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Pickleball at the Oshkosh YMCA Tennis Center

According to co-inventors Joel Pritchard, William Bell and Barney McCallum, the mini-tennis game called Pickleball, was created in the summer of 1965 to provide a sport for the entire family to enjoy. Pickleball is a relatively new racquet sport that combine ping pong, tennis and badminton and played on a doubles badminton court. The net is similar to a tennis net, but two inches lower. The game is played with a hard paddle that is similar to table tennis and the ball is comparable to a Wiffle ball. It is said to be the fastest growing game in America and is very popular among tennis players and non-tennis players alike.  Pickleball is great for people of all ages and athletic abilities. Sheila Counts, YMCA Tennis Center Manager states, “Pickleball is a fast growing sport and it provides people with an opportunity to learn a new sport that targets a wider range of ages, athletic abilities and fitness levels.”

Pickleball has many health benefits as well such as increased mood and overall mental health, you burn calories, and fewer injuries occur due to the low impact nature of the game. Pickleball specifically works balance and agility, while offering the same benefits of other regular exercise such as reducing your risk of heart attack and chronic disease, toning your muscles and increasing your energy. “The best thing about Pickleball is that it provides socialization and activity at the same time,” adds Counts.

The Oshkosh YMCA Tennis Center now has Pickleball courts open to anyone! Participants do not need to have a Tennis Center or Y membership to play.  Pickleball courts are available for play on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. with two open courts and two courts available for competitive play, Tuesdays 10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Fridays 1:00-3:00 p.m. and Sunday from 7:00-9:00 a.m.  Pickleball courts can be reserved during non-Pickleball times.  Regular Tennis Court fees and guest fees of non-Tennis Center members apply per Pickleball court. 

According to the USA Pickleball Association, participants should do the following before playing Pickleball:
  • Be sure to have the proper shoes, ones that support your feet and are designed for court sports.
  • Give any existing injury plenty of time and rest to heal before you resume play.
  • Know how to get help quickly if you or a co-player are hurt or develop a medical problem.  Is there a telephone, a first-aid kit and an automatic external defibrillator (AED) nearby?  Do you have the phone number available of someone to call in case of emergency?
  • Be aware of any obstacles in the area that you might run into or trip over, such as benches or gym equipment.
  • Never play on a wet court; they are extremely dangerous.  One way to check a damp court surface is to press your toe down firmly and make a twisting motion.  If you leave an obvious “wet” spot it’s too wet to play.
  • Check with your doctor regarding exercise and any physical conditions that exist or may have previously existed.
The Oshkosh YMCA Tennis Center will have Pickleball Open Houses on the following dates and times: October 20 from 7:00-9:00 p.m., October 21 from 1:00-5:00 p.m., and October 23 from 7:00-9:00 a.m. For more information about the program, fees or times, call the Oshkosh YMCA Tennis Center at 920-236-3400.

Well Workplace Learning Circles

Research continues to show that poor lifestyle habits increase medical expenses and reduce productivity for American business. A study done by Tufts University reports every obese employee costs an average of $1400 more per year in medical expenses and every smoker increases spending by $579 a year in medical expenses and 7.6 percent loss of productivity. Eliminating three health risk factors – poor diet, inactivity, and smoking - would prevent 80 percent of heart disease and stroke incidents, 80 percent of type 2 diabetes cases, and 40 percent of cancers. Larry Chapman of Chapman Institute reports that implementing a workforce health program could improve employee health and reduce absenteeism by as much as 28 percent.

According to the Wellness Councils of America, a Well Workplace is an organization that fully embraces its responsibility for maximizing the health and well-being of its employees.  Well Workplaces prove that employee wellness is part of their overall business strategy and strive and enhancing the health and well-being of each and every employee.  This strategy becomes a part of the organization’s vision and daily operation, not an extraneous and peripheral part of the everyday business function.

There are four designations of Well Workplace Awards to achieve – Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Criteria for each of these awards are based upon the development of the wellness program and implementation of the onsite wellness initiatives set forth by the individual organization. 

