Friday, May 31, 2013

Blood pressure and health

Perhaps one day in the (not too far off) future self monitoring of blood pressure will be done by some kind of app, or at the very least not mean using any expensive equipment.

In the meantime though, some exciting progress has been made by researchers from Edinburgh University, who have been looking at the links between self monitoring and the effect it has on blood pressure with a portable kit that can be used at home to take measurements. Over a few months, hundreds of people who had high blood pressure took part in a trial, using the 'telemonitoring' system.

Interestingly, it was found that the the people in the trial who had access to the self-monitoring equipment found that their blood pressure was reduced further than the group who didn't. The researchers believe this may be to do with the fact that those who could monitor their own blood pressure would be more likely to use medication for their condition, presumably due to seeing the positive effects on a regular basis via the system.

Interestingly, though, using the telemonitoring equipment - while it had the positive affects mentioned above - didn't have much effect on the lifestyles of those in the trial - salt consumption and so forth. The researchers recommend carrying out a longer scale test over a bigger time period to see the results on blood pressure and the cost-effectiveness of the monitoring.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Office health update

It wouldn't take an HR or health and safety expert to enumerate the many positive changes within the workplace which have occurred in the past 50 years.

Quite often, for instance, you'll be watching an old black and white movie and see people in the workplace, smoking at their desk. And it's pretty incredible to consider that this was once the norm. Seeing it on screen in this era though and the thought of a smoke filled workplace just kind of makes your skin crawl.

Other improvements in workplace health include more general things such as healthy eating which are often backed up by government campaigns designed to get people thinking about e.g. getting the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables in their daily diet. A lot of larger workplaces with in-house catering facilities will also place focus on serving up healthy meals or at the least have a healthy option for those who are aiming to have the most nutritious lunch they can.

Promoting workplace mental health is something that also would have to count as a big improvement - although there is still work to be done in this area. People are much more aware now though just how widespread things like stress can be - and how acknowledging it if it affects us doesn't mean weakness, rather the opposite. The days of the 'stiff upper lip' have gone. In fact a lot of organisations now offer employee assistance programmes which provide staff with support and help people manage when they find themselves in difficult circumstances such as bereavement or divorce.

Corporate health insurance is another health improvement - something that is offered by a great many more employers than in the past - it's also become something of recruitment tool that helps attract the best employees since it is a very popular benefit - with the added advantage of potentially reducing sickness absence within organisations.

In the health news this week it's been reported that open plan offices may not be the best for health and motivation. A couple of studies have been mentioned in the news reports, one of which suggests that people in this type of office have more sick days. This could be the case since it may be that a single open plan office with air conditioning could mean greater exposure to any cold and flu virus bacteria that are going around, although it has been pointed out that the survey had the respondents self-reporting days off - which would have been from memory and therefore subject to a higher level of inaccuracy than from written records.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eating disorders and health

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating can affect people from all walks of life and despite the fact that the incidence of anorexia and bulimia is higher among the female population, people of either sex can be affected by eating disorders.

According to the mental health charity Mind, there are no easily identifiable or definable reasons as to why eating disorders develop, but the charity say that a common factor among many who have a disorder is low self-esteem. Mind point out that not only can people of any age or background and of either sex develop an eating disorder, there are as many as a million people in the UK who are affected, so it;s important to know that if you have an eating disorder, you're not alone.

Mind also have a useful page on how to get help for an eating disorder, which details the range of different treatments that are available plus the steps to go through if you're looking for support and advice. The first thing they advise is that you see your doctor who can then make sure that any weight loss or other symptoms aren't connected to any other underlying health problems.

The various forms of help available include talking therapies, where the patient receives counselling. Talking therapies are so-called because they focus on helping people discuss and address negative feelings. Often it's really just applied as a slightly more modern/ descriptive term for counselling. Having said this, counselling is just one type of talking treatment - the other types include pyschotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

This week AXA PPP healthcare are holding a live discussion on hidden eating disorders where their resident expert will be on hand to answer your questions. The live chat takes place between 11am and 1pm on Thursday 16th May. If your question relates to any aspect of eating disorders such as diagnosis or treatment, then head along to the live chat and you'll be able to ask the expert in person.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Healthy habits - spring into summer

The weather may not quite have made its mind up yet, but summer's on its way - at least as far as the calendar is concerned.

So what better time to think about getting into a new health regime than now, when even if the sun isn't exactly shining, at least it's light til later an hopefully a bit warmer than it was during the still quite chilly months of March and April.

There are lots of ways to look at maximising health and wellbeing at this time of year:

Diet. While pies and pastries and so on maybe bring a little bit of comfort during the colder months, it's always important to remember that these foods can be high in saturated fat. So when the the summar arrives it's often a good thing to jettison any of the unhealthies from the diet and get stuck into some good healthy summer foods. Salads with olive oil and tomato. Delicious seafood dishes on holiday. Lots of avocado, onion, beans, fruit, lean cold meats - summer really is a great time for eating. And if you have the space and weather for alfresco dining - even better.

Exercise. Summer may not mean you have to change  anything about your exercise regime - but if it's hot there's the option of going for a swim instead of running. Or if it's a rainy summer you can get to the gym and see what exercises and courses it offers to try out new physical activities.

Wellbeing. Summer often makes people feel generally brighter and happier. So why not capitalise on the happy summer feelings by taking up mindfulness meditiation, which is believed by experts to decrease stress and anxiety while possibly even having positive effects on the brains' "white matter" nerve fibres. other general wellbeing activities could include joining a club that takes part in outdoor activities such as rambling, or maybe taking up a new sport.