Month: February 2016

The Personal Touch: 7 Steps to Stellar Customer Service

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Ask anyone with a thriving company to share their secret to success, and the most common response will be: “Good customer service.”

This short statement may seem simplistic in theory, but without consistently positive experiences, the customers you’re hoping will keep your financial boat afloat may walk away with their money, leaving you to sink into the ocean of failed businesses.

The best product in the world won’t earn repeat purchases without excellent customer service, and nothing helps a company grow like positive word-of-mouth. With social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, positive and negative stories about products and services can now spread rapidly, quickly making or breaking businesses.

According to the 2013 Customer-Rage Study conducted by the ASU W.P Carey School of Business, the amount of people reporting service problems has risen from 32% in the 1976 study, to 45% in 2011, to 50% in this year’s survey.

Customers also admit to yelling at company representatives more than ever before. This is because people are still 11 times more likely to complain via the phone, making well-trained, professional phone representatives a must-have for any company wanting to appease and retain dissatisfied customers.

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If you can train all employees in the art of delivering great customer service, this is the most important step on the road to success you can take. Fortunately, being good at customer service and handling complaints are both easily achieved with respect, empathy and patience.

Below are 7 steps any company can take to provide amazing customer service that will increase sales and create loyal, happy clients.

 

1. Build a Relationship—

The most important thing any business can do to keep customers happy and returning is to interpersonally bond with them. Any effective salesperson will tell you that you’re not just selling a

product: you’re selling consistency, accountability—and your friendship. If you can develop strong relationships with your clients, you will win their consumer loyalty.

Learn the names and personal details of customers to help you cater to their shopping needs, and to develop a bond with them. People will return to a business that treats them like a person, rather than just another dollar to be made.

 

2. Stand Behind Your Product—

If you don’t believe in the quality of your product, why should anyone else? This means that if a customer brings back a broken or faulty item, don’t fight them about replacing it: if you happily remedy the issue, you will eventually make your money back with their repeat business.

People remember positive service experiences like this and share them on social media, so your kindness may also pay you back in new business from friends and family. Older, established companies like Bunn and Radio Flyer have been around for a long time and are well-known for their excellent customer service—and this is no coincidence. If you call complaining of a broken or missing part, both of these companies will replace it, no questions asked.

This incredible customer service and “How can we make this right?” attitude, handled by live humans on the phone and not frustrating automated menus, is exactly how to create and keep brand-loyal customers.

 

3. Validation and Acknowledgement—

When a customer calls to complain, one of the best responses a phone service employee can give them is verbal empathy. Sometimes an angry and dissatisfied buyer can be assuaged very quickly if they feel the employee understands and agrees with their issue.

Validating the customer’s emotions can be as easy as saying, “I understand why you’re feeling frustrated—that would make me feel frustrated, too,” or any type of comment that will let them know you’re on their side and want to find a solution.

Once a customer realizes you’re actively trying to help them, they will usually calm down and realize they no longer need to fight. Acknowledge the issue, validate their concerns, and then fix the problem to the best of your ability, and the customer will walk away feeling pleased with your positive attitude and assistance.

 

4. Human Handling Helps—

Nothing annoys customers more than calling to speak to a person, and being forced to suffer through an automated menu. Many people who might have only been mildly frustrated will move into the “officially angry” phase when forced to push buttons and enunciate yes or no-type answers for a computer.

This has become a problem, according to Scott Broetzmann of Customer Care Measurement and Consulting, because companies are focusing on the wrong things, such as “bad use of technology” like web chats and email complaints, when most people want to speak to a living person via phone.  The website GetHuman.com was designed to help consumers bypass annoying phone trees to speak to a person as quickly as possible, further proving that customers are highly annoyed by time-wasting automated menus.

If your company doesn’t have the staff to handle customer phone calls without leaving clients languishing on hold, consider hiring a professional answering service. Having trained customer service representatives handling questions and complaints will help your business retain clients who may have hung up on an automated menu—and your company—forever.

 

5. Pay Attention to Social Media—

As people spend more time on the Internet, they learn to use different outlets to communicate with companies, making your website, Facebook and Twitter pages important opportunities to establish great customer relationships. Consider using blogs, videos or even podcasts to connect with your desired demographic.

Customer concerns discussed on social media should be addressed immediately, because feeling ignored can make a client think a company doesn’t care about their issue.

Answer all questions and address problems in a helpful and friendly manner, making it clear that customer service is your top priority, and that you want to right any wrongs as quickly as possible.

 

6. Apologizing is Awesome—

Never underestimate the power of saying, “I’m sorry this happened. How can we make it better for you?” You are not admitting guilt, you’re simply apologizing for the inconvenience and frustration your customer is feeling—and you’d be amazed by how quickly an angry person will calm down once they realize you want to help.

Because there are many poorly-trained customer service representatives, customers often call expecting a battle to get the problem resolution they’re seeking. You can completely disarm them and turn their feelings from negative to positive by apologizing, empathizing, and cheerfully fixing the problem.

According to the 2013 Customer-Rage Study, when companies added free remedies like apologies to monetary compensation, this increased customer satisfaction from 37% to 74%, proving that people are surprisingly forgiving when treated with respect and kindness.

 

7. Training is Terrific—

You’ve hired great employees, but that doesn’t guarantee that when faced with an irate customer they’ll know how to handle them with the professionalism to salvage the client-company relationship.

