Eating Healthy at Work

If you’re busy or stressed — or both — eating healthy at work can be a low priority. But it’s important nonetheless. Healthy eating at work requires a little planning, including before you even step foot in your office. A few tips can get you on the right track:

  • Drink plenty of water. Eating healthy at work includes staying hydrated. The conventional wisdom of eight 8-oz. glasses of water is a fine rule. If you have trouble remembering to drink water, keep a reusable water bottle on your desk every day — that way you have a visual reminder to drink water.
  • Eat breakfast. It will keep you powered through the morning. Also, a breakfast with some form of protein — like eggs, cheese, raw nuts, or nut butter — might keep you more satisfied than a carb-heavy muffin or waffle.
  • Bring your lunch. While some healthy options at nearby supermarkets or restaurants may be available, bringing your lunch from home is almost always a healthier option. (And cheaper, too!) Make sure to actually bring stuff you like —eating healthy foods you hate will likely be difficult to make into a habit.
  • Take your lunch break away from your desk or work station. First and foremost, avoid working during your lunch break. But even if you’re at your desk and not working, eating at your desk can still feel like work because you haven’t removed yourself from that environment.
    • Eating at your desk can also be unhygienic: not only are the bacteria from your mouse, keyboard, and desk going into your food, your food is getting into your stuff. Regularly disinfect your desk or work station to prevent bacteria from building up.
  • Snack to satisfaction. Packing some healthy snacks from home can also help you get through the day undisturbed by hunger pangs. Like lunch, snacks are ideally eaten away from your desk or work station. If you work sitting down, this serves as a good reminder to get up and move around. A snack, combined with some other simple actions, can also help you avoid the midday slump.

Eating healthy at work requires a little planning and some dedicated time to eat. Just a few minor changes can make your everyday eating habits healthier and more enjoyable.

The Financial Future of Millennials

Where are millennials at these days with their financial planning? Some may say the generation is too diverse to analyze together, but snapshots of millennial money management might be helpful to any millennial looking to get their finances in order.

Student loan debt is often called the defining feature of the millennial generation. And while it is a major concern for many millennials, that doesn’t mean that it must be the one and only financial matter in this generation’s life.

What money matters are on millennials’ minds?

Okay, to be fair, student loan debt is paramount. More specifically, any debt is paramount. According to a survey by BMO Wealth Management, millennials are most concerned with paying down debt when it comes to their financial priorities. Respondents who chose “finding meaningful/better paying work” were the second-biggest category, while buying a home came in third.

Though reaching those goals can prove difficult, it’s a good start. Clearly outlining financial goals and priorities is crucial to planning.

A craving for structure

Even with goals in mind, a lot of millennials — nearly 1 in 3, according to a study by Northwestern Mutual — say unexpected purchases throw their budgeting off balance. Money set aside for one purpose may be dipped into suddenly for anything from a impulse buy to an unanticipated medical bill.

Instead of just winging it, having a personalized structure of spending and saving can help those who fall victim to fluctuating finances. There’s a variety of tech tools available that can help remedy bad spending habits and create a cushion for unexpected necessities. Millennials are already taking advantage of these tools, but to succeed they will have to do more than download an app. Simple measures like defining strict spending limits and having savings accounts for unique purposes can quell temptation to spend frivolously and potentially free up funds when they are needed most.

Looking toward the future

Despite debt and spending habits, millennials actually do step up when given a clear and structured way to help secure their financial future. They are more likely than any other generation to contribute to their 401(k) plans, if eligible, at 82 percent participation. That’s a higher rate of participation than baby boomers.

Millennials also consider their partners and families in their financial decisions — to include them, but also protect them from uncertain financial futures. A rise in prenuptial agreements in the millennial generation may be attributed to big-picture thinking — for better or worse! This uptick in these agreements may signal a desire to protect one’s own assets, but also to shield a spouse from the effects of debt taken on before the couple met.

