Wellness Matters

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How to Talk to Your Kids About the Birds and the Bees

​​​This month's topic can be a difficult one: sex. Specifically, talking to your kids about sex. Some parents are a little squeamish about opening a dialogue, while others wonder if their kids are old enough for "the talk." How much information is too much information? Is there a right way or a wrong way to broach the subject? Will I scar my kids for life? No worries. We've got you covered with practical guidance and advice to help you – and your child – start an honest conversation that will serve you both well. For more Wellness On-Demand videos, click here.

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Birds and the Bees

Not sure when to start talking to your kids about sex? Or wondering how to start the conversation? The internet, media and classroom peers can all influence a child's thoughts on sex. Christy Millican, a family nurse practitioner with Cone Health Center for Children, a member of Cone Health Medical Group, addresses the importance of talking with your children about the birds and the bees.

5 Ways to Keep a Sharp Mind as You Age

Elderly celebrating
You are getting older. You have begun noticing changes in your thinking and memory. Your keys are getting harder to find, you need a few extra moments of thought about where you parked or you struggle to find the right word to express yourself in conversations. Are these changes normal or perhaps signs of dementia?

When we age, our brain shrinks. Blood flow within it slows. The brain loses volume, causing a loss of some nerve cell connection. Memory lapses will occur with greater frequency. These lapses are a symptom of growing older, not necessarily a sign of dementia. One way to slow these symptoms is to take care of your body and your mind. Here are five ways to help keep your mind sharp as you age:
  1. Stimulate Your Brain. According to the Alzheimer Association, mental stimulation is important for brain health. Continuing to learn new skills, working crossword puzzles or math games and increasing social interaction are great ways to keep your mind active. Stay curious and involved in lifelong learning.
  2. Eat Smart. Studies show that eating plenty of vegetables and fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, decrease risk for cognitive decline. Avoid saturated fats, trans fats and hydrogenated oils.
  3. Exercise Regularly. Staying physically active helps maintain regular blood flow to the brain and reduces the risk for high blood pressure, which is associated with the development of dementia.
  4. Quit Smoking and Limit Drinking. Both decrease cognitive function. If you smoke, stop. If you choose to drink, do so moderately.
  5. Control Your Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure. Either of these problems increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. They are also thought to contribute to the development of dementia. Having a healthy cardiovascular system means better blood flow, which is associated with improved cognitive function.

Aging is an inevitable fact of life. How we treat our bodies today can greatly affect our quality of life when we become elderly. As you age, make sure you continue to exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and keep your brain stimulated. The results can be a long and happy life full of memories.

About the Author

William Plonk, Jr., MD serves as a primary care physician with Mebane Medical Clinic at Cone Health MedCenter Mebane.

Reproductive Health: Birth Control Options

An important part of having “the talk” with your teen is discussing safe sex and birth control options so they are prepared to make an informed decision when the time comes. In an effort to reduce teen pregnancy and provide sexual health information to teens in Greensboro, the Cone Health Foundation has partnered with providers in the area, including the Center for Children, to form the Healthy Tomorrow Alliance. By increasing access to care and educating teens on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), birth control choices, and reproductive health, the Alliance continues to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy and empower young people to take control of their future.

Infographic of birth control methods and their success rate

Research has found that long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) is the most effective way to reduce teen and unplanned pregnancies. LARCs, which include contraceptive implants that are normally inserted in the arm and intrauterine devices (IUD), work best for teenagers because they only require one visit with their provider to administer the device and offer protection for three to five years, depending on the method. Other methods that require a daily dosage or more frequent visits are easier to forget. While condoms are not the most effective use of birth control, it is still recommended that they are used during any sexual encounter to prevent the spread of STIs.

If you don’t feel comfortable discussing all the options with your teen, or you aren’t sure what is currently available, schedule an appointment with their provider or a specialist that can find the best solution for them. In North Carolina, a minor can confidentially see a medical professional about pregnancy, STIs and birth control on their own.  Cone Health Center for Children is an excellent resource in the community and offers same-day visits with a member of their exceptional team of adolescent medicine specialists, pediatricians, and other health professionals.

About the Author

Caroline T. Hacker, FNP is a family nurse practitioner and adolescent medicine specialist at the Cone Health Center for Children.

6 Ways to Keep Your Colon Healthy and Cancer-Free

African-American couple maintain colon health
Each year, more than 4,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in North Carolina. Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine, also known as the colon. Rectal cancer is cancer in the last few inches of the colon. Together, they are referred to as colorectal cancers.

In most cases, small polyps form that, over time, become cancerous. These polyps have few, if any, symptoms. Therefore, doctors recommend screening tests to help prevent colon cancer. The screenings identify any polyps, and doctors can remove them before they become cancerous. Here are six ways to keep your colon healthy and cancer-free:
  1. Regular testing. The most common test for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. This is when the entire colon is viewed using a flexible camera while the patient is under anesthesia. Any polyps that are found can be immediately and safely removed. Other tests include a sigmoidoscopy, where just the lower colon is examined, and fecal tests. 
  2. Eat a colon-healthy diet. Load up on fruits, vegetables and whole grain fiber. Fruits and veggies are high in antioxidants, while fiber promotes regular bowel movements. 
  3. Stop eating red meats and processed foods. Skip the steak and sausage. Red meats and processed meats are high in saturated fat and have been linked to colon cancer. Eat lean proteins such as beans, poultry and fish. 
  4. Body Mass Index is important. People who are obese are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer. 
  5. Exercise. Physically active people have a 24 percent lower risk of colon cancer than those who are not. 
  6. Limit alcohol. Alcohol is a known risk factor for colon cancer. Drinking increases the workload on the liver, which causes more toxins to pass through the colon. 
  7. Stop smoking. Smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer, but is also linked to other cancers, including colon cancer. 

