Monday, December 28, 2015


A new way to ring in the new year

The year is coming to an end and with it comes the notorious “New Year’s Resolution.” Let’s be honest. How many of us make a resolution, start out strong and confident on January 1st and by January 4th our resolution is long forgotten? This year, let’s take a new approach to the age old “New Year’s Resolution” that will be more meaningful and strengthen our connections with others.

Instead of making an individual resolution this year, try to make a family or group resolution. It doesn’t matter who comprises your family, what ages they are, or where they are living. Making a family resolution can not only strengthen your connection, but can also help you be more successful in your goal because everyone is responsible for holding one another accountable. Need some ideas? Try taking these for a spin.

Have dinner as a family 3-4 times a week or more. Eating dinner as a family is an obvious way to build family connection, but it also has physical and mental health benefits. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that eating dinner as a family can lower the risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, and pregnancy in teenagers. In addition, family dinners have been associated with an increase in self esteem, better school performance, and a greater sense of resilience in teenagers. Studies in younger children and adults have yielded similar findings. The Family Dinner Project is a great resource for implementing family dinners. Their website offers tips for getting started as well as numerous ideas to make the most of the experience. There are general conversation starters as well as “Pickles and Predicaments” which presents tough situations that the family can discuss. There are also dinner games and recipes to try broken down by age group. Visit the Family Dinner Project at for more information.

Go for a family walk after dinner. Psychology Today reports that going for a light walk within fifteen minutes of a meal improves glucose tolerance and weight control. Walking every day has also been linked to decreased blood pressure and heart problems. In addition, the Journal of Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics reports a reduced risk of GERD in patients who walked following a meal. Aside form physical benefits, getting outside has been linked to improved mood and better sleep. Try to set a specific goal with your family regarding how many days a week you would like to walk or grab a group of friends or neighbors and start an after dinner walking club. Your body and brain will thank you.

Communicate better. Learning how to communicate is an important skill. For young children frequent communication within families has been linked to improved verbal and nonverbal communication later in life as well as improved listening ability. Teenagers who are encouraged to express their ideas within their families are also more adept at dealing with interpersonal problems outside of the house. Even if your family is spread out, communication is easier than ever with today’s technology of Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangout and cell phones. Set a goal of the number of times a week or month you want to talk. Set specific dates using a calendar. In our family, all three kids are away at school so it is even more important for us to schedule time to talk both between siblings and with parents. We will be making this our family resolution for 2016.

Volunteer together once a week, month (or whatever works in your schedules). Volunteering has numerous health benefits. In adults it has been associated with increased life satisfaction and physical health and has demonstrated lower levels of stress. Children, teens, and young adults all report increasing levels of happiness following volunteering. Volunteering allows children to appreciate what they have and get the satisfaction that they can make a difference. Children learn to focus on others and witness what is present in the “real world.” A study released by the UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute found that teenagers and adults who had volunteered as children found that the experience gave them direction for their lives and led to careers helping others such as teaching and social work. In this way a family resolution now can benefit your children now and in the future.

Implement or increase exercise.
While many of us make implementing an exercise program or increasing our amount of exercise an individual resolution, making exercise a family goal can also have benefits. The American College of Sports Medicine reports that individuals who work out in a group are less likely to quit due to boredom. In addition, individual effort increases when that person is working out in a group (a little competition never hurt anybody). While it can be hard to find one type of exercise the whole family enjoys, many gyms offer family memberships, making it easier than ever to work out as a family without breaking the bank.

So grab the eggnog and Christmas cookies, and sit down as a family to discuss your resolution. 2016 is officially the year of health and happiness. Happy New Year.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, December 21, 2015


Quit smoking in 2016 – for you and your loved ones

The new year is rapidly approaching, and it’s time to make resolutions. For those of us who still smoke cigarettes, this may be the best time to quit. We all know that there are health hazards associated with smoking, but that hasn’t deterred people from lighting up. Cigarettes are expensive: about $8.25 per pack. A one-pack-per-day smoker could save $247.50 in one month alone by quitting. Even though that could equal a car payment, it’s still not enough to convince some people to quit.

In an effort to find something to persuade someone to quit, I went on the American Lung Association website and found this shocking information:

There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous.

