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Tom's Blog

How-To: Control High Blood Pressure

October 22, 2012 5:56 pm

High blood pressure is sometimes called the 'silent killer' because it has no symptoms, except in extreme cases. It's critical that the millions of people who have high blood pressure learn how to control it, before it's too late.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more than 76 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. The high force of blood flow can damage arteries, the heart, kidneys, eyes and the brain. If uncontrolled, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, which are the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get your high blood pressure under control. These include eating healthfully, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking.

Eat healthfully.
When it comes to eating healthfully to help keep blood pressure down, it's not just about what to avoid -- such as lowering your intake of saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars -- but about what to add to your diet so that it is rich in nutrients and fiber. In fact, many experts believe that antioxidants show great promise for reducing high blood pressure and supporting heart health.
To help keep blood pressure down, make sure your diet includes plenty of:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • High-fiber foods
  • Lean meats
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy foods
  • Fish containing omega-3, such as salmon, trout and herring
  • Heart-healthy antioxidants

One example of a heart-healthy antioxidant is pterostilbene, which is found naturally in blueberries. Studies have shown that pterostilbene may provide health benefits, including support of heart health, anti-aging capabilities, glucose and oxidative stress-level management, cognitive functions, weight loss and other metabolic disorders. In fact, results from a recent study from the University of Mississippi showed that pterostilbene had statistically significant results for blood pressure in adults.
Pterostilbene is closely related to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes, but has properties that provide added benefits over resveratrol:

  • It can easily enter into the blood stream.
  • It has better absorption from the blood stream for use by cells.
  • It is effective at activating proteins which help lower cholesterol levels and contribute to anti-aging.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight raises your blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as lowering the amount of good cholesterol, according to the AHA. So losing even a little weight can reduce blood pressure in many overweight people. The best ways to do that are to modify your diet and get moving.

The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. These activities:

Can be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and can be spread throughout the week.

Include flexibility and stretching exercises.

Include muscle strengthening activity at least two days each week.

Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about how you can increase your physical activity safely and modify your diet to help you get to a healthy weight.

Don't smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels and speeds up the hardening of the arteries, making it a major risk for heart disease and stroke. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about programs to help you quit.

If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, don't wait to get it under control. Take action now so you can have a healthier future.


Word of the Day

October 22, 2012 5:56 pm

Agent. Person authorized to act by and on behalf of another.

Q: What Should I Consider when Remodeling the Bathroom?

October 22, 2012 5:56 pm

A: Don’t jump too quickly to discard reusable fixtures. If your tub is in relatively good shape, consider having it re-glazed instead of replaced, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. As for the walls around the tub, cultured marble sheets are cheaper to install than marble tiles and also easier to clean. Fiberglass is also less expensive than tile. If space is extremely limited and you cannot “steal” it from other areas of your home, purchase a jetted tub and shower combination or install a pedestal lavatory instead of a vanity cabinet with a sink. Remember, installing a large jetted tub can overtax your water heater, so consider adding a water heater that is dedicated to the tub to prevent problems later.

Preparing for a New Babysitter

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

For young parents, having time alone during ‘date nights’ can ease stress, refresh harried outlooks, and help keep romance alive. But even if your little one is in daycare during the day, the prospect of leaving the child with a sitter at home can be a little worrisome.

Meryl Teague, who teaches babysitting classes for the YWCA, offers parents five tips to help ease their minds when preparing for a new sitter:

Make a list of resource people
– Create a list of people who can be called upon in the event the sitter needs help. Start with your own cell phone number. Then add your physician’s number and the numbers of one or two nearby relatives or friends who could be helpful.

Outline the child’s routine
– Knowing when your child routinely naps or snacks, how much television is allowed and when, and when meals and medicine are due, makes the sitter more confident and the child more content.

Go over the house rules – Write down any house rules your child is expected to follow, such as putting toys away, not eating in the living room, or not jumping on the couch.

Set out needed items – If you will not be home before bedtime, lay out the child’s pajamas and any favorite bedtime toys or blanket. Prepare and refrigerate meals or snacks that will be needed while you are gone, and leave a note regarding any medication the sitter will be expected to administer.

Prepare your child – If your child is old enough to understand, explain that someone new will be coming to play with them while you are away. No matter the child’s age, try to arrange for a short transition time, when the child can watch you interacting with the person who will be staying after you leave.

Kick Off Your Retirement Planning

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

Regardless of how far you are from retirement, if you want to secure your financial future, you should begin planning now. Unfortunately, less than half of American workers have taken the time to calculate exactly how much money they will need to retire comfortably, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. One of the reasons the numbers may be low is because many people find it difficult to even start the planning process.

National Save for Retirement Week is the time to take the first step. "We want people to know that they can take control of their retirement," says Joe Monk, senior vice president and chief administrative officer, State Farm Life Insurance Company, Vice President, Health and Mutual Funds, for State Farm Insurance Companies®.

