November 26, 2015

Gratitude Helps The Heart

Just in time for Thanksgiving, research studies show that gratitude and a positive mental attitude is good for our heart health.

It fends off depression, stress and anxiety, which can increase the risk of heart disease, says Paul Mills, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

According to Mills' study, more grateful people were healthier and had less depression, better sleep, more energy and less inflammatory markers that indicate plaque in the arteries.

Mills isn't sure exactly how gratitude helps the heart, but he thinks it's because it reduces stress, a huge factor in heart disease.

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October 10, 2015


I found out this past week that I may have hypoglycemia. My blood sugar was 60 mg/dL even though I had eaten breakfast. This revelation is not a total surprise to me because I've had low blood sugar episodes over the years. What did surprise me, upon investigation, is the list of symptoms typical of this condition:

Feeling shaky
Pounding heart; racing pulse
Pale skin

I've been the "poster child" for this condition for years and didn't know it.

Hypoglycemia is most often associated with diabetes. If insulin levels get too high in the blood, glucose (or sugar) is needed to take away the symptoms listed above. Waiting too long to eat can also create low blood sugar. For myself, I have known that not eating was trigger for migraine headache, and the shakes, and that I would feel off for the rest of the day.

So the doctor is going to conduct more tests, first being A1C to measure how low my blood sugar has gone and how often in the past 3 months (the life-span of a typical blood cell). Usually, this test is run on people with diabetes, but I don't believe I have that. Next will come tests to find out what is causing my low blood sugar.

Most of the time, low blood sugar can be controlled by diet, typically a diet with complex carbohydrates designed to keep an steady release of glucose into the blood. Typically, I avoid carbohydrates because I just don't like them that much. But I do like my candy mid-afternoon when I have an energy slump. But when I indulge, I feel bad almost immediately: hyperactive, nauseous, nervous and irritable, and I have a hard time concentrating. The only thing that makes me feel better is drinking a ton of water.

Why do I feel so bad? An explanation: Of all the organs in the body, the brain depends on sugar (glucose) almost exclusively. When the circulating level of blood glucose falls, the brain actually senses the drop. The brain then sends out messages that trigger a series of events, including changes in hormone and nervous system responses that are aimed at increasing blood glucose levels. Insulin secretion decreases and hormones that promote higher blood glucose levels, such as glucagon, cortisol, growth hormone, and epinephrine all increase.

Epinephrine. Yuck! I remember having to use NeoSynepherine once for a recurrent nose bleed and the stuff made me feel terrible: shaky and panicked. I NEVER want to have to take that stuff again. Some people love the way it makes them feel because they can breathe, but chronic users can get addicted to the stuff. It's pure adrenaline. I'm squirrely enough! I don't need anything to make me more squirrely.

Hypoglycemia without diabetes is typically referred to as reactive hypoglycemia. However, it could be another problem at work such as a pancreatic tumor, liver or kidney dysfunction. This is why further blood tests may be warranted.

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May 23, 2015

Fear of the Future

For months now I have been contemplating my future now that I'm alone again. I find myself asking, "where do I go from here?" I didn't really have an answer for that question when I was part of a couple, but I always assumed that with another person around, the future would unfold with tweaks from both parties and everything would be alright in the long run.

But now I am single. And my future looks like a big blank canvas. As an artist, a big blank canvas isn't a source of intimidation, but a symbol of opportunity and endless possibility. So why can't I see the big blank canvas of my life that way? I know I SHOULD see it as that, but fear has gotten in the way. For me, the presences of another acted as a foil for the creation of ideas and possibilities. But when it became just me, the ideas just dried up.

So it's been a natural inclination for me to cast my net around for the opinion of others. How has that been working out for me? Not so great. For those who are even willing to weigh in with ideas, their suggestions feel like ill-fitting shoes. With the help of a life coach, I am being encouraged to go inward, examine what I really want, and become the architect for my own future. It's hard, because fear really gets in the way sometimes.

So here's what I've learned. First, find the intestinal fortitude to admit to yourself that you are where you are because you asked to be in this space. Put on your big girl panties (or big boy boxers) and suck it up. Admit that you've been itching to wrest control for your life out of the grasp of another person or circumstance that was stifling you. There. It is done. Own it.

Second, go inward. What makes you feel whole and alive? What things are important to you? What are your values? What are your dreams? What material things do you want? What kind of people do you want to surround yourself with? What experiences would you like to have in this lifetime? How much money is enough? What situations make you feel happy? What foods and activities make you feel healthy? What feeds you emotionally? What sustains you spiritually?

