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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Live well, live happy: how exercise increases happiness

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

Even a small amount of exercise can make a difference in your happiness and health.

By Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

This is part five in a LiveWell blog series on happiness that launched with “Live well, live happy” in January.

I am excited to share more great news about happiness. As noted previously, most happiness comes not from our circumstances, but from how we think and what we do given our circumstances.

Recently my mother has experienced joint inflammation and pain. She had to cut back on activities, including running around with her grandchildren. I was able to recommend to her a supervised, gentle exercise program. After just a few weeks, she is moving better and is also experiencing a shift in her mood. Her confidence has grown, she feels more hopeful and optimistic, and the return of her joyous laughter makes everyone around her smile.

My mother is experiencing what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes in her seminal publication, “The How of Happiness.” She says “exercise is the single best thing that you can do to improve your happiness.”

Documented benefits of activity include:

  • Enhanced ability to manage stress—Exercise releases norepinephrine, a chemical that moderates the body’s stress response.
  • A boost in “happy chemicals”—Exercise releases endorphins, which produce a feeling of happiness and euphoria. Additionally, exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety and can sometimes be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression.
  • A profound positive effect on your brain—Exercise helps create new brain cells and protects certain brain structures, thereby sharpening memory and focus, and preventing cognitive decline.
  • Improved self-confidence and self-esteem.
  • Increased focus, creativity and energy.

Despite these benefits, you may still have obstacles to building more movement into your life. These tips may help.

  1. Fill in the blank: “I’m too ________ to exercise.” Is it busy? Tired? Old? Overwhelmed? Understanding your primary barrier will help you to work through it.
  • If you are too busy, what is the smallest amount that you could do?
  • If you are tired, experiment with just a bit of activity and see if you get an energy boost.
  • If you are prone to black and white thinking, i.e. “unless I am running, I may as well not bother,” know that research overwhelmingly shows the benefit of even a small amount of movement.
  1. Understand your exercise personality and preferences.
  • Do you love the great outdoors or prefer the climate-controlled comfort of your home?
  • Do you crave time alone or do you do best when with others?
  • Do you prefer joining a class or sports team, or is it easiest to weave in movement during your day?
  1. Start slow, be gentle and build gradually.

Even if it has been a while since you’ve been active, it is never too late to start, or restart. Here’s to happiness through movement!

Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, is an integrative health & wellness coach and an exercise physiologist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. Call 612-863-5178 to make an appointment with her.

Past entries by Mary Farrell in the “Live well, live happy” series:


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Dancing for well-being

By Guest Blogger Maria Genné, founder and director of Kairos Alive!

Dancing is good for our well-being

When we dance, we increase our circulation, balance, flexibility and strength.

The research is clear: moving is good for you and dancing is even better.

When we dance, we increase our cardiovascular circulation, balance, flexibility, strength, and we get a good cognitive workout. With shifting rhythms, patterns and dynamic changes, dancing challenges our neurological system.

When we dance with others, we add a key indicator of well-being ― social interaction. When we reach out, hold another’s hand, smile, look into each other’s eyes, and move together to music we enjoy, we fill a basic human desire to connect with others in a positive way.

We also get a burst of neuropeptides – our body’s response to the stimulation of movement, music and interaction with others. As the late geriatric psychiatrist Gene Cohen said, this creative artistic stimulation is “like chocolate for our brain.”

In addition, dancing can help us resist or delay the cognitive and physical challenges of the aging process, including neurocognitive impairment. In 2003, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine published their 20-year study on the impact of leisure activities on dementia. It found that dancing had the most significant impact in delaying the onset of dementia.

At Kairos Alive!, we call our participatory dance, music and story making “Choreography of Care™.” I have been a dancer, choreographer and teacher for many years. In that time, I have invited people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to dance in a creative, open-hearted way. I have seen a diverse community of people ― grandparents, young children, parents, frail elders, teachers, young men volunteering from a correctional facility, and older Veterans ― come alive with creativity and imagination when they expressed themselves through dance, music and story.

I also have discovered that there are many ways to dance, including dancing in a chair. We have an opportunity to reclaim dancing as a basic human expression, no matter our age, background or ability. There are many ways to dance from line dancing to the twist, from Scandinavian folk dancing to contemporary dance, from dancing in the living room with our children, to waltzing across the dance floor with our sweetheart.

The best way to begin is by dancing the way you like to dance to music you enjoy. Sometimes it might mean waiting until you have the house to yourself and remembering the quote, “dance like no one is watching.”

Another way to get moving is to dance with others. Look for dance classes or special dance events at your local community center, community education program, performing venues and professional dance organizations. Or you could organize a dance event.

