What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics get a lot of attention these days. But what are probiotics and what do they provide?

Probiotics are strains of bacteria that can deliver some significant health benefits. The idea of beneficial bacteria puzzles people because bacteria have long been known for causing disease. However, research into microorganisms suggests illnesses can be prevented and treated with foods and supplements that contain certain kinds of live bacteria.

Sources of Probiotics

Thanks to their popularity, many probiotic sources now exist — the most common of which are fermented foods such as yogurt, acidophilus milk and kefir. Probiotic-containing beverages are also widely available in stores today, and sales of probiotic supplements are on the rise as well. For a better idea of why consuming probiotics may be beneficial, consider their known and potential health benefits.

Treating Diarrhea

As Harvard Medical School observes, the most compelling evidence for probiotics’ value is in the treatment of diarrhea. Studies involving a strain of bacteria known as Lactobacillus GG demonstrated that its supplementation shortened diarrhea from antibiotics by as much as 60 percent.

Bowel Inflammation

Research into other gastrointestinal diseases is small, but growing to show some promise. For individuals with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, for example, certain strains of probiotics have demonstrated their ability to prevent inflammation in the colon. However, because there are thousands of probiotic strains, finding the beneficial ones challenges researchers and health professionals to this day.

Urogenital Health

Urogenital health may also be affected positively by probiotics. This system is a natural home to thousands of strains of bacteria, so consuming the most beneficial probiotics may be helpful for preventing yeast infection and urinary tract infections. There is also some promise that probiotics can help to prevent colds and the flu.

Probiotics and You

These are just a few of the known benefits of probiotics. Whereas others may exist, larger studies must be performed before all their effects can be understood. Nonetheless, probiotics are considered perfectly safe for the general public because they are already present in your digestive system.

So, what are probiotics? You may be surprised to learn that you already have them. But although they are widely available in supplement form, you should try to get your probiotics from fermented foods. Dietary supplements do not all undergo rigorous testing and approval, so ask your doctor for recommendations — or simply choose foods which naturally contain probiotics.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

Why Martial Arts for Women Is Getting Moms in on the Fun

Karate isn’t just a healthy, character-building experience for kids. Many moms love martial arts, too. Just ask Carmen Champagne — a 33-year-old mother who has been practicing martial arts for two years.

It all started when she took a self-defense class at a local martial arts studio with her 15-year-old daughter. Soon after, both of them signed up for regular classes. Champagne practices Hapkido and Aikido — both soft-style martial arts for women that focus on redirecting force, rather than meeting it head on. “There’s a lot of circular movements, evasions, throws, joint manipulations and off-balancing your opponent,” she explains. “There’s also quite a bit of striking and kicking.”

Classes are full-contact and intense, which gives Champagne a good workout, practical self-defense skills and some much-needed stress relief.

Making Time for Mom

Champagne always wanted to learn martial arts, but like many moms, she couldn’t find time. She had her hands full with a full-time job and two kids (the other is a 5-year-old son with autism). “I started going just once a week for one hour, which wasn’t such a big deal time-wise,” she explains. “But as I learned more and got better at it, going once a week became frustrating. It was enough time to forget everything I learned in the previous class.”

So she started taking two back-to-back classes on the same night. “My husband has a gaming group he meets with once a week; that’s his night out. Now I’ve got my night to myself, too.”

Healthy Mom, Happy Family

Champagne considered herself physically fit before she started Hapkido. “But I learned pretty quickly that I wasn’t in nearly as good of shape as I thought,” she admits. “You use a lot of muscles in martial arts that you don’t use in normal, daily activity.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which considers karate, Taekwondo and similar martial arts “vigorous activity” — suggests even a moderate but regular workout can help adults. It can:

  • Control weight
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and even some types of cancer
  • Strengthen bones and muscles
  • Improve mental health and mood
  • Increase your lifespan

Champagne can attest to the physical and mental health benefits of martial arts for women. She decreased her body fat by 2.2 percent in one year and has considerably more physical strength than before she started class. Just as important, she’s found an outlet for stress and anxiety.