Make certain all representatives of your business can handle conflict in a manner that promotes customer loyalty and satisfaction. And don’t forget to lead by example: If you treat your employees in an unkind or rude manner, they aren’t going to believe you place worth on being respectful to others.

Employees given raises based on good customer service skills will also be motivated to work hard to keep clients happy. A successful company known for this smart business model would be Trader Joe’s, with employee reviews and potential raises every 3 months, and an emphasis on great customer service.

 

As you read the tips above for giving great customer service, one thing becomes clear: people want to be listened to and treated with dignity, kindness, and the respect they deserve. The customer is the reason anyone employed has their job, and should be treated like the valuable commodity they are; but most of all, they want to be treated like valuable human beings.

If you can train your employees to build positive relationships with customers and solve problems in a compassionate, helpful way, you will have a successful, thriving company with a great reputation—and the excellent profits to match.

SEO Success: 6 Top Tips for Small Business Owners

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Whether a small business is running its own SEO operation, or has decided to hire a marketing firm to help advertise their product or service, there are many strategies that can be used to guarantee success.

Too many keywords or poorly-implemented search terms can actually lower the search engine ranking for a business, making it important to launch an SEO campaign that will help rather than hinder your company’s Internet presence and brand.

Below are 6 top tips to help small business owners achieve SEO success:

 

1. Consider Quality Content—

Your customers want content that will grab their interest, give them new information, and keep them reading and exploring your site. Show your demographic the respect they deserve with intelligent and educational data, and they will respect your company in return.

Above-average and enlightening content will also allow your site to stand out from the crowd, possibly sending more Internet traffic and potential customers your way.

 

2. Killer Keywords and Key Phrases—

It’s important to find keywords and key phases relevant to your product or services, but try to steer clear of the more obvious ones to avoid getting lumped in with your competition.

Some SEO experts recommend researching high-ranking search engine hits in your company’s category to figure out what sets them apart, and which keywords and key phrases might be getting them all of the attention. So study the sites of your high-ranking competition to seek out their secrets.

 

3. Frustration-Free Fact Finding—

When a consumer is researching a product or service, hoping to purchase, they want the information-gathering process to be as simple as possible. This makes it vitally important to have a user-friendly website that loads quickly and boasts easy-to-navigate menus on every page.

If a potential customer becomes frustrated because they’re unable to find the facts they seek about your company, they will leave your page in search of easier pickings.

In short: People are busy, so skip the fancy, slow-loading graphics and present simple and clear information to keep the customer engaged.

 

4. Super Social Media Marketing—

Obviously you will want to seize social media marketing opportunities such as creating a Facebook page for your brand, opening a Twitter account, and utilizing other networking sites like Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. But creating social media presence means more than merely representing your company; you’ll need to maintain interest as well.

Updating your assorted social media pages daily is highly recommended, as this can drive traffic to your company’s sites and get your name out there when people share your interesting content with friends.

Also: Remember to register with all major search engines. Don’t wait for the world to find you—let them know exactly where you are from the get-go.

 

5. Stagnating is Silly—

Because SEO is a constantly evolving beast, be careful not to get stuck in a rut with your keywords, key phrases, marketing choices, or by following the latest trends. Trends are what everybody else is doing: that’s what makes them trends. You want to stand out and be an SEO leader, not a member of the herd.

Try different things and conduct “experiments” with different SEO strategies, taking notes on what does or doesn’t work for your company, and never be afraid to try something completely different. Everything changes, so what didn’t work a year ago might win your business major web traffic today.

 

6. Terrific Titles and Tags—

Use every opportunity to attract clientele to your website, including titles that stand out and pop, separating your brand from the generic, overused and bland headings currently boring people on the Internet. And make sure the tags at the bottom of every article are optimal for your product and attract your desired demographic.

All images should be given names that double as search engine tags, and describe what is being pictured for those with slow or non-loading computers. This helps people with less powerful technology be able to feel like they’re still in the loop and able to glean the information they need.

 

Getting customers to your site is the first step towards a sale, making it an extremely important piece of the marketing puzzle. Use the steps above to help your company achieve search engine optimization that will turn your small business into a huge success.

Strategies for Success: Helping Kids with ADHD Develop Math Skills

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Every person learns differently – some kids are visual learners, some auditory, some tactile – but children with ADHD have difficulty focusing, sitting still, and are easily distracted, sometimes making it feel impossible to teach them anything.

This impulsive, fidgeting behavior can make it seem as if ADHD-brained kids aren’t listening, frustrating the teachers, parents and other adults in their lives trying to help them master the math concepts crucial to their continuing education.  But people with ADHD have drastic and consistent differences in brain scans from those without ADHD, making it important to remember that ADHD is a physiological condition that involves the frontal cortex part of the brain, which controls executive functions like impulse control, memory, and distractibility. (Source: PubMed.gov.)

Children with ADHD are often extremely intelligent, but because they lack the ability to focus or memorize at neurologically typical levels and don’t behave in an age-appropriate manner, they are sometimes dismissed intellectually. This is why untreated ADHD can lead to trouble in school and low self-esteem, even when children are very bright and trying their hardest, despite neurological limitations beyond their control.

One of the toughest aspects of continued mathematical learning is that it is cumulative, becoming more difficult as those with ADHD progress in school. When the core concepts become longer, with more steps to remember, it’s hard for an ADHD-brained person to complete complex tasks.

