LiveWell®

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


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Busting menopause myths

WomensHealth

Healthy living – exercise, sleep, good nutrition, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine – is the first step in managing the symptoms of menopause, according to Debra Bell, MD, of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

This article will run in the upcoming issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Contrary to popular belief, menopause isn’t just about estrogen.

In reality, there are many hormones involved, including several types of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and pregnenolone. Aging can affect other hormones as well, such as those that control metabolism and other body functions.

Another misperception about menopause is that it reflects a hormone imbalance. “Menopause is not a state of imbalance, and it is not a disease. It is a state of change,” said Debra Bell, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Adding to this complexity, fluctuations in hormone levels affect women differently. In fact, the severity of menopause symptoms is not directly related to an individual’s hormone levels. That’s why Bell does not routinely check hormone levels when a woman is experiencing symptoms.

But this does not mean women have to simply endure menopause.

Bell said her goal is to help women go through this change with the least amount of symptoms. “What we do depends on what else they are doing in their lifestyle and what their symptoms are.”

While hormone replacement may have a role in helping some women, “I think it’s important to not just focus on hormone replacement,” said Bell. She recommends that women take a more holistic approach.

“Healthy living is the first step: exercise, sleep, good nutrition, avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine. For many women, this is enough to keep their symptoms in check. For others for whom that’s not enough, there are many treatments that can help,” said Bell.

That includes dietary supplements, herbal preparations, acupuncture, mind-body techniques and more. For example, Bell often prescribes black cohosh and vitex to treat hot flashes, anxiety and other symptoms. “Herbals often work together synergistically, so we put different herbs together to address different symptoms,” she said. Before considering herbs or supplements, it is best to check with a health care practitioner.

Bell encourages women to view menopause as a new stage of life and to be open to adapting to it. “This is more about a process than a quick fix. We should be thinking about what we can do to be healthy at different stages of our lives.”

Going through menopause? Help yourself with these tips:

• Eat wholesome foods.
• Avoid sweets, alcohol and caffeine.
• Get regular exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day.
• Try yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.
• Try acupuncture.

If you do not have other medical problems and are not taking prescription medicines, consider supplements or herbal remedies that are formulated to address menopause symptoms. These should be purchased from a reputable natural foods store.

Consult with an integrative medicine provider if:
• Your symptoms are very disruptive and make you uncomfortable.
• Your symptoms are affecting your sleep, your work life or your relationships.
• You have tried addressing the symptoms on your own without success.
• You are not sure if your symptoms are related to menopause or to something else.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute – Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. For appointments, call 612-863-3333. See her profile at wellness.allinahealth.org/bell.


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Take time this fall to create a winter wellness plan

B30

Take time this fall to create a plan for staying physically and socially active this winter.

By Pat Vitale, LICSW

The fall season is fast upon us, and it happens to be my favorite time of year. Cool, crisp temperatures, the smell of wood burning in outdoor fireplaces, apple picking, pumpkin picking, the sounds of Friday night high school football games and other activities that bring back fond memories.

Fall also brings with it the reminder that winter is right around the corner. Like most people, I am hoping for a mild winter that won’t cause all of us to hibernate for six months only to emerge when we hear the sounds of spring.

The change to fall and winter weather can create challenges for each of us. For some, it is the lack of sunlight that is troublesome. For others, it is cold temperatures, deep snow and the need to be inside more.

Now is the best time to start thinking about what strategies you can put into place to stay healthy through the winter months ahead.

For those who are outdoor enthusiasts in the warmer months but don’t like the cold weather, perhaps you can transition some of your outdoor activities to the indoors, or try something new. Mall walking is a favorite of many people who want to continue to exercise. Perhaps taking some classes in yoga, kettlebells or Pilates is more your style.

For those who are a little more adventurous, consider trying indoor rock climbing. Whatever your choice, the most important thing to consider is: What can you do to keep your body moving and to stay off the couch?

But winter health isn’t just about finding ways to be physically active; It’s also about mental health. The weather can take its toll on people, keeping them isolated and disconnected.

We often think we get depressed because of the lack of sunlight. Perhaps we should consider that isolation may be as much of a contributor to our sadness or depression as the lack of sunlight. We can’t change the weather that we live in unless we move somewhere else. We can however find ways to stay engaged in the world and with people. Set up a book club, poker group, find a TV show you love and gather a group to watch it.

I would encourage each of you to start creating a plan now for the winter months ahead. Consider ways you can stay physically active and socially engaged. Please share your ideas here. I would love to hear them and others might benefit from them as well.

Pat Vitale is manager of training and development for integrative medicine for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.


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Why maintaining muscle is important and how to get started

Fitness training session

Gail Ericson, MPT, C CET (left) conducting a fitness training session at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center.

By Gail Ericson, MPT, C CET

In a way, muscle is your body’s engine. The more muscle you have, the better your metabolism is, the more calories you burn,  the stronger and more mobile you can be, and the more resilient you are to illness.

As we age, loss of muscle mass is inevitable. This can lead to higher total body weight with increased fat percentage or stable weight with higher fat percentage. It also may result in weakened bones, diminished mobility and a host of other issues.

People who are inactive may lose 4-7 percent of their muscle mass per decade after the age of 40. This could mean a more than 20 pound loss of muscle for a 160 pound person by the time they are 60 years old. Even active people may lose some muscle as they age, and muscle loss accelerates after the age of 70.

A decrease in muscle mass paired with other disease states, such as osteoporosis, can be devastating and lead to a downward spiral in health. For example, loss of muscle mass and strength can lead to a decline in function, balance and mobility. It can also lead to a fear of moving. This in turn may lead to further loss of function and falls, which often end in hospitalization.

The best way to combat muscle loss is with exercise.  Almost anyone at any age can benefit from exercise with few, if any, bad side effects. A combination of strength and aerobic activity three times per week for 20-30 minutes is adequate to maintain muscle strength and prevent some muscle loss that comes with age.

Here are four tips to get started:

  1. Keep moving and limit sitting for long periods of time if possible. Our bodies are built to move, and staying idle backfires on us.
  2. Pool exercise is an excellent starting point for both aerobic and strength work. It is also easy on the joints
  3. Use simple resistance bands or everyday items like soup cans to design a strength routine for home. In most instances, no fancy equipment is needed to add strength training into your day.
  4. If you are considering starting a strength routine for the first time and need guidance, seek out support. Consult with a physical therapist, or a trusted, credentialed athletic trainer or personal trainer.

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing offers a host of programs and services to help you initiate, evaluate or progress in an exercise program.

Our highly credentialed staff of exercise physiologists, physical therapist, dieticians, nutritionists, and wellness coaches can help people of all abilities and fitness levels get going on an exercise routine.

If you have health issues or you haven’t exercised for a long time, it’s advisable to talk to your physician before beginning a new exercise routine on your own.

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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How good and bad gut bacteria can affect your health

Greg Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP

Greg Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP

The Star Tribune this summer explored the topic of intestinal bacteria and its relationship to health. The newspaper ran an article featuring Greg Plotnikoff, MD, a physician at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing and author of “Trust Your Gut,” a book about how to deal with digestive problems.

Plotnikoff explained that our stomach bacteria can help or hurt us, depending on how we treat them. “The gut is much more of a garden than a gutter,” he said. “Our mission is to be good gardeners.”

Read the full Star Tribune article, “Scientists discover more about the battle in your belly.”

Gregory A. Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP, is a board certified internist and pediatrician at the Penny George Institute. He is co-author of the book “Trust Your Gut,” which focuses on the science of gut-brain interactions.