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The Value of Happiness

Is there a connection between psychological and physical well-being?

In hundreds of studies, a connection between positive psychological attributes, such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction, and a lowered risk of disease has been found. Serious, sustained stress or fear can add up to “wear and tear” on the body and, eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt cardiac function, hastening atherosclerosis, and increasing systemic inflammation. Conversely, lower blood pressure, normal body weight and healthier blood fat profiles have been associated with a better sense of well-being.
The value of happiness is shared world-wide. The United Nations views happiness as “serious business” and has proclaimed March 20 International Day of Happiness. Books have been written on the subject and there is a national Happiness Project movement.

It has been estimated that half of people’s happiness is determined by their genes, about 10% can be attributed to differences in life circumstances or situations, and about 40% of our happiness is up to us – although it varies by person. That’s a lot of happiness under our control. Below are some tools to help make your life happier. Why not pick one and try?

  • Practice kindness. Do something nice for someone else, whether it’s someone you know or a stranger. It can be spur of the moment or planned out. You can do the good deed anonymously or help the beneficiary directly.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. People who kept a weekly gratitude journal actually did more exercise, had fewer physical problems and felt more optimistic about the coming week and life in general.
  • Get spiritual. There’s plenty of research showing that people who participate in their local church, synagogue, mosque or other preferred spiritual community are happier. Even reading spiritual literature can be helpful. Not religious? There are ethical societies and movements that get people thinking beyond themselves.
  • strong>Buy experiences, not stuff. A vacation with loved ones or buying tickets to a show or concert will make you happier than buying another gadget.
    Buy stuff that creates experiences. So you still want to buy something? How about gear that allows you to have experiences in your areas of interest, such as games or music? These material items allow you an opportunity to engage with people you care about. Even board games count, since you can play them with a friend.
  • Stop hanging out on social media so much. People who spend more time on Facebook and other social media report lower self-esteem, less connection to others, fewer positive emotions and even more homesickness (for college students).
  • Stop checking your email. People who check their email all the time are more stressed than people who check their email just three times daily, according to a recent study.
    Focus on time, not money. Although people typically focus on money, focusing on time often helps people realize that time is a precious resource. That knowledge helps them be more deliberate in how they spend it.
  • Lose yourself in your activities. Do you remember the time you “lost” yourself because you were having so much fun playing tennis, gardening, sailing, learning a new musical instrument, woodworking or baking the perfect pie? Increase the number of opportunities to “lose” yourself in a new or old activity that occupies your brain and body.
    Embrace failure. Failing is way to learn what doesn’t work before we learn what does work. People who succeed often fail many times before they succeed. Failing helps us acquire the experiences and learning lessons we need to become successful.

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Treating frequent headaches with pain relievers


When you need them—and when you don’t

Many people suffer from frequent, severe headaches, including migraines. These headaches need careful treatment, with a focus on prevention. Talk to your doctor about
ways to prevent and treat your headaches.

  • Limit use of over-the-counter pain drugs. If you are taking them more than two days a week, cut back.
  • Avoid using prescription drugs containing opioids or butalbital, except as a last resort.

It is easy to use too much pain medicine. This can make headaches worse and cause other medical problems. Here’s why:
Over-the-counter pain medicines can have dangerous side effects.
Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen work well for headaches if you don’t use them often. But if you take these drugs too often, you can get serious side effects. In rare cases, if you often take acetaminophen several days in a row, you can
damage your liver. This can happen even if you take just a little over the recommended dose.
Rarely, these drugs can also cause kidney problems. Aspirin and ibuprofen can, at times, cause stomach bleeding.
Watch out for overuse headaches.
If you overuse pain medicines, they may no longer help as much. And you may also get headaches more often. This worsening of headaches is called “medication overuse headaches.” The following drugs are thought to most likely cause overuse headaches. They may also make you more sensitive to pain:
Prescription drugs:

  • Drugs with butalbital (Fiorinal, Fioricet, Esgic and others)
  • Opioid painkillers
    • hydrocodone (Vicodin and other brands and generics)
    • oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet and others)

