LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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The state of health in the United States

By Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published the latest data on the health of the United States. Unfortunately, compared to our peers in other developed countries, we aren’t doing so hot.

The data looked at 34 countries from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from 1990 to 2010. Although our life expectancy has increased and death rates have decreased, the incidence of disease and chronic disability now account for over half of our health burden in the U.S.

There are a variety of metrics this journal article used to help measure “disease burden.” One was the years of life lost (YLL), which measures premature deaths. The top causes for YLL that are similar to years past include: coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and car accidents. Causes for YLL that are rising include: Alzheimer’s disease, drug use and falls.

Another measure for “disease burden” was diseases with the largest number of years lived with disability (YLD). These remained the same from 1990 to 2010: low back pain, major depressive disorder, other musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain, anxiety disorders, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, drug use disorders and diabetes.

The leading risk factors related to disability-adjusted life years (DALY) were:

  • dietary risks
  • tobacco smoking
  • high body mass index
  • high blood pressure
  • high fasting plasma glucose
  • physical inactivity
  • alcohol use.

An individual’s diet composition accounted for 26% of the deaths and 14% of DALY. Tobacco is now being replaced by diet and obesity as the number one cause of preventable death.

What does all of this tell us? Compared to other wealthy countries, we are less “well.” In the United States, we do a great job of intervening and pouring resources into the last six months of an individual’s life. We continue to enhance our technology and ability to deliver acute care. But our ability to keep people well is weakening. We spend 18 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on health care, which is in the highest bracket of spending for developed countries, yet our health reports fair much worse.

Reports like this cause many in health care to pause and ask if we are using resources in the most effective and efficient manner. It also calls out the importance of political policies and plans that help support the individual and community in making good choices around healthy eating, physical activity, and tobacco and alcohol use.

A report like this emphasizes the important work that the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing is doing to help transform health care. We take a mind, body, and spirit approach to working with these challenging chronic conditions. I’m proud to say we continue to:

  • promote care to keep people healthy
  • produce innovative, holistic programs to help people experiencing stress, anxiety and depression, as well as those dealing with physical pain – these programs complement and are integrated with conventional, Western medical treatments
  • work with insurance companies on new reimbursement plans.

With that … keep eating your veggies, and be well!

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, practices at and is the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She was interviewed by TV news station KARE 11 on this topic. View that news segment.


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Carpe diem! Seize your health.

What does it mean to live life to the fullest in a way that promotes your best health – mind, body and spirit? Join friends for a cocktail reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Aug. 15, at CRAVE in the Galleria in Edina, Minn. to hear and talk about this topic with experts from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, MS, vice president of the Penny George Institute, will speak. Following her presentation, she will be joined for a Q&A by  Jeannie Paris, registered dietician, and Molly Ellefson, MS, NCC, integrative health and wellness coach, both from the Penny George Institute’s LiveWell Fitness Center.

The event includes hors d’oeuvres, an informal fashion show and giveaways. It is part of “Be Healthy! A Smart Series for Women” hosted by Galleria and Allina Health.


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Finding happiness in savoring this summer

Woman savoring the summerBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, integrative health & wellness coach and exercise physiologist

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” – Thornton Wilder

As I write this in mid-July — the height of summer, something we Minnesotans have anticipated for a long time ― I am hearing from many of my clients how quickly summer is going, how fleeting it is.

As true as that may be, particularly as we get older, it is also important to learn to savor. In fact, when researchers study what happy people do, savoring is one of the activities that evidence shows brings true happiness. As the season explodes in color, flavor and other sensations, it is a perfect time for you to dabble in savoring to see what happens to your happiness and well-being.

Here are three tips for savoring moments that make you happy:
1. Relish ordinary experiences. The great thing about this activity is that you don’t have to be wealthy or even in perfect health to experience this. Last weekend I picked basil from our plants and combined that with a tomato and fresh mozzarella from the local farmer’s market. As my seriously ill partner and I experienced this amazing combination of flavors on our patio, we smiled at each other and said, “It doesn’t get better than this.” The next time you are outdoors pay special attention to what you smell, see and hear. When you make your bed with fresh sheets, open a fresh loaf of bread, or pick up locally grown produce, take a few minutes to take the experience in and then to say, “How cool is that?”