Third, think logically. Every moment of every day is the future coming to meet you in the present. It's like a baseball thrown from the moon. You know it's coming, you can't do anything to stop it, so prepare. What are you going to do when the baseball comes at you? Are you going to stand there and do nothing and let it knock you in the head (the school of hard knocks)? Are you going to step aside and let the ball pass you by as a lost opportunity? Or are you going to prepare by taking a firm stance, visualize the ball as it hits your glove, and make the most of the moment and catch it?

Fourth, stay present. Moments of opportunity are coming at you all the time. But how do you recognize them? Stay in the moment, right now, as much as possible. Regretting the past is a useless waste of energy. Worrying about the future is distracting you from the present. Let the lessons from the past inform your actions RIGHT NOW to help you prepare for the future. Get into that firm stance and be ready to seize the opportunities as they whiz by. You'll be in a much better position to recognize if the opportunity is one you want to seize if you stay present and true to yourself.

Do you need a new job? Have your interview suit picked out, clean, ironed, hanging and ready to go. Polish your shoes. Pack your briefcase. Pick out your accessories. Get a haircut. Go to bed every night as though you have a job and prepare for the day ahead. Get out of bed every day as though you have a job and treat looking for a job like IT IS your job. Visualize your perfect job. Be willing to recognize that your perfect job isn't conventional and MAKE the job you'll love. Then sell what you love because people will buy something you're passionate about. Be willing to take some risks and step outside the box, so long as it does not violate your personal values.

Looking for the perfect mate? Make a list. What do you want in that perfect person? Be extravagant, no holds barred. Be ridiculous in your desires if you must. Groom yourself every day as though you have a date later that day. Put your best self forward and stay positive. Smile. Treat every new person that you meet as though they could be "the one" and you're excited to finally meet them. Stay present and love yourself first so that you are aware when someone else hits a sour note, and isn't the one for you.

The other day, as I drove my car onto the interstate, I had a feeling that came from my solar plexus. It was a memory of a feeling I used to get when I was forging my way into the world ALONE. For the first time in a long time, the future felt like an adventure rather than something to fear. And that felt really good.

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April 21, 2015

Wellness Prescription

I recently blogged that I retained the services of a life coach. His name is George. I love George! When I hear the name George, I'm always reminded of the abominable snowman from the cartoon days of my youth. "Oh look, my very own bunny rabbit! I want to hug him and squeeze him and pet him and name him George!" But I digress.

I wanted to elaborate upon the wellness prescription that George has given me.

1) Exercise: I endeavor to run 2 miles, 3x/week in order to improve my cardiovascular endurance without beating up my body. On difficult days, I use a mantra while I'm running: "change your physiology, change your mind." On odd days I alternate between core stabilization therex, yoga stretching, and the 7-minute workout.

2) Meditation: 5 minutes a day, combined with deep breathing: 4 seconds in, 6 seconds out, 2 second hold. Thoughts move into the mental field, are acknowledged, and released.

3) Mindfulness (living in the now): George wants me to get into the habit of "checking in." Program your phone to chime every 15 minutes and ask yourself: "How am I feeling right now?" If you don't like what you feel, do something to change it: Eat if you're hungry, empty your bladder if you've gotta go, deep breathe if you're agitated, drink water if you're fatigued. If you're happy: Celebrate!

4) Gratitude: Part of staying present is being grateful for every little thing every day. Why is gratitude so hard? Because we get busy and stressed and forget to notice all the little miracles that occur around us all the time. Gratitude is the gift that is coupled with being present. Often, I have heard that people who pray are better at gratitude because prayer is all about saying thanks rather than asking for something. Thanksgiving can be celebrated every day when remember to incorporate gratitude into our daily routine.

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April 11, 2015

Weekend Warrior?

I love to run on Saturday mornings. I see so many more people running than on weekdays. And I say "hi" to all of them. Some of them, bless their hearts, look like they're laboring hard to get their workout in (probably like me!). And others are as cool and poised as can be, like they do this all the time....

I want to be like that some day.

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April 4, 2015

Pathfinders Study at Duke

I was watching TV the other night, anticipating the 3 part series titled: Cancer, The Emperor of all Maladies, when another show preceded that one. Having recently worked a temporary position at a Duke Hospital, I was interested to hear about a pioneering study being done there called Pathfinders.

The Pathfinders program is designed to address the mind, body and spiritual needs of each individual patient.

Not only did this study explore the psychosocial aspects of living with a cancer diagnosis, they have holistic approach which puts the humanity back into medicine, that is often lost when a person becomes someone with a cancer to treat.

Included with the Pathfinders Program are the 7 pillars to personal recovery: hope, balance, inner strengths, self care, support, spirit, life review. And it occurred to me by watching this show, that the pillars could be applied not only to illness, but to addiction, injury, divorce, loss of a child or job, or any number of life crisis.