To jump start your retirement planning, Monk offers three easy tips:

  • Start the conversation with loved ones. Talk about where you are, and what your goals are for the future.
  • Formalize your plan. Work with a respected financial professional who may have a better understanding of all the options available.
  • Commit to your plan. Committing to a plan enables people to have more choices and be aware of options.
"Having a plan helps people get a clearer idea of what they'll need later in life and enables them to set attainable goals, track progress and adjust the plan if necessary," says Monk. "Following the plan gives people a better chance of enjoying their retirement."


Denim 101: Find the Perfect Pair of Jeans

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

(BPT) - As American as apple pie, jeans are a go-to wardrobe staple. So why is shopping for jeans such a difficult task? With so many fits, cuts, washes and more to choose from, it might seem like an endless journey to find that perfect pair you'll wear over and over again. With this quick and handy guide you'll have the low-down on denim so you can find options that look good and feel great.

Strategies for jean shopping

First when shopping for jeans, be sure to allow enough time to try on a variety of styles so you can find the right pair for your body shape. Go to a store that has many options and don't rush your time in the dressing room. For example, at Target you can find Denizen from the Levi's brand jeans that offer seven different styles, so you're sure to find one (or more) that work for you. When you try on a pair, try sitting, squatting and moving to see how the fabric flexes and shifts.

Common jean styles and cuts
Straight - If you want a versatile style that is as appropriate for a lazy Sunday afternoon as it is for a business-casual working environment, a straight fit jean is for you. This classic look neither tapers nor flares, with denim cut straight down from hip to ankle, elongating the leg and creating a conservative style appropriate for both men and women.

Skinny - A necessity for most women, the skinny jean is also a popular style for men. With a retro edge perfect for a narrow figure, this style is meant to fit snugly with tapering around the ankles. This is a great option for ladies this fall since skinny jeans can be easily tucked into tall boots for a fun, hip autumn look. The skinny jean is equally as versatile for men and can be worn casually with sneakers or dressed up with work boots.

Slim straight - If you like the idea of a slimmer cut, but skinny styles are a bit too extreme, try slim fit jeans instead. Available for men, this style is tailored slim through the leg, but has a straight fit through the seat and thigh with an easy to wear straight leg opening.

Relaxed - The opposite of the structured skinny jean is the relaxed fit jean. This is often the go-to option for men who frequently prefer a comfortable jean over a more tailored option. This simple, yet versatile style fits at the waist and has a loosely tapered leg. If you want even more room than found in a relaxed cut, look for loose-style jeans.

Boot cut - For jeans that pair fashion and function, boot cut is the way to go. Available for both men and women, boot cut style jeans are slightly flared toward the leg openings. This cut is stylish for men and works well for most female body shapes because it balances the body's curves and can draw attention away from the midsection.

Choosing the right rise
Low-rise jeans sit an inch or two below the navel and are popular with teens and young adults. Mid-rise is the most common option, designed to fit comfortably on the lower stomach and offering ample coverage in the back. High-waisted jeans are preferred by some to conceal curves and prevent gapping in the seat.

Jean colors and washes
Today's jeans come in every color and fade imaginable, such as Denizen from the Levi's brand jeans that come in 24 premium finishes at Target stores and on for men, and 12 finishes for women. A good basic finish to have in your wardrobe is raw denim which means the dye hasn't been washed down. These dark blue jeans go with any outfit and have a slimming effect. Alternatively, washes can create many different tones of denim. Like the vintage look? Seek out a vintage wash or dirty wash. Like lighter blue jeans? Look for stonewashed options. When deciding what jean colors are best, think about what would blend with your current wardrobe and select accordingly.

With this easy guide you can avoid the denim maze and find the right pair for you. Remember, it's not uncommon to have multiple pairs of jeans - a couple conservative options for work, a couple casual options for evenings and weekends - so try on a variety, you might be surprised at what you like best.

Word of the Day

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

Acceleration clause. Stipulation in a mortgage agreement that allows the lender to demand immediate payment of the entire loan balance if any scheduled payment is missed.

Q: What can I do to minimize chaos, danger and stress once a home improvement project has begun?

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

A: Plan ahead. Since your home will become a worksite once the remodeling begins, inconveniences will arise that can be minimized with a little planning. Begin by having a frank discussion with the contractor to set guidelines and develop a clear understanding upfront about the various project stages and the processes involved. Talk, for example, about where building materials will be stored, how to best protect your belongings from dust and debris, areas of your home that will be off limits to workers and whether you will need to vacate the home for any reason over the duration of the work. If a kitchen or bath will be out of commission, plan accordingly. It’s okay to move the refrigerator, microwave and toaster oven to the basement or another designated area where you can prepare meals to avoid eating out.

Equally important are the rules that dictate how workers can conduct themselves in your home. Will they be able to use your bathroom and the telephone? Will they be prohibited from smoking, playing their radios or using profanity? Finally, remember to preserve a safe haven in your home where you can flee the chaos and dust and attempt to maintain your sanity.

Debt: Another Four Letter Word

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

The word debt is made up of four letters, and for many people, it has the same connotation as many other four letter words. However, not all debt is bad. For example, most people could not afford to pay cash for a home, but instead must acquire a mortgage loan. Because a home will most likely increase in value during the time it takes to pay off the mortgage, mortgage debt is considered a good investment. In general terms, good debt is defined as debt that allows someone to invest in the future, such as business loans, student loans, mortgages and real estate loans.

