My Week of Mindfulness

Today’s relaxation blog is via CWH’s  Dr. Sally Mravcak:

Mindfulness meditation: the type of meditation where you sit quietly, in stillness, and pay attention to your breath as it flows in and out.  No thinking about your to-do list, no checking face-book/instagram/twitter/pinterest, no running around…you get the point. 

 I am the last person you would think of as a “meditator.”   I’m not good at sitting and I need to move.   But, when I started reading about all the potential benefits of meditation, I decided to get myself a cushion, download a mindfulness audio track, and get into a comfortable position. 

 In the last fifteen years a growing body of scientific data has shown that meditation has the potential to affect mental and physical health in a positive way.  Who doesn’t want that? 

Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can: 

  • Reduce anxiety, depression, and chronic pain
  • Increase activity in the area of the brain responsible for learning and emotional control
  • Improve mental resilience (a recent study with Marines found that attention and working memory were better when they meditated for as little as 12 minutes a day!)
  • Improve multitasking
  • Help smokers quit
  • Reduce hot flashes
  • Help with weight loss 

So what was my experience with 12 minutes of meditation a day for one week?  Well, there’s no way to know if I grew my gray matter or if my war zone function improved.   I definitely experienced “monkey mind” – the term meditators use to describe unsettled, restless, and uncontrollable thoughts that happen during meditation.  (Think: drunken monkey screeching, carrying on and jumping from tree-limb to tree-limb.)  But, despite the drunken monkeys, I did notice that, overall, I felt calmer, more patient, and generally happier.  And, a most amazing thing happened – my eleven year old daughter became very interested in the meditation corner and we did one 5 minute session together where I sat on the cushion and she sat on my lap.  It was a most peaceful and memorable moment.  So, it’s on to week two of taming my monkey mind and one more week closer to Nirvana (and I don’t mean the grunge band).  

Here are some tips on how to get started, yourself.

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Love and Health

Today’s entry via CWH’s Dr. Sarah Wistreich:

Given that Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, love is in the air! You may be looking forward to flowers, a box of chocolates, or a fancy dinner. But what about the other benefits of love?

A recent study looked at the health benefits of love on the body and compared this to stress. Chronic stress had a direct effect on the nervous system and led to outcomes like worsening of cardiovascular function, poor memory, weaker immune response, and an increase in depression and anxiety.  In comparison, love worked in the limbic system and affects emotional responses. Love was shown to increase immune response for fighting diseases and decrease depression and anxiety. Love leads to a release of a variety of neurotransmitters (endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine) that act to increase bonding and decrease stress reactions. The overall outcome is a feeling of well being with deep feelings of motivation, pleasure and reward. Being in close proximity with a partner has been shown to decrease cortisol levels and reduce stress.  People in love have also been shown to have fewer doctors’ visits, lower blood pressure, less alcohol and substance abuse, fewer colds and a longer overall lifespan. 

Who needs candy and flowers when your partner has given you all of these wonderful aspects of health? Make plans to spend time together doing an activity that you both love, whether it is cooking a healthy meal together or a fun physical activity. Focus not on the gifts and commercialism, but the actual love you have for each other and bask in your dopamine bliss!

Don’t feel down if you are single this Valentine’s day. Many studies have shown similar benefits from a strong connection to family and friends. Make plans with those you love around you and boost your health in the meantime with a group activity or a family gathering.  Get your physical contact through bear hugs from your nearest and dearest. Frequent hugs alone have been proven to be beneficial to your health!

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Center for Women’s Health!

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For 2014: 14 New Year’s Resolutions for your Mind, Body, and Soul

Happy New Year from CWH!   CWH nurse practitioner Kathy Woods tops off our 2014 blog-o-sphere with this empowering piece.  Enjoy! 

  1. Exercise-Find an exercise you enjoy and start doing it daily, move naturally every day, take the steps, not the escalator or elevator, buy a pedometer and challenge yourself every day to do more.  According to Mayo clinic exercise boosts your mood and can help you feel better, it gives you more energy and helps you live longer.
  2. Be grateful-being happy doesn’t make you grateful, being grateful makes you happy; stop and appreciate the beautiful things in your life daily, say thank you more, respect more, consider more, it is contagious.
  3. Get plenty of sleep-sleep is regenerative for your body, the more sleep you get the better you will feel and perform the next day.  Studies show that sleep can improve your memory and improve overall health.
  4. Try aromatherapy and breathe deeply-every time you think of it, stop, take a deep breath and love life, enjoy the scents and the healing power of lavender, peppermint and vanilla etc.
  5. Ground yourself and get outdoors more-plant your feet on the dirt of the earth as often as possible, go for a hike, enjoy nature.
  6. Do more yoga, meditation and think about acupuncture-more than 20 million Americans meditate regularly according to the 2007 National Health Interview Study and about 13 million do yoga as it has been shown to relieve pain, anxiety and stress.  Acupuncture promotes wellness and according to the world health organization treats many conditions including joint, back and neck pain.
  7. Fail-don’t be afraid, failure is healthy, it helps us to learn, reflect upon the failure and try to correct it, keep trying, life is about lessons, don’t be afraid to try new things, failure doesn’t weaken you it makes you stronger.  Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
  8. Smile more and love more-it feels great and is a universal language, you are beautiful when you smile, love yourself and show others that you love them.  Studies show a smile can lower heart rate, reduce stress, improve your mood, increase productivity, kill pain, boost your immune system, and most importantly makes you look younger!
  9. Spend more time with loved ones-in our busy lives we must make time for the people who matter to us most, designate a “quality time day”, take a look at your life’s priorities, remember… it is the journey not the destination.
  10. Find and live your passion- discover yourself, build healthy respectful relationships, make positive life choices, do more of what you love, set goals, start a hobby, make a bucket list.
  11. Drink more water-water is healthy, low cal and a nutrient your body needs.  It can also replace high calorie beverages and aid in weight loss!
  12. Eat plenty of fresh greens-ditch the canned veggies, frozen is better, dark leafy greens are excellent sources of fiber, folate and antioxidants which have been shown to protect against certain types of cancer such as pancreatic, colorectal, mouth and larynx. And multivitamins won’t prevent heart attacks, strokes or cancer, or help you live longer, but a healthy diet will.
  13. Give more, be compassionate-find a charity you believe in, give of yourself not just your money, the rewards are amazing.  Supporting a cause keeps you informed of social injustice, strengthens your spiritual life, and improves your overall sense of well-being.
  14. Finally, put down the smart phone, get off the computer, turn off the TV, take off the headphones, stop the noise;  don’t let life pass you by; look at each other, talk, listen, feel, enjoy, read a story (a real paper book), play charades or monopoly, get in the moment or just…….. be.