There are seven benchmarks a company must complete to achieve well workplace. Those seven benchmarks are:
  1. Capture CEO support.
  2. Create a cohesive wellness team.
  3. Collect data to drive health efforts.
  4. Carefully craft an operating plan.
  5. Choose appropriate interventions.
  6. Create a supportive environment for wellness.
  7. Carefully evaluate outcomes.
In 2014, the City of Oshkosh and its employers earned the prestigious designation of a Well City USA. After the designation, the Well Oshkosh board of directors formed the non-profit Oshkosh Area Businesses Focused on Health (OABFOH). OABFOH encourages and assists Oshkosh area employers to enhance the well-being of their workforce, better manage health care costs, and improve community health. OABFOH will be hosting a Learning Circle for all businesses interested in learning more about implementing wellness programs in the workplace. The Learning Circle will be held at the Oshkosh YMCA 20th Ave on Friday, October 21 from 7:30-9:00 a.m. The topic will be “Engaging Employees in Wellness Efforts.”  This is a free event. Interested participants are encouraged to RSVP to Molly Butz, OABFOH Board President, no later than Wednesday, October 19 at mollybutz@oshkoshymca.org

For questions on Well Workplace designation, visit the Wellness Council of Wisconsin at www.wellnesscouncilwi.org.  

Mental Illness Awareness Week

 In 1990, the United States Congress established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week in recognition of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Mental Illness Awareness Week reminds people to be “stigma free”. Being stigma free means learning about and educating others on mental illness, focusing on connecting with people to see each other as individuals and not a diagnosis, and most importantly, taking action on mental health issues.

A mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood. This condition may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis, although everyone’s experience with mental illness is different. A mental health condition is typically not the result of one event, research suggests multiple, interlinking causes. 

One in five adults in the United States, approximately 43.7 million, experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 25 adults, about 13.6 million, will experience a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. Current research reveals that only 41 percent of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Research also suggests that half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three quarters by age 24, and despite effective treatment options available, there are generally long delays – sometimes decades – between the onset of symptoms and treatment.

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. The Department of Health and Human Services states mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for both youth and adults aged 18-44. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause for people aged 10-24 and the second leading cause for people aged 15-24. Ninety percent of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition and each day an estimated 18 to 22 veterans die by suicide.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness gives these common warning signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents:
  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating or learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Difficulty perceiving reality
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol and drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious cause such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and on-going aches and pains.
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems or stress
Unlike other diseases, there is no medical test that can accurately diagnose mental illness, however, knowing the warning signs can help determine if someone needs to seek professional help. Treatment options for mental illness vary and can include medication, counseling or therapy, social support, and education. To learn more about Mental Illness Awareness Week, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website at www.nami.org.


Vision Therapy

Vision therapy is a type of physical therapy for the eyes and brain. It is a highly effective non-surgical treatment for many common vision problems such as lazy eye, crossed eye, double vision, and some reading and learning disabilities. Dr. Sandra Verhaeghe, Aurora Health Care Oshkosh, offers vision therapy for interested patients in her Fond du Lac office. Dr. Verhaeghe states, “Vision therapy uses activities and exercises to train the eyes to function more comfortably and accurately.  The therapy is used for eye problems that can’t be fixed with eye glasses or contacts.”  Vision therapy is performed under a doctor’s supervision and is individualized to fit the visual needs of each patient.  Vision therapy is prescribed to help patients develop or improve fundamental visual skills and abilities, improve visual efficiency, and change how a patient interprets or processes visual information.

