Q: What is occupational therapy?

By Elizabeth Smoots, MD

A: OT is a licensed profession that uses everyday activities, or occupations, to help people perform everyday functions they want and need to do. Occupational therapists determine and design customized therapeutic programs of daily activities to help patients reach their personal goals at home and at work. OT’s science-based treatments have been shown to increase the capacity for patient self-care and independence and reduce health care costs.

Specifically, OT can help people regain function after an illness, injury or limitation makes it difficult to engage in daily activities. The therapy can aid injury recovery, stroke or cancer rehabilitation, speech or swallowing technique, and arthritis or disability retraining. In addition, diabetes or obesity management, support for older adults with physical or cognitive impairments, and accommodations for children with disabilities may benefit from the expertise of an occupational therapist.

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Interruptions Wrecking Your Work?

What’s keeping you from being at your productive best? The most common distractions on the job are using personal phones for texting, online searches and social media. According to a Gallup poll, more than 50% of U.S. smartphone owners admit to checking their phones at work a few times an hour.

Another typical time-waster involves coworkers dropping by frequently to chat and the background noise they create. Another big culprit: unnecessary meetings.

Key to working better is avoiding interruptions,most of which are under your control just by being aware of them. While people are part of working, they can also break the focus and momentum of your work tasks. If you can, set aside specific no-interruption periods and post them via email, or escape to a quiet area to work undisturbed.

Quit burning time online. The more information you have pouring in — email, news stories, social media — the more you may feel like you’re doing something. But in reality, you’re losing focus and working less. Switch off your phone and, when possible, skip checking email during valuable work time.

To meet or not? Always weigh the options before calling a meeting. If it’s just information sharing, you’re probably better off emailing it. But if brainstorming or an in-depth discussion is needed, an in-person meeting might be best.

One positive interruption— take a 30-second personal pause. Standing up, stretching or deep breathing can instantly recharge your productivity, especially when you’re working at a computer.

While working well depends on your specific job and work environment, watch for ways that you and your coworkers can avoid interruptions and work smarter — maybe suggest a contest?

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Go on a Food Adventure

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

There’s no single food that contains all of the nutrients you need for optimal health. That’s why you’ll notice that healthy plate models always have proportions of different foods, such as ½ vegetables and fruits, ¼ grains and ¼ protein-rich options (e.g., lean poultry and meat, fish and beans). When eaten daily, the right proportion of these foods can help ensure you get the nutrients your body requires.

Some people use a plate model and fill it with the same choices day after day. That’s fine, as long as you get the nutrients you need. Others are more adventurous eaters and love to experiment with different flavors from around the world. Neither is right or wrong. What counts are balance, variety and your personal taste.

And don’t shy away from being adventurous. Here are 5 food trends to keep on your must-try radar:

  • Fermented drinks, such as kombucha and kefir, contain healthy probiotic bacteria that are good for overall health. Experiment with different brands, or make your own at home.
  • Puffed snacks are a modern take on the cheese variety but are made with whole grains, vegetables and flavors, such as curry or quinoa and kale. They are still ultra-processed snacks but with less salt and fat than chips.
  • New nut butters beyond peanut or almond butter are gaining momentum. Look for macadamia butter and roasted pumpkin seed butter.
  • At-home meal kits allow you to bring global flavors into your kitchen. Your local supermarket now likely stocks pre-prepped ingredient kits (think chicken, vegetables, noodles and sauce) to make a delicious dinner at home. Or check for other delivery services in your area.
  • Burger blends allow consumers to choose burgers that blend beef with plant-based foods, such as mushrooms or black beans. You get the same meaty taste with a new approach to a classic comfort food.
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Patient Portals 101

Want faster access to your health care provider? Patient portals enhance and quicken communication between you and your medical care team. Portals also allow secure electronic access to your personal health information. If your provider offers a patient portal, make the most of this valuable health tool. Portals are especially useful when you develop a chronic condition that needs regular care.

