LiveWell®

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


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Finding wonder in our everyday lives

By Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM

Each day brings a myriad of potential and opportunities for wonder.

Each day brings a myriad of potential and opportunities for wonder.

What was on your mind during the holiday season?  Did you have visions of sugar plums dancing, or were you preoccupied with making lists and checking them twice?  As a mother and as a health care provider in a busy hospital, it was imperative for me to make lists and check them twice. However, my 9-year-old son reminded me of another way to be.

One of our holiday traditions is to use an Advent calendar to celebrate the marvels of the world in expectation of Christmas Day. Passed on to me by my mother, I remember loving it as a child. Now, as an adult witnessing my son’s experience, I see it as an important lesson to carry with me beyond the holiday season.

Daily treasures

Every morning during December, there was a small gift magically waiting for him in the shallow pocket of the calendar. Unlike the drowsy mornings in November when I practically had to pull my son out of bed, on those December mornings, he popped out of bed immediately to see what lay in store. No matter what he found – chocolate toffee almonds, a stone from the North Shore, or something he would normally find mundane, like a pair of wool socks – he received it as something special and treasured it.

Watching my son’s excitement and seeing his eyes widen with possibilities brought my own attention to the bounty of each new day. I saw that each day presents us with a myriad of potential. This wonder naturally leads to a sense of fascination. When the gift is revealed, its marvelous qualities are also brought to the surface.

Starting the day like this set the tone for the rest of the day. Rushed mornings smoothed out into a sense of luxurious peace from which we were able to float off to school and work, as if being carried by a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Over the month of December, the anticipation of the night before built up into the next day, providing a wonder-filled cumulative effect. Since this tradition has been repeated for generations in my family, it is like my ancestors carved a path for us. If I pay attention, it can be easy to move into this state of wonder.

It’s a wonder-filled life

As a parent and a professional, I am in a world that I think I control and understand, one in which I have expectations and deadlines. Though that can result in the satisfaction of lists checked off, there is something wonderful about living in anticipation of the unknown. What if I lived as if something magnificent was coming my way every day? That would change everything. The waiting becomes magical rather than the means to the end. It slows me down, allowing me to see things I hadn’t before. It opens my mind, making me curious about what is to come.

As adults, how often do we create this for ourselves? I wonder how I could extend this state of awe further into the new year. What about you? Any ideas?

Zena Kocher, LAc, MaOM, is an integrative health practitioner with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing and provides integrative health therapies to inpatients at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.  


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Build your brain power through exercise

Believe it or not, exercise builds brain power in a way that not even thinking does. Exercise seems to positively change the brain, and slow or reverse its physical decay.

Studies show that exercise:

  • builds a brain that resists physical shrinkage
  • enhances cognitive flexibility
  • increases your heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain
  • aids your body’s release of a surplus of hormones, which supports the growth of brain cells
  • stimulates brain plasticity by repairing old connections and stimulating new connections between brain cells.

Many studies suggest that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus to those who don’t.

Exercise also has benefits for our mental well-being. For example:

  • The “runners high” is associated with a drop in stress hormones.
  • Another effect of running is more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. Interestingly, antidepressant medications also work by stimulating the growth of neurons in the hippocampus. At times exercise is even prescribed as an antidepressant “medication” with positive side effects unlike most medications.
  • Exercise may help improve sleep and mood, and help reduce stress and anxiety.

Here are some tips for exercising to boost your brain power:

  • Try activities with both physical and mental demands, such as ballroom dancing and martial arts. The best brain health workouts involve those that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm and strategy.
  • More intense exercise usually provides more benefits. However, if you are just starting to exercise, it is important to work your way up to higher intensity work outs to avoid setbacks and injuries.
  • Exercise in the morning. Exercise before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses, but also increases retention of new information and improves your ability to react to complex situations.
  • The amount of exercise required to see benefits is 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (think walking) most days of the week or 150 minutes a week. If that seems overwhelming, start with a few minutes a day, and increase the amount you exercise by 5-10 minutes every week. If you don’t like to walk, any activity that gets your heart rate up will achieve positive benefits for your brain.