Non-prescription drugs that contain caffeine (Excedrin Migraine)
Some pain drugs can cause addiction.
Drugs that contain opioids or butalbital can make you drowsy. Long-term use of these drugs can cause addiction or physical dependence, and overuse headaches.
Some people need headache treatment for years, or even decades. They should take addictive drugs only if safer treatments don’t work. If you do have to take addictive drugs, ask your doctor how to avoid overuse and addiction.
Lifestyle changes can help some people with severe headaches.
Often, you can prevent headaches or have them less often if you:

  • Reduce stress, or learn to cope with it more effectively.
  • Drink a minimum of alcohol.
  • Get enough sleep.

If you still get headaches more than once a week, you can consider taking a daily preventive drug.
If you need pain relief during a bad migraine, drugs called triptans work well for most people. They usually have fewer side effects than other prescription drugs. Four of the seven FDA-approved triptans are available as generics, such as sumatriptan (Imitrex).

Tips to help you manage headache pain

Keep a record of each headache. Note possible triggers—foods, beverages, sleep patterns, or other things that cause your headaches.
Reduce triggers. For example, consider using tinted glasses to reduce the effects of bright light. If menstruation routinely leads to migraines, ask your doctor if you could ward off headaches by taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and generic) regularly for a few days around your period.

Simple changes can sometimes prevent headaches:

  • Cut back on alcohol.
  • Control the effects of stress with bio-feed- back, meditation, relaxation, or in other ways.
  • Aim for 6 to 8 hours sleep each night. Go to bed and wake up around the same time. Don’t watch TV or use a computer in bed. If you snore, ask your doctor if you should be checked for sleep apnea.

If you need preventive drugs, start with safer choices. Choose drugs that have been proven to work. Beta blockers are often the best first choice. They don’t cost much and they have long safety records. Examples include propranolol (Inderal and generic) and timolol (Blocadren and generic). Some side effects are fatigue and fainting, caused by low blood pressure.
This report is for you to use when talking with your health-care provider. It is not a substitute for medical advice and treatment.
© 2014 Consumer Reports. Developed in cooperation with the American Headache Society.

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Four things that would surprise you about health care

Health care is anything but predictable. These four facts about your health and the care you receive may surprise you.

  1. A long, caring and respectful relationship with your doctor is more beneficial to your health than you think.

    Forming a long-term relationship with your primary care physician is the most important thing you can do for your health, according to a Consumer Reports survey of 660 physicians.
    But having that strong relationship isn’t a guarantee. You’ll need to invest some energy—and make sure you find doctors who will do the same.


  3. Getting more health care won’t necessarily make you any healthier.

    Nearly half of primary care physicians say their own patients get too much medical care, according to a survey published in 2011 by researchers at Dartmouth College. And all that care is not helping people live better or longer.
    Researchers at Dartmouth found that “patients with serious conditions who are treated in regions that provide the most aggressive medical care—have the most tests and procedures, see the most specialists, and spend the most days in hospitals—don’t live longer or enjoy a better quality of life than those who receive more conservative treatment.”


  5. One-third of all health care isn’t necessary.

    According to the Institute of Medicine, as much as 30 percent of health care in the U.S. is just not needed. There are several reasons why this happens. Doctors have little information on what constitutes the “right” amount of health care; most doctors are paid per test, visit or procedure; and … you, the patient, request it.
    Every unnecessary test or procedure is doing two things: exposing you to harmful side effects and racking up your medical bills.

  6. You’re paying different prices—for the same treatment.

    Not all health care is created equal—in dollars especially. There are significant price differences in the health care you receive.
    Consumer Reports writes, the “contracted prices that health plans negotiate with providers in their networks have little or nothing to do with the actual quality of services provided and everything to do with the relative bargaining power of the providers.”


This article is part of a toolkit that supports the Choosing Wisely® campaign, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation in partnership with Consumer Reports to help patients and physicians have conversations about health. The articles, tip sheets and links in the series will provide helpful information on everything from coping with serious illness, to preventive care, to the do’s and don’ts of common tests. For more information, see the rest of the series and all the Choosing Wisely resources from Consumer Reports.