“Typically, a patient is referred for vision therapy by a parent or teacher.  A typical patient is usually in the first or second grade.  A good candidate for vision therapy will show eye tracking problems, have dyslexia or letter reversal concerns, or exhibit certain eye weakness,” explains Dr. Verhaeghe.  The first step is a referral, as explained by Dr. Verhaeghe. After that, a patient will receive an eye exam and an evaluation to see if vision therapy is a good fit.  A typical vision therapy course will go eight weeks, with the doctor and patient meeting one time per week.  “A typical therapy session is 45 minutes in length.  About four to six activities are conducted during the session, depending on how quickly the child completes each task.  Additionally, homework is given to be done several times each week,” adds Dr. Verhaeghe.  At the end of the eight-week session, a progress evaluation is completed to see if the therapy goal has been achieved or if more therapy is needed.

Studies show that vision therapy can correct vision problems that interfere with reading and writing in school children. It can also help reduce eye strain experienced by school aged children. Problems vision therapy can correct include:
  • Amblyopia – or “lazy eye”, a vision development problem where the eye fails to attain normal visual acuity.
  • Strabismus – a visual problem in which the eyes are not aligned properly and point in different directions.
  • Eye movement disorders – a condition that causes involuntary or rapid movement of one or both eyes.
Other vision problems that vision therapy may be effective are visual-perceptual disorders, vision problems associated with developmental disabilities and vision problems associated with acquired brain injury. “I would encourage parents to talk with their child’s teacher and ask if there seems to be any vision problems that are affecting their learning.  Start with an eye exam and then talk with the doctor about a need for vision therapy,” explains Dr. Verhaeghe. 

Dr. Verhaeghe states, “I have seen a lot of improvement in the eye tracking disorders with my vision therapy patients.  Visual activity has improved in my amblyopia patients as well.”  For more information on Vision therapy, contact the Aurora Health Care Vision Center at 920-456-2000.

Don't Forget Your Fruit and Veggies

Most people know that eating fruits and vegetables is important for good health, but most of us still aren’t getting enough. This September, the Oshkosh Community YMCA is proud to participate in Fruits & Veggies – More Matters Month.

Eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits can help you:
  • Lower your risk for heart disease and some types of cancer
  • Maintain or reach a healthy weight
  • Keep your body strong and active
Fruits and vegetables offer a magnitude of health benefits including fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Research also suggests that fruits and vegetables contain compounds that play a role in preventing certain cancers as well as heart disease and stroke. By eating fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, a person will receive the most all-around health benefits. 

Red fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as lycopene, ellagic acid, Quercetin, and Hesperidin. These nutrients reduce the risk of prostate cancer, lower blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol levels and support joint tissue. Common red fruits and vegetables include beets, cherries, cranberries, radishes, raspberries, red grapes, red potatoes, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, and watermelon.   

Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables contain beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, flavonoids, lycopene, potassium, and vitamin C. These nutrients lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce age-related macular generation and the risk of prostate cancer, promote collagen formation and healthy joints, and work with magnesium and calcium to build healthy bones. Yellow and orange favorites include butternut squash, cantaloupe, carrots, grapefruit, organs, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkin, and sweet corn. 
Green vegetables contain chlorophyll, fiber, lutein, calcium, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and Beta-carotene.  These nutrients reduce cancer risks, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels, normalize digestion time, support retinal health and vision, and boost the immune system. Green fruits and vegetables include asparagus, avocados, broccoli, green grapes, lettuce, peas, spinach, kiwifruit, peas, and zucchini.

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as lutein, zeaxanthin, resveratrol, vitamin C, fiber, flavonoids, ellagic acid and quercetin.  These nutrients support retinal health, lower LDL cholesterol, boost the immune system, support healthy digestion, fight inflammation, reduce tumor growth, and improve calcium and other mineral absorption. Familiar blue and purple fruits and vegetables are blackberries, eggplant, grapes, plums, pomegranates, purple cabbage and blueberries.  

White fruits and vegetables contain nutrients such as beta-glucans and liganans that provide immune boosting activity. These nutrients activate natural killer B and T cells, reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers, and balance hormone levels. White fruits and vegetables include bananas, cauliflower, dates, garlic, mushrooms, potatoes, and onions.

