4 Steps You Can Take Today to Relieve Lower Back Pain

Maybe you’ve just gotten home from a day at the office, or spent the day working in the yard. Either way you come inside at the end of the day and find yourself thinking, “Oh, my back!” Lower back pain is one of the most common medical problems today, affecting nearly 80% of adults at some point during their lives.

There are two classifications of back pain: acute and chronic. Acute lower back pain is short-term pain that can last from a few days to several weeks, whereas chronic lower back lasts for more than three months.

Prevent lower back pain by following these four simple steps:

Stand tall

Many people have a tendency to slouch when they are standing. Slouching causes stress on the muscles and ligaments in your back, resulting in both lower back pain and headaches among other health problems.

In order to maintain proper posture while standing, you should always remember to:

  • Keep your shoulders pulled back allowing your hands to rest by your side.
  • Align your feet with your hips, and pull your abdomen in so that it is firm.
  • Relax your knees, and balance your weight equally on both feet.

The wall test can help you get an idea of how you should be standing if you want to maintain proper posture.

Sit straight

Whether you work from home or in an office building, it is important to have a work environment that allows you to maintain proper sitting posture.

While sitting, you should have both feet on the ground while keeping your knees level with your hips. Your back should rest against the chair so you can keep your upper back and neck comfortably straight. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your head should be stretched towards the ceiling.

For extra support, you can place a small pillow or towel behind your lower back to help maintain its natural curve.

Lift properly

Using improper techniques while lifting heavy objects is one of the most common factors contributing to the development of low back pain. When lifting heavy items, you should keep your back straight while bending at the waist with your knees close to the floor so that you use your knees instead of your back to lift the package. Hold the item as close to your body as possible. Remember to check the weight of the item first, and if it is too heavy for you to lift on your own ask for help.

Exercise often

Taking a few minutes every day to stretch and fit in a few strengthening exercises can help prevent back pain by strengthening the muscles and ligaments in your back.

When you don’t have time to make it to the gym or fit an at-home workout into your busy schedule, you can take a few minutes before you go to bed to practice some yoga moves. Yoga can help reduce muscle tension and build muscle strength, both of which can help reduce your chances of developing lower back pain.

Although lower back pain is common in most adults, maintaining proper posture and being mindful of the strain you place on your back can help prevent further injury in the future.

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

4 Simple Ways to Stay Active During the Workday

With so much of today’s business happening online, we spend a lot of time sitting at our computers. If you find yourself regularly feeling sluggish at work, sitting for extended periods of time could be the problem.

Whether you work from home or in an office, there are many ways to incorporate exercise into your workday without breaking a sweat. Try one of these four ways to get moving while working.

Stability

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three people over age 65 fall each year. This is primarily due to decreased stability as a result of aging. As we age, our muscles, ligaments and tendons become tighter, shorter and weaker resulting in decreased balance. Factors like stress can cause these signs of aging to progress more quickly.

Balance training is key to improving stability and slowing the effects of aging. If your work allows it, increase activity by adding a balance disc to your desk chair. These inflatable cushions are a discreet and effective way to strengthen your core, which improves both balance and posture. While standing, improve your stability by practicing simple heel raises and one leg balance training.

Mobility

Like stability, age also affects mobility. To combat declining mobility, a good stretch is a great place to start. Stretching during the workday, or any time you’re sitting for an extended period of time, is crucial to improving long-term mobility. At minimum, you should stretch every few hours and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. The more often you stretch, the better.

Although all stretches are beneficial, some stretches are especially necessary depending on your profession. For more sedentary jobs, focus on stretching your hamstrings, forearms, hip flexors, neck, chest and abdomen. People with more active jobs should focus on stretching your quads, calves, upper back, lower back and seat.

The benefits of regular stretching include improved muscle conditioning, better posture, decreased muscle and joint pain and increased oxygen to the brain. To help you get started, the Mayo Clinic offers a useful guide to basic stretches.
 

