Ways to stay active this fall


Summer is officially over, school is back in session, and schedules are busy.

With the change of seasons, the cooler weather and the beautiful scenery, it is the perfect time to rethink and restart your exercise plan! Here are a few tips to keep you moving this fall season:

1. Take advantage of the weather.

The humidity is finally gone, the temperature is cooler, and the leaves are changing.   Take advantage of this great season and move your exercise outdoors. Walk, bike, or hike in your neighborhood, local park, or on trails and see all the fall foliage. And remember, it doesn’t have to feel like exercise to be a great workout! Raking those falling leaves or walking through a corn maze can get your heart pumping.

2. Go kayaking or canoeing.

Paddling around a lake or down the river is a great way to get some exercise and try something new. Paddling is a great form of resistance exercise, plus, the beautiful scenes on the water are a great source of stress relief.

3. Go apple picking or to a pumpkin patch.

Nothing screams fall quite as much as these two activities. Enjoy a 10- or 15-minute walk around the orchard before picking pumpkins or apples.

4. Go on a hike.

Pittsburgh has some amazing parks and hiking areas. Pack a healthy lunch, lots of water, and hit the trails for a hike to get some exercise.

5. Take a bike ride.

Along with hiking trails, Pittsburgh has bike trails too! Fall is a great time to bike outdoors. Grab your bikes, or rent some and get those legs moving. Biking is a great form of cardio and helps strengthen leg muscles.

6. Make your own walking tour.

Play tourist for a day and map out a walking tour of Pittsburgh. Visit some favorite places, and discover some new favorite places along the way. Set a step goal and get moving.

7. Register for a fall 5k.

Fall is the perfect time to do that race you’ve been thinking about. The weather is more comfortable and you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful leaves during your run.

8. Make it a habit.

It takes about 30 days for a new routine to become habit. Commit to 30 days of exercise to make it a habit before the holidays sneak up.

10 trail running safety tips

10 trail running safety tips | UPMC Health Plan

My wife and I are setting off on another adventure. This time it will be in the province of Sao Paulo, Brazil. We are doing an ultra-marathon that consists of running on beaches, roads, and trails for almost 48 miles total with a 10-hour time limit. We have never done anything like this so we had to start our training immediately. Running just a marathon is hard enough, but almost doubling that distance and running through varying terrain makes this race even more difficult. We have to train long and hard to make sure our bodies can endure the long challenge ahead.

My wife and I started our training earlier this year by doing the Pittsburgh Marathon events last May. Now we have started implementing more trails to get used to a different style of running. Trail running is a different breed of running. It is more challenging compared to running on the road or sidewalk: you have to pay attention to every step and your surroundings — even possible animals nearby. Yes, I said animals. We have encountered a number of deer, squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and turkeys flying up on top of trees. Thanks to the past two months of trail running, we have learned a few running safety tips.

Top 10 trail running safety tips:

1. Do some research on nearby trails.

You might want to start off with the easier trails before heading into the more technical ones. Technical trails will have more rocks, roots, and possibly some climbing that involves utilizing your hands as well.

2. Try to run with someone.

I always feel safer when I am running with my wife or a group of people on the trails. I recently bought a set of walkie talkies for my wife and myself just in case one of us gets too far ahead and we don’t have cell-phone service. We also have a set of whistles that are attached to our hydration pack.

3. Check in.

If you are running alone on the trails, make sure you check in with someone before heading out. You can send a text message to a family member or even leave a note at your house or apartment.

4. Carry ID.

Make sure you have some type of ID with you for emergencies and even a little first aid kit.

5. Be prepared for the environment.

Have some type of protection with you from the environment. Make sure you have bug spray and/or sunscreen to protect you from the elements. Just for extreme measures from animals, consider packing pepper spray for protection.

6. Pack enough hydration and fuel.

Trails will not have water fountains or a convenience store to stop in and buy hydration and food. Make sure you plan accordingly based on the length of your run and the weather.

7. Don’t wear your headphones.

Enjoy the nature around you and it will be easier to listen for any warnings on the trail.

8. Dress appropriately for the run.

Check the weather before heading out and make sure you dress accordingly. Wear layers for cooler days and a rain jacket for rain. Also make sure you are wearing trail shoes that provide good traction for uneven and slippery surfaces.

