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Ask the expert: Vision health as you age

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Many people expect their eyesight to decline with age — perhaps requiring a stronger eyeglass prescription or “readers.” Some vision changes are linked to age, but there are steps to consider to help our eyes stay as healthy as possible.

Dr. Linda Chous, OD, chief eye care officer, UnitedHealthcare, answered the following questions:

1. Are my eyes going to keep getting worse as I age?

While your eyesight is not guaranteed to deteriorate with age, it is normal to notice changes to your vision as the years pass, including:

  • Minor adjustments to your eyeglasses prescription or needing to use “readers” for the first time;
  • Trouble distinguishing colors, such as blue from black; and
  • The need for more light to see well.

Although these changes are often normal, they can also be signs of conditions like cataracts or even diabetes. It is important to maintain regular appointments with your eye doctor to help identify pressing concerns. If you experience sudden vision loss or any rapid change to your eyesight, contact your eye care provider immediately.

2. What are the tiny spots or specks that float across my vision?

These tiny threads of protein float across the gel-like substance between your eye’s lens and retina.

Usually there is no need to worry if you notice these spots occasionally and they disappear after a few minutes, but only a dilated eye examination can determine the cause of the “floaters.”

If your vision is overcome by these specks or you notice vision loss, contact your eye doctor, as it could be a symptom of a sight-threatening condition.

3. What are some common vision-related diseases that come with age?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 65. AMD causes damage to the macula, the small spot on the retina that enables people to see clearly and view things straight ahead of them.

Common symptoms are distortion and blurring of the center of your field of vision. If caught early, there are potential benefits from certain prescription medications and nutritional supplements. Late-stage AMD is much more difficult to treat.

Certain factors like heredity, ultraviolet light exposure and smoking may increase the risk of AMD. Consult with your eye doctor to determine if a preventive treatment plan is right for you.

Cataracts

A cataract is the clouding of the lens in your eye, blocking the flow of light to the back of your eye (retina), which ultimately causes loss of sight. Most form slowly and do not cause pain. Significant clouding can form in some people and, ultimately, negatively impact vision.

Cataracts are treatable via surgery that replaces the clouded lens with a clear plastic lens. Cataract surgery is generally safe and one of the most common surgeries in the U.S. Once a cataract is removed, it cannot grow back.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure inside the eye, which can cause permanent vision loss and blindness if untreated. The most common form usually has no noticeable symptoms in the early stages — the only way to detect it is routine testing.

Treatment may include prescription eye drops, oral medications, laser treatment surgery or a combination of any of these. It is important to find glaucoma early because once vision is lost, it cannot be regained.

4. What are the best ways to keep my eyes healthy as I age?

Some of the best ways to protect your eyes include:

  • Stop smoking. Smokers are up to four times more likely to develop AMD and may contribute to development of cataracts.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Conditions associated with being overweight, like diabetes and heart disease, increase your risk of vision loss from cataracts, glaucoma and retinopathy.
  • Wear sunglasses. Help protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays.
  • Be physically active. People who are physically active experienced less vision loss over 20 years compared to those who are less active.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that can keep your eyes healthy and reduce AMD risk.

5. Do sunglasses really protect my eyes?

Sunglasses act as a buffer between your eyes and the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Exposure to these rays can put you at greater risk of cataracts and AMD. Look for a pair that blocks 99% to 100% of UV rays.

Note that polarization is different from UV protection; however, most polarized sunglasses also provide UV protection. Check the product tag or ask for assistance in choosing the right pair.

6. How often should I see my eye care doctor?

Eye exams are crucial to maintaining eye health as you age. Many eye diseases, like glaucoma, have no symptoms in early stages. And many systemic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, can be first found during a routine eye exam. Aim to see your eye doctor annually even if your vision hasn’t changed, so your doctor has a record of your eye health. See your doctor immediately for sudden changes.

For UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members, many plans include routine vision services as well as additional services not covered under Original Medicare. It’s helpful to learn how to take advantage of these and other benefits.

Plans insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in the plan depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.

Health & Wellness

5 tips to make the most out of your workout routine

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Whether you’re hitting the gym to get healthy, tone up or improve your overall well-being, there’s no denying that seeing results can be one of the most satisfying feelings. Noticing even the smallest change in the way you feel or look is reason enough to lace up your sneakers for another sweat session. However, when results seem to plateau or schedules get busy, you might begin to question your commitment to a fitness routine.

Whatever you do, don’t give up! Keep the below tips in mind to help maximize your fitness routine and stay on track.

1) Find a workout buddy

Instead of flying solo, bring along a friend so you can encourage each other during your workouts. Exercising with a buddy can breed a healthy form of competition, but it’s also a great way to hold you accountable. To help maximize the impact, try to pick a partner that is on the same fitness level as you and shares similar goals — you will want to be able to increase your intensity level and challenge each other as a team.

2) Fuel up

An active lifestyle requires proper nutrition — period. When regularly exercising, your body needs fuel for optimal performance and proper recovery. Before a workout, opt for healthy and easily digestible carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain bread and pasta, fruits and vegetables to give you energy. Afterward, try a protein-packed snack like Emergen-C Protein Fuel and Superfoods. With 15 grams of organic plant-based protein and two full servings of 14 superfoods, the protein and superfood powder blend can help you make the most of your active time by providing the wholesome nourishment you need, along with supporting your natural defenses with a high potency serving of vitamin C.