2. Savor and reminisce with family and friends — sharing the experience doubles the enjoyment! Think about the top moments in your life — my guess is that most of them were in the context of others. When you share that perfect sunset or burger, or cross a finish line together, your joy is reflected back in those you are with and multiplied. Reliving and retelling the experience creates the same wonderful chemicals in your brain that you gained when you actually did the experience — harness that by retelling or reliving it in your mind.

3. Be open to beauty and excellence. We know that life can be stressful, trying and painful. We also know that beauty and transcendence co-exist with all of that. When we are open to finding pockets, swatches, and moments of beauty, we are happier. I made a point of finding some beauty on my way to work this morning. Just by setting my intention, I saw lovely things, heard laughter and smelled the earth in a way that I hadn’t previously. Nothing had actually changed except for my openness.

Consider some of these savoring ways. We are never too busy for this — give it a try and see what you might discover.

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center.


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Exercise tips for aging well

By Gail Ericson, MS, PT 

Gail Ericson working with a client at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing's LiveWell Fitness Center

Gail Ericson working with a client at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center

It’s never too late to start exercising, and doing so is key to being healthy.

With inactivity, the human body may lose up to 10 pounds of muscle each decade. At the same time, cardiovascular fitness may also decline and metabolism will slow, causing weight gain.

The good news is: Most of this is reversible with an exercise program and routine. Basic strength training offers benefits for adults of all ages, even someone in their 70s and beyond.

The results of exercise may not be immediately visible on the outside, but they are significant. Benefits may include lowered cholesterol, reduced blood pressure and enhanced insulin sesitivity. And, it is not only good for you physically, but research also supports mental health and cognitive benefits. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your overall health.

Here are six tips on exercising at all ages
1. Think in small increments. Some exercise is better than none, and any amount will offer health benefits. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends cardiovascular exercise, like walking or biking, at least five days a week for 30 minutes most days. Adding two to three days of strength or resistance training per week will help guard against muscle loss.

2. Focus on four basic categories of exercise. These include endurance, strength training, balance and flexibility. As we age, balance and flexibility become more important. Try to find activities that incorporate all of these areas each week. Yoga or pilates enhance balance and flexibility. Cardiovascular activities like biking, running and walking are good for endurance. Inexpensive weights or resistance bands are an easy and affordable way to add strength training.

3. Your exercise routine may change and that’s okay. Exercise routines will change throughout one’s life. For example, during the 20s, there is a greater focus on group-related and organized sports, boot-camp activities and group classes. In their 30s, people may be stretched with careers and children, so less formal activities may work best. In their 40s and 50s, many people find a home routine or may explore yoga or pilates classes or videos at home. For people in their 60s, 70s and older, gentle movement classes such as tai chi, gentle yoga and others may be a favorite option.

4. Stand on one foot. It sounds so simple, but is so helpful for maintaining or improving balance. Stand on one foot while you brush your teeth or do other routine tasks. If you are concerned about balance, be sure to practice this in a protected area.

5. Avoid sitting for long periods of time. Sitting for extended periods of time is hard on your body and may lead to health issues. Even a little bit of activity will help. Get up, do some squats, take a short walk or climb stairs.

6. Find something you enjoy. If you find an activity you like, you’re more likely to do it.

Gail Ericson is a physical therapist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing‘s LiveWell Fitness Center. She has 25 years of experience in exercise therapy and medical fitness. To make an appointment with her, call 612-863-5178.


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Responding to health headlines on weight loss and Type II diabetes

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, was featured in the news last week for her response to recent research showing that weight loss from diet and exercise don’t appear to lower the risk of heart problems for people with Type II diabetes.

Watch KARE 11 News and KSTP News to hear her explain why eating well and exercising remain important for those with diabetes.