An Ode to Wearable Fitness Devices (Just in Time for the Holidays!)

Today’s entry is courtesy of Sally Mravcak, MD, CWH staff physician and exercise enthuisast.

What are wearable fitness devices, you ask?  You have probably seen people wearing them.  Wearable fitness devices can come in the form of a bracelet, a watch, or something that looks like a medallion that can be inserted into a watch band or necklace, or attached to almost any article of clothing.  Although each fitness device has its own unique qualities, they all have the common function of tracking your steps, activity, calories burned and even sleep.  Most sync with your smart phone or computer so you can input data and look at your overall activity and progress.  Move over bionic woman and make room for an easily attainable version of wearable tech!

If you thinking about asking for or giving a wearable fitness device this holiday season, I think it’s a stellar idea!  Remember: if you can measure it, you can manage it.  If you or someone you care about wants to become more physically active, the first step is figuring out how active you are already.  The next step is improving from there.  Wearable tech is an easy way to monitor yourself.  The great thing about wearable tech is that it makes you accountable for what you’re doing and eliminates the flub factor.  There’s no guessing at the end of the day how many steps you took or how active you were.  It’s all recorded for you, for posterity!

Once you measure what you’re already doing, you can set goals for improvement.  Today’s wearable fitness tech usually performs the function of a pedometer plus more.  We know from previous research that pedometer based walking programs help people lose weight.  Longer programs lead to more weight loss than shorter programs.  And don’t forget: if you exercise, even if you don’t lose a pound, you have improved your cardiovascular health.  That means you’ve lowered your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease, not to mention you are improving your mental state and brain health.  Research shows that any type of physical activity is good for your mental agility.

If you really want to step up your game, consider adding social media to the mix.  Invite some exercise buddies to join you on Facebook or another social media platform.  Some small studies show that social media helps with weight loss by increasing accountability and motivation.

Here are some suggestions to get started:

  • Step one: Purchase or receive a wearable fitness device!
  • For the first week, make no changes.  Observe your baseline level of physical activity.
  • Next, set a goal.  Whether it’s increasing your daily steps by 10%, committing to taking the stairs at work, or getting to the gym one more day per week.
  • Once you accomplish your goal, set a new one!
  • Consider posting your trials and tribulations on a social media and invite friends to join in the fitness challenge.

So which wearable fitness tech to buy?  The choice is yours – check out these reviews to help you decide.   Pick something you like that fits your personality and budget.  Whether you choose the Jawbone, Fit bit  Flex, or Misfit Shine, you’re on your way to making healthy changes.

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I’m not sure when the black Friday spam/emails started coming.  It feels like they began in August, but if I take a closer look, maybe it was only two weeks ago.   One thing is for sure…it’s going to be a busy holiday season!

Before you brave a store or left-mouse-click, consider this:  a gift of health.  Choose from some of the ideas below, or create your own.  You make a difference in the lives of your friends, family, and community.


  • Be a health advocate:  Think about all of the appointments that we put off…our pap test, mammogram, or dentist. You could be a personal secretary of sorts and make all the arrangements so all the giftee would have to do is show up!
  • Be an insurance liason:  Speak with insurance companies to settle a bill, or accept a bigger challenge and decipher a bill.
  • Be a resource:  Research support organizations that would make a difference in the lives of your friends and family.  Be creative, too!  Recognize that support groups come in many varieties, including on-line.  Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter (yes, Twitter!), can be immensely helpful in connecting individuals with like problems.  Set up an account for a friend or loved one and preload helpful groups or members.


  • Prepare a healthy meal – from appetizers through dessert.  Consider using organic ingredients or locally grown produce, and don’t forget the wine.  A 3 ounce glass is good for your heart!
  • Make a basket of power foods such as unsalted nuts, dried fruits, and dark chocolate.
  • Purchase a gift card from an organic market.
  • Present a beautiful cookbook with items that may introduce a new, healthier way of eating.  One such example is the old standby vegetarian cookbook “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Mollie Katzen, author of many interesting,  healthy cookbooks .
  • Buy a fun lunchbox and pack up the first lunch!  Empty calories and heart un-healthy eating often occur during lunchtime.  Preparing food in advance allows for careful food selection and portion control.


