LiveWell®

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


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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.

 


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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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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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Tips for aging well: Nutrition

This article is originally from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing‘s Spring 2013 Healing Journal.

When it comes to aging and its effects on your body, everyone is different.

According to licensed nutritionist Carolyn Denton, MA, LN, there are general things that tend to happen as we grow older and pass through the decades, but one thing is certain: it’s never too late, or too early, to start eating better.

“The human body is built to last,” said Denton. “As we age, our digestive system may slow down a bit, we may lose some lean body mass and may suffer from insulin resistance.”

With nutrition, the recommendations don’t change much through life’s stages: get plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. The loss of body mass and lean tissue does usually translate into a lower metabolic rate. So, the number of calories you need to maintain or lose weight will be reduced and we have a tendency to gain weight more quickly if we take in more calories than our bodies require. Denton notes that once women go through menopause, they often notice a big difference in their resting metabolic rate.

To combat the reduced amount of calories our bodies need, we need to reduce the calories
and increase exercise. It may sound simple, but it is often challenging.

At different stages of life, a busy work schedule, family commitments or more time spent alone, may affect how you eat. “This may lead to skipped meals or not getting enough variety of foods that people need for good nutrition,” said Denton. For example, people may decide to repeatedly have a bowl of cereal for dinner. To help, she suggests cooking ahead and freezing meals for future use.

Tips for eating healthy as we age
Think plants. There is no substitute. Plants contain so many vitamins, nutrients, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber and complex carbohydrates that it is impossible to replicate the benefits of food from plants with supplements or highly processed foods. We hear it all the time, but it’s worth repeating: eat your fruits and vegetables.

Make every calorie count. Smaller portions of nutrient-dense foods are important as we age. When we eat foods that are high in nutrients compared to calorie count, we are ensuring that we get the nutrients we need to keep our bodies functioning at their full potential. A diet made up primarily of vegetables and legumes prepared with healthy fats, herbs and spices is a good place to start.

Stay hydrated. As we age, we may not notice as quickly when we become dehydrated. Of all nutrients, water is the most important. Water reduces stress on the kidneys, making those organs function properly. It also helps with digestion and helps to reduce blood clots. Dehydration is so dangerous that it may lead to stroke. The importance of water in our diet should not be underestimated.

Think of the diet as a work of art. To describe a work of art, one may describe its color, texture and balance, along with variety, proportion and accessibility. You could view your diet in the same way. Aim for variety in color, texture and balance. Spending time planning and preparing for meals is important and will pay benefits as you age.

It is possible to eat healthy on a budget. It requires a little preparation and creativity, but there are many healthy foods that are inexpensive. Buy dried legumes and invest the time in soaking, straining and then cooking them. Frozen fruits and vegetables are a nutritious alternative to fresh. Homemade stocks are inexpensive to make by using peels and ends from other vegetables you prepare. Just freeze them for the time you are ready to make a stock and throw them in the pot.

Try some neglected foods. Celery, which is usually left over on the relish tray once all of the other vegetables are eaten, is one of the most powerful detoxifying foods available. Certain foods are known for healthy properties. Weave them into your diet. What you didn’t like when you were younger may taste delicious to you now. Some examples of things to try: leeks, garlic, scallions, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beets, kale, eggplant, bok choy, endive and more.

Vitamins have a purpose, but it’s impossible to replicate real food. Supplements have a purpose if someone is low in certain areas such as calcium, zinc or magnesium. Low magnesium levels, for example, will cause muscle spasms. Supplements should be used as a bridge and support for a healthy diet, not a replacement.

To make an appointment with Denton, call 612-863-3333.

Carolyn Denton is a licensed nutritionist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.