Health & Fitness
Reset Your Internal Clock | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 January 2015 15:32

By adjusting your circadian rhythm you can better the chances of a good night’s sleep

011515hBy Mark Underwood • Special to the Times

Have you ever wondered why you tend to wake up at the same time without an alarm clock, fall asleep about the same time or get hungry about the same hour each day?

The answer is due to your circadian rhythm or biological clock found deep in the brain. Our amazing clocks are highly intertwined with physiological and behavioral processes. They routinely manage our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle with brain wave activity, hormone production and cell regeneration.

But our internal clocks don’t adjust well to new routines.

Biological clocks have a profound effect on when we go to sleep, eat and wake, but also on mental and physical health.

The inner workings of our clocks are high-tech machines. One good example is the daily night-time routine. As night falls the clock is in high operational mode as it begins to slow the body for sleep, lowering body temperature, and releasing the hormone melatonin that makes us feel sleepy.

The clock is “programmed” to react to light and darkness and the daily departure of the sun — essential for our bodies to function throughout a busy day.

Creatures of habit

Our internal clocks keep us on track. Without the intricate balance, we’d have jet lag more often than not. Sluggishness, insomnia, lost appetite, and an awful feeling of being “out of it,” are natural consequences of jet lag, a frequent discomfort of travelers.

When you travel across time zones and it’s 10 p.m. back home, your internal clock will have you wanting to go to bed no matter what the local time is, even if it’s noon locally.

Even though our clocks do not adapt well to interruptions in daily routines, our circadian rhythm can be reset, making good sleep possible.

There are many situations when our clocks may be out of sync with daily life. If you go to bed much later than usual, take a different job that requires you to work at night, or act as a personal caregiver to a friend which results in interrupted patterns of sleep, you’ll probably have problems adjusting your circadian rhythm.

People who have chronic sleep problems have a weaker defense system against pathogens that cause illness, such as the common cold. To make matters worse, it is known that poor sleep can lead to overeating. While it is not exactly understood, the body uses rest to “recharge” the body. Hormones such as leptin, which control appetite, may be affected.

Clock reset tips

What can you do if you are one of millions who work late at night or sometimes disrupt your circadian rhythm?

• Decrease caffeine and alcohol intake before bedtime.

• Work on reducing stress. We all have stress, but it is the single major factor to poor sleep and long-term health problems.

• Find structured ways to relax. Yoga is a good example.

• Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water.

• Exercise regularly, but if you’re exercising too close to bedtime, you might be confusing your internal clock with this nightly activity.

• If you need to sleep in the daytime, it is very important to shut out light to trigger light/dark cycles. Adjust your room’s environment if your room is too hot or loud. Studies have shown that very dark (pitch black), cool rooms are the most “sleepable.” If you live near traffic, invest in ear plugs.

• Upgrade your mattress for a more comfortable, good night’s sleep.

Mark Underwood is a neuroscience researcher, president and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin.


 
Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 January 2015 15:30

By Linette Escobar • Special to the Times

How are you doing with those New Year’s resolutions? Research from the University of Scranton suggests that only 8 percent of people succeed in keeping their resolutions. The team at Castro Valley Adult & Career Education (CVACE) knows all about achieving goals and is offering a host of new classes to support you in your effort to improve your health and lifestyle.

First, set short-term and realistic goals. Joyce Hanna from Stanford University’s Health Improvement Program says that by breaking goals into smaller steps you will be more likely to sustain a behavior change. It might not be realistic to exercise an hour every day, but attending a weekly class is do-able and sets you up to complete even more challenging long-term goals.

This is where CVACE offers support. Get in shape with their new Pilates and Zumba Classes.

Pilates is designed to develop your core and create the well-balanced body you’ve been looking for. The once-a-week, 10-class series starts Thursday, Jan. 22, and is just $80.

Zumba started on Jan. 13. At $84 dollars for the series, it comes out to just $7 a class. Additionally, CVACE offers yoga, basketball and even table tennis.