  • Walking is fantastic exercise.  Become a pedometer buddy with your giftee – enjoy a healthy competition as you reach your goal of 10,000 steps each day.
  • Liven up a workout!  Studies show that music during your routine allows you to ignore distractions and fatigue.  Songs should have 124-140 beats per minute to get your heart rate into the healthy range.  Put together a customized playlist – many internet sites such as Fitsugar  allow you to listen and purchase.
  • Sunglasses with UV protection, sweat-proof sunblock with an SPF>50, and solar wear (clothes made with SPF>50 fiber) make excellent gifts for those that enjoy an outdoors workout.

Your holidays do not have to be only about consumption – from the material to the ingestible.  You can create new traditions that embrace healthy living and last long after the wrapping paper has been recycled.

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It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month!  Today’s post by staff physician Dr. Sarah Wistreich:

Breast cancer is a topic that I frequently get asked about by all age groups.  With statistics as high as they are – 1 in every 8 women will get breast cancer by the time we are 80 – most of us do wonder whether we will be part of those statistics. The concern is even more relevant for those of us that have relatives with breast cancer.  My grandmother had breast cancer in her 70s and opted for a bilateral radical mastectomy. Treatment options were very different back then, but before I became a doctor I wondered if I would be faced with this diagnosis some day. That is why it is important to understand breast cancer facts vs. fiction.

1. Examining my breasts each month with reduce my chances of breast cancer:  FICTION

Two large studies have shown that women who performed self breast examinations had no difference in breast cancer mortality than women who did NOT perform self breast examinations.  The studies also showed that the group who did self breast exams had twice as many breast biopsies but did not find more cancers. What IS recommended is a yearly clinical breast exam done by a physician.

2. I can have a mammogram before I am 40:  FACT

Mammography screening is recommended by most physicians to start at age 40If a woman has a family history of breast cancer in a first degree relative, she should start getting mammograms 10 years prior to the age that the first degree relative was diagnosed at.  If a mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42, her daughter should get her first mammogram at age 32. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or molecular breast imaging (MBI) can be useful adjuncts to mammography based on one’s risk factors and breast types. This should be discussed with a physician.

3.  My chances of breast cancer are higher because my grandmother had breast cancer:  FICTIONA woman with a first degree relative (mother, father, brother, sister, child) with breast cancer is twice as likely to have breast cancer.  If she has more than one first degree relative with the diagnosis, the risk can go up 3-4 times. This is not true if the woman’s mother was over the age of 50.

4.  I can reduce my risk of breast cancer:  FACT

There are a few lifestyle choices that women can make that can decrease their breast cancer risk. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important. Your goal for body mass index (BMI) should be between 20 and 25.  Adding exercise into your routine can also decrease your risk. Your goal should be 150 minutes per week of sweaty activity. Limiting alcohol intake can be beneficial.  Studies show that women who drank more than two drinks per day had an increased risk of up to 20% for breast cancer. If you become pregnant, breastfeeding can also decrease your breast cancer risk.

And now, a little breast cancer fiction trivia:

So what has been shown NOT to increase your breast cancer risk? Hair dyes, abortions, miscarriages, plastics, breast implants, bras, deodorant/antiperspirant use, fertility drugs and breast trauma have not been linked to increased risks of breast cancer.

You should discuss your risk factors with your physician and come up with a plan for your breast health. Remember the importance of knowing your family history and of the yearly clinical breast exam done by your physician.  Although genes play a large role in some breast cancers, a healthy lifestyle is very important in the prevention of breast cancer in your future.

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Things That Make You Go Buzz: Your Guide to Caffeine

Sally Mravcak, MD is today’s CWH blogger:

Caffeine is the most widely used and socially acceptable stimulant.  We have become a coffee culture.  Morning to me smells like a freshly brewed pot of joe.  And let’s not leave out our fellow tea, soda, and energy drink aficionados.  Here’s what you need to know to sip responsibly.

How much do you consume?