Here are some ideas to help you and your family fit more fruits and vegetables into your day:
  • Keep a bowl of fruit handy where the whole family can see it.
  • Cut up fruits and veggies ahead of time so they’re ready for quick, healthy snacks.
  • Challenge your family to try a new veggie or fruit every week.
Remember, eating more fruits and veggies can be fun – and it’s worth it!


Active Aging Week 2016

The Oshkosh YMCA will be hosting a number of activities to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle during Active Aging Week 2016, scheduled for Monday, September 26 through Friday, September 30. The event gives older adults opportunities to experience diverse activities and exercise in a safe, friendly and fun atmosphere.  Active Aging Week is organized by the International Council on Active Aging, the association that supports professionals who develop wellness and fitness facilities and services for adults over 50.  The Oshkosh YMCA has chosen activities such as group exercise classes, health education, demonstrations and more, that are free and fun for older adults. Active Aging Week is an opportunity for organizations like the Oshkosh YMCA to promote and publicize our efforts to reach older adults with the key message of staying active, healthy and engaged.

It is the hope of the Oshkosh YMCA that older adults will come away with the following after participating in our Active Aging Week events: they will choose a healthy lifestyle for life, they will spend at least 30 minutes each day in physical activity, and they will discover one new activity that brings them value. It is important for older adults to remember that small changes work. Lowering daily salt intake or walking more throughout the day can bring big benefits. Social support is also an important part of behavior change and the Oshkosh YMCA already has groups and leaders in place to encourage and support the new behavior for our members.

The Active Aging Week theme of “Explore the Possibilities” opens the door for older adults to explore new places and activities, make new friends, and find new ways to contribute to communities. The International Council on Active Aging states, “Active aging describes individuals and populations who live life as fully as possible within the seven dimensions of wellness (emotional, vocational, physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, environmental). The concept of active aging can be summed up in the phrase ‘engaged in life.’”

Why is “active aging” so valuable to our seniors? American Medical Association President, Dr. Ronald M. Davis says, "If we had a pill that contained all of the benefits of exercise, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world."  Including physical activity into your daily routine has numerous benefits including lowering risk of Type 2 diabetes, decreasing blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol levels, decreasing risk of coronary heart disease, decreasing risk of stroke, decreasing risk of musculoskeletal disorders, decreasing sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and decreasing certain risks of cancer. According to a study done by the New England Journal of Medicine, residents in a nursing home aged 72-98 who completed a 10-week strength training program saw an increase of 113 percent in strength. Dr. Timothy Wallace, Family Physician with Aurora Health Care in Oshkosh states, “If you’re going to do only one thing to help your blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar; reduce stress; improve your mood; enhance circulation; and reduce your risk for all-cause mortality, then let it be EXERCISE!” Research continues to show that physical activity staves off a physical decline with aging, and that activity does not have to be intensive or exhausting in order to produce health benefits. “The YMCA provides opportunities for lifelong wellness for people in our community. We offer programs specifically designed with the needs of older adults in mind. Active Aging Week is a great opportunity for this group to come to our YMCA and get healthy, continue to stay fit, learn a new skill, and meet new friends,” states Dan Braun, Active Aging & Special Initiatives Manager for the Oshkosh YMCA.

This year’s events will once again take place at both the 20th Avenue and Downtown YMCA’s in Oshkosh.  They include flu shot clinics, skin cancer screenings, blood pressure screenings, hearing screenings, vein screenings, safety presentation, a new class demonstration and the highlight of the week – Live Learn & Play presented by Valley VNA and Affinity VNA on Friday Sep 30 at the 20th Ave YMCA.  This year’s Live Learn & Play event will feature a vendor & resource fair and will be followed by a free lunch and concert.