Second, change one behavior at a time. The American Psychological Association recommends focusing on small steps and only working on one behavior at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Next, get support. Betsy Capes of Capes Coaching says, “Having a champion alongside you makes all the difference.”

The instructors and other classmates at CVACE can be partners in your behavior change. Get together with others looking to improve their diets by taking “Achieving Healthy Weight with Whole Food Nutrition” which starts on Jan. 22. The class is taught by nutrition and herbal therapist Susan Blanc. Then, keep going by taking her healthy weight hands-on cooking class or fermented foods for digestive health class in March.

Finally, focus on why you have set this goal. Ms. Hanna from Stanford says that focusing on the benefits you will receive will help you stay committed when you might feel weak. Write a note on your bathroom mirror that says, “I want to play hide and seek with my kids without getting winded.” Look at that in the morning to help you get to that Zumba class at night.

Whether your goal is getting a new job, planning for retirement, learning how to use your iPad, producing a podcast or starting an organic garden, CVACE has a class for you.

For more information, check out their catalog or go to www.cvadult.org. With their help, you can find yourself among the 8 percent next January saying, “I did it!”

Linette Escobar is Marketing Chair for Castro Valley Adult & Career Education.


 
Tis the Season… To Be Stressed | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 15:03

121114hWhile the holiday season usually means many joys and delights, for some people it can also mean more stress.

Added expectations, additional pressures at home, demands on time and economic concerns can take a toll on a person’s psyche. It’s not uncommon over the holidays to hear or read stories about “holiday depression.”

Symptoms of holiday depression can include insomnia, sadness or nervousness. Physical symptoms can develop as well, such as weakness, lack of energy, fatigue, headache or digestive troubles.

The good news is: Believe it or not, most of us cope quite well with these stresses.

While there is probably no way to eliminate stress completely (particularly during the holidays) it is possible to achieve a good balance by planning ahead, staying healthy and sharing the holiday burden.

Maintaining stability with work, family and other pressures is difficult enough on a normal day, but the stress of juggling holiday responsibilities can push anyone. There are ways to help friends, family and ourselves maintain a balance during the holiday season:

• Eat a balanced and healthy diet: Choose to eat healthy foods most of the time, especially for breakfast and lunch. This will provide the energy your body needs to keep up with what could be a busier holiday schedule. Use moderation in your intake of food, alcohol and parties.

• Exercise: It’s not only a great way to keep holiday bulge at bay, exercise also increases feelings of contentment and happiness.

• Get Rest: Our bodies need more rest during stressful times. Keeping a reasonable bedtime during the holidays will give you more energy and make things more enjoyable.

• Delegate tasks: Don’t feel you have to do it all during the holidays. It’s an unrealistic expectation. Ask for help when you need it.

• Set priorities: Your schedule is likely to be busier than usual during the holidays, but you don’t have to attend every party or cook a six-course meal for all 35 of your relatives. Remind yourself about what is important to you and your family. Do those things and decline the rest. Create a holiday budget and prioritize your spending, as well.

• Set boundaries: Sometimes a variety of pressures from relatives cause the largest amount of stress during the holidays. If a certain relative is the cause behind your anxiety, for your own health, you may want to try to avoid them as much as possible during the holiday season.

• In general: Be aware that there is a difference between “the blues” and a real clinical depression which can happen for some during the holidays.

If you feel your holiday depression is affecting your health and quality of life, talk to your doctor.

Eden Medical Center


 
Is a Weight-Free Holiday Possible? | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 December 2014 15:01

On average, Americans gain weight during the holiday season. While it may not be dramatic, research shows the extra pounds accumulate over the years.

“There are strategic steps to avoid holiday weight gain while still enjoying holiday feasts,” says Sonya Angelone, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In preparation for a big holiday dinner, avoid skipping meals throughout the day, which usually results in overeating later.

“It is especially important to eat breakfast,” says Angelone. “High-fiber and high-protein foods like oatmeal and milk with fruit, an egg and spinach on whole wheat toast, Greek yogurt with nuts, or a whole-wheat English muffin will satisfy hunger without a lot of calories.”