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National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

Healthy Saint Paul is supporting the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition in honor of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. During the month of May, we challenge all employees to get 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
Did you know that regular physical activity increases your chances of living a longer, healthier life? It also reduces your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and some types of cancer.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults:

  • Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Moderate activity includes things like walking fast, dancing, swimming, and
    raking leaves.
  • Do muscle-strengthening activities – like lifting weights or using exercise bands – at least 2 days a week.

Physical activity is for everyone. No matter what shape you are in, you can find activities that work for you. Together, we can rise to the challenge and get more active during the month of May!

  • Join Walk Around the Clock – the challenge begins May 10. To register, sign in to your health and well-being page. (Team registration closed April 26, but you can still sign up and participate as an individual).
  • Thought about running a 5K? Sign up for “Run Like a Mother” to be held on May 9 at Lake Phalen. Their website provides 5K training programs for novices to advanced runners. Find a list of more fun events going on in St. Paul during the month of May at
  • Golfing more your thing? Find out what’s happening at Highland, Como or Phalen courses and sign up to receive specials here:

Whatever you like to do – walk, run, bike, golf, dance, swim, etc. – take the 30 minute challenge for May and get moving!

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Alcohol Awareness Month

Drinking too much alcohol increases people’s risk of injuries, violence, drowning, liver disease, and some types of cancer. This April, during Alcohol Awareness Month, Healthy Saint Paul encourages you to educate yourself and your loved ones about the dangers of drinking too much.
Experts make a distinction between alcohol abuse and alcoholism (also called alcohol dependence). Unlike alcoholism, alcohol abusers have some ability to set limits on their drinking. However, their alcohol use is still self-destructive and dangerous to themselves, can progress into alcoholism and they need help.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse include:

Repeatedly Neglecting Responsibilities: Because of drinking, repeatedly neglecting responsibilities at home, work, or school. For example, neglecting the children, performing poorly at work, poor or failing grades in school, or skipping out on work, school, or social commitments because you’re hung over.
Alcohol Use in Dangerous Situations: The use of alcohol in situations where it can be physically dangerous, such as drinking and driving, mixing alcohol with prescription medication against the advice of your doctor or operating machinery while drinking.
Legal Problems Due to Drinking: If, due to drinking, you are experiencing repeated legal problems. For example, getting arrested for fights, drunk and disorderly conduct, domestic disputes, driving under the influence.
Continued Drinking Despite Relationship Problems: Alcohol is causing or making problems worse in your relationships with your friends, family or spouse, and you continue to drink. For example, fighting with your family because they don’t like how you act when you drink or going out and drinking with your buddies even though you know your wife will be very upset.
Drinking to De-Stress: Many drinking problems start when people use alcohol to relieve stress. Because alcohol is a sedative drug, over time, you will need more alcohol to have the same effect. Getting drunk after a very stressful day, for example, or reaching for a bottle after you have an argument with your boss, a friend or your spouse more frequently.
NCADD Self-Test: What Are the Signs of Alcoholism
Are you concerned about the role alcohol plays in your life? With 26 questions, the NCADD is a simple self-test intended to help you determine if you or someone you know needs to find out more about Alcohol. Visit for more information.

What can I do if I or someone I know has a drinking problem?

Consult your personal health care provider if you feel you or someone you know has a drinking problem.

If you are worried about cost, screening and counseling for alcohol misuse are covered under the Affordable Care Act. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get these services at no cost to you.

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Bite Into A Healthy Lifestyle

March is National Nutrition Month and an opportunity to focus on how healthy your diet is – or isn’t. Based on the results of the recent biometric screenings, high cholesterol is an issue for many of our employees. The good news is, for most people, making even small changes diet can help improve cholesterol level and reduce the chance of developing heart disease.
Check out some of these good-for-you, yet tasty foods provided by HealthPartners yumPower that can help prevent heart disease.



Oatmeal: Oatmeal can be a quick and easy way to get your omega-3 fatty acids and potassium. Oatmeal is also rich in fiber and can help lower levels of bad cholesterol, helping your arteries stay clear.
Berries: Sprinkle them in your yogurt or eat them plain; berries are full of polyphenols which can help reduce blood pressure.



