health. A PCP typically specializes in Family Medicine, Internal Medicine or General Practice. If you don’t have a PCP, finding one is easy! Just visit your insurance carrier’s website, look for the “find a doctor” area and follow the instructions.

To find a Mercy Health physician, go to www.mercyhealth.org/find-a-doctor.

Wellness Wednesday: Physical Activity Offers Great Benefits to Those Living with Disease

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid you know that according to the American Heart Association (AHA), active people who have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes or other chronic diseases are more likely to live healthier for a longer period of time than inactive people with the same conditions?

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says that physical activity can help lower your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also reduces your risk for stroke, relieves stress and anxiety and strengthens your heart, muscles and bones.

These benefits are important for anyone, but especially for those who with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Because of the symptoms they experience, those who live with illness may find it challenging to get regular physical activity. The ADA and AHA offer the following tips:

  • Look for chances to be more active during the day. Walk the mall before shopping, take the stairs instead of the escalator or take 10-15 minute breaks for walking or some other activity while watching TV or sitting.
  • Don’t get discouraged if you stop for a while. Get started again gradually and work up to your old pace.
  • Don’t participate in physical activities right after meals or when it’s very hot or humid.
  • It is recommended that diabetics check blood glucose before and after activity (if it’s too low, eat a piece of fruit, a few crackers or glass of milk) and carry a snack to eat if you’ll be active for a few hours or more. If you have one, wear your medical alert I.D.
  • You can do this even if you’ve been sedentary for a long time, are overweight, have a high risk of coronary heart disease or some other chronic health problem, see your doctor for a medical evaluation before beginning a physical activity program.

In addition to getting regular physical activity, developing and maintaining a relationship with a Primary Care Physician (PCP) who can coordinate your care is vital to your good health.

A PCP typically specializes in family medicine, internal medicine or general practice. If you don’t have a PCP, finding one is easy! Just visit your insurance carrier’s website, look for the “find a doctor” area and follow the instructions.

When you’re being treated for a disease or condition, it may not always be easy to decide where to go for care. For anything that is considered a life-threatening situation (like chest pain or sudden and severe pain) it’s best to go to the emergency room. For less severe matters that still require immediate attention, if you can’t get in to see your PCP, going to an urgent care facility can save you time and money.

Even if you require emergency or urgent care for your health situation, it’s always best to have a relationship with a PCP who knows your history and understands what is happening with your health over time.

To find a Mercy Health physician, go to www.mercyhealth.org/find-a-doctor.

Wellness Wednesday: Good Health and Fitness Habits Can Help Lower Your Risk for Disease

mD7RmgsDid you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity helps improve overall health and fitness and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases?

Mercy Health System would like to encourage you to care for yourself, and your loved ones, by reminding you of the importance of staying active.

The CDC states that regular physical activity can help:

  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Control your weight
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living healthy longer

In addition to positively impacting your physical health, fitness activities have a great impact on your spiritual health:

  • A walk through nature—with the intention of communing with God or one’s Higher Power—combines physical exercise and spiritual nourishment into one activity.
  • Yoga combines physical postures and movements, while focusing on deep breathing and spiritual truths. You may find some instructors or types of yoga more compatible with your faith background than others.
  • Avid joggers will often talk about the “high” they feel from vigorous exercise. This is the body’s natural way to take care of itself through “natural pain killers” or “endorphins.”

As human beings, we are integrated and inseparable in body, mind and soul. Caring for one dimension of our being (e.g., physical activity) promotes healing in all areas of our health. We feel better, are less stressed, find life more purposeful and are more thankful.

Even if you’ve not participated regularly in fitness activities, the CDC says that starting out with a moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, will offer health benefits. If you have any concerns about starting a fitness program, remember to check with your doctor.

Another great way to lower your risk for disease is by getting annual physicals and tests. Having a Primary Care Physician (PCP) who can coordinate your care is vital to your good health. If you don’t have a PCP, just visit your insurance carrier’s website, look for the “find a doctor” area and follow the instructions.

To find a Mercy Health physician, go to www.mercyhealth.org/find-a-doctor.