Tips for Better Work/Life Balance

As a wife, mother, and someone who works full time it seems like I am always on the go. I often wonder how families make this work and think about all of the things we do to fit it all in – and we only have one child! Juggling schedules can be tricky. If you’re lucky, your place of employment offers a flexible work schedule, so you don’t have to be there from 9-5, and you may even be able to work at homes at times. This helps, but how do you make sure that you have time for you and the people who matter most to you in your downtime. WebMD posted an article back in 2013 with five tips on how to do this. For the complete article go to: http://www.webmd.com/health-insurance/protect-health-13/balance-life?page=1 . Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Build downtime into your schedule.

When you plan your week, make sure to pencil in quality time with your family and friends or schedule an activity that helps you to recharge, like a massage. These activities can give you something to look forward to during the week.

  1. Drop activities that sap your time or energy.

If there are activities that fill up your time or people in your life that bring you down, don’t waste your time on these activities or relationships. Social media can be a huge time sink as are negative people in your life.

  1. Rethink your errands.

Household chores and errands are time consuming. My husband and I already divide the errands in our house. For example, he does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. If one of us cooks, then the other one does dishes. I often spend a whole day (or at least a morning) cleaning house and have considered hiring someone to clean so I can spend more time doing things I enjoy. WebMD lists some other ways you can outsource some of these tasks:

  • Order your groceries online and have them delivered. Check out http://www.peapod.com/ !
  • Hire a neighborhood kid to mow your lawn.
  • Have your dry cleaning picked up and dropped off at your home or office.
  1. Get moving.

Although it’s hard to fit exercise in when life is crazy, getting regular exercise can actually increase your energy levels so you are better able to keep up with all the activities. I always tell people to put it on your calendar and treat it like a meeting. Also, pick a time a day that you are more apt to do it. I’m a morning person, so I get up at 4:30 or 5am on some days. I also bike to/from work a couple of times a week. Whatever it is you do, make sure you enjoy it.

  1. Remember that a little relaxation goes a long way.

Although we’d all like to change our behaviors overnight, it’s important to remember to set realistic goals, make changes slowly, and take time for you. Changing behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. Think about what you want your priorities to be and start with some small changes that you can do to make that happen. Take time to relax and clear your head to help reduce stress as well.

Summer Sun

Summer is here, and with that brings more outdoor time in the hot sun. Although sun exposure to some extent can be good for us, when it comes to helping us make Vitamin D, too much time in the sun without protection can be harmful. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Each year there are 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed in the United States, which is more than all other cancers combined.

So how do we protect ourselves and our families? Well, there are several steps that can be taken to help decrease your risk of skin cancer. First, you should use a broad spectrum sunscreen that has at least 30 SPF to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t skimp on the application either! One ounce, about a palmful should be used to cover your legs, arms, neck, and face. Use more to get your ears and feet and any other exposed skin. Reapply every two hours or sooner if you are in and out of water. Make sure to check the expiration date on your sunscreen as well. Throw it out if it is 2 years or older. Another step you can take is to wear a hat. This is especially important if you have thinning hair or are bald. Make sure to protect your eyes too by wearing sunglasses. If you are spending all day outside, spending some time in the shade or covering up during the day is wise, especially between 10am to 4pm. And, although we all want a golden tan, tanning beds and lamps should not be used.

No one is immune to skin cancer, but you’ll need to take extra precautions if any of the following apply to you:

  • You have natural blonde or red hair
  • You have freckles
  • You have fair skin
  • You have a lot of moles, or large or irregularly shaped moles
  • You have had a lot of sunburns and burn before tanning
  • You have a condition that lowers your immune system
  • You have had skin cancer before
  • You have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
  • You spend a lot of time outdoors
  • You live or travel to hot climates or high altitudes
  • You take medications that make you sensitive to light

Learn more at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer/index.

Cutting Out Sugar

Our bodies are addicted to sugar. We don’t just want it, we crave it, need it. Cutting back sugar can greatly change your diet, and it eliminates foods you may not even expect. In a class I took here at Marquette, sugar addiction was compared to many illegal drugs and found to be more addictive. You wouldn’t expect it to be as dangerous as cocaine, heroin or other drugs, however, it may be. Think of all the negative risks of craving foods when we do not need them. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease kill enormous numbers of people in the US every year, and could all be the result of dietary dangers.

In this article from Harvard medicine, they argue that the sugar itself could be causing heart concerns, and even those who are not overweight, but consume a high sugar diet, are at risk. Most of our sugars come from sugary beverages like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and juices. Even one soda per day puts one over the daily recommendation of sugar. In addition to beverages, deserts like cookies, cakes, ice cream etc. as well as cereal, bread, and pasta are big sugar weights on the diet.