Remember, it’s never too late to start exercising, and the best thing you can do is avoid physical inactivity. Whatever exercise you choose, commit to establishing exercise as a habit, almost like taking a prescription medication. After all, they say that exercise is medicine.

Steve Moore, MS, is an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. He is available for exercise physiology consultations, fitness assessments and personal training appointments. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment.


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Have a mindful New Year

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

Practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress and live more joyfully.

This article will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of the Livewell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

After the rush of the holiday season, the first few weeks of the New Year can feel like the slate has been wiped clean. As winter deepens, life in the natural world slows down, too.

Take this opportunity to enjoy the stillness and consider what’s important to you, said Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, psychiatrist, Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic, and a group leader of Resilience Training at the Penny George Institute.

Better yet, find a way to bring that calming stillness into your everyday life.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

One way to do that is to practice mindfulness. “Mindfulness is simply paying attention and being present. It’s not thinking about the past or what might happen in the future. It’s living in the here and now,” Lardizabal explained.

For many of us, living in the present is surprisingly difficult. “Increasingly, we are overscheduled and don’t have time to relax and reflect,” she said.

Technology may be partly to blame. “Endlessly checking your email or social media newsfeed becomes a conditioned habit. You end up missing out on everything else going on around you.” Patterns like this become automatic. “Until you become aware, you can’t interrupt the pattern,” said Lardizabal.

“It’s like unconsciously eating. We keep walking to the refrigerator without thinking about it. Once we catch ourselves, we can make decisions about the behavior.”

HOW MINDFULNESS HELPS

But practicing mindfulness can have an even deeper impact on our lives.

“Self-acceptance and self-compassion is an important part of mindfulness and being self-aware. In this culture, we always want to be more than what we are without really accepting who we are right now,” said Lardizabal. “It’s good to strive for improvement, but if the motivation is because you dislike yourself, it’s a set-up for failure.”

Research confirms the value of mindfulness, said Jeff Dusek, PhD, director of Research at the Penny George Institute. “People who practice mindfulness see normal life events such as illness as a challenge to overcome rather than a roadblock to good health. They also experience a greater sense of self-control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, and believe the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.”

Mary Beth Lardizabal, DO, ABIHM, sees patients at Allina Health Mental Health – United Clinic in St. Paul. For appointments, call 651-241-5959.

HOW TO BUILD MINDFULNESS INTO YOUR LIFE

The Penny George Institute offers a variety of programs to help you explore mindfulness and put it to use in your daily life. To learn more, call 612-863-3333.

Program Best suited for:
Resilience Training – Eight-week intensive program that teaches mindfulness-based coping skills in combination with an individualized program of exercise and nutrition. Individuals who have experienced depression, anxiety or other stress-related mental health conditions and are currently in recovery or wish to prevent relapse.
Mindfulness Training – Four-week experiential program offering tools to help manage stress and achieve a higher state of well-being. Individuals who wish to explore new ways to manage stress and optimize their health and well-being.
Guided imagery MP3 albums – Three guided imagery albums focusing on pregnancy, stress management and pain management. Individuals who would like to learn how to benefit from the mind-body connection using electronic tools to improve health and well-being.


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Seven tips for eating healthy this holiday season

Apples in wood bucket for holiday baking

Give yourself the gift of health this holiday using these seven tips for healthy seasonal eating.

The toy catalogs had just been located, and I overheard several of my grandchildren discuss what they wanted for holiday gifts. It took me back to a simpler time when my stocking contained not only a toy and some candy, but also an apple, orange and banana. It was a special day, and those were treasured treats.

Today, healthy food options are readily available. However, these foods often aren’t included in holiday spreads due to a lack of planning, time, know-how or dollars.

We become victims of seasonal weight gain ― controlled by the food, beverages and treats that are placed in front of us. But what would happen if we took control of our nutrition this holiday season?