Here are a few of the chemicals in tobacco smoke and other places they are found:

• Acetone – found in nail polish remover
• Ammonia – a common household cleaner
• Arsenic – used in rat poison
• Benzene – found in rubber cement
• Butane – used in lighter fluid
• Cadmium – active component in battery acid
• Carbon Monoxide – released in car exhaust fumes
• Formaldehyde – embalming fluid
• Hexamine – found in barbecue lighter fluid
• Lead – used in batteries
• Naphthalene – an ingredient in mothballs
• Nicotine – used as insecticide
• Tar – material for paving roads
• Toluene - used to manufacture paint

The American Lung Association advises people trying to quit to expect and resist urges to smoke. The urge to smoke will pass in three to five minutes whether you smoke or not. Remember the Four D's to get through an urge:

• Delay
• Deep breathing
• Drink water
• Do something else

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that during 2011–2012, two out of every five children ages 3 to 11 in the United States were exposed to secondhand smoke regularly. If you don’t quit smoking for yourself, do it for the children in your life.

We can all agree quitting smoking is a very difficult thing to do. Find a local American Lung Association Freedom From Smoking cessation class near you. The group support is key. Everybody is in the same boat, and readily lends support to one another. It’s also important to tell your friends and family that you’re trying to quit smoking and ask for their support. They will love you for it.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care 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, December 14, 2015


Practicing forgiveness reaps many benefits

My mother loves to do the cryptoquote puzzles every day. I have tried solving them, but I really don’t have the patience to do them — I skip right to reading the solved quote from the previous day. A recent quote by Barbara DeAngelis caught my eye: “The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present.” While that is good advice, I didn’t think it applied to me.

Then I read my horoscope for the same day: “Don’t let the past ruin your plans for the future. Let go of all the negativity you’ve experienced and you will see a path that offers a unique and inviting alternative to anything you’ve tried in the past. Be resolute about the decisions you make.”

That gave me pause. Seeing such similar advice offered on the same day made me reconsider. Maybe it was germane and relevant after all. But isn’t that good advice for everyone, whether we are a Scorpio, Virgo or a Capricorn?

As we near the end of 2015, we make resolutions to improve our life. We want 2016 to be better, to outshine and surpass the current year. Perhaps a worthwhile resolution for all of us could be to practice forgiveness and let go of negativity.

There is evidence that there are health benefits to practicing forgiveness. Researchers have found that people who spoke about forgiveness and empathy and don’t hold grudges have lower stress levels, a healthier heart, higher pain tolerance and lower blood pressure.

Having a forgiving heart may lower both emotional and physical pain, according to a study done by researchers at Duke University Medical Center. Out of 61 subjects who suffered from chronic back pain, those who were more likely to forgive reported lower levels of pain, leading researchers to believe that “a relationship appears to exist between forgiveness and important aspects of living with persistent pain.”

Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” That’s a simple and clear illustration for us to ponder.

I have read that forgiveness is one of the best secrets to a longer life. My sisters and I have always agreed: Our mother never holds a grudge. Maybe the knack for completing cryptoquote puzzles and the ability to forgive and move on is why she is still going strong at the age of 94.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care 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, December 07, 2015


In pursuit of a good night’s sleep

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep you are not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 40 million Americans have ongoing sleep problems and another 20 million have trouble sleeping now and then.

Here’s a sobering statistic: the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that one in five fatal auto crashes were the result of fatigued driving.

It’s important to learn how much sleep your body needs. Most healthy adults need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but you may need more or less. Sleep is as important as food or water. Restful sleep can improve your mood, energy and ability to handle stress.

Here are some tips to get a good night’s sleep:

Avoid caffeine in coffee, tea, cola, or chocolate after noontime. Caffeine can interfere with sleep for up to eight hours afterward.

A cool, dark room is ideal. Turn off devices that produce light in the bedroom. In warm weather I use a room fan to cool the room; it also produces “white noise” to block outside noise.

No napping during the day. You’ll sleep better at night. But if you can’t resist, keep the nap to 20 minutes, and do it before 3 pm.

Work out wisely. Vigorous exercise within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime will produce a burst of energy, which is exactly what you want to avoid. Am wind-down relaxing activity like yoga or tai chi is best in the hours before you head to bed.

Worrisome thoughts keeping you awake? Keep paper and pen at the bedside, jot down what’s troubling you, go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning.

Unplug from technology. The latest research suggests that artificial light coming from laptop screens, TVs, etc. suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Turn off those screens an hour before bedtime.

If none of these things work, and sleeplessness persists for more than a few weeks, it’s time to discuss it with your primary care provider.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care 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

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?