Whether someone is eligible for a 401(k) or needs a pre-nup, a long-term view of finances that includes family is also a major part of financial planning. Addressing the future needs of people like a partner or spouse and children is essential. Considering other family members like parents — especially their changing needs as they age — is also smart.

Despite the uncertainty, many millennials are focusing on and planning for their future financial well-being. Just a few key steps may launch millennials on a path to both survive and even thrive financially.

West Nile Virus Makes an Appearance in Kentucky

Recently, news broke about the West Nile Virus making an appearance in Louisville, Kentucky. While this can be scary, it’s common this time of year. Before you worry too much, most cases of West Nile Virus are non-fatal. If you’re careful, you should have nothing to worry about.

However, if you start experiencing symptoms, visit your doctor.

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus may sound like an exotic and dangerous disease, but not as threatening as it sounds.

Transmitted primarily by mosquitoes, West Nile is an infection that usually appears between June and September. It’s been seen in all 48 contiguous states.

About 80 percent of people diagnosed with West Nile Virus have no symptoms. The remaining 20 percent of infected people will experience some mild symptoms that show up 3 to 14 days after the bite:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Joint pains
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash

Only 1 percent of infected people experience serious symptoms. Serious cases of West Nile Virus affect the nervous system and can include inflammation of the brain. If you experience any of the following symptoms, go see your doctor as soon as you can:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vision loss
  • Numbness or paralysis

Though West Nile Virus does not have a cure, symptoms generally fade on their own, though it’s not uncommon to feel fatigued and weak for a few weeks.

For serious cases, recovery can take several weeks or months, and in some rare cases of severe illness, permanent brain damage can result. According to the CDC, “about 1 in 10 people who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die.” But remember, that’s 1 in 10 of the 1 percent of serious cases. That comes out to 0.1 percent of infected people.

Prevention

Since the primary way to get West Nile Virus is from a mosquito bite, the best way to prevent it is to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

  • Cover up. Wear clothing that covers your skin. Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks are a great start.
  • Apply insect repellent.
  • Use screens. Check the screens on your windows and doors and make sure there are no gaps where mosquitoes can enter.
  • Use netting. Cover playpens, strollers, or any outside area with mosquito netting to keep them out.
  • Eliminate standing water. Mosquitoes have a close relationship with standing water. While you can’t do anything about public lakes in the area, you can drain personal ponds and clear up puddles around your house. If you can’t get rid of water, try to move it; mosquitoes don’t lay eggs in moving water. For example, keep fountains running.

The most important thing to remember is to contact your doctor if you start experiencing symptoms, especially the serious ones. Otherwise, try not to worry too much. West Nile Virus sounds scary, but most cases aren’t even noticeable.

Basics of Eye Health — How to See in the Future

In the shadow of a solar eclipse, you may wonder if it’s safe to look at the sun even during that brief period of totality. While it’s too late to give you advice on that — though we hope you practiced restraint and viewed it safely — we can speak to eye health in general.

Some say the eyes are the doors to the soul. That’s very poetic, but more simply, they are tools to let you experience the world in one way. In fact, sight has become the primary way people experience the world — things like the solar eclipse are most effectively enjoyed through sight.

However, NASA created an app to allow blind or low-vision people to experience the eclipse in a multisensory way, using soundscapes and vibrations.

There are two preventable eye illnesses that account for most cases of vision loss: cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Cataracts make your vision blurry, worsening over time, and AMD results in loss of central vision that can leave you legally blind.

Here are some tips to keeping your eyes healthy and hopefully prevent vision loss.

Hygiene

A simple way to protect your eyes and ensure eye health is to practice good hygiene. Doing simple things like washing your hands before touching your eyes can prevent diseases like pink eye. Do the following things daily to keep your eyes clear of infection:

  • Always wash off eye makeup.
  • Wash contact lenses sufficiently.
  • Keep your hands clean by washing them or using hand sanitizer.