“Life is stressful,” she says. “Especially when you have a child with a significant developmental disability. It [leads] to a feeling of powerlessness, and developing as a martial artist alleviates some of that powerlessness in the rest of my everyday life. I feel like I have control back over something, even if it’s just my own body. There’s also the day-to-day anxiety of going out in the world, and now I feel a little better prepared to prevent some of the bad things that could happen to me. That’s a good feeling for an anxious person.”

Is It Right for You?

Champagne’s best advice for women considering martial arts: If it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, make time for it.

“I love my children and being a mom,” says Champagne. “But I’m not only a mom. I like having these other facets of my life and my personality. I like developing myself as a person, within and outside of the home. I’d recommend that to anyone.”

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Six Ways to Savor the Health Benefits of Avocado

Did you know that the avocado, which is often mistaken for a vegetable, is actually a berry? What’s not mistakable are the health benefits of the avocado.

According to the USDA, one whole avocado contains 19.7 grams of healthy monounsaturated fat. It also provides 13.5 grams of fiber, 975 milligrams of potassium and 58 milligrams of magnesium. Here are a few less traditional ways to enjoy this super fruit.

Bread Spread

Next time you pull a slice of crisp bread out of the toaster, reach for avocado instead of your standard spread. Creamy avocado smeared on toasted bread or crackers puts an unexpected spin on otherwise ordinary foods.

Smoothies

They aren’t just for breakfast anymore. Smoothies make great meals or snacks any time of day. Half an avocado adds extra nutrition and thicker consistency to a health shake on the go. Incorporate avocado into a smoothie containing other fresh fruit like strawberries, or vegetables like cucumbers and spinach.

Avocado Burger

Add extra flavor and nutrients to your turkey or beef burger by placing some mashed avocado in the center before cooking. Even easier, spread avocado instead of mayonnaise or ketchup on an already cooked patty. It makes for a delicious and colorful condiment on a chicken or turkey sandwich, too.

Avo Cream

Similar to the concept of ice cream, avo cream is a healthy treat you can easily whip up in your own kitchen. Mash an avocado, then add cacao or cocoa powder to taste. For a slightly sweeter taste, add a pinch of stevia powder or dab of raw honey. Top with fresh raw strawberries or raspberries. Freeze or serve at room temperature.

Banana-cado

When you’re looking for a quick yet healthy snack, try this: Mash half an avocado along with a medium-sized banana. The combination seems risky, but it tastes delicious. It has a creamy, luscious texture and slightly sweet flavor.

Avocado Boat

Cut an avocado in half and remove the pit. You’ve just made a handy holder for baby carrots, cucumber slices, yellow and red pepper pieces, celery slices and even broccoli! Fill the recessed area with whatever veggies you like, then use them to scoop out the avocado. Add a light sprinkle of unrefined sea salt and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice if you prefer.

Once you branch out, you’ll discover that avocado goes great with many foods, from vegetables and fruits to your average cheeseburger. Keep experimenting until you find your favorite way to enjoy the health benefits of avocado. There’s a whole other world beyond guacamole.

What Are Electrolytes and How Do They Help You?

Electrolytes get a lot of attention, particularly because of athletic drinks and supplements. However, advertisements don’t tell you the whole story – what electrolytes are and why they’re important.

“When electrolytes are present in adequate amounts, your muscles work well and maintain the recommended fluid balance.”

Electrolytes are sets of minerals that include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. They may be acids, bases or salts, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and play a key role in sending electrical signals that influence the actions of your heart, muscles and nerves. Electrolytes also maintain the fluid balance in your muscles, as well as in your cells and tissues.

Roles in Your Body

When electrolytes are present in adequate amounts, your muscles work well and maintain the recommended fluid balance. However, you lose electrolytes through sweat and your digestive tract, and without them, you can experience muscle cramps, soreness, spasms and even an irregular heartbeat.

Extreme and prolonged exercise causes you to lose electrolytes, which is why they’re added to sports drinks. Vomiting and diarrhea can also deplete these crucial minerals.