Holiday meals tend to be large or buffet-style and include second and third helpings. A common mistake is eating large portions of foods that are considered healthful. To avoid overeating, start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before going to the entrees and desserts. Eating a salad before your meal can help you eat fewer calories overall.

Including nutrient-rich foods in your diet is great, just remember that these foods have calories too, which should be taken into consideration with your whole eating plan.

“And be mindful of alcohol consumption. Drink more water throughout a party to quench your thirst and help keep the cocktails to one or two,” says Angelone.

For more healthy holiday tips and info, visit www.eatright.org.

StatePoint


 
GERD: A Growing Epidemic | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 12:42

112714hBy Wilson Tsai, M.D. • Special to the Times

As families gather for Thanksgiving dinner this week, about one in five of us will approach the meal with some trepidation because of the potential for heartburn.

It is estimated that one in five Americans suffers from heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Symptoms of GERD include discomfort, regurgitation, sore throat, persistent cough and even chest pain, and can interfere with sleep or everyday activities.

Heartburn should not be ignored. Not only can it negatively affect your quality of life, it can lead to more serious conditions, including esophageal cancer, the fastest growing type of cancer in the United States today.

Thanksgiving Week is also GERD Awareness Week. Here are 10 things you need to know about heartburn/GERD:

1. Symptoms of GERD happen when stomach contents such as food, acid and bile back up into the esophagus because of a weak sphincter muscle at the bottom of the esophagus.

2. Some people have “trigger foods” that can bring on symptoms. Most commonly, these include fatty, spicy and acidic foods, such as coffee, chocolate, onions, tomatoes and citrus. Alcohol also can increase reflux.

3. GERD is a growing epidemic. Twenty percent of U.S. adults suffer from GERD.

4. Reflux symptoms can sometimes resemble the symptoms of a heart attack, which can be painful and frightening. Reflux often can be a burning sensation, while a heart attack may be more like pressure or a constriction.

5. Some lifestyle modifications can help reduce the severity and frequency of GERD. Risk factors include smoking, alcohol use, diet and obesity. Eating small, frequent meals and avoiding meals late at night can also help.

6. Up to 40 percent of people who take antacids and medications continue to have symptoms. It’s important at this point to see your doctor. It can be an indication of a more serious condition.

7. Prescription medications, such as Prilosec or Nexium, are meant to be taken for a maximum of 14 days. Medicines do not stop reflux or the progression of the disease. They just change the acidity of the reflux so it burns less.

Alleviating symptoms does not address the cause of GERD, which is a weak sphincter muscle that allows the acid to splash back into the esophagus. So you’re just “masking” the problem, while injury to the lining of the esophagus may continue.

8. Long-term use of the medications have been linked to lower calcium absorption that can lead to bone fractures, as well as decreased magnesium absorption that can lead to heart arrhythmias.

9. GERD can progress to Barrett’s Esophagus in 10 to 15 percent of long-term reflux sufferers. Barrett’s Esophagus is a change in the lining of the esophagus due to chronic irritation from GERD and can be a precancerous condition. Since 1976, the diagnosis of esophageal cancer has increased by 600 percent and is the fastest growing cancer in the U.S. today.

10. There are minimally invasive surgical procedures that address the cause of GERD. Nissen fundoplication is a time-tested surgical procedure where the stomach is wrapped around the esophagus to recreate a sphincter so acid can’t back up into the esophagus.

A newer, lesser-invasive option is the LINX procedure, where a small flexible band of magnets enclosed in titanium beads is placed around the weak esophageal sphincter. When the patient swallows, the beads expand. The magnetic attraction between the beads keeps the sphincter closed to prevent reflux.

GERD affects a lot of people and there are a lot of misconceptions as to how to treat it. The most important thing is that you don’t ignore it.

