LiveWell®

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


Leave a comment

Integrative medicine makes a difference in fighting disease

Integrative therapies like acupuncture can help patients dealing with serious illness cope with disease symptoms and side effects of treatment.

Integrative therapies like acupuncture can help patients dealing with serious illness cope with disease symptoms and side effects of treatment.

When facing a serious illness, more people are turning to integrative medicine to help deal with the symptoms of their disease or the side effects of treatment. A recent KSTP-TV segment described how integrative medicine is making a difference in their health and well-being, and it included comments from Courtney Baechler, MD, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

“Integrative medicine is truly combining Western and Eastern health [approaches] into one. That means if you are going through a cancer process, you get the best surgical and chemotherapy, along with the best Eastern processes, to make sure that we keep you well throughout this journey,” said Baechler.

Watch the entire segment: Inside your health: More than medicine.

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. To schedule an appointment, call 612-863-3333.


Leave a comment

Eight fun and healthy family activities around the Twin Cities this fall

You don't have to spend a lot of money to find healthy, fun, family activities for the fall. Just raking the leaves can be a fun event for kids.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find healthy, fun, family activities for the fall. Just raking the leaves can be a fun event for kids.

By Courtney Baechler, MD

Once the school year starts, cooler weather hits, and we kick off a season of sweets that starts with Halloween, it can be challenging to find fun family activities that support a healthy lifestyle.

As a mom of two young children, I know this all too well and make an effort to keep our family active year-round.

Here are some of my favorite healthy fall activities and destinations in and around the Twin Cities:

  • Saturday and Sunday trolley rides at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. This is an oldie, but goodie. My kids love going on the scenic trolley car between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun. You can also stop by the park at Lake Harriet, which has climbing options for kids.
  • Renting a bike that seats a family at Minnehaha Falls. Sometimes the most challenging thing with bikes and small children is feeling like you are out of control as a parent. The “Surrey” and “Double Surrey” bikes that you can rent at Minnehaha Falls allow you to get some exercise, stay together and enjoy the scenery.
  • Day trip to Winona, Minn. I’m biased since my husband is from Winona, but it is such a beautiful place to visit. The leaves are gorgeous in October, and there are many opportunities to hike and bike. You can try the flat walking path around Lake Winona. Or, if you want a challenge, try hiking the Garvin Heights Overlook and the Sugar Loaf Bluff. You can grab some apples on your way back in Lake City on the south shore of Lake Pepin.
  • Healthy kids food alert. I can’t say enough positive things about the restaurant Agra Culture in Edina, Minn. They prepare healthy, kid-friendly food quickly. You can choose from protein bowls, great salads and breakfasts that include quinoa. The food is served cafeteria style, making it easier to get in and out with young kids.
  • Raking leaves in the yard. It’s free, easy and a great workout. Plus, my kids love the crunch and smell of the leaves, along with the undivided attention.
  • Pinehaven Farm, Wyoming, Minn. A relatively short drive from Minneapolis, you will find this a great place to enjoy some Halloween fun. It is complete with a petting zoo, corn maze, pumpkin patch and face painting. There are activities for family members of every age with a wide variety of interests.
  • Bowling at Pinstripes in Edina or Town Hall in Minneapolis. We often do this when it rains on the weekend. While it’s not the most active pastime, at least we get away from a screen. My kids enjoy a game of bowling or bocce ball at Pinstripes, and we can take a short walk around Centennial Lakes afterwards. I find both Pinstripes and Town Hall have some healthier options on their menus for parents and kids.
  • Monster Dash Fun Run. My daughter and I will complete this 5K this year. It’s a great way to dress up in a costume and enjoy a short run or walk. The most important thing we can do as a role model is lead by example when it comes to exercise. If you didn’t sign-up this year, come watch and make a plan for next year.

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.


Leave a comment

Six tips for reducing school year stress

Family eating dinner together

During the school year, commit to one healthy habit like eating dinner together.

By Courtney Baechler, MD

This is one of my favorite times of year ― cool mornings followed by hot, sunny, summer afternoons and the excitement of a new school year.

While some parents feel good about this, others get anxious thinking about the faster pace of the school year ― carpools, deadlines and the possibility of more commitments.

