Monday, November 25, 2013


When the holiday season focuses on food, step up your exercise routine

The holiday season is known as the “most wonderful time of year.”

It’s wonderful alright. And peaceful. There’s nothing as soothing as watching those first snowflakes fall softly to the frozen ground as you sip hot spiced cider. Nothing as serene as looking out onto the silvery white landscape in the stillness of the morning and drinking in the silence. For many, the holiday season is a time of quiet and tranquil reflection.

However when it comes to our health, make no mistake this is war.

There’s no doubt that our adversary is tough. The holiday season packs a double whammy for our waistlines. Parties and social gatherings bring lots of calorie-laden delights while cool temperatures along with busy schedules turn our exercise mojo into mush. Well played, holiday season… Well played…

The good news is we can defeat our opponent. Like any good soldier, we just need a sound battle strategy. Luckily for us, we know our foe well, so we know just how to fight.

We will start by being prepared for holiday parties by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins and by staying on a regular eating schedule without skipping meals. Step two of the plan is to drink lots of water and go easy on alcohol and high-calorie beverages. Step three? Take small portions, filling up on healthier options while splurging only on the foods that we truly love. And the final step in our plan is to concentrate on party activities and conversation to take the focus off food.
This is a great plan, but it’s missing something — a backup. Because let’s face it, no matter how well we stick to our plan we’re bound to eat a little more than we should this time of year. Even the best strategists can’t foresee every possible obstacle, so to be thorough a good strategy needs a “Plan B.”

What is our Plan B you ask? Stepping up our exercise game. Since we’re already regular exercisers (ahem) this is simply a matter of making small changes to burn a few extra calories over the coming weeks. Taking the stairs a few extra times at home or at work. Parking farther away from the stores as we do our holiday shopping. Doing seated exercises or stretches as we watch George Bailey help Clarence earn his wings.

And if by wild chance some of us are not regular exercisers (gasp), we should consider this our golden opportunity to make up for lost time and establish a new healthy habit. It can be as simple as taking a 15- minute walk every day. Not only will we burn off some of that holiday cheer we guzzled at the office party, we will reduce stress. After all, despite the wonder, this can also be the most stressful time of the year.

Wow! We are on track to knock the stockings off this holiday season. Not only do we have a plan for managing our calorie consumption, we’re going to get fit and blast stress into smithereens in the process. We’re sitting pretty and we still have one more maneuver in our yuletide arsenal — the New Year’s Resolution.

Most of us pledge to detox after the excess of the holidays by tossing the leftover fruitcake and getting back into our gym-frequenting routine. This year however, we can take it a step further and learn about healthy eating while giving back to the community at the same time. The Healthy Eating Advocate Training Program teaches the basics of nutrition so that participants may become advocates for health and wellness in the community, volunteering to share their knowledge with friends and neighbors. Sessions will begin after the start of the New Year, so don’t drop the ball and miss out. For more information, call 860-889-8331 ext. 2267.  

Improving our own health and volunteering… Now that’s a resolution two-fer. I must say, we are tactical geniuses. The month of December isn’t going to know what hit it.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian with the Thames Valley Council for Community Action and The William W. Backus Hospital Community Health Education Department. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, November 18, 2013


The secrets to staying fit are not so far away

One thing my husband and I noticed when visiting our son in Moab, Utah, is there are virtually no obese people.  We started looking around for overweight people in grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, the local coffee shop, bicycle rental shops, and even bookstores — and didn't spot a single one. 

Everybody seems to have an active lifestyle, whether it is running, biking, hiking, mountain climbing, or even riding a zip line. Our son doesn't even own a television set.

We purposely looked for women in spike high heels, and didn't see any. Everybody, whether local or visitor, wears sneakers or hiking boots with active wear like T-shirts and cargo pants, sweatshirts and windbreakers. Billboards promote the local 5K fund-raiser or the best trails for hiking or biking.

Fruit smoothies, healthy whole grain breads, granola energy bars, and a particularly large fresh produce section were most prominent in the local supermarket. 

In the grocery stores they feature  the NuVal system to help shoppers make healthier food choices. A small tag on the shelf next to each product rates the nutritional value of each item on a scale of 1 to 100.  The vitamin and mineral content, the sugar and fat content, additives, calorie count, etc…  are all taken into account when deciding the number.

Cartons of fresh strawberries or blueberries were rated 100, and I spotted a few sugar-laden, nutrient-depleted offerings in the cereal aisle that earned a rating of one.  Even the most buff athlete will admit to indulging in occasional treats, as long as the majority of meals consumed are healthy and nutritious.

I guess the bottom line is still we need to "exercise more and eat better" to stay fit.

Wherever we live, we can follow the example of the folks in Moab and enjoy expansive scenic views, not expansive waistlines.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, November 04, 2013


Handwashing can be the best medicine

As I write this from my cramped seat on an airplane, en route to Utah to visit our son, we are bombarded with the sounds of coughing, sneezing, throat-clearing and nose-blowing of other passengers. It's hard to ignore.

While I have my little bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer at the ready, I doubt if many other passengers do, unless they are healthcare workers, too.

I didn't feel any better when I started on the reading material I had brought.  Writing for Healthline, author Lisa Collier Cool cites a rather disturbing  finding.  Ninety-one percent of Americans say they wash their hands after using a public toilet, but an observational study conducted at six U.S. airports found that only 26% of men and 17% of women actually did.  Now that's a dirty little report I wish I hadn't read.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study survey found that 40 million Americans a year fall prey to illnesses spread by hands, which can harbor up to 500,000 bacteria per square centimeter. Ugh. The bacteria numbers sound even worse if measured per inch.

The bottom line is that the easiest, cheapest way to stay healthy is simply to wash hands with soap and water.  Experts advise us to wash hands before and after preparing food, before eating, after using the toilet or changing diapers, after coughing or sneezing, and after touching garbage.  I would add after a session using a computer keyboard, too.  How often do we cleanse our keyboards?

While soap and water is best, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are second best. They don't eliminate every kind of bacteria, but they will help until soap and running water become available.

The recommended procedure for effective hand washing is wet hands, applying soap, scrub between fingers, and well up the wrists for 30 seconds. Rinse under running water, dry on a paper towel, and turn off the faucet with the towel. 

It is suggested that kids sing "Happy Birthday" twice, which should equal 30 seconds. Another thing we noticed is that kids sneezed into their elbows as they are taught to nowadays as opposed to older adults, who are conditioned to cough or sneeze into their hands.  That now-obsolete method of containing germs was polite, but unsanitary. It would have been OK if immediately followed by effective hand washing.

Exposure to a little dirt and normal everyday surface bacteria in our environment is essential for our bodies to build up a good immune system, but let's wait until after flu season to get our quota. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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