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April 2, 2015

Getting a Life Coach

It's so easy to get off track of wellness goals. All we need in life is a major distraction and the new habits we're trying to establish get side-lined. In my job, I act as a cheerleader, of sorts, in order to get patients to move so that they do not lose function. In my life, I found I needed a cheerleader or guide so that I too could accomplish goals. I'm actually pretty good at the practicalities of life: I am able to feed myself, clothe myself, work a job and pay my bills. But living life is about more than surviving. How do we make our life the stuff that our wildest dreams are made of. In the context of a major life transition, I found I'd forgotten how to dream about what I wanted my life to be.

My solution: George, a life coach. Why not? Even elite athletes need a coach to shape them toward their professional goals. It is no different for the rest of us. And for me to reach my full potential, I need to replace old, outdated coping mechanisms with new, updated skills for emotional regulation. George says, "you can't change habits, you can only replace them." Exercise is part of my prescription, along with meditation, mindfulness (living in the now), and gratitude. "If you can change your physiology, you can change your mind."

So, last week, when I was distracted with life chores: getting a job, preparing income taxes, and finding a car, I began to lose focus on my new habits. I'd say to myself, "meh, I don't feel like running today." or "I'll do the 7 minute workout or 5 minutes of meditation this afternoon." It wasn't long before I was dishing myself a heaping helping of "miserably overwhelmed!" I felt so terrible and discouraged for losing momentum in the right direction. But it was George who kicked my butt back into gear with the following statement: "You know this stuff works for you. If you don't stick with the program, then I can't help you."

It sounds amazingly similar to the messages I tell my patients: "you must do the work or nothing will improve." Thank you, George, for redirecting my focus. I know that it will take time, but once I can catch and redirect myself to use those new habits, I will no longer need a coach to remind me.

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March 31, 2015

Another Reason to Take D Vitamins

First there were articles about the importance of Vitamin D for building healthy bones. Then later articles drew a link between Vitamin D deficiency and age-related decline. Now there seems to be a link between low Vitamin D levels and depression in healthy individuals.

The connection between sunlight exposure and production of Vitamin D is well documented. During winter months, especially in northern latitudes, sun exposure is decreased and often associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). So the it's easy to jump to conclusions that this explains the relationship.

However, in this new study:
After taking into account season, body mass index, race/ethnicity, diet, exercise, and time outside, the researchers found that lower vitamin D3 levels across the study period predicted clinically significant depressive symptoms (P < .05).

Taking a Vitamin D supplement is a low cost, low risk solution for people who may be at risk for depression. I like the 1000 IU, which are 1000IU per gel. However, other supplements offer
5000 IU per tablet. Talk with your doctor to find out if Vitamin D supplementation is right for you and how much you should take.

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March 23, 2015

Dance is Exercise

I've always loved to dance. There is nothing more joyful than moving your body to a song with a beat that moves the heart and soul. Most of my dancing has been free-style at clubs in my youth. It was the 80s, everybody was doing it!

A dance that I've always thought looks like a lot of fun is swing dancing. So I looked for local lessons and found an affordable venue at our local Elks Lodge. For $10 I got a beginners dance lesson, followed by two hours of dance which was open to a local dance club. Ages 17 to 75 are welcome and the dancers really reflected the spectrum of skill levels. I made a mental note to dance with every single person who asked.

I had a blast. Dancing, even at my limited skill level, is a great aerobic exercise. I danced 90% of the time and was sweating up a storm. I drank 3 bottles of water in 2 hours! My partners were kind and patient, giving me tips and pointers, which helped me gain confidence and reinforce the new dance steps that I learned at the beginning of the evening.

So if getting off the sofa and going for a run or working out at the gym is not your thing, sign up for a dance class. It's a whole lot of fun, good exercise, and helps you meet new people. BTW, the example video links above are "west coast style" swing dancing. There is also an "east coast style" which I am learning.

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March 20, 2015

Stymied By Re-injury

I've been training for a half marathon, and worked my way into an overuse injury of the adductor muscles on the inner thigh. After following instructions for rest, ice, stretching, and massage, I've started feeling better. I also began to incorporate strengthening exercises and everything seemed to going on track and I was ready to begin some easy running.

But first, I had errands to run, because, after all, life gets in the way. And it was in the supermarket, lifting a 26 lb box of cat litter into a shopping cart, that my right psoas went into spasm. I usually find cat litter in 20 lb boxes - what a difference 6 lbs can make! If I had been forced to lift the box from the floor rather than from a hip-height shelf, I probably would have squared my body better.

So rather than begin a light running program and return to training, I continued to rest. And I continued to stretch. And I used my foam roller to continue to work out my hamstrings, and IT band, and quads. And I continued my pelvic strengthening exercises. What I noticed was the sore spots were different on both sides of my body, like I was stretching and strengthening two different people. My pelvis remained out of alignment, and the last thing I needed to do was strengthen my body to reinforce and aberrant and out-of-balance pattern of support.