Due to the new building project at Downtown, most events will be held at 20th Ave this year. Each day will offer a variety of exercise classes and workshops for active older adults to try and enjoy. Pre-registration is required for Friday’s lunch and is strongly suggested for all screenings including the flu shot clinics at both YMCAs. Register for lunch and screenings at either YMCA front desk or by calling the YMCA at 920-236-3380 or 920-230-8439. If you have questions about the week’s programming, contact Active Aging Manager Dan Braun at danbraun@oshkoshymca.org. A detailed schedule of events will be available at each Oshkosh YMCA location and also on the website at www.oshkoshymca.org.

Childhood Obesity Awareness Month

September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and while the dangers of childhood obesity are well chronicled, many families need support changing their children’s habits with the ultimate goal of improving health. That’s why the Oshkosh Community YMCA — a leading community-based organization dedicated to improving health—wants families to understand the dangers of childhood obesity and ways to reverse course through improved eating habits and increased physical activity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in children and adolescents over the past 30 years. Today, obesity affects one in six children and one in three are overweight, which poses greater risks for a number of health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some cancers.  Here in Wisconsin, 14 percent of all children are considered overweight and nine percent are considered obese, according to the CDC.
“A family that changes together gets healthy together—building a culture of health that helps families adopt healthy habits is key to reducing childhood obesity rates,” said Ben Wanezek, Oshkosh Community YMCA Health and Wellness Director. “Once a family gets the proper education and support when it comes to weight-related risks, they can work together to incorporate healthy eating habits and more physical activity and into their daily routines.
Additionally, if families don’t know how to get started, reaching out to your health care provider or organizations like the Y that provide support are great first steps.”
The following tips are some great ways to incorporate healthier eating habits and more physical activity and into your daily family routine:
  • Eat & Drink Healthy: Make water the drink of choice (supplemented by age-appropriate servings of low-fat milk) and make it easy for everyone to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables by offering two or three colorful options at every meal. Feel free to mix and match fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables to provide variety. Place a full pitcher of water on the table during meals, and allow children to pour their own water.
  • Play Every Day/Go Outside: Kids should have at least an hour a day of unstructured play outside (when possible) and break a sweat at least three times a week by getting 20 minutes or more of vigorous physical activity. Join your children in games that get your hearts pumping and bodies moving.
  • Get Together: Eat as a family as frequently as possible. Involve kids in meal planning, preparation and clean up. In addition, adults should take a break from electronics and spend one-to-one time each day with their kids, enjoying one another’s company.
  • Reduce Recreational Screen Time: Time spent in front of a television, computer, tablet, cell phone or video games should be limited to two hours or less per day. Make a family plan to reduce screen time at home (i.e. turn off screens during meals, keep a chart, go for a walk after a meal).
  • Sleep Well: Kids and adults need to keep a regular sleep schedule; go to bed and rise from bed within 1 hour of the same time every day. Kids are growing and need 10-12 hours of healthy sleep per night and seven to eight hours for adults.
The Oshkosh YMCA offers a magnitude of healthy programs for kids this fall including indoor and outdoor soccer, flag football, dance team, volleyball, baseball, basketball, martial arts, swimming, ice skating and more!
To learn more about the Oshkosh Community YMCA’s youth healthy living and sports programs, please contact the Oshkosh Community YMCA at 920.236.3380 or 920.230.8439 or visit www.oshkoshymca.org.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are beverages such as Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster. These drinks contain large doses of caffeine and other legal stimulants like guarana and ginseng.  One can of energy drink contains up to 62 grams of sugar in a 16-ounce can.  Typically, a 16-ounce serving of an energy drink is considered two servings.  The amount of caffeine in an energy drink can range from 75 milligrams to over 200 milligrams per serving.  A serving of Mountain Dew contains 55 milligrams of caffeine and a can of Coke has 34 milligrams. The amount of caffeine found in an energy drink is almost twice as much as a normal cup of coffee.  Energy drinks also have roughly twice the amount of sugar compared to a typical can of soda. 