These “empty calories” are foods we consume that do not provide us with nutritional value via vitamins, minerals, or meet other dietary needs. When these make up a certain percentage of one’s diet it sets them up for Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The argument has been made that the total number of calories eaten is not as important as the quality of those calories for the development of Diabetes. The empty calories we consume trick our brains into believing we are not full, they do not satiate us as well. This causes us to overeat leading to increasing our empty calorie count. This article goes deeper into the science and politics behind the high sugar problems our society faces. Perhaps this is the idea behind the free bread at a restaurant? Why else would they give us free stuff?

Now, if we know it is bad for us, the question remains as to how to cut it down or out of our diets. There are multiple ways to go about this; however, making a plan is important. These 12 steps are the right idea, however, you many need to pick and choose what works for you. It’s important to learn how to read a nutrition label and look into ways to sweeten without sugar. Honey, cinnamon, and vanilla extract are alternative ways to sweeten foods. Cutting sweets out of a diet entirely, can be very difficult; however, cutting down alone can have benefits. Trying not to drink sugars makes a big difference, and is a first step if it is overwhelming to try to do it all at once. In short, look around for a method that works for you, and be educated about what is adding sugar to your diet.

Lastly, like many things, this isn’t for everyone and while I believe that we could all cut out some sugar and feel healthier, this may not be the case for you. If you are concerned about changing your diet and need a second opinion talk to a registered dietician or your doctor.

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern

Reducing stress with breath

Stress management and reduction have become a big part of health management in current times. Stress is a huge complaint in multiple work places, and it makes sense that on an academic campus it would be a big concern. The deadlines, exams, and fast paced style of the setting add stress and pressure where we may not even expect it. There are many ways to reduce stress including exercise, listening to music, drinking tea, laughter, however, one that may not immediately come to mind is breathing. This may sound like the beginning of a yogi rant about cleansing the lungs of toxins, but before you make that judgement, there is a little bit of truth to that idea. When we are stressed our heart rate and breathing rate increases. Despite that we are breathing more, we have to take shallower breaths so less oxygen gets into the body when breathing rapidly. If less oxygen is going in, less carbon dioxide can leave, and in a sense we are retaining more “toxins” in our blood stream.

The most important part about this change in the body is that if you take control of this system, you can “trick” your body out of the stress response. Our bodies are programed for fight or flight, but the kinds of stress we encounter during our work day cannot be fought or run from. By slowing this breathing rate, the other stress responses and feelings of anxiety can be reduced and calmed. This is why long term stress can be concerning, it keeps the body on high alarm and results in health concerns like high blood pressure. The lungs like any unused organ can become lazy. Hunched postures or lack of exercise can allow the lungs to expand little and still meet the body’s needs. If we stretch and use those lung tissues they will be more available to us when we need them.

Deep breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing are all synonymous and translate to stopping those shallow breaths and allowing full deep breaths in. This could be a simple practice to do before beginning work again after your lunch break. Taking a few deep breaths could help clear your mind, and relax your breathing rate. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates are all exercise forms that encourage this deep breathing in their practice, and it is part of the reason why they are recommended to reduce stress.

There are multiple health benefits to deep breathing practices. Some are outlined in this article found in Yoga Journal. Happiness and emotional stability are listed first. I find this fitting because if we are able to lower stress levels and reduce tension we really can find ourselves more calm in our desk or on a yoga mat. Allowing the release of the tense day or a few minutes to just focus on something other than the building work pressures is a practice that could allow the composure we need to remain productive on a busy day.

For more information on how to perform these breathing techniques read here and here. There are a few different methods to try and finding one that fits you and your schedule could save you anxiety down the road.

Breathe easy!

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern

One way to get off the couch this summer

This weekend I came down with a stomach bug, I was feeling miserable and had a “woe is me” attitude. Looking through my Facebook feed on Saturday I saw multiple friends had run their first triathlon, one her first marathon, and many half marathons. Even though I was too sick to get off the couch, I was happy for my friends and their big successes. Sometimes, I wonder where their determination comes from.  I know I’m not cut out for those long distances (they sound like injuries to me!), however, I should be taking better advantage of these beautiful running conditions we have been having. Whether planning long distances or on a shorter 5k, it is important to know what you’re getting into. Here are some ideas for starting a running or walking program if you are interested in participating in some fun runs this summer.

This running program is a couch to 5k design meant for those of us who haven’t been getting any miles in. It has a great gradual build up and some great ideas to keep the runner enjoying it. They have a few points I really like: First, a lot of people get turned off to running because they start out too fast or too far. Easing the body up to longer distances will make you feel stronger during your workouts and to avoid injury for us beginners. Second, I liked that the program is set up with 3 runs per week and all are only 20-30 minutes. This is manageable amount of time to dedicate, but enough to create some results. Third, it is great that this article gives time or distance as a goal. Some of us won’t be sure of the distance our run is, so time is a good alternative. One thing I really didn’t like is that it is a 9 week program. That may be too long for some people, however, the gradual increase in distance/ time is great, I feel that it could be a little more accelerated.

