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Mindfulness May Be the Answer to Help Lower Employee Stress and Improve Productivity

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In the workplace, a modest amount of stress can be normal. But sustained levels of stress can be harmful and may lead to numerous health issues, affect professional and family relationships, and contribute to poor work performance.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “40 percent of workers say that their jobs are very stressful, and more than 26 percent say they are ‘often burned out or stressed’ by their work.”

According to United Health Foundation’s most recent America’s Health Rankings, Texas ranks No. 12 among all 50 states for the number of poor mental health days – days in which an adult reports that their overall mental health was not good in the past 30 days and therefore may not be able to fully participate in work or other activities.

Balancing work, family life, and financial and health concerns may be taxing for many employees; however, according to a recent UnitedHealthcare survey, almost 90 percent of employees said meditation, or mindfulness, has a positive impact on a person’s overall health and well-being, including 41 percent who believe such activities can have a “significant impact.”

Employers that foster a workplace culture that prioritizes well-being, including mindfulness programs, can help their employees cope with challenging times whether at work or at home that may lower stress, reduce health risks, improve health decisions, focus and sense of well-being.  

ABC’s of Mindfulness
“Mindfulness” is the practice of being fully present in each moment with an open and curious attitude. To some, mindfulness is a hard topic to grasp, but the goal of mindfulness can be very simple. Just imagine a workplace filled with positive energy, where working relationships and communications are optimized, and challenging situations and distractions give way to focus and self-awareness. These are some of the goals of mindfulness programs.

With practice, mindfulness may free employees of habitual patterns of thinking, judging, feeling and acting, and may help them perform better, ignore distractions, and make better decisions throughout the day.  

For example, the following “mindful breaths” exercise may be helpful, especially when noticing that twinge of tightness, anxiety or stress many of us experience during the day:

  • Step 1: Bring awareness to your body and the sense of the natural breath in the body.
  • Step 2: Inhale through the nose, and exhale either through the nostrils or through the mouth as if breathing out through a straw.
  • Step 3: Repeat the inhale, and then the exhale. Notice the air entering the body, the pause after the in-breath, and the air leaving the body on the outbreath.
  • Step 4: One more time – slowly inhaling, and then slowly exhaling.

Mindfulness can be practiced while sitting in a quiet place, while walking, or even during normal workplace activities, such as attending a meeting or replying to an e-mail. When distractions come into mind, practicing this technique may help people let those distractions go and come back to the present moment.

Employees are not the only ones who may benefit from a mindfulness program. Employers also may benefit by experiencing more productivity, with an enhanced sense of culture and connectedness that can drive more creativity and innovation while reducing absenteeism, burnout and turnover.

Following a solid body of research by universities and institutions, mindfulness programs are now offered by some health plans, including UnitedHealthcare, and medical centers, hospitals, schools and businesses.  

For more information about employee well-being programs, visit UHC.com.

Make Your Health a Priority this Summer

While some people talk about getting a “beach body” for summer, fitness is more than just a matter of aesthetics – it can mean the difference between a long life and premature death.

Studies show 80 percent or more of premature chronic conditions, such as heart attack, stroke or diabetes, are caused by modifiable lifestyle choices, as opposed to being caused by genetic factors. Yet many Americans lack an understanding of the connection between lifestyle choices and chronic health conditions. A recent UnitedHealthcare survey found that just 16 percent of Americans correctly recognized that 80 percent or more of premature chronic conditions are caused by modifiable lifestyle choices, such as risk factors like smoking or obesity, not genetics.

To help make your health a priority this summer, here are tips to consider:

Walk This Way: Studies have shown walking more and sitting less may help people maintain a healthier weight, ward off depression and prevent serious health issues like heart disease. And a recent report concluded that walking can help curb sweet cravings, boost the immune system and ease joint pain. To make walking more effective, think FIT, which stands for frequency (500 steps within seven minutes six times per day), intensity (3,000 steps within 30 minutes each day) and tenacity (at least 10,000 total steps per day).   