Fortunately, there are many ways to work with the very different ADHD learning style to help these kids succeed. Below are 5 professional educator-recommended tips and methods that have been shown to help kids with ADHD learn and retain mathematical knowledge.

 

1. Make Use of Movement—

Kids with ADHD often describe their need to wiggle as an uncontrollable urge akin to an inner itch in need of scratching via movement, and are given “fidgets” such as plastic, textured items to quietly play with in an attempt to channel this nervous energy in a less distracting manner.

But what smart teachers know is that all kids – even those without ADHD – can benefit from the chance to work out excess energy at every available opportunity. Rather than giving kids something to play with in their laps to hinder big movement: embrace it. Work movement into the math lessons. Use the classroom space as a big board game, for example, and have kids move from desk to desk after solving equations. Let the kids get up and have a dance break or do jumping jacks between assignments.

Most importantly, never, ever use the removal of recess as a punishment, as this only leaves kids with ADHD full of energy and less likely to behave the rest of the day, which is completely counterproductive.

 

2. Taking the Time—

Kids with learning disabilities that involve memorization problems can become stressed out by timed tests, further hindering recall, and creating negative results like low scores and anxiety.

A simple and fair solution to this is to give kids with ADHD the same amount of time for tests and assignments as other kids, while allowing them to get up and take breaks to work out excess energy and refocus.

Using a timer or watch that can be stopped and started will ensure that kids who require breaks aren’t given an unfair advantage over kids who’d rather work straight through to the finish.

 

3. Perfect Placement—

For those who are easily distracted, location is everything. A seat near a window can greatly hinder the focus of kids with ADHD, as can a chatty classmate or a seat near the pencil sharpener.

To allow for the best possible focus during math assignments, and especially during testing, place kids with ADHD in the quietest area of the classroom, and consider placement up front near the teacher to help them listen and learn.  Some schools will even provide a portable cardboard “office” with a back and sides called a study carrel to sit on a desk for kids with ADHD (this can be written into an official 504 Plan, an IEP designed especially for kids with ADD/ADHD), blocking out all distractions for better student concentration.

 

4. Handwriting Helps—

One of the most common issues faced by kids with ADHD is trouble with handwriting. This task requires attention to detail, patience, and concentration, which impulsive and energetic kids can find difficult.

But 25% of all math errors can be traced to poor or unreadable handwriting, making it very important for kids with ADHD to practice writing neatly, as hard as this can be for them. (Source: FamilyEducation.com.)

Kids can practice handwriting by tracing over numbers you’ve written lightly in pencil. Also consider using paper made specifically for handwriting practice, because this will give them dotted lines to use for extra guidance.

 

5. Same Sheet for All Steps—

Following multiple steps, and moving back and forth between tasks is extremely difficult for those with atypical neurology. Because their memories don’t retain information as long as typical brains do, having a separate answer sheet or place to show their work can seriously sabotage kids with ADHD.

By keeping questions and answers within the same space on the paper, you will make it easier for kids solving intricate math problems to stay focused and less likely to become distracted.

Also: If there are formulas involved, expecting ADHD-brained kids to memorize them is unrealistic, and pointless when you consider that in the “real world” application of math or statistics, there is no reason a person in a career field that requires formulas can’t look them up.

 

Recent EEG brainwave tests published in the journal Biological Psychiatry showed that the brain scans of teens with ADHD were consistently different enough that someday the analysis of brainwaves may help doctors diagnose and properly treat those with this condition. (Source: Medical News Today.)

Brain scan differences prove that kids with ADD/ADHD perceive information and learn differently than other kids. When teaching mathematics, or any other subject to kids with ADHD, keep in mind that ADHD is a very real and physiological issue. Kids with ADHD are not being defiant or not listening; they have a biological difference that can be treated with behavioral therapy and medication, making it understandably difficult, yet extremely important to remain patient with them.

If you find yourself becoming exasperated, take some deep breaths, and consider trying some of the helpful math skill-building tips for kids with ADHD listed above. Kids with ADHD may have to try a little harder, or take a different path on the journey to mastering math concepts, but they can do it.

Mind, Body and Soul: 8 Great Ways Martial Arts Benefit Kids

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Martial arts training is a wonderful way to give kids who aren’t into team sports an opportunity to get some exercise and feel like a part of a social group.  No matter which practice you select, the general philosophy is one of non-violence, despite the fierceness often displayed by karate movies.

The true goal of self-defense training is to teach students to automatically respond to the threat of physical harm in a calm, controlled manner to keep violence from escalating. Teaching children martial arts can help them learn how to protect themselves from bullies, as well as giving them self-confidence.

Below are 8 great ways martial arts benefit kids:

 

1. Martial Arts Promote Physical Fitness—

Some kids simply aren’t team sports-minded, but all kids need to keep moving to stay healthy, making martial arts training an excellent form of exercise.

If you’ve tried soccer, baseball, football, or any other team sport, and your child didn’t seem to click with the concept of playing with a team, an activity like martial arts can give them the opportunity to work towards a goal without the pressure of a group setting.

 

2. Martial Arts Train Kids to Focus—

Kids with trouble concentrating will find that martial arts is extremely conducive to focus, as there are choreographed forms such as kicks, punches and intricate movements they will need to practice and perfect.