9. Know how to fall properly.

I have already fallen several times and the first thing I try to do is avoid any sharp dangerous objects as best as I can. To absorb the fall I kept my arms close to my chest with the palms out (keeping the arms out has a higher risk for injury).

10. Recover properly.

After a run, make sure you are stretching and rehydrating. This will allow you to get back on the trails sooner.

With these 10 tips under your belt you’re ready to hit the trails and have a safe, enjoyable trail run. Which trails are you looking forward to hitting? Let us know in the comments below!


12 pool safety tips from a former lifeguard

16MKT0404 postImage -Summer pool safety

Few things are as symbolic of summer as sparkling blue swimming pools shimmering in the sun. Public and residential pools alike hold the promise of a fun-filled day for the kids — and the chance to relax a little for adults. But that good day can turn tragic in an instant. And while it’s not something we like to think about, it’s necessary to take some basic precautions to avoid the unthinkable. As a former lifeguard, I want to share a dozen of my best tips for staying safe when you’re having fun at the pool:

  1. Never leave a child unattended in or near water, even if s/he can swim or is wearing a personal floatation device. Know that drowning doesn’t look like drowning in the movies! It happens fast and often silently.
  2. Teach kids to swim as early as possible. Look for swim classes in your area if you’re not sure where to start. Even toddlers can be taught basic maneuvers like rolling over and floating on their backs, which can give an adult a crucial extra minute to get to them if they fall in the water.
  3. Make sure all floatation devices you plan to use for kids who can’t yet swim are US Coast Guard approved. While those water wings look really cute, they provide a false sense of security and won’t keep a child’s head out of the water if needed.
  4. Walk! Running and wet pool decks don’t mix!
  5. Never dive head first into water that is less than five feet deep or that you can’t see through. Head and neck injuries are serious and can leave you handicapped for life.
  6. Teach kids to stay away from drains, and make sure any pool you’re at has compliant drain covers. The suction can be so strong in a pool or hot tub drain that even an adult may not be able to pull away from it.
  7. Apply a water resistant sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every two hours and after swimming or sweating and toweling off. Find more tips on choosing a sunscreen here. Protect your face and eyes, too! The water reflects sunlight up, making sunburns happen easily. Apply sunscreen to all areas of your face, neck, ears, and exposed scalp. Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from UVA and UVB rays, and wear a hat with a wide brim.
  8. Stay out of the water if it thunders. If you can hear thunder, the storm is close enough for lightening to strike conductors of electricity — like pools, trees, and metal shelters. Stay out of the water for at least 15 minutes after you hear the last clap of thunder.
  9. If you have a pool in your yard, install proper barriers, covers, and alarms.
  10. Keep glass containers away from pools. Shattered glass is difficult to clean up on pool decks and can get lodged in feet or slice through pool liners.
  11. If you have an open wound, cover it with a waterproof dressing or stay out of the water. Having an open wound puts you at greater risk of getting an infection, and puts others at risk of getting an infection from you.
  12. Know how to perform CPR, or at least rescue breathing, on both adults and kids. Your local Red Cross may offer classes in your area.

In addition to these basic tips, if you’re at a public pool, remember to listen to the lifeguard on duty and don’t distract a lifeguard who is monitoring the water. Lifeguards are specially trained to keep people safe in and around water and save lives if needed. If your need or question is not an emergency, look for a lifeguard who isn’t watching the water, or another staff member, to assist you.

Keep safety in mind, and have fun in the summer sun!

Pokémon Go safety tips

Pokémon Go safety tips | UPMC Health Plan

It seems everyone’s running around and feverishly swiping smartphones trying to catch Pokémon. Pokémon seems to be taking over among young and old alike — but it’s not like most other video games. Pokémon Go requires users to move around in the physical world and catch the creatures in all kinds of places throughout the community. It has players racing into busy streets, secluded cemeteries, and everything in between. The upside of all this chaos is that it’s getting people off the couch, but there are some dangers to playing video games on the move. Here are a few tips to stay safe.