Avocado: Spruce up your sandwich or your salad with some avocado, which lowers your bad cholesterol and ups your good cholesterol!
Legumes: From lentils to chickpeas, legumes are loaded with nutrients than can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. You can include legumes in soups and salads – or mix with other beans for a side dish!



Salmon: Salmon is known for being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce blood pressure and blood from clotting. Other heart-healthy fish include mackerel, tuna and herring.


Spinach: Pair your dinner with a side spinach salad to up your daily vegetable intake and lower your risk for heart disease. Spinach is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and B vitamins.


Snack time

Nuts: Walnuts, almonds and macadamia nuts are full of the good fats your body needs. Eating nuts can lower the LDL (low density lipoprotein, also known as “bad” cholesterol) in your body. High levels of LDL are one of the leading causes of heart disease.
In general, pile your plate with yumPower approved fruits and veggies. Add lean proteins but limit carbohydrates, dairy, and salty, processed foods. Your heart will thank you for it.


You can find more tips for healthy eating and delicious recipes on

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Resolutions Slipping Away?

Reset, Recharge, Remain Positive –

You started the New Year with ambitious plans to be healthier and lower your cancer risk: you swore you’d give up desserts, exercise daily or lose 15 pounds in a month. Now it’s three weeks into 2015 and you realize your resolutions may not have gone as planned. What do you do now?
It’s easy to set New Year’s resolutions that are overly ambitious, vague, or unrealistic, as described in AICR’s recent Resolve This; Not That. If working long hours has prevented you from going to the gym, that same barrier is probably still going to limit your progress in the New Year.
Instead of harping on what you haven’t achieved, focus on the positive. Remind yourself of the healthy behaviors you have engaged in over the past couple of weeks. Research shows that just thinking positively is enough to make you more successful and likely to achieve your goals. Even if you’ve hit some road bumps, challenging times can help us reassess our goals and avoid the same setbacks in the future.
The number one tip I give my patients when setting goals and resolutions is to avoid using the words “always” or “never,” and instead focus on something small and realistic. If you decided you’d never snack in the evening but already caught yourself sneaking a few bites in front of the TV over the past couple weeks, it’s easy to feel like a failure. Instead of giving up, re-examine that goal. What made it hard? Maybe you’re used to eating something crunchy or sweet while watching TV and that food you’re craving is just a few steps away in the kitchen.
Once you have recognized what made meeting your goal hard, set a new goal that can help address those barriers. For example, decide to have one small, planned snack after dinner if you’re still hungry. Plan out some snacks that you’ll feel good about – maybe a small bowl of frozen grapes or mango, or a Greek yogurt. Make sure to also keep any “trigger” foods out of your house (like chips, sweets, or even something healthy like nuts if you find you’ve been overdoing it). Make it easier to make the healthy choice.
When you achieve your goal of snacking less or choosing something healthier, you’ll feel motivated and empowered to continue to adjust the challenge. Remember, you don’t have to do it perfectly the first time. Being healthier and reducing your cancer risk isn’t about starting January 1st, or Monday. Every moment is an opportunity for change; accept your setbacks and learn from them. Most importantly, remain positive.
– Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center.
Reprinted from

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Know Your Numbers!

By now you have seen the emails or posters promoting the upcoming biometric screening in February for City employees. We have included this screening in the Well-Being program as it provides valuable information to you about your health. Blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and blood glucose are all factors that contribute to a person’s risk of heart disease. Heart disease is the No 1. cause of death for all Americans. In fact, every year, 700,000 Americans die of heart disease; that is, 1900 people per day! By being aware of your numbers, you can take action to reduce your risk.
There are other risk factors too that can increase your risk. Some are beyond your control, like family history, your age, gender, and ethnicity. However, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, activity level, smoking and weight can be controlled. Read below to see what you can do to stay healthy.

Control cholesterol.

The risk for heart disease increases as your total amount of cholesterol increases. In general, your total cholesterol goal should be less than 200 mg/dl. A diet low in cholesterol, saturated and trans fat, and simple sugars will help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease. Regular exercise will also help.