Stretch your eyes

Especially when looking at a screen, you may experience eye strain. But you can prevent constant discomfort by looking up and focusing on something far away to flex your eye muscles.

Experts suggest practicing the 20-20-20 rule: For every 20 minutes looking at a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. That allows your eyes to refocus and build those muscles to keep them strong.

If you need to, set an alarm. Bonus: You can use every third alarm as a reminder to get up and take a short walk to prevent the sitting disease. You may notice a boost in your productivity as well.

Exercise your body

Exercise is a staple in any health and wellness topic, and it applies to eye health as well. Paired with a good diet, exercise naturally prevents ailments that can contribute to eye illnesses, like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Whether you focus on eye health or illness prevention, studies consistently show that exercise lowers the risk of developing cataracts and AMD.

Eat Well

Common in any health advice, what you eat has the power to prevent ailments. In this case, you can eat Omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E to ward off cataracts. Also, any food that is good for your heart will improve your circulation, which helps your eyes as well. The following foods are always good options:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Whole grains
  • Carrots and other colorful produce
  • Lean meats, like poultry
  • Beans

For some basic nutrition guidelines, see our Basics of Nutrition article.

Quit smoking

Among the illnesses that smoking causes, losing your eyesight is one of the lesser known. Research has shown that smoking increases your chances of developing cataracts and AMD by two or more times.

The CDC even shares a story about a woman who quit smoking too late and has to get shots in her eyes each month to prevent legal blindness. If you’re smoking, stop as soon as possible.

Eye protection

Next to hygiene, this is one of the easiest ways to boost your eye health. Whether you’re out in the sun or exposed to airborne particles, wear protection. Make sure your sunglasses have UV protection.

Regular physical exams

The earlier you catch warning signs of eye illnesses, the more successful treatment is. Make sure you don’t skip your regular eye exams. Doctors suggest getting an exam every two years.

Also, anytime you notice something wrong with your eyes, consider going to see your doctor. For example, if you have dark spots in your vision, light sensitivity, or discharge from your eyes, schedule an appointment. If your eyes itch or feel grainy, try eye drops or fully wash your eyes with water. If that doesn’t do the trick, see your doctor.

Everything on this list is pretty simple and can prevent eye illnesses if practiced regularly. Many of these also boost overall wellness in addition to eye health, so it can’t hurt to get into a good routine that includes some of these items.

Do a Puzzle, Prevent Dementia?

What’s the most important muscle in the body?

Dr. Santosh Kesari, neuro-oncologist and chair of the Department of Translational Neuro-oncology and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, might argue it’s the brain. And with credentials like that, it’s hard to argue.

Just like your leg muscles get stronger the more stairs you climb, your brain gets stronger the more it works out. Kesari explained that doing activities that connect different parts of your brain will strengthen those connections over time. In a study conducted at Exeter Medical School, researchers evaluated those connections based on how often the participant did word puzzles and how they performed on cognitive tests.

Keith Wesnes, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, and his team “found direct relationships between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks assessing a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning, and memory” for participants over the age of 50.

The more time participants dedicated to puzzles, the better their brain function was, to the extent that some individuals were performing at levels 10 years younger than their age.

While the survey is not enough for doctors to start prescribing word puzzles to patients, it is enough to suggest a connection. However, at this stage, it’s impossible to tell the nature of the connection. Do the puzzles improve brain function? Or are people with better brain function naturally drawn to puzzles?

According to Wesnes, the next step is to conduct clinical trials to see whether encouraging people to start doing word puzzles regularly improves brain function.

Puzzles to Prevent Dementia?

For some, the obvious application of this knowledge is in the prevention of dementia.

Dementia is a category of diseases that involve memory loss and deterioration of other mental functions. Alzheimer’s is perhaps the most well-known form of dementia, but multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s also fall into the category.

While dementia is not curable, websites like Healthline and Alzheimer’s provide recommendations to try to prevent it.