3) Head to the weights

If your fitness goals include improving body composition and losing weight, you may want to introduce strength training into your regimen. While exercises such as walking, running and cycling can do wonders for your cardiovascular health and help burn calories, strength training with weights can elevate your metabolism for a longer period — meaning your body will continue burning calories even after a workout. Plus, strength training can target and tone those hard-to-reach muscles, improve balance and help protect your bones.

4) Switch it up

After a while, bodies can grow accustomed to the same exercise routine, often leading to stalled results. If you find yourself breezing through a workout, it’s time to switch it up and push your limits. Varying your exercises can challenge your mind and body, help burn more calories and prevent boredom. If you like to run long distances, try implementing sprint intervals. At the gym? Try out new equipment or vary your reps. Challenge your body and you may be surprised by the results.

5) Take a break

The last way to maximize your fitness routine has nothing to do with the gym at all. In fact, it requires you to skip the gym. Exercise provides many health benefits, but too many high-intensity workouts can backfire, potentially causing injury from overuse and hindering your results. Be sure to allow your body enough time to heal before hitting the gym again and try to work active rest days into your schedule, such as going for a light walk or bike ride.

Keeping these tips in mind can help you make the most of your fitness routine and magnify your efforts in the gym, on the track, in the pool or wherever you choose to exercise. Above all, don’t hesitate to ask fellow gym-goers for help or to make modifications when something feels off.

For more information about Emergen-C, visit www.emergenc.com.

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Expert tips for a better night’s sleep

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When was the last time you had a good night’s sleep?

For many, sleep doesn’t come easy. Up to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome. Nights are spent staring at the walls as insomnia takes control, or frequently waking from snoring or gasping for air due to untreated obstructive sleep apnea. Fortunately, achieving the recommended seven hours of healthy sleep and managing a sleep disorder is possible with help.

“Sleep should be a restorative experience, but sleep disorders are notorious for robbing us of that nightly pleasure,” said Patti Van Landingham, chair of the American Alliance for Healthy Sleep (AAHS). “Whether recently diagnosed with a sleep disorder, such as obstructive sleep apnea, or just noticing warning signs, such as snoring, choking during sleep or fatigue and daytime sleepiness, people need to seek support so that they can experience the joy of sleep again.”

However, where do you start and what resources are available? The AAHS, a patient-focused membership organization made up of health care providers and patients with sleep disorders, shares the following three tips to manage your sleep better:

Talk to your doctor — As a society, we often deprioritize sleep issues despite a patient’s need to address a lack of sleep. Many patients do not proactively talk to their primary care physician about their sleep during routine exams, mainly due to a perceived high cost of treatment. By asking the right questions or finding an accredited sleep center for testing and consultation, you’re one step closer to a good night’s sleep. A sleep physician can help outline a treatment strategy that can last a lifetime, helping you take back control and reduce the cycle of the frustration of losing valuable sleep.

Connect with others — Another way to improve quality of life if you suffer from a sleep disorder is to identify a one-on-one peer support group. Mentorship provides long-term support to patients who are newly diagnosed by connecting them to patients who have experience managing their sleep disorders. Patient mentor programs, such as the one offered by the AAHS, allow experienced patients to share their stories and use their firsthand experience to help guide others. For example, a newly diagnosed narcolepsy or sleep apnea patient is connected with an individual who was diagnosed with the same disorder at least two years prior and is managing his or her sleep disorder with an evidence-based treatment option. The result is a support system that offers encouragement and a new perspective on sleep at a peer level.

Stay up to date — It’s an exciting time in the sleep field, and advancements are on the horizon. From new sleep monitoring technology and more comfortable positive airway pressure machines, researchers continue to focus on new ways to provide high-quality patient-centered care. By joining together, patients and their family members can learn more about healthy sleep, access exclusive news affecting the sleep community and ultimately be a part of a collaborative discussion that furthers the success of the sleep disorders community. Together you can advocate for increased and improved care for patients and rally for more significant research funding to improve the understanding and treatment of sleep disorders. To learn more about improving your life through healthy sleep, visit www.sleepallies.org.

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Good Health for Men Often Depends on Wellness Awareness and Early Screenings

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The statistics for men’s health are alarming. For men, life expectancy is 76.3 years; for women, it’s 81.2 years. The Kaiser Family Foundation points out that nearly 71 percent of men are at risk of being overweight or obese, compared to 59 percent for women. Far more women than men are likely to go to a physician office visit, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

These statistics may be worrisome for men and their loved ones, but many of the health risks men face can be prevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle and getting recommended and timely preventive health screenings.

“It’s important for men to take charge of their health,” said Dr. Chad E. Bittner, a chief medical officer of OptumCare. “And there are a number of things men can do to get and stay healthy.”

Bittner offers the following tips to help men improve their health and well-being:

Physical activity: Regardless of gender, Bittner said he gives people the same general health advice, although men often need more reminders. One focus area for patients is physical activity. Regular physical activity can control weight, reduce risks of developing heart disease and some cancers, and can improve overall mental health and mood.

Nutrition: Another important priority is nutrition. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, and limit foods and drinks high in sugar, salt, saturated fat and alcohol.

He points out other important reminders for men:

Sunscreen: Don’t overlook the importance of using sunscreen. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States.

Prescriptions: All patients need to work with their doctors to get a full understanding of the purpose and side effects of the prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and supplements they take.

Depression: It’s important for men and those close to them to be aware of the warning signs for depression.

If you or the men in your life are not making positive health choices, now is the perfect time to take charge of your health.

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