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You’re Going to Stick What? Where?

Today’s entry via our own Sally Mravcak, MD, who practices primary care, women’s health, and acupuncture.

There’s been a lot of buzz about acupuncture lately.  Although people have been practicing acupuncture for over 2000 years, it only started to enter the American mainstream in the 1970’s.  Now,  you don’t have to look hard to find studies in medical literature and stories in the news -  even the U.S. military is training doctors to use acupuncture in battle zones and base clinics! 

My first experience with acupuncture was almost two decades ago, before my career as a physician ever began.   My mother had a painful episode of severe neck stiffness that no amount of medication,stretching, or aqua aerobics could shake.  Mom’s friend suggested acupuncture, and so off we went, with me as chauffeur, to a local acupuncturist.

The experience was like none I’d had before.  The acupuncturist looked at my mother’s tongue, took her pulse, then inserted fine needles in her neck, arms and legs.  He attached an electrical stimulator to two of the needles and then left the room. I waited with her in a dimly lit room while she rested, needles in place, for about twenty minutes.  When we left she was very relaxed and her neck felt a little better.  The next day, her neck pain continued to improve, and by day three she was back to her usual shop-til-you-drop self.

Medicine?   Voo-doo?  I wasn’t sure at the time.  All I knew was that it worked.  Placebo effect or not, mom’s neck was better.

It wasn’t until years later that I started to look deeper into acupuncture theory, had my own first acupuncture treatment, and decided to learn to perform acupuncture as a physician.  Here are some acupuncture basics:

  • Acupuncture works.  Many clinical trials have proven that acupuncture is effective in treating certain conditions.  For a list of conditions treatable by acupuncture, check out The World Health Organization website here .
  • Although everyone experiences acupuncture differently, most agree it doesn’t hurt.  Yes, you’ll feel the needle, but it is a fine needle that is inserted quickly and does not hurt anywhere near as much as having blood drawn or a vaccination.  Once the needle is in place, it is usually not painful.  And once all the needles are in place, most people feel relaxed and a little sleepy. 
  • You do not need to believe in acupuncture for it to work.   Acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than placebo in clinical trials.  Skeptic or not, if you have a problem treatable by acupuncture, in the right hands, it should have some effect.
  • Acupuncturists do not always need to stick needles in the painful “problem area” to see results.  Sometimes they place the needles in the ear or on the side of the body that is opposite to where the problem is.
  • Acupuncture is safe, has little to no side effects, and little risk of complications.

For more information, take a peek at the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture website here.  The site is created by doctors who perform acupuncture.

To schedule a consultation with Dr. Mravcak, call the Center for Women’s Health at 609-588-5059.

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Organic vs. Not Organic: Which Wins?

My first trip to the organic grocer was filled with awe, then shock.  The store in my town is tiny, and resplendent with a cast of characters most fitting for nuts and crunch – little makeup, lots of sandals, and an unparalleled passion for produce.  The fruits and vegetables,  rich in color and beautifully displayed, quickly filled my reusable bags. I had enough produce for my family of four to last one week and made my way to the cashier.  And then - yikes – sticker shock set in…never have I paid so much money for so few grocery items!

I am an active participant in the organic movement.  I do not think that organic foods necessarily taste better, but I do believe that foods without chemicals make a difference in our long-term health and the health of our environment.  I am also a realist.  Buying organic can significantly add to a weekly food bill, and for many, is an unaffordable luxury.

So what to do? If there is only one change to your grocery list that you are able to make, it should be this:  buy more produce!  You should eat at least four to five servings of mostly vegetables but also fruits every day.  We know that consumption of diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer, and many other evils.

Some fruits and vegetables are more likely to have chemical residues than others. With this in mind, you may opt for some organic choices.  The Environmental Working Group has put together a handy list.  The “Dirty Dozen” are 12 foods that have higher levels of pesticide residues and are more safely consumed when organically grown.  This list includes apples, strawberries and grapes.   The “Clean Fifteen” are 15 foods that are less likely to have residues and includes foods such as corn, avocados, and cantaloupe.  You can see the full list here.  Forgot to bring this list to the store?  No worries, you can download a *free* app for your smartphone by searching in your app store for the “Dirty Dozen.”

At your next shopping trip, remember the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.  Burlap bags and Birkenstocks optional.

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