For this reason, kids with ADHD often greatly benefit from the structured concentration training necessary for this type of exercise, because it motivates them to pay attention, stand still awaiting the next instruction, and eliminates the distractibility factor of sports that move quickly.

 

3. Martial Arts Provides Catharsis—

Being a kid can be tough, and there’s something extremely cleansing about the emotional release to be found in kicking and punching.

While the main motivation of this practice is the avoidance of violence, there’s nothing wrong with using the kicking and punching parts to work out feelings of anger.

If your child had a tough day at school, they might be able to get the frustration out of their system at martial arts practice and sleep better that night, the same way adults use the gym to purge stress.

 

4. Martial Arts Boosts Self-Esteem—

Generally using a system of testing and differently-colored belts to reward kids for progression in the practice, martial arts can give kids the self-confidence that comes from working towards and achieving goals.

It is also empowering for kids to be able to physically defend themselves, and the knowledge that if a bully comes calling, they will be able to hold their own can give a child a sense of personal safety.

 

5. Martial Arts Makes Kids More Respectful—

Showing reverence to your instructor is king in every dojo, with kids expected to address him or her with a bow of honor.

Many parents will notice a change in the demeanor of their kids after a few weeks of practice, as kids learn to respect themselves and others, and to treat people as they would like to be treated.

 

6. Martial Arts Increases Flexibility—

This form of exercise involves kicks, punches, blocks and turns, all of which promote flexibility and range of motion, as well as balance and coordination.

Being limber can also prevent kids from getting hurt as often in the other activities or sports in which they engage every day.

 

7. Martial Arts Provides Socialization—

Many kids who don’t gravitate towards team sports find it hard to make friends without the group setting and multiple opportunities of such activities.

Martial arts allows for bonding and friendship with a smaller group, so children who are shy or easily overwhelmed by noise and crowds will find this quieter setting much more favorable to forming relationships.

 

8. Martial Arts is a Safe Exercise—

With more data constantly emerging about how head injuries sustained in school sports such as football and soccer can negatively affect kids, martial arts offers a safer way for children to get some exercise.

As they progress in certain martial arts practices, there may be sparring involved, which can increase the chance of injury, but there is no pressure to engage in physical contact if it isn’t wanted.

 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 6 as a good age to start kids in karate or martial arts classes, because at this age they have the muscle control to turn and punch safely. But it’s never too late for anyone to give this self-esteem, discipline and strength-building practice a try. Consider giving your kids—or even yourself—the many mind, body and soul benefits of martial arts training today.

Healthy New Year! Top Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

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Holiday weight gain is a widely accepted fact of life, causing many to hopelessly give up and give in to the temptation of high-calorie treats that seem to lurk around every festive corner. But accepting rather than fighting poor habits throughout the holidays can set anyone on the path to dietary disruption and bad health.

As we get older, every ounce of weight gain matters, and can seem impossible to lose, making it especially important to keep a close eye on calories. Luckily, there are many easy ways to prevent the sabotage of all your fitness plan progress.

Below are some top tips to help anyone avoid the trap of holiday weight gain.

 

1. Retain the Routine—

Yes, you’re on vacation. No, this doesn’t have to mean you should take a break from the gym, yoga classes or whatever form of exercise you generally work into every week.

Sticking with your workout regimen can keep your metabolism moving and help you burn extra calories; something you might really appreciate later when faced with a plate of holiday cookies.

And don’t be afraid to go heavier on exercises that burn more calories during the holidays to offset the extra intake.

 

2. Step Away from the Buffet—

When hanging out at social events, it’s easy to get caught in a conversation while standing near the buffet table if you’re grazing randomly, so purposefully grab a plate, make your selections, and move away from the food area.

This will help you be aware of exactly how much you eat, while removing the temptation to have “just one more” cookie or chip with dip as you stand mindlessly chatting and nibbling.

 

3. Make Friends with the Vegetables—

At every holiday party, there is a generally a plethora of sugary baked goods and salty snacks, with a sad, neglected vegetable tray sitting alone and ignored somewhere on the table.

Find that lonely tray of vegetables and load up your plate with these fiber and nutrition-packed beauties, because they’re going to fill you up without a lot of calories while fueling your body with vitamins and minerals.

Remember to go easy on the dip, and eat all of the veggies before moving on to the more calorie-dense foods.

 

4. Protein is Your Pal—

In addition to vegetables, lean protein in its various forms is a great way to fill up and stay full without fattening carbohydrates.

Look for shrimp, chicken or any other versions of protein that aren’t covered in heavy sauce, and add these to your vegetable bounty for a healthy holiday meal.

 

5. More Sleep, Less Stress—

Lack of sleep has been shown to increase the body’s levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that increases weight gain, especially around the middle. It can be difficult when you feel like you have one million things to do, but making sleep a priority is definitely worth it.

Cortisol is also known for breaking down muscle, and muscle loss lowers metabolism, making it especially important to get the sleep you need during the food-filled holidays.

 

6. Wonderful Water—

Feelings of dehydration can mimic hunger, making it important to remain hydrated at all times to prevent pointless snacking.

Dehydration can also lower the metabolism and increase inflammation levels in the body, both of which lead to weight gain. Some experts recommend alternating a glass of water between every adult beverage to prevent the dehydrating diuretic effects of alcohol.

Drinking water before meals has also been shown to create a feeling of fullness that can help promote weight loss, so before you head out to that holiday party: drink up!

