LiveWell®

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


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A little inspiration for a cold winter week

Inspirational quote for winter.

Photo by Jackie Krage of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.


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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.


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Are you getting enough vitamin D?

From October through April, it's tough to get enough vitamin D from the Minnesota sun.

From October through April, it’s tough to get enough vitamin D from the Minnesota sun.

Sunshine on your bare skin helps your body make vitamin D – an essential vitamin that builds strong bones, supports the immune system and reduces inflammation. But if you’re like most adults, you probably aren’t getting enough vitamin D, especially during a Minnesota winter.

WCCO-TV’s Heather Brown invited integrative medicine physician Debra Bell, MD, to discuss the sunshine vitamin during a recent segment of Good Question. “It’s hard to know that you’re vitamin D deficient. The symptoms are really very subtle,” said Bell. “The best way to know whether or not you have a vitamin D deficiency is to get a blood test.”

Watch the entire segment here. Good Question: Can you get enough vitamin D from the sun?

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute – Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. For appointments, call 612-863-3333.


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Keeping it real: How to make lasting change

This article appears in the Winter 2015 issue of the Livewell® Newsletterof the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

When resolving to change a habit, take it one step at a time. Set a goal and break it down into smaller goals that are more sustainable.

If your New Year’s resolutions have already begun to wane, maybe it’s time to rethink your approach.

Sometimes New Year’s resolutions are set for the wrong reasons. Are you trying to make changes for yourself, or because of society’s or someone else’s expectations of you? “If we don’t take time to reflect on where we are in life, what is working and what is not, the goals we set can reflect more of a superficial layer than our authentic self,” explained Lana Abboud, integrative psychologist and acupuncturist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. “This is the time to think about what you are ready to let go of and what you want to step in to.”

If you are trying to change habits, think about what is contributing to the behavior you want to change. Unhealthy habits can sometimes be a reflection of something deeper.

For example, if your goal is to rein in poor eating habits, Abboud suggests taking some time to consider what makes you eat unwisely. “Maybe it’s because of loneliness, stress or because your relationships are not going well,” she said. Accessing and addressing the root cause will help you make lasting change.

“It’s kind of like trying to fill a void in your life with buying new clothes or a red Mercedes. You buy those things thinking they will make you happy, but you still feel like something’s not quite right. That’s because you are trying to fill the void with external things when the work is more internal.”

Another reason that resolutions don’t stick is because we take on too much all at once. “What you want to focus on is building mastery,” said Abboud. “Think about it like steps on a staircase.”

Instead of making a resolution to lose 50 pounds, break it down into smaller goals that are more sustainable. Skip sweets during the week and enjoy a small treat during the weekend. If exercising every day proves impossible, walk three times a week. As you achieve these smaller goals, move on to the next level.

As you build mastery, your self-confidence and sense of empowerment will increase. That means you’ll be less likely to give up when you experience minor set-backs.

Tips to make resolutions stick

  • Focus on adding positives rather than removing negatives. For example, instead of eliminating all sweets from your diet, find ways to add more protein, or choose more foods with naturally occurring simple sugars (fruits, vegetables and dairy products) instead of processed sugars.
  • Choose resolutions better tailored to your own environment and capacities. Don’t commit to going to the gym six times a week when the nearest gym is an hour away.
  • Surround yourself with circumstances, people and images that support you and that feel good to be around.
  • Provide yourself with gentle reminders of the benefits of accomplishing your resolutions to boost your motivation.
  • Remember, New Year’s resolutions offer an opportunity for change. You are not broken, yet what is an area that could use more refinement in your life? What potential have you yet to evoke? Even if you’ve been locked into the same pattern for years, begin to welcome change.

Lana Abboud, PsyD, MA, LP, Mac, L.Ac, sees patients at Penny George Institute – WestHealth in Plymouth. For appointments, call 612-863-3333.


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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.