Getting started: Initially, your clinic will likely send an email giving you an option to log in to and set up your patient portal. The portal’s message center allows you to communicate electronically with your provider and the office staff, who can then send you various notices, such as test results and reminders for annual checkups and flu shots. Note: If you’ve not received notification to access a portal service, contact your clinic.

Once you’re set up, you can receive email alerts to visit your portal for new messages. In addition, the portal allows you to perform many basic health care tasks. You can:

  • Make non-urgent appointments.
  • Review your medical history.
  • Request referrals.
  • Refill prescriptions.
  • Download and complete forms.  
  • Access educational materials.
  • Send questions via secure email.

Some portals work better than others. Report problems or suggestions to your website providers; they want to ensure their portals are effective and efficient for their patients. 

Portals can often save you time and effort. You can often resolve basic issues without waiting for office hours or returned phone calls; you can access your personal health information from each of your providers; and if you have multiple providers or see specialists regularly, they can securely post online notices to your portal.

Using a portal service can lead to better care and easier care management. Are you on it?

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In the Know: Blood Donation

Donating blood is safe if you go through the proper channels and follow guidelines. The Red Cross uses new, sterile needles that are discarded after 1 use and uses safe blood collection techniques to prevent infection. While guidelines vary by state, the basic requirements for donating blood are:

  1. Being healthy and feeling well.
  2. Being at least 16 to 17 years old (varies by state).
  3. Weighing at least 110 pounds.
  4. Not donating blood within the past 56 days (some exceptions with different types of blood donations).

Search other eligibility requirements at redcrossblood.org.

Most people have little or no reaction to donating blood. However, call the blood donor center if you have any of the following symptoms after donating, including:

  • Nausea, lightheadedness or dizziness after resting, eating and drinking water.
  • A raised bump, continued bleeding or pain at the needle-stick site when you remove the bandage.
  • Pain or tingling down your arm, into your fingers.
  • Fever, headache or sore throat (cold or flu), within 4 days after your blood donation. Bacterial infections can be transmitted by your blood to another person via transfusion, so it’s important to contact the blood donor center so that your blood won’t be used.
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Tween-Ager Anxiety: How Parents Can Help

Kids are tweens by age 11 or 12 — transitional years from childhood to teenager. Kids often struggle as they experience rapid changes, new emotions and challenges they’re not quite ready to handle.

In fact, many of today’s kids are living with daily stress and anxiety from an increasingly demanding, complicated society.

Signs for concern: Your tween displays unusual disrespect, emotional outbursts, disobedience or belligerence, or appears depressed, antisocial and isolated from friends and family. At this stage, kids may seek answers or comfort in smoking, substance abuse or extensive screen time.

Cyberbullying is an increasing scenario among tweens and teens that uses digital communication to malign others. Examples: sending hurtful texts or instant messages, posting embarrassing photos or video on social media, and spreading damaging false rumors online or with phones.

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to stay observant and set aside time often to be with your children. Be persistent; reassure them of your love and support and ability to make life easier, provided they stay connected.

Together, create a plan your kids can use to resolve issues. Example: To combat the effects of cyberbullying, advise your child to actively step away from social media each day and take structured breaks from worries in general to refocus and find ways to enjoy themselves. 

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Cooking $mart

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

Maximize nutrition and ingredients without breaking your budget

Some foods that are touted for their health benefits can also be expensive. Items such as chia seeds, quinoa and nuts are nutritious but not always affordable. The good news is that you can reap the same nutritional benefits from similar foods that cost much less.

Some examples:

Instead of quinoa, opt for oats or pot barley. Either of these options is filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and can be used to make anything from a warm breakfast cereal to a savory side dish. Oats and barley cost about half of what you’d pay for quinoa.

Instead of mixed nuts, buy peanuts, which are more affordable. You’ll get the same satisfying crunch, plus lots of protein and good-for-you unsaturated fats. The same is true for nut butters: Peanut butter is more affordable than almond or cashew butter.