I know it can mess with a person’s mind to think of the holidays and nutrition at the same time. But one way to do this is to place an emphasis on nutrition, eating less and enjoying food more.

Seasonal nutrition means focusing on healthy foods in your diet that help you avoid mood swings, maintain energy, and improve your ability to handle whatever the season brings your way.

Here are seven tips to get you started:

  1. Indulge in a couple of favorite holiday treats but be mindful when you eat them. Take time to savor the taste and smell, and notice the memories they might conjure up.
  2. Offer to bring a healthy dish to holiday parties to ensure that you will have something nutritious to eat there. Then have just a taste of some of the other more indulgent foods at the event.
  3. Take a colorful variety of vegetables with a dip using plain greek yogurt to gatherings.
  4. Try vegetable appetizers like marinated mushrooms, tomato bruschetta, roasted asparagus or stuffed tomatoes.
  5. Serve pieces of different colored fruits cut up so small fingers can grasp them and enjoy the flavor and juiciness. Did you know that the different colors of food signify their different nutritional benefits?
  6. Put higher calorie, less nutritious foods in smaller bowls with smaller spoons to help ensure smaller portion sizes.
  7. If you need a last minute gift for a favorite friend or family member, consider giving the gift of a cooking class or a session to learn more about nutrition in the coming year.

Barb Brower, RD, LD, CTC, is a registered dietician and integrative health and wellness coach. She sees patients at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – WestHealth and LiveWell Fitness Center.


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Boosting your ability to bounce back: Resilience Training

Resiliency, a concept that is rooted in psychology, is gaining ground as an important component of overall health.

Resiliency, a concept that is rooted in psychology, is gaining ground as an important component of overall health.

Resiliency and its connection to good health was highlighted in a Star Tribune article earlier this year. It explained that resiliency, the ability to bounce back despite life’s challenges, is being embraced for its role in promoting wellness through the mind-body connection.

In the article, Jeff Dusek, PhD, Research director at the Penny George Institute, said that resiliency is becoming more popular “as people are looking to accentuate the positive and improve resiliency as opposed to just reducing depression, anxiety or stress.”

The article also described the experiences of Deb Hitt, whose struggle with chronic pain led her to enroll in the Penny George Institute’s Resilience Training program. The program helped her gain a new perspective and learn new ways to deal with her pain. As Hitt explained in the article, “For a long time I focused on what I couldn’t do and what was hard for me. Today, I define my life by the positives that exist within me — my strengths, my talents and most importantly my resilience.”

Read the entire Star Tribune article, “New approach to wellness – resiliency – is gaining ground.”

The eight-week Resilience Training program is offered regularly at several locations in the Twin Cities. The next session begins Monday, Jan. 19. Call 612-863-0041 to register, or check the Resilience Training schedule for additional sessions.


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The surprising power of gratitude

As you go about your day, notice and acknowledge the many reasons you are fortunate. Be grateful to be where you are.

As you go about your day, notice and acknowledge the many reasons you are fortunate. Be grateful to be where you are.

By Pauline Marie Buller, BS, NCTMB, CMLDT, CPMT, CIMT

Gratitude takes practice, but we do get better at it over time. Building it into our daily routine is important because thankfulness is one of the many components of a healthy spirit, mind and body. As the research studies below demonstrate, there is an association between gratitude and well-being.

  • A 2007 study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that there is a relationship between gratitude and well-being and stated that “gratitude is uniquely important to well-being and social life.”
  • A 2012 study from a group of Chinese researchers looked at the combined effects of gratitude and sleep quality on symptoms of anxiety and depression. They found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep and lower levels of anxiety and depression.
  • At the University of Connecticut, researchers found that gratitude has a protective effect against heart attacks.
  • According to psychologist and author Robert Emmons of the University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, gratitude strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, increases resistance to pain, correlates with better exercise habits, and encourages us to take better care of our health.
  • Gratitude can also aid in recovering more quickly when you have health issues. In a study of organ recipients, scholars from the University of California-Davis and the Mississippi University for Women found that patients who journal about their appreciation scored better on measures of mental health, general health and vitality than those who keep only routine notes about their days.

