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:

Leave a comment

Looking within: Rediscover joyful living through mindfulness


Multitasking once described what computers did. Now it describes us – living in a world transformed by mobile technology, 24/7 connectivity and instant communication.

“Many of us are in a state of ‘continuous partial attention,’” said Maureen Doran, RD, LD, Mindfulness Training facilitator, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Hospital. “In fact, we are taught to splinter our attention and focus on many things at one time.”

We are also trained to look outside ourselves for happiness. “It’s having the right partner, the right job, or the right house and believing that this will bring us happiness and fulfillment, or at least help us avoid suffering,” said Doran.

Yet this way of life may create suffering in the form of chronic stress, said Doran. “There can be a feeling of disconnectedness, that you are living a little outside yourself.” If you develop an illness, have chronic pain or go through some major life stress – like job loss or a death in the family – it compounds the issue. Joyful living seems all but impossible.

Mindfulness is a practice that many see as an antidote to fragmented, crazy-busy lifestyles. Participants learn to stabilize their minds and increase resilience through mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga. “It’s a way of being present to one’s life, learning to notice what’s going on right in front of you and bearing witness to it in a non-judgmental way,” said Doran, who teaches a four-week Mindfulness Training class.

“Our class participants have overwhelmingly said that Mindfulness Training has improved the quality of their lives and has provided them with tools for living with greater ease, joy, engagement and balance,” said Doran. “We help people recognize and mobilize their inner psychological resources to take better care of themselves, learn new ways of calming themselves, and become more centered and clear-headed.”

Mindfulness research
Research in the field of mindfulness has shown that:
• Consistent mindfulness training can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decrease blood pressure and increase the immune response.
• Those who practice mindfulness experience a greater sense of control in their lives, have increased commitment to daily life, see life events (including illness) as challenges instead of obstacles, and believe that the world is comprehensible, manageable and meaningful.

Mindfulness Training, a program of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, is being offered this May in Minneapolis and New Ulm.

Leave a comment

Make integrative health part of your life

by Courtney Jordan Baechler, MD, MS, vice president of Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Welcome to the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s new LiveWell blog!

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be the first person to write an entry for our new blog.  Our goal is to give you that extra information you want and need on your journey to wellness.  We want you to have an opportunity to read about and ask about topics that may have been missed at an appointment with one of our practitioners or at another provider. You should feel free to ask any questions related to your wellness or your healing.

How can you make integrative health part of your everyday life? That question seems to come up whether someone is acutely ill, recovering from illness, or on a path towards a higher state of well-being or wellness.

I thought I would give you an idea of how I practice what I preach as a practicing integrative cardiologist, a wife, and a mother of two children under the age of five.  Each day might look slightly different, but I find the most important thing I can do for myself, and my patients, is give myself permission to take time for myself.

An ideal day starts with yoga at six in the morning.  If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would have ever gotten up that early to do any sort of physical activity, I would have said absolutely not!  However, I find as my life has gotten busier, this hour of time for myself and my mind is so important. I’m curious if many of you have experienced something similar. Whether it is meditating, listening to music, doing yoga, exercising, or sitting in front of a fire, I find for the first 15 minutes my mind whirls with either yesterday’s activities or today’s plans. But shortly after those 15 minutes, I can’t keep up with those thoughts, and my mind slows and eventually calms into an ultimate state of relaxation.  The second half of that hour is so very pleasant and soothing that I walk away a different person.

Now, I would be lying if I said that I get up every morning at 6 a.m. for yoga.  There are days when I recognize what my body, mind, and spirit really need is sleep.  On those days, I don’t feel like a failure. I simply recognize that for me to be the best mother, wife, and cardiologist, I need to take this time to sleep in order to keep my tank full.

Lastly, on the days that I can’t get in any time for a meditative state of mind or some extra zzz’s, I take a moment (even if it’s 20-30 seconds) to take a few deep breaths and remember that the stressors I’m feeling will pass.  For certain patients, I have written a prescription that reads: “Take care of yourself for1 hour by mind, body, and spirit.  Every day. Refills unlimited.”  Perhaps that’s the best medicine for us all.

Stay well and live well!