So I sought the help of a chiropractor. Why would a PT utilize the services of a chiropractor?? Why would an orthopedic surgeon I know recommend chiropractic for his back patients? Because chiropractic care has it's place in spectrum of health and wellness. If soft tissue manipulation and exercise do not correct a bony misalignment, then a chiropractor or well-trained PT are indicated. Frankly, a chiropractor may be quicker and cheaper. And if a patient is contemplating back surgery, wouldn't it make sense to exhaust all non-invasive options (with the blessings of your surgeon)?

So, lo and behold, it took 2 sessions, and my pelvis is back into alignment enough that I can do the pelvic stabilization test with increased steadiness. And I can perform my strengthening exercise with equal exertion on both sides of my body. And my muscles exhibit tension and tenderness in consistent locations on the left and right sides. And light running no longer hurts.

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March 18, 2015

Exercise and Depression

I'm between jobs right now, and frankly, the situation has me feeling depressed. But rather than moping around, I've decided to focus on things in my life that I can control, such as my health. I also have a hefty "to do" list: you know the kind, all those things you know need to get done, but you put them off .... How often in our lives do we get a block of time to get around to nagging projects without having to take personal time from work, or spend precious weekends attending to them? But when people are depressed, motivation can be hard to come by. The solution: exercise.

Mental health experts have long been aware that even mild, repeated stress can contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders in animals and people. Scientists have also known that exercise seems to cushion against depression. Working out somehow makes people and animals emotionally resilient, studies have shown.

The evidence is clear that exercise helps with depression. From professional medical sites such as WebMD and Mayo Clinic, to psychology sources to the Cochrane Research Database, ample literature supports the benefits of exercise in warding off and preventing depression. And we're not talking about just depressed mood, but major depression. The one thing an individual can do to improve their mental health is to exercise.

What is Mental health:
“State of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope
with adversity.”—USHDDS, 1994, p. 4

I have to admit, getting out and running has helped to lift me out of the doldrums. Being side-lined from training put me back in temporarily because I was not able to engage in exercise at the level I needed to combat depression. But now that I'm back in the game, my motivation has improved again. Heck, I've even been motivated to resurrect this blog! And I feel good about myself for taking charge of my health and getting moving. The success of exercise builds on itself - the better you feel, the more you want to do to keep feeling better.

Exercise does not require special equipment or expense. You can simply use the weight of your body for adequate resistance training. Walking to get the blood moving is the safest, most effective cardiovascular exercise. And stretching, especially after a workout, is helpful in recuperating following an exercise routine and maintains flexibility. To reduce depression, follow general public health guidelines, which recommend at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week as well as two days of strength training each week. Of course, if you have any medical conditions, it is always a good idea to consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program so that you can do so safely.

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March 16, 2015

Exercise as a Conduit to Wholeness

In today's topic, I want to reach back to my alternative medicine roots and talk about wholeness. I'm going to use myself as an example, simply because it's the most immediate one on hand. I've mentioned in earlier posts that I have an SI joint instability, which allows too much movement in the foundational support systems in my body: my pelvis. It does not give me problems all the time, but simply moves in and out of episodes of stability and dysfunction. Under duress, such as training for a half marathon, the compromise in this system of support has revealed itself.

Metaphorically, I can apply the compromise of my foundational support system to my life situation. I have recently undergone a major life transition, where I feel like "the rug has been pulled out from under me," so I can attest to moving in and out of periods of strength and instability mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Stepping out of my comfort zones and into novel situations serves to test my resilience and point out areas in life where I need to underpin compensatory behaviors with real strength.

Energetically/spiritually, the pelvis houses the root and sacral chakras, represented in red and orange. The first or root chakra is the seat of physical vitality and the fundamental urge to survive. It regulates those mechanism which keep the physical body alive. The second or sacral chakra is the center for creating relationships of all kinds. It is where we develop an inward sense of self and an outward awareness of others, ego, sexuality, and family. So if I have a physical compromise to the joint connecting the sacrum to the pelvic bones, then energetically, I have some work to do on my sacral chakra and my sense of self in the context of a major life transition.

I believe exercise is a perfect conduit to accessing the mental/emotional/spiritual parts of the self. What a helpful insight I have that the foundation of myself has become compromised. So I now have an opportunity to shore up that weak foundation, one that has relied on compensations outside of the self for stability. After all, you cannot build a house (or a life) on a weak foundation. As needed, I will utilize professional help from several sources.

I read recently that exercise is the one thing we can do for ourselves to address a whole host of illnesses without having to fork over a co-pay, add anything toxic to our systems, and has few side-effects when taken correctly. Ample research shows that exercise has multiple benefits for the mind, body, and spirit.

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