Until more research has been done on puzzles, experts recommend healthy habits to prevent dementia:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat healthy foods, especially including Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Get enough quality sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

Of course, you can still do puzzles if you want — we just can’t guarantee it’ll prevent dementia.

5 Tips to Boost Your Learning Potential

It’s August! The days are starting to get shorter, though there are still plenty of sunlight hours. Summer is coming to an end, which means one big thing for a lot of people: the start of school.

Whether your kid is heading off to school or you are, life changes quite a bit once school starts. One major change is that everyone’s focus switches from summer fun to academics.

To make sure you or your kid excels at school, make sure to keep the following in mind.

Sleep

Sleep is important for all parts of life, so it’s only natural it’s at the top of the list when it comes to learning. In fact, studies have shown that during sleep, our brains consolidate, or strengthen, memories. What is learning if not committing facts and skills to memory?

Furthermore, sleep is linked to high performance in school. Studies show that everyone — kids, high school students, and college students — who gets better sleep get better grades.

To maximize sleep potential, aim for 8 hours, or more for the young ones. Also, make sure to get you or your kids into bed around the same time each night — sleep schedule is just as important as the amount of sleep you get.

To be ready by the time school starts up, you may want to start establishing a sleep routine at least a week in advance. Try to maintain the routine on weekends too — it’ll make Monday morning a little easier to handle.

Eat

It takes energy to stay focused during the day, especially if you have to sit through lectures.

You may be tempted to grab an energy drink to get you through the day, but there are better options. Follow good eating habits; protein, whole grains, and fruits and veggies fill you up and give you energy. And make sure to drink lots of water.

Additionally, coffee will help you stay alert, but don’t overdo it or you’ll feel jittery and distracted. If you need a sugar boost, choose fruit and berries for natural sugar. Processed sugar, the kind you see in energy drinks and vending machine snacks, have much more sugar than fruit and berries and also lack other nutrients like fiber.

Dark chocolate and nuts make a good snack, with antioxidants and minimal sugar and fats. Avoid empty snacks like chips and candy.

Exercise

While learning is primarily a brain exercise, physical activity can help. Anyone who has participated in a lengthy study session will say that it is exhausting for the brain. Sometimes you just need to get up, stretch, and take a walk to clear your head. But that walk is good for more than mental health.

Physical activity can help the brain work. Scientifically, exercise boosts the learning processes in the brain. In tests with mice, those that exercised more learned faster.

Specifically, regular aerobic exercise stimulated the part of the brain in charge of learning and memory. Resistance training and strength exercises did not do the same. Though the study boasts of the potential of the findings in staving off dementia, they can help with all kinds of learning.

Additionally, exercise can improve sleep and reduce stress, both of which will help in your learning endeavors.

It may feel like an exercise routine takes time away from studies, but it’ll help in the long run, both with memory and stress levels.

Plan

You or your kids likely have strict class times, but outside of that, you can plan your time. For example, you can schedule homework for right after school. You can fit some study time in between classes — whatever works for your schedule.

Contrary to the popular advice of creating a routine and sticking to it, research has shown that changing the location, time, and materials used to study can boost your learning capabilities. Dr. Bjork, the head researcher, explains that when you study, your brain associates the material with your surroundings. Just like some sensations are linked to memories, studied material is linked to the environment.

If you vary the environment in which you study, your brain makes several associations with the study material, making it easier to recall the information in varying locations — like the classroom on exam day.

Studies have also shown that spacing out study sessions is more effective than procrastinating and cramming. Researchers speculate that after some time away from the material, your brain has to relearn parts of it before it can learn new things. That act of relearning solidifies the knowledge so you remember it for longer.

Plan school work accordingly, making sure to vary your work locations and set time aside for sleep, exercise, and relaxation.

Relax

Everyone needs time to wind down and relax, especially in a busy schedule.

It’s good for mental health and physical wellness. But it can be hard to relax when you’re stressed about school.