Dr. Wilson Tsai is a board-certified thoracic surgeon and medical director of Esophageal and Thoracic Surgery at Eden Medical Center. To learn more about the treatment options for GERD, call (510) 727-3375 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Weigh Medicare Part D, Advantage Plan Carefully | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 12:39

By Jason Alderman • Special to the Forum

If you’re currently enrolled in Medicare, what you do or don’t do next week could determine whether you can secure the best, most affordable coverage next year. Here’s why:

Medicare Part D prescription plans frequently change premiums, drug formularies, deductibles and copayment amounts for specific drugs from year to year. Medicare Advantage plans often make similar changes; plus doctors, hospitals and pharmacies may drop out of their preferred provider networks.

Thus, by simply choosing the same options for 2015 without investigating alternatives, you could wind up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars more for similar healthcare services.

Medicare’s annual election period (a.k.a. open enrollment) to make coverage changes for 2015 runs to December 7. For most people, this is the best – and sometimes only – opportunity to make coverage changes. (Exceptions are made for people who qualify for a special enrollment period – see “Medicare & You” at www.medicare.gov for details.)

If you already have traditional Medicare Parts A and B, you needn’t make any changes; however, if you also have Part D, you must either reenroll in your current plan or choose another.

During open enrollment you can:

• Switch from Medicare Parts A, B and D to Medicare Advantage or vice versa.

• Switch from one Advantage plan to another.

• Switch from an Advantage plan offering drug coverage to one that doesn’t or vice versa.

• Join a Part D plan, switch from one plan to another or drop coverage altogether.

Current Advantage plan enrollees can also use the Medicare Advantage disenrollment period (Jan. 1 to Feb. 14) to switch back to Medicare Parts A, B and D. However they cannot:

• Switch from original Medicare to Medicare Advantage.

• Switch from one Advantage plan to another.

• Switch from one Part D plan to another.

When choosing next year’s Part D plan:

• Carefully review your plan’s “Annual Notice of Change” for substantive changes to premiums, deductibles, copayments, covered drugs, participating pharmacies, etc.

• Notice whether they’ve changed copayments/coinsurance for your medications or possibly dropped some altogether. Ask your doctor whether comparable, covered drugs will work; otherwise you could pay more next year.

• Even if your plan hasn’t changed substantially, it’s still wise to use the Medicare Plan Finder at www.medicare.gov to compare all available plans. You’ll be prompted to enter your medications and dosages. The calculator then ranks plans by “star rating” and overall cost.

• Note: The lowest premium may not be your best bet – sometimes plans with higher monthly premiums have a lower overall cost due to their more favorable deductible, copayment and coinsurance amounts.

Medicare Advantage plans are HMO- or PPO-type alternatives to Medicare Parts A and B. Most cover drugs and some include extra benefits like vision and dental coverage at additional cost. They usually have lower deductibles and copayments but require you to use the plan’s provider network. A few tips:

• If your Advantage plan includes drug coverage, you don’t need Part D.

• Carefully review the “Annual Notice of Change” from your plan for any substantive changes.

• Even if your plan hasn’t changed substantially, you can use the same Medicare Plan Finder as above to review available plans. As with Part D plans, an Advantage plan with a lower premium might have a higher overall cost, due to various restrictions.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs.



 
Don’t Drive When Drowsy | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 12:36

The holiday season means long nighttime drives for many, and the California Highway Patrol cautions that a tired driver can be just as dangerous and deadly behind the wheel as an intoxicated driver.

“When you decide to get behind the wheel of a car, be aware that being sleepy is dangerous,” said California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow. “Although most Californians know how dangerous drinking and driving is, they may not fully realize that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous and potentially fatal as driving drunk.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cognitive impairment after approximately 18 hours awake is similar to that of someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 percent. After 24 hours impairment is equivalent to a BAC of 0.10 percent, higher than the legal limit in all states.

In addition, lower levels of alcohol (below the legal limit) amplify the effects of inadequate sleep.