General Safety Tips:

  • Only play Pokémon on foot. Avoid having the app turned on in cars, on bikes, scooters, or even on public transit.
  • Play in the light. Searching for Pokémon in the dark can lead to bumping your head, losing your footing — or even worse, tripping and falling. Always make sure you have enough light while playing.
  • Stop and look up while catching Pokémon. It’s easy to run into objects or oncoming traffic, so stop and actually look up rather than staying glued to the phone screen.
  • Don’t trespass or loiter. Pokémon creatures may end up in a variety of places, but make sure that you are not breaking the law by approaching them. If you are on someone’s property and they ask you to leave, do not try to fight it.
  • Monitor your belongings. If you need to step away from your things to catch your Pokémon, make sure someone else watches them or just take them with you.
  • Stay hydrated in the heat. If you will be out for more than 30 minutes in the heat, make sure that you are well hydrated and carry supplies for long trips.

For parents:

  • Turn GPS tracking on your child’s cell phone for easy locating in the event of a lost child.
  • Beware of enhancement apps that may have access to private information on your child’s cell phone.
  • Join in the fun yourself, or at least have your child play with a group.
  • Be aware of child predators.

Overall the number one thing to remember is that your phone will vibrate when you are near the Pokémon so enjoy your surroundings and play safely. Once the phone vibrates you can stop and search for the creature.


Recognizing signs and symptoms of heat-related illness

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The summer is really starting to heat up. That means if you’re spending time outdoors, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. There are several types of heat-related illness, ranging from temporary discomfort to heat stroke.

Heat-related illness can happen when the body’s own heat combines with extreme temperatures and causes a rise in your body’s internal temperature. The body’s typical temperature is about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In hot weather, the body will cool itself by sweating which leads to regulation of body temperature in the safe zone. During excessive heat, strenuous exercise, or humid weather, the body may not be able to cool itself as efficiently. This can lead to heat-related illness. It can also be caused by dehydration and alcohol use.

Some groups are at higher risk, such as people older than 65 and children younger than 4. Certain medications can also put you at risk for heat-related illness, so it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible side effects that may lead to heat issues. Finally, the heat index plays a big role as well. You should be especially cautious when the temperature rises above 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

Signs and symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion:

16MKT0399 - Heat related illness-INFOGRAPHICHow to prevent heat-related illness:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid hot temperatures.
  • Acclimate to the heat.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise in the heat.
  • Wear light and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Know side effects of medications.
  • Pay attention to how you are feeling.
  • Plan to be outdoors earlier in the day.

If you think you may have signs of heat-related illness, take the necessary steps to bring your temperature down and then contact a medical professional immediately if you notice that they are getting worse. Also, keep a close eye on children and elderly. If you have neighbors who live alone, check on them in hot weather. You could save a life!

Cigarette butts: tiny item, big problem

16MKT0194 postImage - Blog - Cigarette butts - tiny item_big problem

After celebrating Earth day on April 22, I’d like you to think of the impact that cigarette butts have on the environment.

Cigarette butts are an enormous problem:

  • According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 130 million cigarette butts are tossed onto Texas highways yearly.
  • Litter research estimates tobacco products (butts, packs, plastic wraps, chew cans, etc.) to be 37.7 percent of all litter.
  • Almost all investigators agree that cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world by far, more so than drink cups, plastic bags, paper, glass bottles, etc.

Cigarette butts are toxic to the environment:

  • They are not biodegradable. The filters are made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. The filter may break into smaller pieces, but it will never completely break down or disappear. The paper and leaves are biodegradable, but the chemicals that they have been bathed in at the factory (to increase “impact factor” and make them more addictive) are not. They contaminate our soil and water.
  • Cigarette butts are a threat to wildlife and pets. They have been found in the bellies of birds, fish, and mammals.
  • Small children, not knowing what they are, pick them up and eat them.
  • One third of all small children who swallow a cigarette butt will experience nausea and vomiting.

Cigarette butts cause fires:

  • About 900–1,000 people die and 2,500–3,000 are injured every year in the U.S. in fires that are started by cigarettes.
  • About 100 of those deaths annually are children and adult non-smokers.
  • In 1997 there were more than 130,000 cigarette related fires.
  • Annual costs in property damage is about $400 million.
  • Investigators determined that cigarettes started the following fires:
    • A March 2004 fire in Richmond, Virginia that destroyed 26 buildings and caused $20 million in damage
    • A January 2001 fire in San Diego County that burned 10,000 acres, 16 homes, and 64 vehicles
    • A 1999 fire in the Mont Blanc Tunnel in France killed 39 people.