Sources of Electrolytes

Water does not contain electrolytes, but you can find them in most fruits and vegetables. Red, orange and yellow produce, for example, are especially rich sources of potassium and magnesium. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet ensures you’ll have these minerals in the appropriate amounts.

If you need to replace electrolytes after exercise or while you’re sick, certain sports drinks containing electrolytes are always a convenient source. Coconut water is rich in potassium and sodium, as well, while low in calories for those watching their weight. Of course, you can also make a fruit or vegetable juice to replenish your electrolyte stores on the go. Be sure to drink these beverages along with water to prevent dehydration.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Do You Know the Symptoms of Anxiety?

Will I find a new job? Will my spouse’s test come back negative? Will my sister forgive me for the fight we had.

At some point, everyone has wished they could predict how a troubling situation will pan out. But when do feelings of worry turn into symptoms of anxiety? Here’s how to tell the difference and when to consider seeking help.

Worry vs. Anxiety

Occasionally feeling worried or uncomfortable is a normal part of life. However, being bombarded by thoughts that are overwhelming or uncontrollable could be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a common form of anxiety that produces chronic nervousness and physical tension.

GAD tends to cause concern about the same sorts of things everyone deals with — family, health, finances and so on — suggests the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Although many people can brush off these unpleasant thoughts after a while, a person with GAD experiences worries in a more intense, irrational manner that can interfere with other aspects of his or her life.

For instance, the average person might feel slightly troubled after seeing bad news about the economy on TV. Someone with GAD, on the other hand, might stay up all night afraid he or she is going to get laid off. And for the next several days, a deep sense of fear or dread may follow for how he or she will be able to pay the bills without a job.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder affects nearly 7 million Americans and is more common in women than men, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It tends to develop slowly, often during one’s teen years or young adulthood.

GAD symptoms can vary from one person to the next. Often, they’ll include:

  • Persistent, unreasonable worrying that you can’t control or forget about
  • No tolerance for uncertainty
  • Difficulty making decisions, or fear you’ll make the wrong one
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling restless or unable to relax
  • Avoiding situations that may seem tough or overwhelming

GAD can also cause physical symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, stomach pain, nausea or diarrhea, according to Mayo Clinic. You might also feel edgy or jumpy, even around those you’re close to. Muscle tensions and similar aches are common as well.

Learn more about healthy living.*

Coping With Anxiety

If you experience symptoms of anxiety, or feel as if your worrying is getting in the way of everyday life, it may be time to talk with your doctor. Anxiety is unlikely to go away on its own, and over time, your symptoms may become worse and harder to treat.

Fortunately, there are tools that can help you manage GAD symptoms, like behavioral therapy and anti-anxiety medication. By discussing your symptoms with your doctor, you can work together to determine the best treatment options for you — and start living a happier, less worrisome life.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

The Top Cinnamon Health Benefits

The smell of cinnamon may evoke very personal memories, whether they’re of your favorite perfume, pumpkin pie or oatmeal on a cold winter morning. Cinnamon tastes (and smells) great, but there are several other cinnamon health benefits you should know about as well.

The cinnamon found in grocery stores is actually Ceylon cinnamon. This spice comes from the bark of a Southeast Asian tree, and its curled sticks are actually pieces of bark that scroll in as they dry. Grinding these sticks gives you that familiar cinnamon powder.

Here are 10 potential cinnamon health benefits:

Antioxidant

An antioxidant protects cells from the effects of free radicals, and cinnamon’s polyphenols make it one of the best antioxidant carriers around.

Anticoagulation

One of cinnamon’s components, coumarin, is an anticoagulant. These agents prevent blood clots from forming, according to the American Heart Association. Talk to your doctor if you’re taking blood thinners and you want to add cinnamon to your diet.

Blood Sugar

Substituting cinnamon for sugar is a great way for diabetics to lower their sugar intake while still getting a nice, sweet flavor. Some studies, per Everyday Health, have shown that cinnamon also lowers fasting blood glucose levels, which can be very helpful to people with diabetes.

Anti-Inflammatory

Cinnamon has been found to have high anti-inflammatory properties, which may help arthritis and joint pain. Most medical literature hasn’t yet proven a connection, but studies sound promising.

