LiveWell®

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


Leave a comment

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:


1 Comment

Art as healing: finding hope and resilience in life’s challenges

Mt Vision Sunrise, a watercolor by Vera Kovacovic

For Vera Kovacovic, watercolor painting is an opportunity to filter a scene through her own lens, capturing its essence rather than its absolute reality.

Alabama Hills Sunrise, a photograph by Nancy Cox

Nature photographer Nancy Cox views her work as a peaceful pause in an otherwise busy world.

By Nancy Cox, RN

In my role as a healing coach at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute® – Abbott Northwestern Hospital, I like to encourage my clients to pursue their passion, in spite of or in light of their circumstances. If not now, when?

My passion is photography. My partner, Vera Kovacovic, has a passion for watercolor. We travel, I take photographs, and she paints. What a joy to share creative times together. In preparing for the current Art of Healing show at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, I thought it would be interesting to have Vera do a watercolor rendition of some of my photos, showing how an image can be seen differently depending on one’s creative eye, talent and perspective.

This is also true about life, especially during challenging times. My intent in my work is to help people see their circumstances with fresh eyes, seeking hope when it appears dim and allowing healing when it seems elusive. I am constantly moved by the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity for healing.

Being primarily a nature photographer encourages me to seek out beauty. I can forget everything else when looking through the lens of a camera. I once spent three hours in 20 below temperatures shooting photos of the trumpeter swans on the Mississippi River in Monticello. By the time I was done I could barely feel my fingers, but I had the best time. It cleared my head, soothed my spirit and ignited a flame that kept me warm. Of course, making a beeline to the closest coffeehouse when I was done didn’t hurt!

Living fully can mean different things to different people. I can’t hike up a steep mountain with 30 pounds of camera equipment on my back trying to get a shot, nor will I risk life and limb. (I ask myself…Is this shot worth a year in physical rehabilitation?) So it forces me to slow down, look deeper and see things differently. This allows me to find my unique vision.

I cannot see life through another person’s lens, only my own. But I can seek understanding. It’s like looking deep into a photograph to see what the artist was trying to convey. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times not so much. That is what I believe Vera does in her interpretation. As a watercolorist, she starts with a blank slate and creates what she sees. She says it is the “essence” of the image through her own personal lens.

That is also what I do in my role as a healing coach. I need to stay aware of my own lens, but be able to go beyond myself and find the true essence of the person who has entrusted himself or herself in my care. It is truly an honor.

Nancy Cox, RN, healing coach, works with people dealing with cancer and their families. She sees clients at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute – Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. For appointments, call 612-863-0200.


1 Comment

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.


2 Comments

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.


1 Comment

Live well, live happy: The role of relationships in happiness

83496526_mother_daughter_web.happiness.relationships.blogBy Mary Farrell, MS, PCC

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

Studying what makes us truly happy is a fairly recent endeavor. For decades, scientists studied unhappy people and mental illness.

Then along came positive psychology with the notion, “Hey! Why don’t we study people who are really happy and satisfied?” Just as wellness is not merely the absence of disease, so happiness is not simply the absence of mental illness.

The good news is that your happiness depends a tiny bit on circumstances and vast amounts on what we do with those circumstances.

One of the most overwhelming findings is that happy people are deeply connected to others and conversely that deeply connected people are happier. These folks have rich, strong and soul satisfying relationships. It’s important to note that anyone can attain this.

Think for a moment about the best times in your life— your high points and proud moments. If you are like most people, these moments were spent with others, such as a wedding or the birth of a child.

Now think about receiving some good or bad news. What is your first impulse? I’m guessing that it is to share this news with someone close to you. Remember the saying that a close relationship can multiply the joys and halve the sorrows? It turns out to be true.

At the time of this writing, one of my best friends is in hospice with days to live. He is not surrounded by his many degrees, a bank account statement, his car or other stuff. He is instead encircled by family members, friends and loved ones who in turn are blessed by each other and by his strong yet gentle spirit. He has led a good and satisfying life and though there is sadness, there is celebration at what his life has meant.

As you look to boost your happiness through relationships consider that not only will they support your happiness, they may enhance your health through:

  • an enhanced immune system
  • reduction in inflammation
  • reduction in heart disease and high blood pressure
  • lower mortality
  • significant reduction in stress.