Cigarette butt litter is expensive:

  • Butts are picked up, one by one, by paid employees of cities, states, schools, and private businesses.
  • Their time could be better spent improving the property with landscaping, planting trees, maintaining lawns, flowers, and bushes, upgrading infrastructure, etc., rather than spending hours cleaning the mess.
  • Tourists avoid areas like beaches and amusement parks that are littered with cigarette butts.
  • Residents avoid public spaces like parks and business districts that are littered.
  • Litter reduces property values.

Smoker behavior is the problem:

  • Behavioral observation studies show that 57 percent of publicly smoked cigarette butts are littered, rather than disposed of properly.
  • Of those observed litterers, 35 percent claimed to not have littered in the past month, even though researchers had just observed them littering their cigarette butts.
  • Those who were observed littering also were much less likely to report that they felt a personal obligation to not litter.

How can you help?

  • Having ash and cigarette receptacles available reduces the littering rate. If you control the funds to do so, consider buying and placing cigarette-specific receptacles where smokers smoke.
  • Cigarette butts are litter. A lot of people don’t think of it that way.
  • Address the personal responsibility not to litter with your children, so that they live in a world with less litter as they become adults.

Earth Day activities for kids

16MKT0170 postImage - Earth Day Activities for Kids

By: Ellen Fisher, MS ,RD, LDN

Earth Day is a global event celebrated every year! You can enjoy celebrating Earth Day close to home with some fresh air, family time, and these Earth Day-friendly activities:

1. Build a homemade bird feeder.

Watch as the birds fill your backyard with their vibrant colored feathers and beautiful music!

  1. You will need string, a recycled toilet paper roll, peanut butter, seeds, oats, or nuts.
  2. Put the string through the holes of the toilet paper roll opening. Cover in the peanut butter (or lard for peanut allergies) and then roll in a topping of seeds, nuts or oats. Hang the bird feeder outside on a tree branch or shepherd’s hook.
  3. If you do not have string you can place the tube right on a branch of a tree or bush.

2. Go green with your green thumb.

Recycle an old container (anything that will hold dirt such as an empty soup can or an egg carton) and have your children color or paint it. Place dirt and seeds inside then place the container in a sunny area, such as a window sill. Don’t forget to add water when needed.
You can plant what you grow outside once the weather is warmer and there is no more threat of frost.

3. Visit your local zoo or park.

You can learn about the natural habitats of plants, animals, and sea life and spend the day outside. Many zoos have Earth Day celebrations. If there is not a zoo close by, you can take a walk in your local park to look at the plants, trees, birds, and animals.

4. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Learn how to recycle as a family. After your brush-up on recycling, have a family scavenger hunt to find out what in your house can be recycled after it is used.

Looking for more Earth Day fun? The Earth Day celebrations in Pittsburgh are child-friendly, so be sure to check out all of the weekend activities.

Exercising at high altitude

16MKT0005 postImage Exercising at High Altitude

Whether you are on a business trip and looking to work out, running a marathon, or going on a skiing vacation to high altitude, you should take special precautions to avoid becoming sick or injured at altitude. At high altitude your body needs to work extra hard to take in the same amount of oxygen as you are accustomed to at sea level. Oxygen levels at higher altitudes (above 5,000 feet) are a lot lower than they are at sea level, which will cause your breathing rate to increase and will cause you to become tired much more easily. To learn about high altitude sickness and what symptoms to watch out for, check out our blog post.

Upon Arriving

One of the most important precautions to take when traveling to a higher altitude is avoiding any strenuous activities or workouts the first day of arriving. Your body will need time to adjust to the oxygen levels, and pushing your body too hard right away can cause a lot of health problems. Upon arriving, make sure to stay hydrated at all times, so it is definitely recommended to carry a water bottle around with you, even if you are just going for a walk.

High Altitude Training

Once you feel that you have acclimated to the higher altitudes, it is still recommended to start your training off very slowly and work your way up to your normal training levels. Easing into your workouts will allow your body to acclimate to the environment and lessen the chance of any altitude-related illness. If you are looking to go for a run, start off walking and then slowly jogging at about half your normal running pace and see how you are feeling before trying to push any further. You may need a couple days in order to slowly build up to what you consider your normal activity level. The amount of time this takes will vary from one person to the next, and even professional athletes have to take time to adjust before competing or training at higher altitudes.