Neurological Disorders

Some suggest cinnamon extract can inhibit Alzheimer’s disease. The study is not yet conclusive.

Anti-Microbial

Cinnamon has a long list of anti-microbial benefits, including slowing the growth of bacteria like listeria and salmonella. More commonly, this can prevent tooth decay.

Cancer Prevention

Although it is unknown if a sprinkle a day will prevent cancer, some chemicals extracted from cinnamon have halted tumor growth.

Cardiovascular

Medical examinations have shown some compounds in cinnamon might be able to help treat cardiovascular diseases or, according to CVS Pharmacy, to lower blood pressure.

Lowering Cholesterol

In both animal and human studies, researchers have found that cinnamon can lower total cholesterol, triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins. The results aren’t yet conclusive.

Insulin Resistance

Animals treated with cinnamon have also had higher insulin sensitivity and glucose transport, which could be promising for some diabetics in the future.

Many of these cinnamon health studies are promising, but more research is needed for hard answers. The good news is cinnamon is a safe spice to use in moderation, or the amounts typically added to foods.

How much cinnamon do you need to enjoy its benefits? Talk to your doctor about any or all of these great rewards.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

How to Make Your Own Sports Drink

After exercise or vigorous activity, a sports drink is a great way to cool off and replenish your body of the minerals it lost. But buying them from the grocery store isn’t your only option. By making your own sports drink, you get to choose your favorite flavors while controlling the drink’s ingredients. It’s easier on your wallet, too.

When you make your own sports drink, you know exactly what ingredients you’re putting into your body. That’s not always the case with store-bought products. Many of them have too much sugar, artificial flavors and dyes. If you’re working hard to get into shape, consuming excess sugar could actually hamper your energy more quickly. So here’s how to make your own:

The Main Ingredients

Sports drinks should include three things: fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates. The fluid serves to hydrate the body while the carbohydrates provide storable energy for your muscles. Electrolytes are important minerals contained in elements like sodium and potassium, and help to regulate your heart rate and blood pressure in stimulating situations. During physical activity, you lose electrolytes by sweating.

The Right Portions

These components work together to prevent dehydration, avoid an upset stomach or solve an electrolyte imbalance. To achieve this, according to Food Network, sports drinks generally include 14 to 20 grams of carbohydrates, 100 to 125 milligrams of sodium and 20 to 35 milligrams of potassium for each 8-ounce cup. It may seem like a complicated formula, but homemade sports drinks aren’t as hard to create as you might think.

Adding Them Together

First, you need a base of fluid. Water is the easiest, but green tea and coconut water are also healthy options. Add something to sweeten the concoction while providing your body with the carbs necessary for long-term energy. Honey, sugar or stevia work well without causing digestive problems. Finally, you need electrolytes. Add a dash of table salt or sea salt to help replace the sodium you’ve sweated out during your workout.

On their own, these ingredients may not sound very appetizing. But you can make your own sports drink delicious and healthy with the right mix of each. Juice your favorite fruit or vegetable to make a recovery beverage that suits your palate.

Need some inspiration? Check out a collection of nine recipes for homemade sports drinks by DailyBurn.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Staying Hydrated: Sports Drinks vs. Water

Whether you’re a recreational exerciser or a serious athlete, staying hydrated is important. But when choosing between sports drinks and water, which is right?

For Shorter Workouts, Water Wins

The simplest option is often the best one. For sweat sessions lasting under an hour, experts agree plain old H20 is all you need to stay hydrated and stave off fatigue, cramps and dizziness. If you’re partial to a sweeter taste, try boosting your water with natural flavorings like lemon or lime juice, sliced cucumber or even crushed berries.

How much water do you need? That depends in part on the length and intensity of your workout. In general, you should strive to drink 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before being active and another 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes while exercising, recommends the American Council on Exercise.

Going the Distance? Try a Sports Drink

Sports drinks can be a good choice for longer, more intense workouts lasting an hour or more. Why? Most of them contain potassium and sodium to replenish electrolytes — minerals that affect muscle function — which you lose through perspiration. They also include carbohydrates to help you stay energized.