 

7. Do the Shopping Shuffle—

Buying gifts online can be more convenient, but if you want to sneak in a little extra exercise while you take care of holiday-related errands, go to the actual stores and walk around.

Worried about missing an online deal? Many stores will match online competitor prices, so be sure to take a device with you that allows Internet access, or print out the best price you can find to show store employees.

 

8. Saving Calories is Sabotage—

Don’t make the mistake of trying to starve yourself all day to “save calories” for the holiday party later. This will only drop your metabolism down into starvation mode, and set you up to overeat late in the day, which is the worst time to overindulge if you’re trying to stay trim.

Instead of starving, eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and if the party you’ll be attending isn’t a dinner party, consider eating your final meal of the day before you go to keep the snacking to a minimum.

 

Focusing on the humanity, kindness and goodwill of the season (rather than trying to figure out how much food you can stuff into your face in a few weeks) is also a helpful way to avoid holiday weight gain. The holidays may involve a lot of food, but they really aren’t ultimately about food at all, are they? If you can keep this philosophy in mind, and use the smart tips above, you can keep your diet and fitness program on track to have a healthy New Year!

Fight the Flu! 6 Top Ways to Boost the Immune System

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It’s that time of year again; when the office is full of coughing employees, and the work environment sounds more like a doctor’s waiting room than a place of business. We can thank the various strains of influenza, common colds, multiple stomach bugs, and all of the many other viruses that rapidly spread during the winter months for this unpleasant phenomenon.

Every year during this season, we know illness is coming, and while many of us get our vaccinations hoping to avoid catching the flu, sometimes shots just aren’t enough. Fortunately, there are many things every person can do to bolster the immune system and decrease the chances of catching a virus.

Below are 6 recommended ways to boost the immune system:

 

1. Wondrous Water—

In order for all of the systems in the body to perform at top strength, they need to be adequately hydrated. Think of water as the oil for every engine in your body, because without it, nothing can run smoothly.

Dehydration weakens the immune system by forcing the body to spend too much energy on inadequately hydrated and inefficiently running internal systems, stealing valuable virus-fighting resources.

Most experts recommend at least 8 glasses a day, but if you want to drink more, go right ahead. Your body will thank you by removing toxins faster to fight off disease.

 

2. Splendid Sleep—

Everyone is different: some people can function on 6 hours of sleep, and others are worthless without a solid 8 or 9 hours. You can tell how much rest you need by how you feel, so be sure to make sufficient sleep a top priority during flu season.

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, experts recommend cutting out all caffeine by 2 p.m. every day, turning off screens and bright lights 1-2 hours before bedtime, and if needed, a melatonin supplement can help the body realize it’s time for bed.

 

3. Stress Less—

Stress drastically reduces the immune system’s ability to ward off illnesses, making it crucial to find ways to relax.

For some, stress relievers like a walk, warm bath or meditation can help, but if home remedies aren’t cutting it, be sure to get professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist. There’s no point in going through life feeling anxious, and if untreated, chronic stress can adversely affect overall health.

Stress hormones like cortisol can also trigger negative reactions like weight gain, so the less of these negative substances produced by the body, the better – especially when contagious viruses are spreading amongst the general population.

 

4. Excellent Exercise—

Great for reducing stress and promoting good sleep, exercise also helps keep us strong by improving cardiovascular health, releasing positive mood endorphins and controlling weight.

Exercise strengthens the immune system by increasing circulation, which allows immune system cells to move through the entire body to perform more efficiently.

 

5. Protective Probiotics—

Our intestines contain bad and good bacteria that can hinder or promote certain biological processes. If you’ve ever taken antibiotics, you’ve eliminated all of the bacteria—both good and bad—making it extremely important to replace the good bacteria (called probiotics).

Probiotics are the helpful intestinal flora generally delivered in yogurt, kefir, fermented food or supplement form that assist in bodily functions like digestion, calcium absorption and brain function.

Probiotics have also been shown to reduce allergies and enhance the immune system, so replenishing the good bacteria in your digestive tract can be a powerful way to keep the illnesses away.

 

6. Fighting Foods—

It’s important to eat a nutritious diet all year long, as this has been proven to help us stay healthy, but some foods are believed to be immune system-boosters as well.

Garlic, for example, is known for having natural antimicrobial properties that fight infection, with studies showing those who frequently include garlic in their diets catch fewer contagious illnesses.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for reducing inflammation, fighting infection and boosting immune function. Fish, walnuts and flaxseed are a few common foods high in Omega-3s, but supplements are also available.

Antioxidant-rich foods and beverages like berries, dark chocolate and green tea are well known for creating a powerful immune system, so be sure to ingest extra antioxidants daily during peak flu season.

 

A weakened immune system can lead to more illnesses, allergies and sicknesses, making it important to keep it in tip-top shape no matter what the season. Use the helpful tips above to boost your immune system so you can stay healthy all year long and avoid catching viruses like the flu.

Slow and Low: 6 Reasons Low-Intensity Exercise is the Way to Go

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“No pain, no gain!”

“Extreme workouts equal extreme results!” 

 “If it doesn’t hurt, you’re wasting your time!”

These are the kinds of exclamations you may hear at the gym and read about in fitness magazines. But some people have tendon and joint issues that prevent intense exercising.

And beginners often aren’t at a level of fitness where pushing muscles hard will be helpful. In fact, for many, starting off too tough can lead to injury, derailing a brand new workout program completely.