Recently our Kairos Alive! artistic team started offering the Kairos Dance Hall™ to bring together people of all ages and abilities to take part in lively, interactive dance/story/theater events. Participants dance to live music performed by professional musicians. See a video from an event in Detroit Lakes.

It is an opportunity to bring the whole community together for joyful participation, health education, and personal and community well-being. We call it our “dance party for all ages,” and it is free and open to the public.

I hope you will join us at an upcoming Kairos Dance Hall™:
Minnehaha Falls Park Pavilion in Minneapolis on June 18 at 7 p.m.
Loring Park Community Center in Minneapolis on June 26 at 7 p.m.

Maria Genné is a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and founder and director of Minneapolis-based Kairos Alive! – a performing arts and arts learning organization.


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Breaking away from unhealthy American ways

AmericanWays.57300728By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

My professor was new to our school and the United States, having only recently left China. I had the privilege of observing this brilliant acupuncturist as he assessed patients’ concerns and composed treatments.

As he worked on a patient chart one day, he paused and with a big sigh asked, “Why does everyone here have this pattern?”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the word “pattern” is used instead of “diagnosis.” Where conventional Western medicine works to whittle an illness down to a single cause, TCM instead looks at the whole body-mind ecosystem and attempts to find a pattern to what is happening. A treatment plan is created to restore balance and health.

My professor had noticed that Americans appeared in our clinic with one predominant pattern―Liver-Spleen disharmony. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean there is anything structurally wrong with a patient’s liver and spleen. The issue lies in the functions that the Chinese medical system attributes to those organs.

Patients with Liver-Spleen disharmony might express concerns such as headaches, high stress, digestive difficulties, menstrual pain, irritability, fibromyalgia, or a host of other symptoms.

So, if my professor’s observation was right, what is it about living in the United States (or perhaps an urban area of the Upper Midwest) that makes it so common? In my experience, this pattern is all about four things:

  • Stress: According to TCM, the liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi.  Qi is energy that moves through your body along channels. When you are healthy, the Qi moves freely. When you are in pain, sick or emotionally upset, the Qi can become stuck. When you are in a state of stress, the qi often stagnates (which you might express by clenching your jaw, stopping breathing or tensing your shoulders).
  • Emotions: In TCM, we believe that emotions come and go like water in a stream. If we let them come and express them, everything should be fine. However, sometimes we deny or “stuff” emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief or jealousy. I often speak to people who have semi-successfully hid from emotions for months or years with unintended physical results.
  • Exercise: If we aren’t physically moving, Qi is less likely to move.
  • Food:  In TCM, the spleen is largely attributed with the transformation of food into energy. Some foods, such as soup and lightly cooked vegetables, are easy to transform. Other foods, such as dairy, sugars, and fried foods, are difficult to transform. Eating too much of the latter can bog down the digestive system. And if we do other things while eating (working, reading, driving), the body’s ability to focus energy on digestion is hindered.

Does any of that look familiar? Do you see it in your life or our culture? I would offer that the “American way” often encourages stress, overworking, emotion-stuffing, screen-watching, and food-as-stomach-filler. Even when we try to avoid these things, it is easy to feel pulled in a number of directions in our daily lives. And usually our self-care is the first to go.

So what do we do? TCM offers solutions like acupuncture and Chinese herbs that can help. But improvements from those therapies will only be sustained if lifestyle changes are made, too.

  • Meditate or find another way to manage your stress. Biofeedback and Mindfulness Training are available at the Penny George Institute and offer excellent approaches to handling stress.
  • Feel. Know that your feelings are right, and they are temporary. If you feel you need help processing your emotions, please consider seeing a therapist to help you.
  • Move. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity interval training. Any time you move your body in a way that you enjoy, that is good.
  • Savor. Experience and enjoy your food. Experiment. Slow down. Smell it. Taste it. Eat only enough to feel 70 percent full.

Good luck – together we can work to change the American pattern to one of balance and harmony.

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.


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Exercise tips for sleeping well

SleepPhoto.StockImage.pngThis article originally ran in the LiveWell newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

According to Sue Masemer, MS, sleep is usually not the primary reason that leads people to seek out exercise programs at the LiveWell Fitness Center, but that doesn’t mean that sleep isn’t related to overall fitness.

“Our clients often aren’t aware of the significant connection between quality sleep and exercise, and how great of an impact poor sleep may be playing in derailing their fitness efforts,” said Masemer.

Although the science of how exercise helps you sleep better is not fully understood, researchers do believe that it may have to do with temperature changes in the body that occur during and following exercise. The body’s temperature normally increases slightly as the day progresses and starts to decreases in the evening. It is assumed that this decrease in temperature may signal the body that it is time to sleep.

