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


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Embracing winter wellness

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If you have a strong opinion about winter, you are not alone.

Love it or hate it, a Minnesota winter is always there to remind us of its presence. Many of us struggle with the season’s shorter days and the challenges of plunging temperatures, snow or ice.

For some, staying healthy seems more difficult in the winter months. The annual ritual of a flu shot reminds of us what’s next: more time indoors and more chances to catch the latest cold, cough or flu. Others struggle with the darkness and expectations of the holidays. For some, seasonal affective disorder brings a constant struggle of more than just the winter blues.

“Around the holiday season many of us set high expectations for what we think we should and need to do,” said Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, a cardiologist and vice president of Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. “These expectations are challenging for many of us, but there are ways to remain active and embrace the winter season. There is beauty in the change of seasons, and winter is a time for us to reflect upon and creatively enjoy what is beautiful about our region.”

Eight ideas to help you embrace winter

1. Head outdoors. Embrace the change of seasons. If you dress appropriately, the cold shouldn’t stop you from enjoying time outside in the crisp, cool air. As a physician scientist with the National Institutes of Health, Baechler spent time studying preventive health initiatives in Finland – a country with long, cold and snowy winters. She observed people fully embracing the outdoors during the winter, bundled up and running, walking, socializing and even biking year-round.

2. Make activity part of your holiday rituals. Spend time after a traditional holiday meal doing something active as a group. Going for a short walk or spending time outdoors playing a game is a great way to embrace the change of seasons and create a new tradition.

3. Be mindful. Winter gives us an opportunity to reflect, listen to our bodies and slow down. Be mindful that if you are moving less during the season, you should eat a little less.

4. Think like a kid. Most kids are excited by the first snowfall. Part of the mind, body and spirit approach to enjoying what is beautiful about winter is to enjoy and appreciate the changing landscape.

5. Think small rewards. If you get outdoors and enjoy a winter activity such as walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ice skating, take some time to reward yourself with a cup of hot tea or some time in front of a fireplace. Taking time for reflection is also a great personal gift.

6. Get creative. There are many options for staying active and fit during the winter. Find an indoor place to walk such as a local mall or sports center. Many schools or community recreation centers offer indoor swimming. Or, try something new such as warm yoga or a community education class.

7. Back to the basics. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays what people remember most is the time spent with others. Most people put too much pressure on themselves to find the perfect gift, to prepare the perfect meal, when what matters most is time spent with others.

8. Think three. Remind yourself of three things you are grateful for each day. Gratitude helps you stay in the moment and be present.

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute. Make an appointment with her by calling 612-863-3333, or learn about classes offered by the Penny George Institute


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Stressed for the holidays? Consider giving yourself the gift of mindfulness

FLowersAndCandlesBy Maureen Doran, RD, LD

We are in the height of the holiday season. If you’re not feeling so “ho, ho, ho,” it could be because the holiday season can be one of the highest stress times of the year.

The season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is associated with what Zorba the Greek described as “the full catastrophe” ― joy, hope and optimism, and adversity. We experience crowds, deadlines, bills, high expectations and endless to-do lists. 

The American Psychological Association has reported that more than half of Americans report being more irritable at this time of year, and a majority of us say we are more fatigued.

On the other hand, the holiday season can provide an opportunity to consider the way stress affects your body. Does it manifest in overeating and drinking in excess? Feeling extra tired, or wired? More body aches? Headaches? Feeling empty or sad? Elevated blood pressure?

For many of us, holiday stress can diminish our health or happiness.

Yet there are ways to draw on your inner resources to find vitality and healing in the face of great stress, even holiday stress. There are skills you can acquire to do this.

In fact, in the new year, I will be teaching a class called Mindfulness Training. It is a four-week course focused on quieting and stabilizing your mind to help restore your natural state of well-being. It includes yoga, meditation and discussion to develop inner wisdom, transformation and healing.

Class participants have said that it has improved their quality of life and given them tools for living with greater ease, joy, engagement and balance.

Learn more about the class and how to register by visiting this class listing.

Maureen Doran, RD, LD, is an integrative nutritionist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing who maintains a teaching practice in Kundalini yoga and mindfulness-based meditation, providing therapeutic instruction to both individuals and groups.

 


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A look at declining fitness for kids around the world

BaechlerChildren are now slower runners than their parents were, according to new data from the American Heart Association.

The study showed that around the world, children are 15 percent less fit than their parents were during childhood. In the United States, childhood cardiovascular performance declined between 1970 and 2000.

Courtney Baechler, MD, a cardiologist and vice president of the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing, discussed these finding on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Daily Circuit. Listen to the segment.


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Inviting contemplation into daily life

By Jill S. Neukam MS, LAc

“I felt grateful for the reminder of the sacred.  I found myself feeling a little weight … that invited a pause and a vague remembering of something bigger.  I liked this feeling. It seemed to feed part of myself. I felt gently nourished and befriended.” -Unknown 

I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip to the Middle East that included spending some time in two interesting cities.

Istanbul was the first stop. While the city is full of many interesting sites, I found myself being most moved by the sounds. The call to prayer is a regular occurrence when Muslim criers at mosques sing to summon followers to prayer.

Numerous times per day this evocative and calming sound bellows through the air. I found myself paused by this rhythmic gift and grateful for the invitation of contemplation or silent prayer that so naturally seemed to follow.

Jerusalem was my second stop. This city has been on my “bucket list.” Commonly coined as part of “the holy land,” the city is filled with history and sacred sights of numerous world religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I had always felt drawn to experience this place and see if I would feel any significant connection.

Here, too, I was struck by the opportunity for prayer in everyday life. On a simple stroll through the old city, I repeatedly crossed paths with groups of “pilgrims,” praying, singing, and worshiping quietly. I couldn’t help but be moved by this public act of devotion. There was a grace that seemed present.

Upon my return, I found myself reflecting on my experiences and noticed that I missed those opportunities for pause in my daily life.

We hear a lot about the benefits of the practice of meditation, mindfulness exercises, gratitude lists, and creating prayer and contemplation opportunities, no matter what spiritual beliefs we hold.

One way that I find a pause is through a regular meditation practice that is focused on my breath. I like to do this for a half hour, but even 10 minutes goes a long way. I like focusing on breath because it is always there.  This means that even at a stoplight, I can take a minute and notice my breath. I find it an interesting experience, sometimes difficult, sometimes wonderful.

Now I would love to hear from you. How do you find a moment of pause in your day? Please share in the comments section below.

Jill S. Neukam, MS, is a Licensed Acupuncturist and yoga instructor at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Unity in Fridley, Minn. Jill comes from a diverse wellness background. She has worked in the complimentary care field for more then 15 years.