Learn more about workplace wellness.*

Cardio

As an effective way to strengthen your heart, lungs and circulatory system, cardiovascular activity, or cardio, is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. Cardio exercise refers to any movement that increases your heart rate over an extended period of time. Some of the most common types of cardio include running, swimming and biking. However, there are many ways to incorporate a cardio workout into your day without leaving the office.

Cardio can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or marching in place while on a conference call—anything that gets your heart pumping. Research has shown that physical activity actually increases workplace productivity. When feasible, conduct meetings while walking outside or around the building instead of seated in a conference room. For additional motivation to get moving, use a fitness device to track activity during the workday.

Strength

Muscle strength directly affects our ability to independently perform life’s everyday activities, like lifting children or climbing stairs. Inactivity and aging are two factors that decrease muscle strength and make these everyday activities more difficult. Resistance training is a type of exercise that strengthens muscles using opposing force and is perfect for the workplace because it doesn’t require a lot of space or equipment to be effective.

In fact, many movements you make every day such as pushing, pulling, squatting and twisting require resistance. Chair dips, squats and lunges are three simple exercises that strengthen muscles using only the weight of your body. With all of these resistance exercises, you can easily increase the difficulty by increasing the number of repetitions.

 

How do you stay active during the workday? Let us know in a comment!

 

What Parents Need to Know About Health Insurance

As a parent, you want to make sure your child gets the medical care he or she needs. A family health plan is the first step toward ensuring your children get access to quality health care providers to treat everyday illnesses or more serious conditions that require surgery or hospitalization.

Every family’s circumstance is different, but the following are the basics of what parents need to know about health insurance coverage:

Medical Family Policy

Family policies provide health insurance for children’s preventive medical care, emergency care or inpatient hospital care. That means the insurance policy will pay a portion of the costs when a child sees a doctor for a checkup, vaccinations, an accidental injury such as a broken arm, a surgical procedure, or treatment for a chronic health condition.

Dental

Health insurance also covers your child’s dental care, as long as they are 18 or younger. Benefits include preventive care twice a year, including an oral exam with an evaluation of gum health, dental X-rays, cleaning, flossing and plaque and tartar removal.

Your dentist may recommend additional treatments such as fillings for cavities or sealants to protect your child’s tooth enamel. Health insurance will cover a portion of the costs for these treatments.

Vision

If you child wears glasses, he or she will benefit from a policy that includes vision coverage. Your health plan will pay part of the cost of glasses or contacts, vision testing and visits to an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Managing Costs

Family health insurance usually covers the majority of your children’s health care costs, but you should expect to pay some yourself. These are called out-of-pocket costs, and they include your deductible, coinsurance or both.

There are some exceptions. Your health plan will generally pay all of the costs when you take your child to an in-network doctor for checkups and immunizations. Keep in mind that you will pay more in coinsurance for trips to the emergency room than for a doctor’s office visit. If your child becomes sick with a minor illness, it’s more economical to see your pediatrician. If you can’t get an appointment, an urgent care center is generally a better option than an emergency room for minor problems like runny noses and sore throats.

Health insurance can be a confusing topic, especially when you’re seeking coverage for your children. By considering what parents need to know about insurance, selecting a plan that’s right for your family becomes much easier.

How to Find a Doctor in Your Health Insurance Network

Health insurance has been a hot topic in recent years, and the more industry experts talk about choosing the right plan and how to find a doctor in your network, the more overwhelming the process can seem.

Though health insurance can be confusing for many people, understanding networks is key to saving money on medical expenses. The following are reasons why networks are important, how to find a doctor and how to choose the best plan for you:

What if you need medical care when you’re away from home? If you travel often or plan to do so in the near future, you will want a network large enough that you can find a doctor that takes your insurance, wherever you may be.

Think of Networks as Discounts

Insurance companies negotiate special rates with doctors, hospitals and other medical providers. When you visit physicians in these networks, you save yourself money.