Break up study sessions and other time-intensive projects. We’ve already established that splitting up study sessions into smaller sessions is more effective than cramming the same number of hours together in a single session. The next step is to plan those sessions so you don’t leave them to the last minute.

If you’re a parent, discourage procrastination. In addition to what was said before, it causes undue stress and lowers performance. It could also add to behavior issues in and out of the classroom.

If you need some ideas for downtime, here are some things you can do that don’t involve learning:

  • Dates. Play dates or just gatherings with friends will help to relax and disconnect from the stresses of school.
  • Clubs. Joining fun clubs is a great way to schedule non-academic time; just make sure you enjoy going to them so they don’t become another obligation.
  • Solo activities. Go see a movie alone, go for a solo hike, or meditate in a quiet place.

Relaxation time could also be as simple as just never doing school work after dinner. That may also help with the wind-down process leading to bedtime.

Good habits start with work, so if you can, start early. You’ll see a difference in no time.

How to Be Happy, Based on Science

They say money can’t buy happiness, and they’re absolutely right. But if you can’t buy it, how do you get it? Is happiness an experience you can only see in already-happy people? Is it a greeting card emotion that’s too perfect to be attainable?

If you look up how to be happy, you’ll get results telling you to exercise, sleep better, and build a support network. While that may work sometimes, neuroscience has told us four concrete things that make us happy.

Be Grateful

According to neuroscience, you feel happy when your brain produces dopamine and serotonin. In fact, antidepressants often increase dopamine and serotonin levels to make you feel happier.

Feeling grateful does the same thing.

How do you practice that? If you’re not feeling it, search for something to be grateful for. Reach out to a friend or family member and thank them for something. In a relationship, showing gratitude, even for small things, can create a feedback loop where you keep passing it back and forth.

Even if you can’t find something to be grateful for, the act of searching is enough to boost your dopamine and serotonin levels and make you feel happier. So keep looking!

Label Negative Emotions

You can’t stop negative emotions from appearing, but you can decide what to do with them.

But what can you do when your negative emotions weigh you down so much that they bury you and keep you from even trying to do anything? Give them a name. Are you feeling anger? Anxiety? Sadness?

Neuroscience tells us that once we recognize a feeling and can name it, it doesn’t affect us as much. One reason this might happen is that when you name it, you separate yourself from it.

Are you sad, or do you just feel sad? Getting that distance can help you let go of those negative emotions.

If you need some help with this, try meditation or mindfulness, both of which use labeling. You can often find guided sessions that will help you get the hang of it.

Make a Decision

Have you ever noticed that you feel better after making a decision? No matter how difficult the decision, you feel relieved after it’s made, like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.

That’s because making a decision reduces stress and boosts dopamine levels.

You can use that to be happier in everyday life.

If you have trouble making decisions — maybe you are worried you won’t make the perfect decision — just make one that is good enough. The pressure to make a good decision can weigh you down, create more stress, and prevent you from achieving happiness. If you experience this, try adopting “good enough is good enough” as your mantra when you’re feeling stressed about a decision.

Note: These have to be real decisions. If you feel like you have no choice — for example, if you are obligated to go to your exercise class — your brain doesn’t count that as a decision and you’ll feel stress instead of relief.

Give a Hug

Actually, any kind of physical contact will increase oxytocin levels, which makes you feel emotions like stress and worry less intensely.

In fact, an absence of physical contact — or, similarly, a feeling of exclusion — will trigger the same part of the brain that pain triggers.

However, we don’t recommend going around touching people — that may get you into some trouble. Something as simple as a handshake or a pat on the back will do you good. But the best is hugs. Prescribe yourself five long hugs each day and see how you feel after a week.

Don’t get many hugs? Try a massage. You’ll get all the benefits of physical contact in a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Practice Happiness

What do those four things have in common? They all require you to do something. Yes, it’s work, but everything good in life takes work. It’s just like any other skill. You have to practice to get good at it. And you have to keep up the effort until it becomes natural.

