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

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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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Weighing in on the debate: Are e-cigarettes a healthy tool for quitting or a gateway device to smoking?



By Courtney Baechler, MD

If you’ve taken the time to follow our wellness blog, chances are you’re not a smoker. But perhaps you’ve heard about the heated debate around e-cigarettes, or e-cigs. I wanted to weigh in and offer up some facts.

E-cigarettes, introduced in 2007, offer synthetic, liquid nicotine that is vaporized to promote the sensation of smoking. They deliver nicotine, but don’t expose the user to the dangerous, cancer-causing agents found in the tar of cigarettes.

On the surface, e-cigs can seem like a logical solution to helping people quit smoking. After all, one of the evidenced-based recommendations that doctors turn to in helping people quit is nicotine replacement. So, why not use e-cigs for nicotine replacement? E-cigarettes also have the benefit of letting people maintain their “oral fixation” and smoking habit, which can be hard to break.

So, what is all the fuss about?

The challenge is e-cigarettes make the claim that they are “safer” than traditional cigarettes and should be used as a substitute, but we really don’t know that to be true.  The medical community has never studied what happens to people exposed to large amounts of nicotine overtime.  We know nicotine is highly addictive and the potential for abuse is large. It’s also unclear whether there is harm from “secondhand vapor.”

Another problem is e-cigarettes are a rapidly growing business that isn’t being regulated. You might have noticed e-cigarette shops popping up everywhere. Their owners have a lucrative product and an addicted consumer base that is likely to come back for more. In just a few years, e-cigarettes have grown to a $1.7 billion industry.  Wall Street projects that e-cigs will take over the $90 billion tobacco industry within the next decade.

Unlike the traditional cigarette industry, which is highly regulated, there is no legislation to say where you can and cannot use e-cigs. I saw someone light up an e-cig in a nail salon. A colleague saw someone do the same at a meeting.

For traditional tobacco, we have come a long way with laws like Freedom to Breath. It not only curbs issues around second-hand smoke, but also helps to change cultural norms by sending a message to kids that smoking is not OK. There is the potential to “renormalize” tobacco and subsequently increase in the number of adolescents taking it up. From afar, it’s unclear whether someone is smoking a cigarette or “vaping” an e-cig.

There also are no restrictions around marketing to children and adolescents. The e-cig companies even offer flavored products that appeal to youth.

In fact, experimentation with e-cigarettes doubled  among students in grades six through 12 from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The numbers were even higher among high school students, 10 percent of whom reported trying an e-cigarette in 2012 ― more than double the share over 2011.

The strongest predictor of whether someone becomes a lifelong smoker is how early he or she starts experimenting, and the concern is that experimentation with e-cigarettes could be gateway to tobacco.

From a public health perspective, e-cigarettes raise two questions: How harmful are they? And, regardless, will they lead to smoking cessation or, perversely, reinforce the tobacco smoking habit?

My question for you to consider is why we would ever encourage something that is known to be highly addictive? Is this where we want to move as a society? Something to think about.

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.

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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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Carpe diem! Seize your health.

What does it mean to live life to the fullest in a way that promotes your best health – mind, body and spirit? Join friends for a cocktail reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Aug. 15, at CRAVE in the Galleria in Edina, Minn. to hear and talk about this topic with experts from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, MS, vice president of the Penny George Institute, will speak. Following her presentation, she will be joined for a Q&A by  Jeannie Paris, registered dietician, and Molly Ellefson, MS, NCC, integrative health and wellness coach, both from the Penny George Institute’s LiveWell Fitness Center.

The event includes hors d’oeuvres, an informal fashion show and giveaways. It is part of “Be Healthy! A Smart Series for Women” hosted by Galleria and Allina Health.

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Responding to health headlines on weight loss and Type II diabetes

Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, vice president of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, was featured in the news last week for her response to recent research showing that weight loss from diet and exercise don’t appear to lower the risk of heart problems for people with Type II diabetes.

Watch KARE 11 News and KSTP News to hear her explain why eating well and exercising remain important for those with diabetes.

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Success: Are we measuring the right elements?

Courtney Baechler, MD, of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, recently wrote “Success: Are we measuring the right elements?” for The Blog of The Huffington Post.

Baechler explains the ways we typically measure success – salary, job title and status – don’t necessarily lead to happiness. Instead, well-being ― “the state of being content, happy, healthy and prosperous” ― is found through intangibles like loving relationships and finding a sense of purpose. She also shares her own journey in pursuing a career that supports well-being.

Read: Success: Are we measuring the right elements?

Baechler practices at the Penny George Institute. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, for aging well, weight loss, the prevention of heart disease, stress and anxiety reduction, and general women’s wellness. Call 612-863-3333 to learn more or schedule an appointment.

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Learning to forgive

I had an amazing opportunity this morning to meet with another healer, Mary Hayes Grieco, who specializes in helping people learn to forgive.

Many of you appreciate how the mind, body and spirit work together to affect our health. Perhaps you also know that science has proven that certain emotions can change the neurotransmitters our brain produces to influence which hormones and chemicals our body produces. It’s amazing to me to see how resentment, anger, frustration and regret can lead to disease.

The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s own Greg Plotnikoff, MD, recently wrote, “Trust Your Gut.” The book explains how our mental well-being can influence the flora our gut produces and whether we experience irritable bowel syndrome.

As a cardiologist, I have seen numerous patients who manifest their frustrations at home and work as chest pain.

Unfortunately, no amount of statins, stents, or even transplants, takes away that pain, but forgiveness often does. In fact, there is a lot of research to show that the act of forgiving has countless health benefits. That sounds simple, but the real challenge lies in learning how to forgive.

How many of us harbor resentment towards someone or a situation that we feel wronged us? We may need to learn to forgive a person, a job, a situation, ourselves … who knows? It can be really difficult, and it helps to remember that forgiving doesn’t mean stating there wasn’t wrong doing. Instead, forgiving is letting go of the negativity that continues to ruminate within us and can lead to physical consequences.

When we let go of grudges and stop being bitter, we find room for compassion, kindness, peace and, most importantly, healing. Forgiveness has been shown to:

  • foster healthier relationships
  • increase spiritual and psychological well-being
  • decrease anxiety and stress
  • lower blood pressure
  • improve depression
  • lower the risk of alcohol and substance abuse.

I challenge you to try to let go of something today that has been holding you back! If you feel you want some more support to do that, I suggest checking out one of Mary’s books, “Unconditional Forgiveness: A Simple and Proven Method to Forgive Everyone and Everything,” and “Be A Light: Illumined Essays for Times Like These.”

Recently, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the “Change Your Mind, Change the World” conference in Madison, Wis.

I leave you with a famous quote from him. When asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Here’s to the present, forgiveness, and letting go of the past.

Be well,
Dr. Baechler