If your doctor or hospital is not in your network, you will have to pay higher co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles, even in emergency situations.

Out-of-network providers can also bill you the difference between their usual fees and the amount your insurance company agrees to pay, which is known as balance billing. Balance billing by out-of-network providers can leave you owing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

How to Find the Right Network

When you select your health plan, you also select a network. This is why it is important to choose wisely based on both your current needs and future plans. Consider the following before you sign up:

  • Proximity: Will you be able to find a doctor within a reasonable driving distance and who takes your insurance? What about your local hospital or specialists you might need to see? If a plan doesn’t offer a large network in your area, it probably isn’t the best fit.
  • Loyalty: What about the doctors you already know and trust? Will you have to find new ones and start over? Having history and a good relationship with your physicians — especially your primary care provider — can be hugely beneficial to your health. If you would rather not leave your doctors, make sure they are in the network you’re considering.
  • Reach: What if you need medical care when you’re away from home? If you travel often or plan to do so in the near future, you will want a network large enough that you can find a doctor that takes your insurance, wherever you may be.

Most health insurance companies publish provider directories you can review before you choose your network, but it’s always a good idea to check with your doctors’ offices to ensure they are in network

Learn more about how networks help you save.

Three Benefits of Employee Wellness Incentive Programs

Whether it’s a participation trophy, a blue ribbon or just a pat on the back, everyone likes to receive praise for a job well done. Research has shown that workplace productivity increases after the launch of an incentive program, and now many companies are using similar programs to motivate their employees to live healthier lives.

The Rise of Wellness Programs

Workplace wellness programs seek to encourage employees to adopt healthier, more active lifestyles by offering incentives to increase interest and participation. These programs have increased in popularity in recent years. According to a survey by National Business Group on Health (NBGH), 97 percent of employers offer a health risk assessment, biometric screening or other wellness program.

A Variety of Incentives

Incentives can range from gift cards to reduced health care premiums to public recognition. While monetary incentives are still popular, other types of rewards can motivate as well.

“Increasingly the employee perks are not always financial,” explains Shannon Welch, Product Manager of BlueHealth Rewards for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “While the rewards could be a contribution to a health reimbursement account or paid time off, employers are getting more creative with intrinsic rewards specific to their organization. One popular BlueHealth Rewards pilot (program) ran last year at a hospital where employees could pick their on-call partner if they participated in specific wellness challenges.”

There are multiple benefits of employee wellness incentive programs:

Improved Employee Health

Healthier employees mean more productive, happier employees. According to the NBGH survey, employees use 70 percent fewer sick days if they’re participating in wellness programs compared to those who opt out. When the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) collected responses from 380 human resources professionals of different-sized organizations, 76 percent rated their incentives as being very effective at improving the health of their employees.

Increased Employee Retention

Job seekers like to work for organizations that seem committed to their employees’ health and wellbeing. A study by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health found a connection between wellness programs and decreased employee turnover. Wellness programs can also have a positive impact on how employees perceive workplace culture. A survey conducted by Virgin HealthMiles found that 77 percent of employees believe that wellness programs positively impact the culture at work.

Lower Health Care Costs

Though wellness programs can be an investment, they often pay off in health care savings. Healthier employees get sick less often which results in lower health care expenses, such as doctor’s visits, prescriptions, procedures and hospitalizations. An analysis by Health Affairs found that, as of 2010, medical costs fell approximately $3.27 and absenteeism costs fell by about $2.73 for every dollar invested in wellness programs.

Welch points to a specific BlueHealth Rewards program through one of BlueCross’ larger groups that sought to reduce diabetes among its employee population.

“At-risk employees were required to work regularly with a health coach for a total yearly premium reduction reward of $1,200,” she explained. “If they didn’t call in or [if they] hung up, they stood to leave a lot of money on the table.”

Implementing a wellness program can take time and resources, but a company dedicated to health often reaps the benefits with healthier, happier employees.