Still, these sports drinks contain calories (up to 150 per serving) that water doesn’t, so it’s important to keep track of how much you consume. Many also tend to contain added sweeteners, and can deliver as many as 10 teaspoons of sugar as observed by Harvard Health. If you regularly drink sports drinks while exercising, look for low-calorie, low-sugar options. Coconut water, for instance, is a natural source of electrolytes that’s free of added sugars and contains as few as 45 calories per serving.

Sports Drinks vs. Water

Water is probably enough to keep most folks hydrated during exercise. But if you’re working out for an hour or longer, switch to a sports drink to replace those lost electrolytes and get a quick dose of energizing carbohydrates.

Wherever you get your fluids, remember to give yourself a pat on the back for a workout well done.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Running vs. Walking

There’s a long-standing debate over which exercise is best for your body: running vs. walking. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of research that’s gone into this debate and, depending on your point of view, there’s no clear winner. Both exercises are good for your body and they both beat doing no exercise at all. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of running vs. walking.

Running

The Pros: Running burns about 2.5 times more calories than walking. Some new research has shown that running also curbs appetite more than walking, since runners tend to eat less overall than walkers.

The Cons: Running at high speeds or for long distances may put a toll on your body. Runners are more at risk for injury than walkers, and injuries like runner’s knee, pulled hamstrings, shin splints, or twisted ankles can take a long time to heal.

Walking

The Pros: Walking provides many health benefits and is the most convenient exercise you can do. You can walk inside or outside. Walking is a low-impact exercise, meaning your risk of injury is not nearly that of running. Walking provides a risk reduction for hypertension that is equal to that of running.

The Cons: Most people walk at some point during the day, whether it be to get the mail or to go grocery shopping. Because of this, some people have a hard time thinking of walking as a physical activity or consider it just plain boring.

Whether you’re a die-hard runner or a long-term walker, you’re providing health benefits for your body far beyond those who choose to sit on their sofas and do nothing.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Five Fitness Trackers & You: Reviews for All Walks of Life

If you’re looking for motivation to get more active each day, you may be thinking about buying a wearable fitness tracker. With so many options, all with different features and capabilities, you may also be unsure about which device is right for you.

We’re here to help. Twenty-five BlueCross employees are testing five popular fitness devices and sharing their experiences so you can make a better choice about which one is right for you. We’ll be reviewing these trackers:

More About Our Testers

Our employee testers are a lot like you – they’re trying to be healthy while balancing busy lives. They come from all over Tennessee and have different lifestyles. Some prefer walking. Others run marathons. Some do a little bit of everything, from weightlifting to swimming. They all share a goal you might identify with: staying active enough to feel good and live the life they want.

What They Are Testing

Each person will try two different trackers, for two weeks at a time. They’ll take a survey to give us comparative data about all five trackers. Here’s some of what each of our testers will report on:

  • How easy the devices and apps were to set up
  • Which features they used most and liked best
  • How easy it was to check their status and how often they did
  • How accurate they felt the stats were
  • Whether they set and met fitness goals using their devices
  • What impact using the device had on their daily lives

We’ll also interview them and share some of their individual experiences. When you read their stories, you’ll get a glimpse at their real lives. You’ll also learn how using a fitness tracker can help you reach your own goals.
 

Learn more about getting fit.*

Stay Tuned

This week, you’ll get to meet Matt, who went from being at high risk for a heart attack in his 20s to running marathons in his 30s. He’s been using the Misfit Shine and likes how easy it is to see his goal progress without taking his phone out of his pocket.

Soon we’ll have full reviews of all five devices. We’ll highlight the features that our employees found most valuable and share their tips on how to get the most out of using a tracker.

Ready to Get Started on the Path to Wellness?

BlueHealth Solutions, our member wellness program, can help you reach your goals if you’re lacing up your sneakers for the first time or preparing for a triathlon. Our programs support you along your journey.
 
Reviews are not scientific and are the sole opinions of the reviewers, not an endorsement by BCBST of any specific device.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.