“The idea of exercising to gain more energy is somewhat counter-intuitive to people,” said Masemer. “After becoming more active, people often find that they have more energy throughout the day and actually feel more sluggish when they aren’t physically active. Consistent exercise has been shown to lengthen, deepen and improve the overall quality of sleep.”

Tips on how to incorporate exercise into your day to achieve a better night’s sleep

  • Figure out what suits your body best. As a general rule, people are usually encouraged to avoid high-intensity exercise within two to four hours of going to bed. This may make it more difficult to sleep as well as not allow the body enough time to cool itself down. Research suggests that for most people exercise in the late afternoon or early evening may work best for sleep enhancement. The key is to remember that exercise at any time is better than not exercising at all and you need to determine what works best for you with your sleep schedule.
  • Give yourself time. For people with significant sleep issues, it may take months to establish a quality sleep pattern. The benefits of exercise may not be seen right away, but they are there. Work with an exercise professional to determine the type and intensity level of an exercise program that works best for you.
  • If you can’t sleep, try gentle movement. If you suffer from insomnia and restlessness, you can try getting up and doing some light stretches, gentle yoga, or movement such as tai chi or qigong. Try this in a dimly lit place so that you don’t over stimulate your body.
  • Winter months are difficult for many. Really listen to your body. Try to think in terms of 10- to 20-minute blocks of exercise instead of half-hour or hour-long timeframes. Know that the benefits of exercise are cumulative. Research has shown that three, 10-minute activity sessions spread throughout your day are as effective as one 30-minute session.
  • Discover the hidden benefits of exercise through a fitness profile. At the LiveWell Fitness Center, a fitness profile includes a health history including complete muscular strength, flexibility, body fat and muscular endurance tests, along with a cardiovascular fitness assessment to establish ideal exercise levels and heart rate. The power of exercise is evident even during the assessment, as many people will discover that it is much easier to meet their goals and health needs when it is approached safely and is customized to meet your lifestyle. The results from a fitness profile are helpful to determine the best fitness plan for you, which may help you with sleep issues.

Sue Masemer, MS, is an exercise physiologist and manager of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. To make an appointment or learn more about the programs and services offered by the LiveWell Fitness Center, call 612-863-5178.


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Tips for embracing winter wellness: Exercise

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

During winter months, your exercise routine may change, and according to exercise physiologist Marc Arndt, MA that’s okay. “With the shorter days and darkness, it may not be possible to take a walk or run outdoors after work, but it may be the ideal time to focus more on an indoor strength training routine.”

Arndt suggests that people think differently about fitness during the winter and take small steps to incorporate exercise into your daily routines. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or if the weather is nicer, park your car further from the entrance to your office or the grocery store.

At the Penny George Institute – Unity Hospital in Fridley, Arndt works with people of all fitness levels, from those with no previous exercise experience to competitive athletes. He helps some through one-on-one personal training and others to simply develop a fitness routine. In as little as a one-hour fitness consult, he is able to identify goals and put together a routine to follow at home with minimal equipment.

Tips on how to incorporate exercise into the winter months

  • Try some new winter outdoor activities that offer great exercise. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, winter hiking and downhill skiing are great options. Be sure to dress for the weather with layered clothing designed to keep moisture away from skin such as wool socks and a Merino wool base layer. Snowshoeing, for example, is an exercise that just about anyone can participate in. Arndt notes that the energy expended during 15 minutes of snowshoeing is equal to that expended during 30 minutes of treadmill walking. It is also good for developing balance skills.
  • Develop a home routine. You don’t need expensive equipment or machines to start an effective home exercise routine. For strength training, a simple set of weights or resistance bands will suffice. If you do a high number of repetitions and multiple sets, you can gain as much cardiac benefit from strength training as you could on a treadmill for 30 minutes.
  • Remember that exercise helps change your mood  for the better. Even a short break in your day to incorporate physical activity will help change your hormone levels to elevate your mood. During the winter, it’s natural to feel more lethargic and a little exercise will make a world of difference. Ideally, Arndt recommends 20 to 30 minutes a day, but if that isn’t possible with your work or personal schedule, try to get in as many 10 minute periods of physical activity as possible, whether it’s taking stairs, walking indoors at your work place or taking a break for strength training.
  • Hydrate. During cold weather, you still need to hydrate. Make sure you take in as much water as you would during exercise in warm weather.
  • Window shop. In the coldest days of winter, the best exercise is walking through your local mall or shopping center. Many of the malls in the area have walking programs, with early morning or late evening hours designated especially for those seeking a warm, safe place to walk. Community sports centers may also have an inside track available for those seeking a costeffective, reliable spot to get some exercise.

Marc Arndt, MA, is an exercise physiologist at Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Unity Hospital. To make an appointment with Arndt, call 763-236-5601.


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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