In 2012, the most recent year in which finalized figures are available, there were more than 3,900 collisions in California involving drowsy drivers. As a result of those collisions, 36 people died and more than 2,100 others were injured.

Below are some signs that should tell a driver to stop and rest:

• Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids

• Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts

• Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs

• Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes

• Trouble keeping your head up

• Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip

• Feeling restless and irritable

If you experience any of these warning signs, pull over to rest or change drivers. Simply turning up the radio, drinking coffee or opening the window are not effective ways to stay alert.

 

 
How to Stay Flu-Free This Season | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 13 November 2014 15:29

111314h1While flu season in the U.S. historically starts this time of year, most of us don’t think about it until either we get sick or a family member or co-worker does, and by then, it may be too late.

One of the few facts about flu season is that it’s always unpredictable and may peak at any time in the fall, winter or even spring months.

That’s why the CDC recommends that people get the flu shot each year as soon as the vaccine is available.

A notable behavioral shift over the past few years has seen many people waiting to get their shots until flu activity becomes widespread — not the wisest choice.

It takes up to two weeks for the body to build full immunity following a flu shot, and you’re significantly increasing your chances of getting sick if you wait until the last minute when the flu is already circulating in your community.

Children younger than age 5 are at high risk for flu-related complications. For school-age children, remind them of the importance of hand washing and using tissues when they sneeze. (Note that the influenza vaccine is not approved for children younger than 6 months of age.)

Pregnant women are more susceptible to getting sick, including catching the flu, because their immune systems are weaker than usual. During pregnancy, the flu can escalate quickly and be complicated by infections such as fetal distress or pneumonia.

While flu shots are particularly important for the very young, the elderly and pregnant women, the flu can be very serious for anyone, including young and healthy adults.

Last season, patients between 18 and 64 years of age accounted for nearly 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations reported to the CDC.

An annual flu shot is the best preventive measure you can take, but there are small, everyday tips that can also help keep you healthy throughout the always unpredictable flu season:

1. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your mouth and eyes. Sanitizers are also effective.

2. Cover your nose and mouth  if you cough or sneeze so that you don’t spread germs to your peers. And, wash your hands afterward.

3. Stay home if you’re sick. It’s one of the easiest ways to prevent others from catching your germs.

4. Make sure you’re eating healthy and getting enough sleep at night.

Getting the flu shot can be very affordable. Flu vaccines are now fully covered as a preventive service under the Affordable Care Act and available at no cost through most insurance plans, including Medicare Part B.

Most pharmacies (including CVS and Walgreens) offer flu shots daily with no appointment needed, and, in most states, offer a wide range of 17 CDC-recommended vaccines, including those to protect against shingles, pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), meningitis, hepatitis and others.

For more information on the differences in flu shots, visit cdc.gov/flu. For information on obtaining shots, visit Walgreens.com/GetAShot, or cvs.com/flu.

CAPTION: The CDC recommends that people get the flu shot each year as soon as the vaccine is available.


 
Town Hall Meeting on Mental Health | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 13 November 2014 15:27

111314h2Robin Williams’ suicide was a stark reminder that, as a community, we must be vigilant and sensitive to the stigma which may prevent people from seeking treatment for mental illness.

In the face of the sobering statistic that one in four of us will face mental issues some time in our lives, Alameda County will sponsor a Town Hall meeting next Monday, Nov. 17, on how to navigate through the county’s mental health care services to gain access to adequate treatment.

Warning signs for mental illness include loss of appetite and loss of interest in usual activities; difficulty in sleeping, concentrating or communicating; and depression. Isolation can only exacerbate these symptoms, so reaching out and seeking treatment are essential first steps to recovery.

An interactive segment will be included in Monday’s session to answer questions related to accessing mental health care services.

The meeting is open to the public and will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Hayward City Hall, 777 B St. It is sponsored by the county’s Board of Supervisors, Mental Health Board and Behavioral Health Care Services.