You might be surprised.  For example, a Starbucks grande coffee (16oz) has a whopping 330mg of caffeine, which is 1.5 times the amount of caffeine in over the counter daytime stimulant products (like NoDoz or 5 Hour Energy).  It’s a safe bet that most coffee-house brews will have more caffeine than home brews.  Most teas (hot and iced) and sodas have considerably less caffeine than coffee. Energy drinks are a bit tricky, as their caffeine content can vary widely.  Look here to find the caffeine content of your favorite beverage.

How much is too much?

For most adults consuming 400mg or less appears to be safe.  No safe amount has been established for adolescents, but a good assumption is that it is less.  Pregnant women should try to limit caffeine to less than 200mg, or about one cup of coffee a day.

Is caffeine bad for me?

Like many things, in moderation, caffeine actually has beneficial effects.  It can temporarily increase mental alertness, reaction time, and athletic performance.  Some studies show that it improves mood and it has also been associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, alcoholic cirrhosis, and gout.  Many studies show that people who drink coffee live a little longer than people who don’t.  However, caffeine consumed in high levels can cause headache, anxiety, insomnia, heartburn, upset stomach and tremors.  Heavy coffee intake can cause irregular heart rhythms in some people.  Really heavy caffeine use can result in death, as we’ve seen recently in those who overuse caffeine powder.

What should I do if I’m over-doing it?

Caffeine withdrawal is real!  It can happen in people who drink the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day (about 100mg of caffeine) for as little as three days in a row.  Symptoms usually start within 12-24 hours after going cold turkey and can last up to nine days.  If you are a chronic caffeine user and need to cut down, we recommend weaning your caffeine intake gradually.

Is there anyone who should avoid caffeine?

Yes!  People who are susceptible to irregular heartbeats or who have a condition that is exacerbated by caffeine, like heartburn/ulcers, digestive problems (like IBS or colitis), anxiety, or insomnia.

Whether you run on Dunkin’ or crave that Venti Iced Skinny Hazelnut Macchiato Extra Shot No Whip, remember to sip responsibly!

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Yoga: There’s No Place Like “OMMMM”

Today’s entry is from CWH nurse practitioner Kathy Bornhoeft:

Balance Your Life; Breathe, Relax and Be Still…………………

A recent study founded that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, an increase of almost 30% in just four years!

Yoga is a mind and body meditative movement practice with historical origins in ancient Indian philosophy.  Yoga typically combines physical postures and positions with breathing techniques, meditation and relaxation.  There are numerous styles of yoga, but Hatha yoga is commonly practiced in the United States.  Most people practice yoga to maintain and improve their health and well-being and enhance their quality of life.  Research shows that practicing yoga can help reduce pain, lower heart rate and blood pressure, increase lung capacity, boost circulation and muscle tone, and may also help relieve anxiety and depression.  Yoga has been shown to improve balance in stroke survivors according to the American Heart Association journal Stroke.  Yoga is generally low-impact and safe for most people when practiced under the guidance of a well-trained instructor

According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, yoga is the sixth most commonly used complementary practice among adults.  That adds up to more than 13 million adults practicing yoga in one year.  That same survey found that more than 1.5 million children also practiced yoga in that same year.  Recent research also suggests that the addition of yoga or mindfulness meditation practices may be associated with promoting weight loss and healthier eating habits.

Equally important as the exploration of its potential health benefits is research on the safety of yoga. Yoga is often promoted as a safe and effective exercise program, and although the risk of serious injury from yoga is thought to be quite low, that’s not always the case.  Some poses may place too much strain on certain joints, particularly if they’re not being done properly or modified appropriately for the individual.  In fact, the physical demands and safety of yoga have not been well studied, particularly in older adults.

 Considering Practicing Yoga?

  • If you have a medical condition, talk to your health care provider before starting yoga.  Women who are pregnant should always check with their health care provider before starting yoga.
  • Yoga postures should be modified based on individual abilities.
  • Ask about the physical demands of the type of yoga in which you are interested and inform your yoga instructor about any medical issues you have.
  • Be sure to drink water before, during, and after a yoga practice and wear suitable clothing.

The Center for Women’s Health has ongoing Yoga classes, with new classes to be added Fall 2014:

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