African-Americans have the highest colorectal cancer rate of all racial groups in the United States. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you are also at higher risk. It is crucial that you get a regular colonoscopy if you fall into either of these groups.

According to National Cancer Institute data, the relative five-year survival rate for stage I colon cancer is 92 percent, compared to an 11 percent survival rate for stage IV, which clearly indicates that early screening, diagnosis and treatment are the key.

About the Author

Susan Coward, RN, BSN is a gastrointestinal oncology nurse navigator at the Cone Health Cancer Center 

The Eyes Have It: 3 Ways to Protect Your Eyes at Home or Work

Woman wearing safety glasses
My mom would often say, "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." In my five years supporting area businesses' occupational health needs, I've seen many eye injuries. Sadly, many could have been prevented.

Our eyes are separated perfectly by distance on our faces allowing us to more accurately determine the size and distance of objects. As a result of this perfect placement, we can more easily thread a needle or determine if we can safely pass a car without being hit by the oncoming truck. These skills would be much harder with one eye. (Don’t try the passing thing with one eye closed to see if it is true. Trust me.)

Here are three easy answers for protecting your eyes:

Q: How do I protect my eyes at home or work?

A: Use safety glasses appropriate for what you are doing. At home and work, this is usually eyewear that is ANSI Z87.1 certified that protects against debris that could get in your eye while sawing, grinding or hammering objects.

Q: Aren’t sports goggles the same?

A: No. Sports eye and face protection is geared to the particular sport played. A football player may wear a face shield to prevent a poke in the eye, but that would not be enough to protect a racquetball player from a ball hitting her/him in the eye at 90 mph. These items are certified by the ASTM for each particular sport.

Q: What about sunshine?

A: Use eyewear that blocks UVA and UVB rays if out in the sun. Even for everyday sunglasses.

About the Author

Thomas Kingsley, MD, FAAFP is a Clinical Physician and DOT Examiner with Cone Health Employee Health & Wellness

Plan Ahead to Spring Forward: 6 Ways to Sleep Through the Time Change

If you’re already dreading March 13 – the day after we switch to daylight saving time – you’re not alone.

clock springing forwardMany people feel sleep-deprived for several days after setting their clocks ahead a full hour. Losing an hour’s sleep on any day can make life harder. We’re more likely to have poor judgment and trouble concentrating. When we’re driving, our reflexes are not as sharp.

But you can make the transition easier this year for yourself and your family for daylight saving time. The best approach is to plan ahead. Here are a few ideas to consider:
  • Reset your body clock gradually. A few days before the time changes, start shifting your bedtime routine ahead 15 minutes or so each night. A more gradual change is particularly helpful if you have children and pets. They don’t understand why they suddenly have to go to bed or eat at a different time. If you do wait until Sunday night and move your bedtime up the full hour, you probably won’t be able to get to sleep right away. Most people find it easier to stay up late than to go to bed early. 
  • Skip the nap. A Sunday afternoon nap may be part of your weekend ritual, but it’s not a good idea the weekend we spring forward. Even a quick nap on the sofa will make it harder to get to sleep when you need to that evening.
  • Know that age matters. Older adults already have poorer sleep quality, on average, than younger people. Many seniors find it harder to reset their body clocks for daylight saving time than they did in years past. And teenagers are in a category all their own when it comes to sleep. Their sleep patterns shift during adolescence, and most prefer to stay up late and sleep later in the morning. It’s hard enough for them to be at their best on a normal Monday morning. Expecting them to be alert an hour earlier than usual is unrealistic – and another good reason to make the change gradually. 

Make quality sleep a priority. The beginning of daylight saving time is also a good reminder to practice good sleep hygiene year-round. Here are a few ways to increase your chances of getting more nights of restful sleep:

  1. Turn off all electronics. The screens on our phones, tablets and TVs are brighter than we realize, and they’re designed to keep us alert and stimulated. It’s tempting to check email or Facebook one last time before going to sleep, but put it off until morning. And don’t fall asleep with the television on. The flickering light will make it harder for you to get quality sleep. A better option is to read a book or a magazine. You should also keep all electronic devices away from children when it’s time for bed. While you can’t make them go to sleep, you can remove these types of distractions.
  2. Limit caffeine and alcohol several hours before bedtime. Alcohol is a sedative, but it’s not an effective sleep aid. Your body goes through withdrawal when the effects of the alcohol wear off, and your sleep will suffer as a result. 
  3. Exercise regularly. Even moderate exercise like walking will help improve your sleep. But finish your workout at least two hours before going to bed. That should give you enough time to get your body temperature back to normal so you can relax.
  4. Skip the late-night snack. Eating too close to bedtime can also interfere with sleep quality. It’s best to finish dinner two to three hours beforehand.
  5. Create the right atmosphere for sleep. For quality sleep, your bedroom should be cool, dark and free from distractions. 
  6. Make sleep a priority. Most adults need at least seven hours of quality sleep each night. Operating on less can affect our mood, productivity and overall health.

The good news is that our bodies will adjust to the new schedule of daylight saving time. And starting March 12, we can once again enjoy an extra hour of light at the end of the day.

About the Author

Dr. Clint Youn

Clint Young, MDpulmonologist and medical director of the Cone Health Sleep Disorders Center