Rochelle Elias, Chair, County Mental Health Board


 
Heartburn: What You Should Know | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:34

102314hIf you’ve ever experienced heartburn — also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD — you know how uncomfortable it can be. Approximately 30 million people in the U.S. experience some symptoms of GERD. Besides heartburn, GERD symptoms can fall into two categories:

(1) Typical symptoms include regurgitation, bloating or an acidic taste in the back of the mouth.

(2) Less common symptoms include asthma, persistent coughing, shortness of breath and even recurrent pneumonia. These less frequent symptoms are often misdiagnosed and the root cause never recognized.

Treatments: Masking symptoms vs. treating the cause:

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 64 million prescriptions were written in the U.S. for GERD medications in 2012, and dozens of over-the-counter heartburn remedies are available at most pharmacies — ranging from antacids and H2 blockers to proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

“Medications don’t treat reflux, they hide it,” said Wilson Tsai, M.D., Director of Eden Medical Center’s Esophageal and Thoracic Program. “People take medications and feel better, so they think the problem is gone.

“More than 90 percent of my patients with esophageal cancer were told by their doctors to take their PPIs and they’d be fine. Meanwhile, the root cause was getting worse.”

Dr. Tsai said that people who suffer from reflux for more than a month should see their doctor for a complete workup. “PPIs should only be used to treat symptoms for a few weeks,” he explained. “Long-term use of PPIs can lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures, and they have a number of dangerous drug interactions.”

Patients are often told to reduce the symptoms of GERD by losing weight or avoiding foods and beverages that contribute to heartburn, such as tomatoes, coffee and alcohol.

Dr. Tsai agrees that losing weight can decrease the pressure in the abdomen that can cause a hiatal hernia, which is diagnosed through endoscopy or an esophagram. However, he believes that lifestyle changes only go so far in reducing symptoms of reflux.

Stopping reflux at the source:

For many years, the standard surgical treatment for GERD has been fundoplication, a laparoscopic procedure in which the top of the stomach is sewn around the esophagus to reduce reflux.

In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the LINX™ Reflux Management System. The LINX device consists of a series of titanium beads, each with a magnetic core, connected to create a ring.

The ring is then surgically implanted around the lower esophageal sphincter to prevent stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus. In clinical studies, the LINX system eliminated severe reflux in 100 percent of patients, and 93 percent of patients reported a significant decrease in the need for medications.

“LINX implantation takes about ten minutes and will be performed laparoscopically,” explained Dr. Tsai, who added that highly specialized training is required to perform the procedure.

He was careful to point out, however, that patients with esophageal changes or precancerous conditions are not candidates for the LINX procedure.

“Acid reflux is a mechanical problem, not a chemical one,” Dr. Tsai explained. “We all have stomach acids, but when they flow back up into the esophagus, it’s a clear sign that something is not functioning correctly. The problem needs to be fixed at the source, not masked with medications.”

Dr. Wilson Tsai will present a free talk about the symptoms, causes and treatments of GERD, including LINX on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 6:30 p.m. at the San Leandro Library, 300 Estudillo Ave. Space is limited. To reserve your seat, call 1-888-445-8433.


 
Time to Review Your Medicare Coverage | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:33

By David Sayen • Special to the Times

Medicare’s annual open enrollment season is underway, and I want to encourage everyone with Medicare to review their current health and prescription drug coverage.

Open enrollment began Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7. If you want to change your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D (prescription drug) plan, this is the time of year to do it. Any new coverage you select will take effect on Jan. 1.

If you have Original (traditional) Medicare and you’re satisfied with it, you don’t need to do anything during open enrollment.

My agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, announced recently that the average Medicare Advantage premium for 2015 is projected to be $33.90 monthly. CMS also estimated that the average basic Part D premium in 2015 would be $32 per month.

Since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, enrollment in Medicare Advantage has increased 42 percent to an all-time high of over 16 million people. Medicare Advantage premiums, meanwhile, have decreased 6 percent.

The law is also closing the Part D “donut hole,” with more than 8.3 million people saving more than $12 billion on prescription drugs through last July.