According to a study published by Brown University, there are short term dangers to drinking energy drinks.  Individual reactions to caffeine vary per person, and energy drinks should be treated carefully because of how powerful they are.  The drinks’ stimulating properties can increase heart rate and blood pressure (sometimes to the point of palpitations), dehydrate the body, and prevent sleep.  Another study showed the link between energy drinks and cardiac arrest among teens. This particular study recommends teens consume no more than one 250 ml energy drink per day and not before or during sports or exercise.  Another study published in The Journal of American College Health showed that teens are more likely to take dangerous risks when high on caffeine.

Energy drinks should not be consumed by anyone while exercising, as the combination of fluid loss from sweating and the diuretic quality of the caffeine can leave someone severely dehydrated.  Too many energy drinks can also lead to severe headaches and migraines.  Caffeine withdrawal symptoms including frequent headaches, typically occur in users.  Because many energy drinks are also very high in sugar, they can wear out insulin producing cells of the pancreas which can lead to type 2 diabetes. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) found that 68 percent of the consumers of energy drinks are adolescents. The WHO released recommended guidelines regarding the dangers energy drinks pose, particularly to young people. 
  • Establish an upper caffeine limit on all products.
  • Enforce labeling requirements and sales restrictions to minors.
  • Enforce regulation of the industry to responsibly market their products.
  • Train health care workers to recognize and treat overdose from energy drinks.
  • Screen patients with a history of substance abuse for heavy consumption of energy drinks.
  • Educate the public about the dangers of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.
  • Continue researching the negative side effects energy drinks have on young people.
Instead of using energy drinks, people can use the following recommendations as healthy alternatives: 
  • Water - cold water can make you feel refreshed and help keep you hydrated throughout the day. Try adding fresh fruit to add some flavor.
  • Smoothies – smoothies can provide all the vitamins a person needs in order to keep their body running at peak performance.
  • Green Tea – green tea has a small amount of caffeine in it, however it contains far less sugar, which makes it a healthy alternative to energy drinks and coffee.
If you are someone who consistently feels fatigued or run-down, consider some healthier options to help boost energy: get adequate sleep, add exercise to your daily routine, and eat a healthy diet.  If these don’t seem to help, consult your doctor, as sometimes fatigue is a sign for an underlying medical condition.

Backpack Safety

A new school year is a great time to review backpack safety for parents and students. Backpacks can be incredibly handy, but if worn or used incorrectly, can cause muscle strain, joint pain, and back pain. Backpacks are a better choice for students when it comes to choosing a bag, as the strongest muscles in the body – the back and the abdominals – support the weight of the backpack compared to other options such as shoulder bags, messenger bags or purses. Dr. Jeff Krueger, Krueger Family Chiropractic in Oshkosh, states, “Improperly used or fitting backpacks can put undue stress on the body causing back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain and even headaches.  In our practice, we commonly see middle and high school students develop back pain as a result of carrying all their books throughout the entire day.”

“It is important that both shoulder straps of the pack be utilized and adjusted to fit properly on the back, which will reduce the amount of stress placed on the spine. A backpack slung over one shoulder disproportionately shifts all the weight to one side and cause muscle spasms and pain,” adds Dr. Krueger.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents look for the following when choosing the right backpack:
  • A lightweight pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load (for example, even though leather packs look cool, they weigh more than traditional canvas backpacks).
  • The backpack should have two wide, padded shoulder straps; straps that are too narrow can dig into shoulders.
  • A backpack with a padded back, which not only provides increased comfort, but also protects kids from being poked by sharp edges on objects (pencils, rulers, notebooks, etc.) inside the pack.
  • A backpack with a waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body.
  • Backpacks that have multiple compartments, which can help distribute the weight more evenly.
Although back pain is caused by a number of things, it can be caused by kids carrying too many things in their backpacks all day long.  Most doctors and physical therapists recommend kids carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight inside their backpack. When a backpack is too heavy, and incorrectly placed on the shoulders, the weight can pull the child backward.  To compensate, the child may bend forward at the hips or arch their back, which can cause the spine to compress unnaturally.  This can lead to shoulder, neck, and back pain.