For employers: Wellness programs are regulated by federal and state law. Consult your legal counsel before implementing any program component.

Standing Desk Benefits: Is the Latest Workplace Trend a Good One?

With computers and desks now centerpieces of the modern workplace, it’s easy to spend most of the day parked in a chair. To combat a sedentary lifestyle, standing desks — one of the newest professional trends — are offering employees a reason to get up. Studies suggest sitting too long can increase one’s risk of heart disease and diabetes, which means getting up out of a chair can keep illness at bay. But the standing desk benefits don’t stop there. A study in BMC Public Health showed that standing 10 hours during the work week ultimately increased physical activity.

There are just as many challenges to this work style, though. Thinking about implementing a standing desk option for your office? Here are some things to consider.

Sitting Versus Standing

There is a slightly higher calorie burn when standing up. According to the British Medical Journal, standing burns .83 more calories per minute than sitting, and increases the heart rate by 10 beats per minute as well. Ultimately, the change from sitting to standing is good for heart health. Standing at work also makes it easier for you to move around, both by shifting your weight at your desk and by walking more readily to other areas of the office. Even just moving between standing and sitting positions is helpful.

Mentally, standing keeps workers more alert than when they’re sitting down because it requires them to constantly rebalance themselves without even realizing it. By moving their feet and shoulders in this way, their focus slightly sharpens in the process. A study in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that elementary school children also had better focus when using standing desks in their classroom. Their energy increased along with it, which is crucial considering how long students are inside during the day.

Learn more about workplace wellness.*

Can’t Stand It?

Standing too long, however, can increase leg and feet soreness. It can also cause varicose veins, which are enlarged vessels that have lost some of their natural elasticity. Veins in your legs are most prone to becoming varicose because of the gravity needed to pump blood from the legs into the middle and upper parts of your body.

Some employees simply aren’t comfortable or physically able to stand for long periods of time. And no one should be forced to use a standing desk if they’d rather not. Given certain dress codes, those wearing high heels may want to bring another pair of shoes to change into. Some prefer to wear sneakers that are good for walking, as they provide cushioning and comfort when they’re on their feet all day.

Bridging the Gap

The saying, “everything in moderation” applies to standing desks as much as anything else. Standing desks come in a variety of types, and there should be options to change between standing and sitting positions quickly. It’s harder to do that with stationary standing desks, because they often involve moving the computer and other work items to another surface each time. Adjustable work stations get around this by allowing a person to move his or her work surface by lifting the computer upward and downward, switching easily between standing and sitting positions.

A standing desk benefits employees who are looking to be more active, but there are several ways for workers to get moving. Conduct small group meetings while walking instead of in conference rooms, reposition printers so they’re further away from their desks and propose that colleagues deliver certain messages in person instead of email.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.
For employers: Wellness programs are regulated by federal and state law. Consult your legal counsel before implementing any program component.

Welcome to Your BlueHealth Solutions Blog

You know that wellness is a lot more than just health insurance. BlueHealth Solutions provides flexible, customized support to your company’s wellness initiatives. With this blog, we’ll dive into the importance and successes of wellness programs. You’ll see articles on:

  • The latest industry statistics – Keep up with wellness news from around the world.
  • Offering Incentives – Leverage real data to engage your employees with rewards for participation and healthy achievements.
  • Building a culture of wellness – Teaching your team to make healthy choices is not an overnight job. Get the conversation started now.
  • BHS in the news – Your success is our success. We’ll send you our updates regularly.
  • Member success stories – Stay inspired by members making the program work for them.

There’s no better time to get connected. Don’t forget to share your own successes and struggles with us here so we can keep the conversation going with your peers.

Your employees will need some support in their journey, but so will you. Our behind-the-scenes articles will provide ideas, inspiration and encouragement as you lead by example.

Getting healthy is a long-term process, and BlueHealth Solutions will be here – keeping you updated on the business behind the benefits.