Get Outside (Safely): The popularity of smartphones and streaming TV has made it easy – and entertaining – to stay inside. In fact, recent research has found that some people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, limiting exposure to daylight and fresh air. This can have negative consequences, including for children and their eye health. Studies have found that exposure to outdoor light may help reduce the risk of nearsightedness, the inability to see far off objects clearly. To gain the potential benefits of being outdoors while helping stay safe, children and adults should wear sunglasses that block both UV rays and blue light, as well as apply sunscreen to help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Maintain Your Hearing Health: Summer is a popular time for sporting events and music concerts, which can lead to exposure to loud sounds. Crowd noise at sporting events can exceed 90 decibels, while music concerts can reach 110 decibels. Prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can contribute to gradual hearing loss, so it is a good idea to use ear protection when seeing your favorite team or band. Likewise, extended listening to music or digital content through headphones or earbuds may damage hearing overtime. To help prevent that, turn the volume on your electronic device to 60 percent and listen for no longer than 60 minutes at a time, and never listen to earbuds while using power tools or a lawn mower.   

Stay Safe Overseas: With people heading out on summer vacations, it is important to recognize that up to 20 percent of travelers suffer an illness or injury while on vacation. Before traveling out of your home state, review your health plan and understand what it covers, including if you have access to a national or local network of hospitals and health care providers. For people traveling overseas, contact your primary care doctor or travel medicine clinic to determine what pre-screenings or immunizations might be recommended or required, based on your health history and countries on the itinerary.

Following these tips may help you focus on fun, friends and family during the summer, while helping maintain or improve your health now and in the future.

How Seniors Can Beat the Heat: Tips for Staying Active and Safe as Temperatures Rise

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Today’s seniors are more active than ever before. Popular pastimes such as golf, cycling and gardening provide daily opportunities to exercise and socialize, and there’s no better time to enjoy these outdoor pursuits than the summer months.  

However, as temperatures rise, so do the risks of heat stress. Extreme heat can be dangerous for anyone, but older adults are especially vulnerable to conditions such as dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke due to the body’s natural aging process, underlying chronic conditions and side effects from prescription drugs. Excessive exposure to heat can quickly lead to serious illness or even death in older adults, and today’s seniors could be at greater risk than previous generations as research shows summers are getting hotter over time.

The best defense against heat stress and related illnesses is staying informed, prepared and alert. The following tips can help older adults stay active, healthy and safe when temperatures are high.

1. Know the signs. Be alert for common signs of heat exhaustion, which include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and fainting. Seek medical attention right away if you notice any of these symptoms.

2. Stay hydrated. Your body needs more water than you may think – and you need to drink before you are thirsty. Ask your doctor how much you should be drinking if you are directed to limit your fluid intake due to certain medications.

3. Time it right and take plenty of breaks. Make the most of early morning and evening hours (before 11 a.m. and after 4 p.m.) when temperatures are cooler to do outdoor activities such as gardening or walking. Take regular breaks from the heat in air-conditioned areas or designated cooling centers, if necessary.

4. Take it inside. Don’t let the heat keep you sedentary. When it’s too hot for your usual outdoor jog or bike ride, explore indoor-based activities at the gym or your community center. Many Medicare Advantage plans cover gym memberships, so be sure to brush up on your benefits to get the most out of your plan.

5. Use the buddy system. If you choose to do an outdoor activity when it’s hot, bring a friend. Besides enjoying each other’s company, you can help each other stay alert to any signs of heat stress or get help if necessary.

6. Skip the stove. Cooking can heat up your living space quickly, so avoid turning on the stove or oven when it’s very hot. Cold foods like salad, fresh fruit and yogurt can be healthy, convenient and refreshing options when the mercury rises.

UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement is the largest business dedicated to the health and well-being needs of seniors and other beneficiaries. UnitedHealthcare serves more than 12.3 million beneficiaries nationwide, including more than 1 million here in Texas.

For more information about staying safe in the summer heat, check out this AARP article, or search for “heat safety” on AARP.org. You can find additional health and wellness information and tips for healthy living at newsroom.uhc.com.