LiveWell®

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


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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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Dealing with stress in our fast-paced, ever-changing world

By Pat Vitale, LICSW

What is resiliency and where does it come from? Are you born with it? Is it a learned response? Can you teach it to someone or build it in yourself? What does meditation have to do with resiliency? These are questions that I often get asked.

Resiliency by definition is our ability to bounce back in the face of adversity. This comes into play when someone experiences a life event that is stressful. That could be the loss of a job, an injury, illness or any major setback.

I think that in today’s world that definition only explains half the story. The other half of the “resiliency story” is one’s ability to adapt to a changing environment with minimal adverse stressful effects.

The second definition refers more to the chronic stressors we experience in our everyday lives that are caused by our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Today, information is immediately available and always changing. Technology is constantly evolving, and jobs are being redefined and morphed every day. We are constantly being asked to learn new things, leaving little time for us to feel masterful.

One of the most powerful stressors occurs when we feel we can’t adjust quickly enough to keep up with this ever changing world. I refer to this as a “chronic world stressor.” This kind of stressor is not often defined as a major life event, so it may go unnoticed and untreated. But it can have a cumulative impact on our health, well-being and overall quality of life.

Take a moment to think about how your life is impacted by the constant bombarding of information, the changing in your routine, or the number of new processes, procedures and policies you have to learn. How about the constant changes in technology … new phones, TVs, computers and even cars? I just got a new car and it has a manual the likes of the Webster dictionary! I am certain I am only using half of my car’s capabilities. There comes a point where you just can’t “download” anymore information.

One of the simplest skills that we can learn to be more resilient to stress is to meditate. Meditation can help us get centered, relax and replenish our reserves so that each day we possess the abilities to start fresh and engage in our ever changing environments from a place of curiosity and not in a way that will overwhelm us. We can improve our ability to learn and be flexible, instead of shutting down with fear of the unknown and rigidity.

Here is a simple meditation you can try called Mind Power for Life™ Technique*:

  1. Begin breathing through the nose, out of the mouth, exhaling twice as long as the inhale (ratio of 1:2). Continue this breathing through out the exercise.
  2. With eyes open, focus your attention on a point in the distance allowing your eyes to relax and your awareness to expand. (Peripheral Awareness)
  3. Begin thinking and saying to yourself, “ I am,” if possible linking it to your breathing.
  4. Visualize your outcome for the moment or day, and let go of the image, while continuing the breathing, saying to yourself, “I am.”
  5. When you are ready to complete the process of the meditation, reverse steps three to one.

This process can be done for as little as five to 20 minutes, once or twice a day. Any one of the above steps can also be done by itself if you are in a hurry or need an immediate de-stressor. Using one part of the technique alone will work better if you are already proficient in the full technique.

Try meditating for at least five to 20 minutes a day. You will see an immediate difference in your ability to manage everyday challenges and to build a reservoir of resiliency.

Pat Vitale is manager of training and development for integrative medicine for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

The Penny George Institute offers Mindfulness Training and other classes to help individuals manage stress through meditation and mindfulness.

*Mind Power for Life™ Technique is a Copyright ©1995, 1996 Neuro-Energetics


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Finding happiness in savoring this summer

Woman savoring the summerBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC, integrative health & wellness coach and exercise physiologist

“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” – Thornton Wilder

As I write this in mid-July — the height of summer, something we Minnesotans have anticipated for a long time ― I am hearing from many of my clients how quickly summer is going, how fleeting it is.

As true as that may be, particularly as we get older, it is also important to learn to savor. In fact, when researchers study what happy people do, savoring is one of the activities that evidence shows brings true happiness. As the season explodes in color, flavor and other sensations, it is a perfect time for you to dabble in savoring to see what happens to your happiness and well-being.

Here are three tips for savoring moments that make you happy:
1. Relish ordinary experiences. The great thing about this activity is that you don’t have to be wealthy or even in perfect health to experience this. Last weekend I picked basil from our plants and combined that with a tomato and fresh mozzarella from the local farmer’s market. As my seriously ill partner and I experienced this amazing combination of flavors on our patio, we smiled at each other and said, “It doesn’t get better than this.” The next time you are outdoors pay special attention to what you smell, see and hear. When you make your bed with fresh sheets, open a fresh loaf of bread, or pick up locally grown produce, take a few minutes to take the experience in and then to say, “How cool is that?”

2. Savor and reminisce with family and friends — sharing the experience doubles the enjoyment! Think about the top moments in your life — my guess is that most of them were in the context of others. When you share that perfect sunset or burger, or cross a finish line together, your joy is reflected back in those you are with and multiplied. Reliving and retelling the experience creates the same wonderful chemicals in your brain that you gained when you actually did the experience — harness that by retelling or reliving it in your mind.

3. Be open to beauty and excellence. We know that life can be stressful, trying and painful. We also know that beauty and transcendence co-exist with all of that. When we are open to finding pockets, swatches, and moments of beauty, we are happier. I made a point of finding some beauty on my way to work this morning. Just by setting my intention, I saw lovely things, heard laughter and smelled the earth in a way that I hadn’t previously. Nothing had actually changed except for my openness.

Consider some of these savoring ways. We are never too busy for this — give it a try and see what you might discover.

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.


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Leaving stress behind on your summer vacation

by Mimi Lindell, MAN, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, CHTP

Stress-free vacation

Now that we are heading into summer, many of us are planning time off. Vacations are a great opportunity to relax, spend time with loved ones and see new sights. We usually assume that these experiences will be enjoyable and relaxing. But how many of us have taken a vacation and ended up feeling more stressed and exhausted than refreshed and renewed?

So what gets in the way of a stress-free vacation? Sometimes it’s the financial cost, the hassles of travel, or our inability to leave work at work. Sometimes it’s unrealistic expectations or doing things out of obligation, rather than pleasure. Sometimes it’s a lack of planning, or too much planning. We may abandon our diet and exercise routines, ignore our need for sleep, and come back to work exhausted.

With a little mindful planning and self-care, you can make the most of your time off, enjoy yourself, and reduce the risk of added stress, disappointment or frustration.

Here are some tips:

  • Don’t overschedule your time. Try to balance activities with free time, and allow yourself a good night’s sleep.
  • To reduce food costs, and eat healthier, make your own simple breakfasts and lunches, especially if you have a fridge or microwave available. In the evening you can splurge with a nice dinner out.
  • For car travel:
    – be familiar with a few different routes
    – have maps or GPS handy
    – get your car tuned up before the trip
    – bring water and healthy snacks along
    – take plenty of stretch breaks.
  • For plane travel:
    – arrive at the airport early
    – dress comfortably
    – pack light
    – know the current security requirements for baggage restrictions
    – pack your required medications in your carry-on bag
    – don’t forget the sunscreen.
  • For a staycation:
    – be intentional about taking this time to be off
    – unplug from work and don’t get caught up in the usual routine household chores
    – do things you enjoy that you don’t normally have time for ― seek out fun activities in your own community, explore local parks and museums, plan a family movie night, go on a picnic, or take a day trip to explore nearby towns or natural attractions.

Taking a vacation doesn’t have to be stressful and complicated. Keep in mind these helpful suggestions, get in touch with what is truly meaningful for you about this opportunity for relaxation and renewal, and really give yourself a break.

Mimi Lindell, MAN, BSN, RN, HNB-BC, CHTP
Inpatient Manager
Penny George Institute for Health and Healing