Other precautions to take are to drink more water than you normally would during a workout until you adjust to the altitude and making sure to apply sunscreen if you are going to be training outdoors; even in the winter months it is still important to do so. Also make sure to eat a healthy snack with complex carbs to be used as energy before exercising. Since your body will be working harder than normal, this becomes very important.

Altitude sickness

Altitude Sickness | UPMC Health Plan

When traveling to new destinations that are known for their high altitude, it is very important to take precautions to have a safe and healthy trip. One of the first things to watch out for is high altitude sickness, also known as mountain sickness, which affects over 200,000 people every year according to the Mayo Clinic. Though that may not seem like a lot, it is still important to recognize the signs and symptoms and ways to help prevent the sickness from worsening. High altitude sickness is caused in part by the reduced air pressure and reduced oxygen levels in the air. The body reacts to this by increasing the breathing rate to try and compensate for the reduced oxygen levels that the blood is now receiving.

The most common type of high altitude sickness is known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and affects most people when they first arrive at high altitude (typically over 5,000 feet above sea level). The symptoms of AMS are easily treatable, but if left untreated, they can worsen and lead to more severe altitude sickness. However, most mild symptoms will dissipate within 48 hours after acclimating to the higher altitude levels.

Altitude Sickness Symptoms

It is very important to notice any changes in how you are feeling when first arriving to your destination. Take note of your energy levels, breathing rate, as well as your appetite. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Depleted energy levels
  • Lack of appetite
  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping

Treatment for Altitude Sickness

When first noticing symptoms of high altitude sickness, it is important to not ascend to higher altitudes until the symptoms disappear. If symptoms appear while traveling or hiking to higher altitudes, it is recommended to descend to lower altitudes to help the severity of the symptoms. For mild levels of sickness, over-the-counter medications can help alleviate some symptoms such as headaches and nausea.

If symptoms worsen or do not disappear within a few days, it is highly recommended to seek immediate medical attention to receive oxygen treatment and to be evaluated further.

Winter outdoor exercise safety

15MKT0722 postImage Winter Exercise Safety

As the days get shorter and temperatures begin to drop, you may be tempted to hang up your exercise gear and hibernate. Don’t let the snow and cold keep you indoors all winter! Take advantage of the pleasant winter weather to breathe in some fresh air. While it might be cold, you can still exercise outside. Just take these precautions and tips into consideration:

  1. Warm up inside. The cold weather can increase your risk of injuries, so warm up inside for a few minutes to get the blood flowing!
    • Example: marching in place, heel digs, step taps to the front and side, arm circles, arm canoeing
  2. Pay attention to weather conditions. If it’s rainy, cold, or windy, it might be better to exercise indoors. Even if you are dressed in layers, frostbite and hypothermia become a risk.
  3. Know the signs for frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite symptoms are a lack of feeling in the affected area and skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch, or is discolored (flushed, white or gray, yellow or blue). Hypothermia signs are shivering, numbness, glassy stare, apathy, weakness, impaired judgment, loss of consciousness.
  4. Stay hydrated. Dehydration affects your body’s ability to regulate body heat and increases the risk of frostbite. You can become just as dehydrated from the cold as the heat because of sweating. Dress in multiple layers that can be removed once you get warm.
    • Layer 1 – Synthetic material that draws sweat away from the body. NO COTTON!
    • Layer 2 – Fleece or wool for insulation.
    • Layer 3 – Waterproof, breathable outer layer. A heavy jacket/vest may cause you to overheat. Consider reflective clothing as well if exercising at night.
  5. Protect your feet, hands, and ears from the cold. You lose half your body heat through your head and neck, so be prepared!
    • Wear two gloves, one that is fleece/wool (remove if hands become sweaty).
    • Add thick thermal socks or an extra pair of socks (you may need a larger shoe).
    • Wear a hat or headband to cover ears (vulnerable to frostbite).
  6. Protect your eyes with sunglasses if there is snow glare.
  7. Wear shoes with traction to prevent falls.
  8. Monitor how your body feels to prevent cold weather injuries. Consider shortening your workout outdoors, doing it indoors, or a combining both. Know when to head home and warm up.