Medications are often needed to reach cholesterol goals.

Control high blood pressure. About 60 million people in the U.S. have hypertension, or high blood pressure, making it the most common heart disease risk factor. Control blood pressure through diet, exercise, weight management, and if needed, medications. Control diabetes. If not properly controlled, diabetes can contribute to significant heart damage, including heart attacks and death. Control diabetes through a healthy diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and taking medications as prescribed by your doctor.

Quit smoking.

Smokers have more than twice the risk for heart attack as nonsmokers. If you smoke, quit. Nonsmokers who are exposed to constant smoke (such as living with a spouse who smokes) also have an increased risk.

Get active.

Many of us lead sedentary lives, exercising infrequently or not at all. People who don’t exercise have higher rates of death and heart disease compared to people who perform even mild to moderate amounts of physical activity. Even leisure-time activities like gardening or walking can lower your risk of heart disease. Most people should exercise 30 minutes a day, at moderate intensity, on most days. Exercise should be aerobic, involving the large muscle groups. Aerobic activities include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, and jogging. If walking is your exercise of choice, use the pedometer goal of 10,000 steps a day.

Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts significant strain on your heart and worsens several other heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol and triglycerides. Research is showing that obesity itself increases heart disease risk.
Making changes in your lifestyle is a proven method for reducing your risk of heart disease. While there are no guarantees that a heart-healthy lifestyle will keep heart disease away, these changes will certainly improve your health in other ways, such as improving your physical and emotional well being.
Excerpted from WedMD

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is SAD?

Some people experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. SAD is a type of depression. It usually lifts during spring and summer.

What are symptoms?

Not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms. The symptoms include:

  • Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Prevention and Management of SAD

Because SAD is linked to decreased exposure to light, it is recommended that you do what you can to increase your exposure. Open up blinds in your home and sit close to bright windows at work. Get outside for a long walk – even on cold days the outdoor light will help. It has been shown to be most helpful if you can spend time outside within the first two hours of getting up in the morning. Getting regular exercise, taking time to relax and making healthy food choices are all good ways to manage stress – which can lead to SAD. Socializing with people whom you enjoy being around can make a difference as well. If possible, take a trip to a location that is sunny and warm.
Everyone can experience days when they feel down. However, if that feeling persists for days at a time, if your sleep patterns are disrupted, or you’re having feelings of hopelessness or suicide, seek professional help with your doctor.
Excerpted from:

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Diabetes kills more Americans each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. In fact, in the next 24 hours, over 5,000 new cases of diabetes will be diagnosed, and 200 people will die from it.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.
With Type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. Over time, however, it isn’t able to make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels. Type 2 diabetes can lead to other problems like heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, and kidney or eye problems.
Below are some common myths about diabetes.

MYTH: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.
FACT: Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger its onset; Type 2 is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. Being overweight increases your risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain. Research has shown that sugary drinks are linked to Type 2 diabetes.
MYTH: People with diabetes can feel when their blood glucose level goes too low.
FACT: Not always. Some people cannot feel or recognize the symptoms of low blood glucose, or hypoglycemia, which can be dangerous.
MYTH: It’s possible to have “just a touch” or “a little” diabetes.
FACT: There is no such thing as “just a touch” or “a little” diabetes. Everyone who has diabetes runs the risk of serious complications.
MYTH: Diabetes doesn’t run in my family, so I’m safe.
FACT: Family history is only one of several risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Learn more.
MYTH: You’ll know if you have diabetes by your symptoms.
FACT: Not always. Type 2 diabetes often goes undiagnosed because it usually has few or no symptoms when it first develops.
MYTH: People with diabetes need to follow a special diet.
FACT: People with diabetes benefit from the same healthy diet that is good for everyone else: plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables, with a limited amount of fat and refined sugar.
To find out if you are at risk for diabetes, take the Type 2 Diabetes risk test here: – Risk test.
Get tested for diabetes at biometric screening that will be held at various locations throughout the City during the month of February. Watch for more information on specific dates and locations.