Now, what are we striving for? Road races can be a really fun summer activity, and many are for a good cause. There are some more competitive races, but most are not very competitive, some untimed, some with a prize each mile. There are beer runs, cupcake runs, chocolate races, color runs, and glow runs for a non-competitive start up runner. If you start the couch to 5k program this week you will be ready in time for end of August and early September runs. It always helps motivate me when I am registered for an event. Sometimes I need that extra push when I am getting started, a deadline. This is a helpful site to find some fun runs near you. Some of the neat ones include: a bacon and beer run in Racine, the race ends with an after party with bacon-y snacks. The Milwaukee Color Run, runners are sprayed with colorful chalk as they race, wear glasses and put the hose out before you leave, but it is a great time. The Glo Run, runners receive glow sticks along the path often lit up with holiday lights or luminaries.

I hope to see you out on the trails this summer! The couch to 5k program is designed so that almost anyone can do it. If you are having any doubts about starting the program, talk to your doctor so that they can clear up any concerns you may have. Running and walking is not for everyone, but it is great exercise. If you are looking for an exercise outlet and haven’t given them a try; it’s a great time of year for it!

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern

Marquette University

Fit Families on Fathers Day!

Father’s Day is right around the corner so let me begin by saying Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.
I myself am lucky to be a Dad three times over to healthy and smart kids, now ages 14, 12 and 8. They are among the fittest people I know: my son plays ice and roller hockey, runs cross country, and swims during summer, and my younger two girls swim competitively year-round with Shorewood Swim Club. My youngest daughter also plays ice and roller hockey.  In this age of rising obesity levels among children, I’m thrilled that my kids have found a love of the water – both frozen and not – that will hopefully last their whole lives.
What have I learned as a father in the past 14 years- and is there a correlation between parenthood and my fitness routine? Without question. For me it’s about learning, trying to lead by example and striving to be my best every day.     
I swim with the Whitefish Bay Masters team five days a week from 5 a.m.-6:30 a.m. Many of my 25 teammates are also parents. A few rarely miss practice and they’re always supportive of my efforts. I figure if they can find time to get to the pool and train for meets and races in light of raising their young families- including newborns- I should have no excuse to make it. They also regularly ask if they’ll see me the next day at practice. We count on each other and it’s a great reminder that we’re a team. 
As for the 5 a.m. start time, do I consider myself an early morning person? Not really, but It seems like the only way to squeeze in a practice is when the rest of my family is asleep. After my workout- which averages 4,000 yards- I find I’m more productive the rest of the day knowing that I’ve swam a full workout by 6:30 a.m. When I get home, I stir the kids, help make breakfast, pack the lunches, feed the dogs and am out the door at 7:30 to drop off the kids at school.
Like many families, we rarely eat dinner together during the week. My wife is the chef in the house and she does a great job of aiming for healthy meals in between runs to the pool and rink. Like many of you, this is the new normal for family life. If I tried to get in a workout during the evening, I would simply miss too much of these fun years that are going by at warp speed already.
So that’s what my normal day is like… but I have to say one of my favorite parts is around 8 p.m. at the kitchen table. I’m drinking chocolate milk with my 12-year-old daughter who has just gotten home from her 30-minute dry land and 90-minute swim practice. She is eating everything in sight and we are reviewing our workouts from the day, talking about our sets and rep times, what our coaches made us do, and what’s new with our teammates. It’s a language only a swimmer understands, I’m told.
So tonight I will raise my glass of chocolate milk to all you Dads out there who are setting the example of a balanced, athletic life. We are raising the next generation with healthy minds and bodies. We’re teaching them how to be good teammates and how to be a well-rounded person.
And, we’re teaching them to take care of themselves for a lifetime. As the years go by, it’s how we can stay relevant and be a part of their lives, even though they’ll be blowing by us in the pool in the future. Who’s to say we can’t try to keep up, though?

Sign up for The Road to Wellness Program this Summer

The Road to Wellness program is offering employees an outlet for often forgotten practices. Pondering our purpose or our life balance can be deep concepts that are missed in the quick moving world around us. One thing that can change perspective for us is stopping to ponder the beauty around us. When life is scheduled to the minute, tunnel vision developed puts us in a constant rushing state. When we are done hurrying at the end of the day we collapse into bed exhausted from a day of fast-paced check an email here, walk to a meeting there, rush across campus for this, and back for that. When we stop and appreciate how gorgeous the city is in summer, a delicious lunch, or that despite how hectic our lives are there people are in them that matter, we are becoming more in touch and healthy individuals. The Road to Wellness Program will offer insight on who we are and where we want to go, and is designed to help you work on many aspects of well-being. This program is self-paced and free to Marquette Employees. We hope that this will be an outlet for you to do a little soul searching this summer and find some healthy practices along the way.

MU Employee Wellness Intern

Shannon Gambon



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