This means that starting slow and low may actually be the best way to go, especially for older folks who don’t heal as quickly as they used to, or those who haven’t worked out in a long time.

Below are 6 benefits of low-intensity exercise.

 

1. Weight Loss—

Yes, it is entirely possible to lose weight with a low-intensity regimen. This is because when you’re doing an exercise gentle enough to allow a longer workout, you’re giving your body the opportunity to use up more calories.

High-impact, extreme exercises may burn more calories in direct comparison, but intense activity can only be done for a short period of time. Once you’re exhausted, the workout is over… and so is the calorie burning.

 

2. Less Injury—

You’re into your new regimen, you’re working out consistently, and then… BOOM. You push yourself too hard and injure a muscle or tendon. Now you’re sidelined, watching all your progress disappear – and nothing demotivates like having to wait weeks for the body to heal.

With low-intensity exercise, you can avoid this frustrating and discouraging scenario. By starting slowly and giving muscles a chance to build at a safe pace, you reduce the chance of physical setbacks, helping you stick with the plan.

 

3. More Motivation—

Consistency is one of the most important factors for getting results from exercise, yet one of the hardest to maintain; and it’s difficult to look forward to a particularly grueling routine.

For this reason, finding an enjoyable, less strenuous form of exercise can keep us motivated by alleviating stress without unpleasant physical exertion.

An hour of brisk walking on a nature trail feels better than straining to lift heavy things or doing sprints to the point of fatigue, making us more likely to look forward to the activity, rather than dreading it.

 

4. Extra Endurance—

Are you a tortoise, or are you a hare?

High-intensity exercises are a faster way to build muscle mass, obviously, but low-intensity exercise can be done for a much longer time, building endurance, heart and lung strength.

This means the elderly gentleman who can walk quickly on the treadmill for an hour may actually be in better cardiovascular shape than the young muscular fellow who can bench press large amounts of weight.

 

5. Less Inflammation—

If you have joint pain or certain tendons and muscles that are easily ruptured, high-intensity exercise is not your friend. The more pressure and impact you put on the body, the more you’ll pay the next day.

While there are natural anti-inflammatories like Omega-3 fatty acids and good old ibuprofen, the best way to reduce inflammation is to avoid inflicting it on the body in the first place.

By choosing a low-impact, mild form of exercise such as yoga, walking, swimming, or cycling, you can obtain the calorie burning and health benefits of regular exercise without hurting your body.

 

6. Less Health Problems—

In addition to lessening inflammation and increasing endurance, low-intensity exercise has been proven to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, as well as reducing the risk of certain cancers and type 2 diabetes.

Longer, easier exercise sessions have also been shown to reduce appetite by decreasing hunger hormones released by more demanding forms of exercise.

 

Research has shown that it is entirely possible to get excellent results from a low-intensity workout regimen.

In one study, participants did only stretching and gentle exercises for 90 days, with positive effects such as weight loss, reduction of stress, better sleep, lower blood pressure and more. (Source: University of Queensland in Australia.)

Another study found that simply not being sedentary (i.e. standing, moving around rather than sitting) improved lipid and insulin levels better than an hour of intense daily exercise. (Source: Hans Savelberg and colleagues, Maastricht University.)

If you are a beginner, have back, joint or tendon issues, or simply seek a gentle workout routine, don’t listen to those who tell you low-intensity exercises can’t get you in shape. Find the fitness regimen that’s right for you, and enjoy your easy exercise.

Is Your Home Burglar Bait? 9 Top Tips to Prevent a Break-In

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As the economy stumbles, making budgets tighter all around, crime rates have risen — especially theft-related offenses. Desperate people do desperate things, and even the best neighborhoods are no longer exempt from break-ins and robberies. In fact, nicer neighborhoods are often targeted because thieves know they’re guaranteed to find goods they can sell for cash.

We all know criminals are lazy, because if they weren’t, they’d get a job and work for their money like the rest of us. With the knowledge that these lazy losers like quick victims, people often wonder: What can our family do to make sure our house doesn’t look like an easy target?

Below are 9 top tips recommended by security experts to help your home look like it’s not easy to rob:

 

1. Looking Lived In—

The number one thing everyone can do to deter criminals is: always make the home look like somebody’s there.

This can mean parking your car in the driveway while your spouse is at work, having a table with coffee mugs and chairs on your porch to give it a “we hang out here” vibe, or keeping a filled bird feeder in front of your home.

Thieves choose empty homes for minimal hassle, so any way you can make your house seem lively and inhabited will help keep criminals away.

 

2. Let the Light Shine—

Like the human cockroaches they are, thieves scurry away when light is shined on them, so install motion-detecting flood lighting around your home’s perimeter, focusing on the driveway to prevent car theft, and of course, the front door area.

If you don’t have motion sensor-triggered lighting, leaving the porch light on at night can help keep the bad guys away.

A light facing a front window, set to go on and off randomly with a timer is also an inexpensive yet very effective way to make a potential criminal think twice about choosing your home to rob.

 

3. Dogs Sound Dangerous—

You don’t need to have a large dog to protect your home, unless you want to, of course. But if you prefer a smaller dog, interviews with convicted thieves have taught us that criminals definitely avoid homes in which they hear barking.

Large dogs offer a visual deterrent that many find helpful for enhanced feelings of safety, but little dogs make great alarm systems, and their painful, bacteria-laden bite is nothing to dismiss as harmless.