Here are some tips to help keep you and your family healthy and to reduce stress this year:

  1. Choose one thing that your family wants to commit to, such as:
    • eating breakfast at the kitchen table instead of in the car
    • eating dinner together
    • not overcommitting
    • having dedicated family time
    • sticking to a bedtime schedule.
  2. Create your “team” of support. Just as CEOs need a lot of support to do their jobs, you as the “chief wellness officer” of your family do too. Create a list of the team members who help meet your family’s needs, along with their contact information. Keep this list in a central place so that everyone can see how to get a hold of the back-up players. Team members may include:
    • family members
    • neighbors
    • babysitters
    • kids’ club leader
    • back-up babysitters.
  3. Don’t forget about your social needs and connections. Make time for:
    • friends
    • date nights
    • activities that help you thrive, such as book clubs, exercise, and spiritual groups.
  4. Get outside. Nothing is quite as calming as being a part of nature. During the week, simply take a family walk around the block or a trip to the neighborhood park. Add in a few hikes, bike rides or canoeing trips to make the most of the beautiful and calming scenery of autumn.
  5. Say no. It’s OK to do this, and it can actually be empowering. Try to do more by doing less. Commit to and enjoy the things you are interested in doing, but don’t feel the need to do everything. You will find that you get more joy from experiencing a few things in entirety. That holds up for kids’ activities as well. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to have your kids in only a few extracurricular activities. Trust me, their futures don’t depend on being over scheduled.
  6. Limit screen time. Take a family poll and see how much time your family (including you), is spending using technology. Most families admit that these devices can eat up time. Consider setting clear limits for when and how much screen time is allowed. You don’t need to eliminate screen time entirely, but limits can have the benefits of increased movement and improved sleep.
  7. Rejuvinate on the weekends. Crazy concept, huh? Turns out weekends were never really intended for all of our errands and household chores. While I know it’s impossible to stop running errands, designate at least part of the weekend for rest and relaxation. I would argue that one of the greatest skills we can teach our children is how to relax. It turns out that it’s easier to do all the difficult things in life (choosing healthy foods, exercising, and being productive) when we return to work and school on Monday after recharging our batteries.

 

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

 

 


1 Comment

How can measuring quality of life lead to better health?

CoupleOnBikesBy Jeffery Dusek, director of research, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

In medicine, we’re very focused on measurements – blood pressure, weight, cholesterol levels – values that are easily understood by the medical community. One thing that we have not focused on as much is how quality of life affects health.

A person’s quality of life is influenced by a variety of factors including their physical, mental, and social well-being. Numerous studies have shown that low quality of life is related to increased rates of illness, chronic disease and death.

In June 2012, a team at Allina Health began implementing a tool called the PROMIS-10 questionnaire developed by the National Institutes of Health to assess quality of life in Piper Breast Center patients. Since then, this initiative has expanded across other Allina Health patient groups – touching 1,500 patients.

Our goal is to engage patients and help them achieve their health objectives. Questionnaires like PROMIS-10 have been found to:

  • improve patient satisfaction and communication between patients and their health care providers
  • support efficient patient visits, guiding visits without lengthening overall visit time.

Allina Health is in good company as our colleagues at major health systems such as Partners HealthCare (Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and Cleveland Clinic are also using PROMIS-10 to measure patients’ quality of life.

Specifically within Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, clinicians use this questionnaire as part of every visit at the outpatient clinic. I asked Courntey Baechler, MD, at the Penny George Institute about using the tool with her patients. She said, “It really helps me understand how they gauge their own quality of life. It’s easy as a physician to quickly tie medical numbers to a patient and arbitrarily rate their quality of life. With the questionnaire, I can quickly see how the patient rates their own indicators of health. This is yet one more way to hear the patient’s voice.”

Other areas of Allina Health that are using the questionnaire include the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®, the cardiac rehabilitation program, Healthy Communities Partnership, and others.