Medicare plans’ coverage options and costs can change each year, and Medicare beneficiaries should evaluate their current coverage and choices and select the plan that best meets their needs. If you think your current coverage will meet your needs for 2015, you don’t need to change anything.

A variety of resources are available to help you compare your current coverage with new plan offerings for 2015. You can:

• Visit www.medicare.gov to review plans available in your area, as well as their costs, and enroll in a new plan if you decide to. Open enrollment information is available in Spanish.

• Call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for around-the-clock assistance to find out more about your coverage options. TTY users should call 1-877-486-2048. Counseling is available in a wide variety of languages.

• Review the 2015 Medicare & You handbook. This handbook has been mailed to the homes of people with Medicare and it’s also online at: www.medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/10050.pdf.

• Get free, unbiased, one-on-one counseling from your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). Local SHIP contact information can be found:

— At medicare.gov/contacts/organization-search-criteria.aspx or;

— On the back of the 2015 Medicare & You handbook or;

— By calling Medicare (at 1-800 number above).

People with Medicare who have limited income and resources may qualify for Extra Help to pay for their Part D drug plans. There’s no cost or obligation to apply for Extra Help. Medicare beneficiaries, family members, or caregivers can apply online at www.socialsecurity.gov/prescriptionhelp or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY users should call 1-800-325-0778) to find out more.

Better quality in Medicare Advantage and Part D plans isn’t the only good news.

For most seniors who have Original Medicare, the 2015 Part B premium will stay unchanged for a second consecutive year, at $104.90. This means more retirement income and any increase in Social Security benefits will stay in your pocket. The Part B deductible will stay the same as well.

David Sayen is Medicare’s regional administrator for California. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-633-4227.


 
A Bit of Exercise for the Body Benefits the Brain | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:29

102314h2Physical activity may not be the first thing parents or teachers think about when they want to boost a child’s academic performance, but evidence supports the notion that a bit of exercise for the body is beneficial to the brain as well.

In fact, kindergarteners who participated in Build Our Kids’ Success (BOKS), a free before-school program involving physical activity and nutrition education, had significantly improved memory skills as rated by teachers, compared to their peers who did not participate.

A study of the children’s performance also concluded that those who participated in the program exhibited good behavior in the classroom.

“A sedentary life and poor eating habits can lower kids’ performance in the classroom and start a cycle of health problems later in life,” says Kathleen Tullie, Founder and Executive Director of BOKS. “Simply stated, a healthy body and a healthy brain go hand in hand.”

So how can you incorporate more healthy habits into your family’s routine?

• Active weekends: Instead of a lazy Saturday or Sunday, get outside and get moving. Take a soccer ball to the park for a pick-up game or hike a local trail. Make exercise on the weekends a regular habit for your family, and those habits will extend to the rest of the week as well.

• Fuel throughout the day: A hearty breakfast sets kids up for a great day. Follow that up with a healthful, satisfying lunch and snacks such as nuts and fruit, to help kids avoid the pitfalls of the junk food machines.

• Cook together: Take-out is great when you’re crunched for time, but be sure to cook at home at least a few times a week. Not only are homemade meals one of the only ways you can be exactly sure of what you’re feeding your family, but the act of cooking together is a great opportunity to impart some lessons about nutrition and eating right.

• Bed time: Adequate sleep is crucial for a healthy, functional mind and body. Setting a regular bedtime and sticking to it is best to ensure kids get a full night’s rest.

• Volunteer to get your school involved: Children should have one hour or more of physical activity daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, physical education class may not be sufficient.

Investigate what other opportunities your child’s school has for physical activity, such as after-school sports.

BOKS can be run by anyone — parents, teachers, the school nurse or a community activist. To learn more, visit www.BOKSKids.org.

StatePoint

CAPTION: BOKS, founded by Kathleen Tullie, empowers parents, teachers, schools and local volunteers to give kids a body and brain boost that will set them up for a day of learning.

PHOTO © BUILD OUR KIDS SUCCESS


 

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