If you can’t adopt a dog or have allergies, consider placing “Beware of Dog” signs on your front porch area and/or gates leading to the backyard, as this has also been shown to deter criminals.

 

4. Noise Means No—

If you’re going away on vacation, consider leaving a television or radio playing loudly to make it seem as if someone is home. These noise makers can also be set on a random timer to make them more convincing.

And speaking of noise, turn off all phone ringers when you’re not home as well. If a burglar is listening at a window or door to determine whether or not somebody’s home, an unanswered phone is just the confirmation they’ll need.

 

5. Remove the Routine—

Creepy as it seems, sometimes criminals watch houses for weeks ahead of time, trying to learn its inhabitants’ schedules. Then, once they determine the daily “empty time” for the home, they move in for the robbery.

To make it harder for someone to learn your routine, try to mix it up as much as possible. This means taking a different route to and from work a few times a week, or maybe driving home for lunch sporadically.

If you work from home, don’t run errands at the exact same time every day, and park your car in and out of the garage on random days to confuse spying eyes.

 

6. Signs, Signs, Everywhere the Signs—

Consider having a professional security system installed, and place the company’s yard signs on your property to make it clear you’re protected. If a thief thinks an alarm will sound when they break into your home, they’re going to find another victim.

Be sure to also place security company stickers on back windows to let potential criminals know that the entire house is protected.

 

7. Under Lock and Key—

Remember the potential thief that might be watching your home? That creep can see exactly where you hide your “secret” extra key, as can your neighbors or anyone else who happens to be driving by, so don’t make this mistake.

If you move into a new home, get the locks changed immediately, because you have no idea who has a key to your house.

Other expert recommended ideas: Install electronic locks, drill and saw-resistant deadbolt locks, security doors, window guards and gates specifically built to provide extra protection to make your home harder to breach. If the job is too difficult, thieves will often move on to easier pickings.

 

8. Secure the Scenery—

Unkempt landscaping makes it look like people aren’t home, or don’t care about their house, which might lead a criminal to think the homeowner is lax in other areas… like security.

Keep all trees and shrubs trimmed to eliminate unsavory characters from lurking on your property unnoticed, paying special attention to areas around windows.

Using rose bushes, holly and other varieties of plants with thorns can also be a great way to safeguard your vulnerable perimeter areas.

 

9. Don’t Flaunt Your Wealth—

If you buy high-dollar items worth stealing, such as electronics or other easily-pawned-for-cash purchases, cut up the product boxes and hide them in opaque (dark) garbage bags. If thieves know exactly what’s waiting inside a home, they may try harder to get the goods.

Also: Don’t tempt criminals by leaving bicycles, lawn mowers, weed eaters, or anything else someone might want to take lying around. Keep windows covered and garage doors closed and locked, as well.

 

If you are the unfortunate victim of a break-in and first on the scene, remember to call police immediately, wait in your car, and don’t enter the house to assess the damage until law enforcement arrives. If the thieves are still inside, you don’t want to be the one to find them, and by walking around in your home post-robbery, you may destroy evidence that might have led to a conviction.

It’s unsettling to think about, but peace of mind can be yours by using the helpful tips listed above to make sure your family, home and belongings stay protected, safe and secure.

Give Peas a Chance: 5 Fast Ways to Help Kids Learn to Love Vegetables

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Maybe it’s because they have so many more meal options than we did growing up, or maybe they’re just being kids, but it seems like many children today have a very limited list of foods they’re willing to eat. Not only can this be frustrating for parents, it can be unhealthy for growing kids who need a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow.

While parents know we’re supposed to get a certain amount of healthy foods into our kids every day, it can be hard for vegetables to compete with comfort food favorites like chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese. Luckily, there are things we can do to make the vegetables more kid-friendly, and we’re going to discuss them below.

Here are 5 easy ways to get kids to try (and maybe even enjoy) healthy foods:

 

1. Quietly Cauliflower—

The secret undercover agent of the vegetable world, cauliflower can be cooked, mashed and blended with butter or cheese to resemble and taste very similar to mashed potatoes.

Adults on low-carb diets already know about this amazing substitution for the starchier dish it so closely resembles, but children are used to seeing cauliflower on veggie trays in its raw and somewhat pungent-smelling form.

If your children are extremely particular, you can try blending mashed cauliflower half and half with potatoes to gradually get them used to the flavor. And don’t forget that this vegetable can be added to casseroles, or covered with cheese and baked to create a delicious cauliflower gratin.

 

2. Marinara is Magnificent—

With a strong tomato base to hide other flavors, shredded or pureed carrots, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, zucchini, peas, mushrooms, or any other vegetable that sounds good can be added to this popular red sauce (especially if it has ground turkey or beef added as well to hide the texture).

Pasta primavera is another tried and tested way to get children to enjoy vegetables, so don’t forget that a good, creamy butter sauce can also convince a picky kid to give veggies a chance.

 

3. Macaroni and More—

Macaroni and cheese sits firmly at the top of many people’s favorite food lists, but the deliciousness of this dish doesn’t have to stop with cheese, and neither does the nutrition.

This is because it’s easy to add finely chopped broccoli, steamed spinach, diced tomatoes, or any other vegetables you’d like, thanks to the strong cheese flavor that both covers and compliments pretty much anything you add to it.