One day, with practice, you’ll be one of those people you used to see and wonder how they can be so happy all the time.

How to Spend Your Time Off-Screen

Imagine life without smartphones, TVs, and computers. It’s hard, right? Impossible even?

Life today seems to depend on technology. People are glued to screens. If your phone has ever died, you know how hard it can be to escape boredom without it.

There are many reasons to spend time away from screens though, and they are not just for kids. While there are studies saying that screen time in young kids can delay speech, adults can also benefit from less screen time.

For example, if you have trouble getting to sleep on time every night, experts suggest turning off devices a couple hours before bedtime. The blue light from screens stimulates the brain just like sunlight does, keeping you awake. It can also damage your retinas and cause eye strain.

Whether you’re trying to set a good example for your kids, biding your time until your phone is charged or are trying to improve your sleep by putting away all screens two hours before bedtime, you may need some help deciding how to spend your time.

Here are some ideas to keep yourself busy off-screen.

Spend Time With Loved Ones

Play with your kids. Take your dog for a walk. Tempt your kitty with a wand toy. You won’t miss your screen if you’re spending quality time with those you love.

You can do many of the following activities with your loved ones as well.

Read

Reading is traditionally a screen-free activity, though ebooks are quite popular these days. For this exercise, grab a real book. You know, one made of paper and glue where you turn actual pages. I know, so retro. Make sure to wipe all the dust off.

If you don’t have any books, or none that interest you, head to a library for some free reading material. Grab a newspaper or magazine. Read anything really. You can even read aloud with your partner to add a social aspect to it.

Listen

You may need to start this activity with a device, but once you start it, put it away. You can listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music.

Write

Writing has lost some of its magic since the advent of the computer. Grab some paper and a pen and just write. You can write a story, to-do or shopping lists, or a journal entry. Or, write a letter or postcard to a friend. It means something special to receive snail mail from a friend.

Craft

If you’re crafty, get out your favorite supplies and get creating. If you’re anything like me, you have a ton of unfinished projects — without a screen distracting you, you have the bandwidth to finish some of them.

Don’t have a craft hobby? You can learn one if you’re so inclined. Try knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, jewelry-making, origami or paper crafting, leatherworking, drawing or painting (even paint-by-numbers), needle crafting, cross stitch, sewing or quilting.

You can even make gifts for friends.

Play a Game

The possibilities in this category are endless.

  • Board games: There are so many kinds of board games, ranging from childhood classics like Monopoly and Clue to modern games like Pandemic and Betrayal at House on the Hill.
  • Card games: Solitaire, Uno, and poker are popular ones.
  • Dice games: There’s Yahtzee, Farkle, or Zombie Dice.
  • Word games: Scrabble, Boggle, or Bananagrams.
  • Guessing games: Charades and Pictionary.
  • Trivia games: You can craft a trivia night yourself or use a trivia board game.

Do a Puzzle

Doing a puzzle is a great way to spend some time away from a screen. And you have some options. You can get out your old, classic puzzles and piece them together. This is great if you like handling the pieces, organizing them, and watching as you build an image.

Or, if you prefer pencil and paper puzzles, grab your favorite crossword or sudoku puzzle book.

Pamper

Take a bath, give yourself a facial, trade massages with your partner. Do what feels good and enjoy the feeling of not being distracted.

Prepare for Tomorrow

If you’d like to catch a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning, you can spend your screen-free time the night before getting your outfit ready, preparing lunch, and gathering supplies you’ll need.

Practice Wellness

Depending on the time of day, you can get some exercise in that doesn’t require a screen. Take a nature walk or hike. Go to that yoga or spin class you’ve been wanting to try out.

If you’re winding down for the day, practicing meditation is a great way to relax and let go of the day’s stresses.

There are so many activities that don’t require a screen. Try out a few of them and keep track of your favorites. And in the end, have a good time! Without a screen, you’ll be able to focus more on what you enjoy doing.