The American Occupational Therapy Association gives the following suggestions for students when loading a backpack:
  • Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back (the back of the pack).
  • Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.
  • Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day’s activities.
  • If the backpack is too heavy or tightly packed, your child can hand carry a book or other item outside the pack.
  • If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels if your child’s school allows it.
According to Kids Health, here are some additional tips to help to help decrease injuries due to backpacks:
  • Encourage kids to use their locker or desk frequently throughout the day instead of carrying the entire days’ worth of books in the backpack.
  • Make sure kids don’t carry unnecessary items – laptops, cell phones, and video games can add extra pounds to the backpack.
  • Encourage kids to bring home only the books they need for homework or studying each night.
  • Ask about homework planning. A heavier pack on Fridays might mean that a child is procrastinating on homework until the weekend, making for unnecessarily heave backpacks.
  • Picking up the backpack the right way can also help kids avoid back injurie. As with any heavy weight, they should bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting a backpack to the shoulders.
If your child has back pain or numbness in the arms or legs, consider talking to your doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor about treatment options. Dr. Krueger explains, “We encourage parents to talk to their children about ergonomic issues such as posture and backpacks. A child who is educated early in life on these issues will typically deal with less musculoskeletal problems later in life.”  Dr. Krueger adds, “We offer free backpack checks to students of all ages. Simple modifications to backpacks at the start of the school year can prevent extra stress that can cause unnecessary pain and problems over time.”


Heart Health and Depression

Heart health is important even when you are feeling down. Have you ever drown your sorrows in a big bowl of ice cream? When you’re feeling down, it’s easy to reach for your favorite comfort food. But thinking about your heart health is important, even when you’re not feeling too chipper.  That’s often easier said than done, said Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. But it’s also important, because heart disease is the number one killer of all Americans.

“When people are stressed, anxious or feeling down, they’re not apt to make the healthy choice because they’re so overwhelmed by their situation,” Dr. Goldberg said. “A person’s mental health, in terms of their general health, is underestimated.”  Depression is reported in an estimated one in 10 Americans aged 18 and older, and the figure can be as high as 33 percent for heart attack patients. But just feeling down can lead to changes that can affect your health, and not just because you may fall into habits that are bad for your health, Dr. Goldberg said.

“Other physiological things are happening in the body, including increased stress hormones, higher levels of cortisol and higher glucose levels,” she said. “Taking care of your overall outlook and well-being is as important as taking care of your blood pressure and cholesterol.”  It’s not surprising if you find it hard to get plenty of exercise, eat heart-healthy foods, limit alcohol or kick a smoking habit. All those things can seem like “just one more thing to add to their list of things that is already causing stress,” Dr. Goldberg said. “People turn to things that give them comfort and aren’t thinking about whether those things are healthy or not.”

If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, Dr. Goldberg suggests three steps to help:
  1. Identify the cause of your stress or anxiety and address it. Seek therapy if necessary. “If you’re feeling down for a couple days, that’s okay, but if it goes on for weeks, you need to seek help,” Dr. Goldberg said.
  2. Choose healthy habits and don’t rush it. If you aren’t in the habit of exercising, start gradually rather than putting pressure on yourself to get back to a rigorous routine. “Something as simple as taking a walk, 30 minutes a day, even if you do only 10 minutes at a time, can help your heart,” Dr. Goldberg states. “Exercise improves your mood while you’re doing it, but long-term studies show that people who exercise report better quality of life overall.” Some people respond to stressful situations by eating because they’re so stressed out. If reaching for unhealthy foods has become a habit, try reaching for healthier snacks.
  3. Improve other unhealthy lifestyle habits one at a time instead of trying to “fix” everything at once. Ultimately, you have to take care of yourself to break the cycle of feeling down. That could be doing something structured , like a yoga class or tai chi practice, or something you can do anywhere, such as a few minutes of meditation, listening to music or reading a book. “Even taking a bath can help,” Dr. Goldberg said. “Just take some time and relax.”
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