Experts have discovered it can take more than 10 times of tasting a food to decide whether or not we like it, making macaroni and cheese a great way to help a child develop an appreciation for nutritious foods without even realizing it.

 

4. Meat You in the Garden—

Unless you’re a vegetarian, meat can be a great way to work vegetables into your diet via meatloaf, meatballs, and meat sauces.

Veggie burgers, either made entirely from vegetarian sources, or meat with pureed and finely diced vegetables mixed into the patties is another method used by resourceful parents to encourage kids to eat healthily.

The addition of a hamburger bun and condiments further serves to add to the illusion of an all-meat burger, allowing families to add baked fries and skip the fast food for a healthier homemade alternative.

 

5. The Secret Baker—

Everybody loves zucchini bread, right?  And carrot cake is a classic favorite dessert. So what’s weird about adding pureed cauliflower, carrots or spinach to chocolate cake or spice muffins?

Cauliflower is bland, carrots are a surprisingly sweet vegetable, and spinach has a mellow taste that goes unnoticed when paired with stronger flavors. Give it a try, get creative, and never fear: It can be a little secret between you and us, and we promise we’ll never tell.

Be sure to blend all well-cooked vegetables you’re adding to a baked good into a smooth paste to avoid textural discovery of your well-hidden nutrition, and nobody will ever know the difference.

 

The above tips are ways to disguise the flavor of vegetables and conceal them within foods kids already love in hopes that children will eventually grow to enjoy the flavors they’re subconsciously tasting.

But the best way to help kids learn to love vegetables is to lead by example; by eating them with meals openly and positively. By using the tips above, and making a point of enjoying them in front of your children, you can take the mystery out of these nutritional superfoods to help your children learn to love vegetables.

Is Your Mouth a Heartbreaker? 5 Surprising Health Risks Related to Oral Hygiene

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We all know that flossing and regular brushing are necessary to prevent gum disease, but there are many other seemingly unrelated benefits to taking great care of our teeth.

For example, researchers have discovered that periodontitis can lead to inflammation-related diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, decreased memory and other health issues. This means that taking great care of our teeth is more important than merely making sure we have a beautiful smile: it might even save our lives.

Below are 5 surprising ways poor oral hygiene can lead to more than just mouth problems:

 

1. Harmful for the Heart—

Periodontal (gum) disease generally occurs from tartar and plaque buildup, but genetic factors and tobacco use may also play a role, creating infection in the affected areas of the mouth that can lead to tissue and bone loss.

Studies have implicated this mouth inflammation might trigger an inflammatory response in other parts of the body, such as the cardiovascular system. Other studies have shown the increased cardiovascular disease risk may happen because of the excessive bacteria coming from the infected parts of the mouth.

Regardless of the exact cause, findings have proven that gum disease might trigger a heart attack or stroke for some, making it especially important for those already at risk for cardiovascular issues to practice thorough oral hygiene.

 

2. The Oral Health/Diabetes Connection—

Chronically high blood sugar levels can eventually affect the body’s ability to battle infection, making it harder for gums to fight off periodontitis-causing bacteria.

Having gum disease can also make it harder to maintain steady blood sugar levels… creating a vicious cycle of diabetes making periodontal issues worse, and vice versa.

To avoid this unfortunate dance between diseases, hyperglycemic people should establish a consistent brushing and flossing routine, and have twice-yearly check-ups to keep a close watch on gum tissue.

 

3. Greater Risk of Pancreatic and Kidney Disease—

When researchers at Harvard followed 52,000 men for 16 years, they found that participants with periodontal disease had a 65% higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those with healthy gum tissue.

This number was already a shocking discovery, but when men experienced tooth loss because of gum disease, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer became even greater.

Another study established that people who’d lost their teeth were more likely to have chronic kidney disease than those with their natural teeth. Blood pressure issues caused by the chronic kidney disease also affected overall bone health and led to heart disease. (Source: Case Western Reserve University.)

 

4. Higher Percentages of Head and Neck Cancers—

Japanese researchers studied people with poor oral hygiene and increased bacterial infections/inflammation/periodontal disease, and found highly increased risks of head and neck cancers in participants.

People who’d lost teeth were 136% more at risk for esophageal cancer, 68% more likely to experience head or neck area cancers, and had a 54% increase in risk for lung cancer. (Source: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, American Association for Cancer Research.)

HPV risk is also higher in those with gum inflammation, with about 60% of oral cancers linked to the human papilloma virus.

These findings were shocking, to say the least, proving that it is vitally necessary for cancer prevention to take the best care of teeth possible.

 

5. Gum Disease Can Cause Respiratory Problems—

It makes sense that what’s happening inside the mouth can travel down the throat, but the bacteria from periodontal disease can even make it all the way into the lungs, leading to respiratory issues such as pneumonia.

Those most at risk are the elderly, smokers, those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and people who are already immunosuppressed, such as HIV and cancer patients. (Source: American Academy of Periodontology.)

 

We now know the benefits of a beautiful smile extend well beyond the teeth, yet despite these scary additional health risks, 80% of the U.S. population has some form of gum disease. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

For the reasons above and more, having good oral hygiene is a crucial part of overall wellness, and a healthy mouth starts with a smart habits like brushing and flossing regularly. Be sure to see your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning and wellness exam, brush and floss every day, and take great care of your teeth and gums so they can help you stay happy and healthy, from head to toe.