Techniques for enhancing gratitude are relatively simple to incorporate into your routine. November is an especially good time to practice being thankful. As we move toward the holidays, extend your thanks-giving with these simple techniques for gratitude and well-being.

How to incorporate gratitude into your routines:

  • As you wake each day, be grateful for lessons learned and mindful as you go about your day.
  • While you are eating a meal, be grateful for your food by savoring each piece with all your senses.
  • Each time you exercise, be conscious of and grateful for what your muscles allow you to do.
  • As you go about your day, whether at work or at home, notice and acknowledge the many reasons you are fortunate. Be grateful to be where you are.
  • When you’ve completed a challenging task in your day, be grateful by treating yourself to a simple foot massage or a few minutes of relaxation and quiet.
  • Say thank you to those around you more often.
  • At the end of each day, journal all the things for which you are grateful and celebrate being just who you are.

Pauline Marie Buller, NCTMB, is an integrative health practitioner with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She provides integrative health services to inpatients at St. Francis Regional Medical Center in Shakopee, Minn., through a partnership with the Penny George Institute. 


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Women’s wellness: Embracing change

This article originally ran in the Fall 2014 issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Nancy Van Sloun, MD, advises women to recognize the importance of balance and to be deliberate about building it into their lives.

Nancy Van Sloun, MD, advises women to recognize the importance of balance and to be deliberate about building it into their lives.

If Nancy Van Sloun, MD, could get one message across to all women, it would be this: Love the body you’ve been given.

In appreciating your body, Van Sloun, an integrative medicine doctor at the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing-WestHealth, believes you are more likely to take care of it.

And rather than seeing aging and different stages of life as something to fear, Van Sloun advises women to embrace their life’s path. “It’s easy to focus too much on how we look,” she said. “Instead, we should be thinking about what’s next on our life’s journey: How can we best go through it, remain content and do the things that are most important to us?” Van Sloun identified some ways that women can live well throughout their lives.

Twenties and thirties

Whether or not you have children, this is a time when finding balance in your life can be a challenge. Van Sloun encourages women to recognize the importance of balance and to be thoughtful about building it into their lives. “Know what it is that fills you back up, and be deliberate about making time for it,” she said.

If you are planning a pregnancy, check in with your doctor to see what you should do to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Talk about whether vitamins and supplements might be helpful, and discuss any pregnancy risks you may face. If you already have children, remember that you’re a role model. “How kids eat, how physically active they are and how they respond to stress is reflected in what they see in you,” said Van Sloun. “Give your kids the gift of modeling a healthy lifestyle.”

Forties

Changes in your menstrual cycle and mood may be signs of peri-menopause. “These changes are easy for some women and harder for others, but overall, women tend to do better if they are exercising and eating a plant-based, whole food diet,” said Van Sloun.

Because we all lose muscle mass as we age, Van Sloun recommends that women include strength training in their exercise routine. “Maintaining muscle mass also makes weight gain less likely,” she said.

This is also a time when your family life may be changing. “It’s time to refocus on yourself and think about what’s next in your life,” said Van Sloun. Don’t overlook the emotional and spiritual components of health. “Maintaining social connections and having a sense of purpose is important to your health. If your focus has been on your kids or your job and that’s changing, you may need to cultivate new interests.”

Fifties and beyond

As we age and after we go through menopause, we are at higher risk for many diseases. At the same time, women are living longer after menopause. These are two important reasons to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight.

While women tend to focus on breast cancer, heart disease is a much bigger threat. “As much as 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented through modifying our lifestyles,” said Van Sloun.

With a longer life expectancy, you want to age well, said Van Sloun. “Investing now in eating an optimal diet, staying active and learning how to handle stress will reap benefits as you get older.”

 

Nancy Van Sloun, MD, sees patients at Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – West Health in Plymouth. For appointments, call 612-863-3333.