Bad debt is generally defined as debt acquired for something that immediately loses value or has no potential to increase in value. Using that definition, a car loan would be considered bad debt. Many people purchase vehicles and are upside down (owe more than the car is worth) in their loans mere months after purchasing. It is also a common practice to purchase a meal with a credit card that has a balance that may not get paid off for three months or more. The meal that was enjoyed at the time and forgotten later ends up costing more because it is not paid for when consumed. Paying interest for dinner, even a nice dinner, charged to a credit card is bad debt.

Money Management International (MMI) offers the following tips to avoid and reduce bad debt:

  • Don't carry balances on your credit cards. If you do purchase something that cannot be paid off at the end of the month, make certain you can pay it off in 90 days or less.
  • Purchase a used or less expensive new vehicle and make sure you make a substantial down payment. A smaller loan will help assure you do not become upside down in your auto loan.
  • Don't use credit cards to purchase clothing or consumables unless you will be paying the balance off each month.
  • Be wary of spending more than you can pay off each month on rewards credit cards. Paying interest charges will negate the promised benefit of the rewards.

Winter Proof Your Home

October 19, 2012 5:46 pm

Even if the temperatures are still mild in your neck of the woods, there is no denying that winter is on its way, and it’s time to winterize your home. According to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), many winter-related disasters can be prevented if people take a few simple steps to protect their home from freezing temperatures, snow and wind.

"Standard homeowners policies cover winter-related disasters such as burst pipes, ice dams, and wind damage caused by weight of ice or snow, as well as fire-related losses," said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president and consumer spokesperson for the I.I.I. "Coverage for flooding is available from the National Flood Insurance Program and from some private insurance companies. Winter-related damage to cars is generally covered under the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy."

Melting snow can inflict significant damage to property and winter storms are the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses, noted the I.I.I. Winter storms were the third most costly type of natural disaster in the United States in 2011, with $2 billion in insured losses in 2011, according to a report by Munich Re. From 1991-2010, winter storms resulted in about $26 billion in insured catastrophe losses (in 2010 dollars), or more than $1 billion a year on average, according to ISO.

The Farmers Almanac predicts winter weather will return to areas from the Great Lakes into the Northeast. Most eastern states, as far south as the Gulf Coast, will see snowier than normal conditions and cooler temperatures. believes there is a significant chance that the next three winters will be particularly frigid. "These winters could be similar to the winters of the late 1970s," they said. "While the most consistent cold is to the north, severe bouts of cold deep into Texas and Florida would be capable of affecting agriculture more so than has been seen in that last 20 years or so."

The I.I.I. offers the following tips for winterizing your home:


Clean out gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming, a condition where water is unable to drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the house causing water to drip from the ceiling and walls.

Install gutter guards. Available in most hardware and home stores, gutter guards prevent debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.

Trim trees and remove dead branches. Ice, snow and wind could cause weak trees or branches to break and damage your home or car, or injure someone walking by your property.

Repair steps and handrails. This may prevent someone from falling and seriously being injured. Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice.

Seal cracks in holes in outside walls and foundations. Use caulking to protect water pipes and make sure that skylights and other roof openings have proper weather stripping to prevent snowmelt from seeping in.


Keep the house warm. Set the thermostat for at least 65 degrees—since the temperature inside the walls, where the pipes are located, is substantially colder a lower temperature will not keep the pipes from freezing.

Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. Water can then re-freeze, causing more snow and ice to build up. This can result in a collapsed roof, and can contribute to ice damming. Ideally, the attic should be five to 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes from freezing. You may also consider insulating unfinished rooms such as garages to keep pipes from freezing.

Have the heating system serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.

If you're using an alternative heating source, make sure there is adequate space for installation, maintenance and replacement.

Check pipes. Look closely for cracks and leaks and have the pipes repaired immediately. Wrap exposed pipes with heating tape.

Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system
. This will protect the system against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting.

Make sure that smoke and fire alarms are working properly.
Residential fires increase in the winter, so it is important to protect your family with working alarm systems. Also, consider installing a carbon monoxide detector, since a well sealed home can trap this toxic gas.

Learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located
. If your pipes freeze, time is of the essence. The quicker you can shut off the water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better chance you have to prevent pipes from bursting.

Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage. If damage is discovered, have it repaired now rather than waiting for a problem to occur. Also, ask about ways to prevent water damage due to snow-related flooding. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump pumps and other methods can prevent flood damage to your home and belongings.

If you are going to be away for an extended period, take special care.
Turn the water off and/or have the water system drained by a professional to keep pipes from freezing or bursting. Also, hire someone to check your home on a regular basis so that, if there is a problem, it can be fixed quickly, lessening any damage. Activity at your home will also reduce the likelihood that it will be burglarized.

The I.I.I.'s free Know Your Plan app, available in the iTunes App store, provides customizable to-do lists, communication tools, and other resources to safeguard your home and family—it includes a winter weather checklist to make preparing your home for the cold a snap.


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