Instead of chia seeds, choose flax seeds. They cost a third less and are a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

Instead of ground beef, try brown lentils. Both contain protein, but lentils are cheaper yet higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat compared to ground beef. You can also mix beef and lentils (in burgers, for example) for the best of both worlds.

Instead of pricey snack bars, make your own.

Instead of buying coffee or tea over the counter, make it at home. A $3 cup of tea? Buy tea bags instead for only cents per bag. These beverages help you stay hydrated, but the costs add up. Make them at home and tote them in a thermos. And bottle water yourself: Fill a reusable bottle with water from the tap. It costs less and is just as good as what you buy in the store.

TIP: Instead of pricey dried goji, acai or mulberries, stick with locally grown fresh fruits. Whether you like apples, berries or oranges, they
all contain beneficial antioxidants and vitamin C. Any fruit is a good choice.

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Exercise: Get More Outdoors

Why exercise with Mother Nature? It’s hard to argue with the many health benefits you can gain from regular exercise. And moving it outdoors offers some special benefits over indoor exercise, especially on beautiful sunny days. Let it broaden your horizons.

Just open the door. You’ll find countless routes and settings in your neighborhood, often quicker than traveling to a gym.

Forget boredom. You can choose a changing environment, especially if you live near a park, shoreline or designated bike path — much more fun than working on a machine, especially
with a friend.

Burn more calories. Headwinds make your muscles work harder to overcome the resistance against your body, especially when jogging or biking.

Connect with your community. Break from screen time to share the fresh air with fellow neighborhood walkers, joggers and bikers.

Make exercise family time outside. Take your kids routinely to a playground, go biking or hiking and break a sweat — a good step in raising confident kids who grow to appreciate fitness.

Boost your mood. There is research suggesting that exercise outside can benefit mental well-being more than the same type of exercise inside. One study found outdoor exercisers scored higher on measures of energy, enthusiasm and self-esteem and lower on tension, depression
and fatigue.

Reminder: Know your outdoor environment — find a setting that’s safe and meets your exercise needs. Consider traffic, weather and air conditions before heading out.

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Signs of Stroke? Think F.A.S.T.

Every year, about 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer strokes. A stroke happens when the blood supply to your brain is interrupted or reduced. Strokes can be devastating, but if you think F.A.S.T., then you may increase your chances of recovering, depending on the stroke’s severity. 

Use F.A.S.T. to identify the common symptoms of stroke:

Face: You try to smile and 1 side of your face droops.

Arms: You attempt to raise your arms and 1 side drops down.

Speech: You speak and you have slurred speech or your speech sounds odd.

Time: Call 911 immediately if you have 1 or more of these symptoms.

Other signs include: dizziness, trouble walking, trouble seeing with 1 or both eyes, confusion, numbness or weakness on 1 side.

Reduce your risk of strokes by practicing these safe habits: Get plenty of exercise (if okayed by your health care provider), manage your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, eat healthy and lose weight if you’re overweight.

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Benefits of Family Dinners

Busy parents and kids may have a tendency to skip sit-down meals together. But research shows family dinners are worth the planning and effort because eating together regularly has a host of benefits for children and parents.

For example, Emory University psychologists found that families who share an evening meal are more likely to discuss emotions, events and family affairs; this boosts youngsters’ self-esteem and may improve academic performance. Other benefits include a lower risk of teen pregnancy and depression, according to Columbia University researchers. What’s more, teens who eat dinner with their families are less likely to use drugs and alcohol or smoke.

Parents and kids who eat dinners together tend to eat more fruit and vegetables and keep weight under control better, too. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed a 12% lower chance of being overweight, a 20% decrease in eating unhealthy foods and a 35% lower risk of eating disorders in youngsters who frequently ate dinner with their family. And University of Minnesota researchers found dads ate less fast food and moms engaged in fewer dieting and binge eating behaviors when family dinners were common.

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