Knowing that quality of life is important to health, you can take some simple steps to improve yours:

  • Take time to focus on what brings you joy.
  • Talk to your clinician about what’s most important in your quality of life. Perhaps being able to play with your kids or grandkids in the park is what brings you joy each week.
  • Ensure that during each visit with your clinician, there is time to concentrate on aspects of your health that are affecting your quality of life. An example would be poor sleep hindering your ability to be active.
  • Take time to speak to family or friends about what affects your quality of life. This could be physical and emotional pain, stress, being rushed, or having limited time to sit and connect with them.

Check out our previous blogs for information on how to improve stress management, sleep, nutrition, social connection, spiritual connection, and physical activity. All are key to improving quality of life.

Jeffrey Dusek, PhD, is the director of research for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. Prior to that he was with Harvard Medical System at Harvard Medical School as the director of Behavioral Sciences Research of the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine of Massachusetts General Hospital.


Leave a comment

Finding hope and health through forgiveness

UnconditionalForgivenessLast May, Courtney Baechler, MD, wrote about the important role that forgiveness can play in our health and healing in LiveWell blog entry, Learning to Forgive. She talked about a spiritual teacher and author, Mary Hayes Grieco, who specializes in helping people do just that.

This May 8, the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern outpatient clinic will offer a free event, Springtime in Your Heart: Hope, Humor and Healing, featuring Grieco. She will talk about why forgiveness is a necessary life skill and a good health habit, and she will address the misconceptions people have about forgiveness.

Even better, she will discuss exactly how forgiveness is accomplished, with her eight-step method that works to bring relief.  Grieco will sign both of her recent books, Unconditional Forgiveness and The New Kitchen Mystic.

Don’t miss this enjoyable evening of storytelling, philosophy and self-healing tips!

 


Leave a comment

Avoiding added sugar and its negative affects

Sugar.157541706By Courtney Baechler, MD

Increasingly, we see reports on the negative affects of sugar. Just last month, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine linked sugar to increased risks of heart disease.

For years, a variety of experts emphasized that high-fat diets are the strongest culprits of heart disease. Food companies quickly manufactured fat-free foods that were extremely high in sugar – think fat-free cookies, crackers and oversized bagels. This led to a fat-free epidemic, and large increases in the amount of sugar people are eating and the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

What happens when we eat foods with a lot of added sugar?

As we digest these sugars, they are quickly metabolized and tend to spike our blood sugar quickly. The pancreas then quickly releases insulin to decrease our blood sugar levels. Over time, this may lead to decreased insulin production and sensitivity, which in turn can lead to type 2 diabetes.

High levels of sugar also create inflammation in our body. When those high sugar levels hang around, they turn into fat or triglycerides, which are one part of our cholesterol or lipid (fat) profile. This is perfect storm for sticky blood vessels, and leads to increases in both our weight and risk of heart disease.

How can we decrease our sugar intake?

  • Start by getting rid of soda pop. Soda pop contributes to one-third of all the sugar we intake as a nation. You might be surprised, but the average 12-ounce can of pop has nine teaspoons of sugar which on average is more than most grown men and women should have in a day.
  • Keep an eye out for what might be added to your “energy drink.” Often, there is as much sugar added to energy drinks as soda pop.
  • The other big culprits are candies and yogurts. The yogurt is a surprise for most of my patients. I will have many patients tell me that they have a turkey sandwich and a yogurt for lunch. Most think, that sounds alright, right? Think again, many name-brand yogurts have a large amount of added sugar. Many of the “100 calorie-light yogurts” have 26 grams of sugar! Not so healthy after all. Your bread might have a lot of added sugar, too.
  • Start reading food labels. Conveniently, the FDA has moved to make it even easier to read the added sugar content in years to come with the recognition of how important decreasing our sugar content is.
  • Don’t be alarmed or think that you need to stop eating fruit. Fruit has “natural sugars,” which are just fine and also has fiber that helps slow the release of sugar. It’s the added sugars that cause trouble.

On that note, I hope this helps demystify the sugar story some. If you want to learn more, check out our story on KARE 11 news or the original study from JAMA.

Stay well and go light on the added sugar!

Courtney Baechler, MD, is a practicing physician with and the vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She has a master’s degree in clinical epidemiology from the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.

 


1 Comment

Embracing winter wellness

???????????????????????This article originally ran in the Healing Journal newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

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