Here are some proven and practical ways to build relationships:

  • Make time. In our hyper-scheduled world, this may feel impossible. If that is the case, consider how much time you spend each week on your computer, smart phone or watching TV. Can you spare any of that time for a relationship?
  • Be present. For many of us, our phones have become an appendage. Are you fully present for your loved ones? Research shows benefits of being together even without talking, such as walking together or listening to music.
  • Express admiration, appreciation and affection directly. Even though “I love you” is the most obvious, other phrases can go a long way including: “I appreciate that you make coffee every morning for me,” “I am so proud and excited about what you are doing with your art,” or “I love knowing that I get to have lunch with you!” Additionally, resolving to react actively and constructively to your friends’ news will build strong bonds. “I am thrilled for you — that promotion is well deserved and you earned it!”

Here’s to building your health and happiness through your relationships — what a joyous route!

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.


Leave a comment

Nurturing creativity

113722870.PaintedHandsBy Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC

Creating art was an essential part of my youth. If I wasn’t taking or painting pictures, I was writing stories. Art school was an obvious choice for me. In 1979, I graduated from college in Moorhead, Minn. with a double major in fine arts and art education.

Then I moved to Minneapolis, and spent the next ten years creating art, working with galleries and exhibition spaces, and, yes, sometimes being the “starving artist.”

A few family complications later, and I found that I had to get a “real job,” or at least find a regular source of income. Healing and wellness had also always been a deep interest so I began to “reschool” in wellness and healing arts.

I have continued to write and create art even with less time to put a pen to a page or a brush to a canvas. But I have learned that creativity does not always need to be about creating art. It can be used in all aspects of life. Art and creativity can even be an act of wellness and healing.

When faced with any “blank canvas” in life, meaning any endeavor with an unknown outcome, you can follow these steps to nurture your creativity:
1. Be present. I have adapted an exercise called, “Morning Pages,” from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” Cameron recommends doing three pages of long-hand, stream-of-conciousness writing first thing in the morning. She says, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages – they are not high art. … They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. [They] provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

You don’t have to write three full pages. Begin by writing for five to 10 minutes. It can help you feel anchored and face the day with clarity.

2. Do creative work in the morning. The creative impulse is fresher and clearer in the morning.

3. Forget about talent. What will the outcome be? Will anyone like it? Those are questions that can suppress the creative spirit. Try to start a creative process without detailed outcomes.

4. Stay open. There really are no dumb ideas. Go ahead and make a mistake. Often mistakes lead to new breakthroughs.

5. Keep it simple. Leave the details for later. Trust that they will fall into place. The creative spark is a time for simplicity. Most painters start with a broad simple sketch on the blank canvas before any paint is used.

6. Manage anxiety. Anxiety can be the subject of paintings and writing but it is hard to create when the artist is in a state of anxiety. Regular yoga, breath work and meditation can help with anxiety reduction.

7. Be brave. All of the above suggestions need a bit of bravery. Forget what others think.

8. Have fun. The creative process is closely aligned with having fun. Joy is a creative state of mind.

There is no such thing as “being more creative.” You already are creative. The creative spark lives in all of us and can be nurtured with intentional practice. And anyone on a healing journey can use a brave creative spirit, allowing room for new solutions and broadening the breadth of discovery.

Jayson King RN, BS, NCTMB, HNB-BC, is the Art of Healing program manger and a learning and Development specialist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

For more information on art and healing, read LiveWell blog entry, “Art as an act of healing.”


Leave a comment

Art of Healing exhibits in February and March

ArtArt is powerful. It can nourish the mind, body and spirit, and it can support healing. That is the inspiration behind a bimonthly Art of Healing exhibit offered by the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

You can view the following exhibits on the Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus for the remainder of February and March:

  • The late Dr. André Bruwer’s X-rays of nature are on display at the Penny George Institute’s outpatient clinic – Abbott Northwestern. Over five decades, his passionate pursuit of X-ray art (pictured right) resulted in a stunning collection of images showcasing the unseen delicacy of the natural world. He called his X-ray images skiagraphs. The words skia and graph come from the Greek words for “shadow drawing.”
  • The paintings of Douglas Ross are on display in the Wasie Building lower level gallery, outside the Livewell Fitness Center. Ross changed the direction of  his work dramatically after his retirement from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he taught sculpture and drawing for 32 years. Upon moving from Nebraska to Minnesota, he embarked on a series of paintings inspired by the landscape of northern Minnesota. The focus of the majority of his paintings is the trees, rocks and water that form the dramatic landscape along the north shore of Lake Superior.

The displays are part of the Penny George Institute’s Art of Healing Program, which provides arts-based wellness intervention and education, and supports a healing environment. For more information, call 612-863-9028.