Summer Fitness Idea: Swimming

June 22, 2016 at 10:24 am | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Sara Evans, Aquatics Supervisor
The Clubs at Charles River Park

Swimming is a great, total body exercise for building strength in your muscles as well as your heart and lungs. Swimming is also a safe activity for anyone. Because you’re weightless in the water, there’s less wear on your joints and you don’t need to worry about tripping or losing feeling in your feet. Unless your healthcare provider says no, there’s no reason not to try swimming.

Swimming uses every muscle in your body, but especially your core. A strong core is needed to keep your head above water, and will help improve your posture in other activities like running or walking. Since the whole body is used to pull you through the water, swimming is a great time saver workout. Just 30 minutes in the pool is about the same as at 45-minute run on the treadmill. You can also adjust how hard you work by making small changes to your hand positions. For instance, keeping your hands flat adds resistance and challenge.

If you’re new to swimming, the first steps are learning to float and developing good breath control in the water. Most of all you’ll need to have confidence about swimming in the deep end. The best way to build confidence is through practice. I recommend beginners start with 15 minutes twice a week at either the beginning (warm up) or end (cool down) of your workout. Remember, swimming is much different than running so it’s best to take it easy to start so you don’t wear yourself out. As you get stronger, you can increase how long and how often you swim. Eventually you’ll be able to swim every day of the week if you want! Swimming is a life-long activity and there’s no risk of injury from overuse.

One last thought: There’s no one “right” way to swim. You’ll soon develop a style that works for you. Be comfortable with your stroke, even if it’s different from someone else’s. The best fit for you is whatever gets you to the other end of the pool and back.

 

Navigating Health Information on the Web

June 9, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Guest Post, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Jen Searl, MLS, CHWC

If you’re like the majority of Americans (over 60%), you use the internet to find health information. And why wouldn’t you? The internet is full of answers to any question you could possibly have. However it’s important to remember that not all websites are created equal. Just because you read something on the internet does not mean that is true! Read below for things to look for when evaluating health websites.

  • Source: Who is the owner of the website? For example, is it a non- profit, federal government agency, pharmaceutical company or other? Often the ‘About’ section on a website will give you this information.
  • Bias: Is the website trying to sell you something? Is it difficult to tell what an advertisement is and what is fact?
  • Quality: Where does the information come from? Is it based on solid research or personal experience?
  • Date: When was the website last updated? Is the information current? Are there broken links?

You can tell a lot about a website from how it ends:

.gov = This website is owned and operated by the government. An example would be medlineplus.gov, an excellent source of health information

.org =This website is owned and operated by an organization. When looking for diabetes information, a great reputable source of information is the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org

.edu = This website is owned and operated by an educational institution, such as a college or university. An example would be www.health.harvard.edu, a division of Harvard Medical School

.com = This website is owned and operated usually by a commercial site. When looking at .coms, use the tips above. Some websites, like ours www.mghdiabeteseducation.com is a great source of health information! Others can be less reliable so use your judgment.

If you ever wonder if information you have read is true, make sure to talk with your diabetes educator. They know you and your diabetes best!

My Story: Overcoming Fears of Starting Insulin

May 15, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Posted in Guest Post, My Story | Leave a comment
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By Kevin

Rock climbing. Photo Credit: Bryan Wintersteen

Writing a blog post on “Overcoming Fears of Starting Insulin” turned out to be harder than I thought. I mean, who knew writing something like this would be that much more difficult than composing an e-mail at work or posting a snarky comment on Facebook? And to be completely honest, after extending (read: missing) my deadline a few times I was starting to feel a bit hopeless that I could actually pull it off.

But then I saw Steve Martin, the actor, comedian, author, and banjo virtuoso (don’t believe me? Check this out, I think you’ll like it) on Late Show with David Letterman and inspiration struck. Martin’s appearance on Letterman reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from his 1986 comedy ¡Three Amigos!

To set the scene, at this point in the film The Amigos (played by Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short) have decided that although they are merely Hollywood actors who play hero gunfighters in the movies, they will help the inhabitants of a small Mexican village confront and defeat the very real bandits and their ruthless leader, El Guapo (played by Alfonso Alau), who have terrorized the town for years. Lucky Day (Martin’s character) attempts to inspire the villagers with this speech.

What on Earth does this have anything to do with “Overcoming Fears of Starting Insulin”? Well, I think for most people with Type 2 diabetes, like yours truly, our “El Guapo” is starting insulin. It’s something we will have to face eventually and something that once we do, we will be better and healthier for it. For me, when my endocrinologist suggested insulin five years ago, there were two very different fears I had to overcome.

The first was the fear of admitting failure. The suggestion that it was time to start insulin was, for me, like admitting that I had failed myself, my wife, my family – everyone who cared about me.  If I had eaten better, I wouldn’t need insulin. If I had exercised more, I wouldn’t need insulin. And now if I needed insulin, then clearly I failed at managing my diabetes.

When I met with my diabetes educator, however, she reminded me that Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, moving on to insulin was merely the next step in my treatment, and that it was my previous treatments that were failing to adequately treat the disease. In short, it wasn’t me it was my treatment that was failing. Once I heard this I was much more accepting of insulin as an option. I wanted to feel better than I was feeling at the time, and insulin was just the next phase of my diabetes management.

The second fear was about the administration of insulin. I had visions of not being able to do anything spontaneously with friends or family anymore (“Sorry I can’t make it, I forgot my insulin so I need to head home.”). I was pretty nervous (and admittedly still am) about hypoglycemia after a previous episode with another class of drug. And while not generally afraid of needles, I had never self-administered an injection. How long is the needle we’re talking about here? I thought it was going to be about six inches long. Would it hurt? I was sure it would be agonizing.

Again, a little education went a long way to allaying these fears. Injecting insulin turned out to be pretty anti-climactic, really. It’s had no negative impact on my life whatsoever. Being on insulin has not limited me socially. With help from my health care practitioners I have had no issues with hypoglycemia. The mini-pen needle is about as long as my pinky fingernail and causes no pain at all.

And most importantly, I’m healthier and happier ever since I faced the Type 2 diabetic’s “El Guapo” – and won.

Gardening for Body and Mind

June 12, 2014 at 11:35 am | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post, My Story | 1 Comment
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By Rebecca Ocampo
Project Coordinator

phlox

Medulla Oblongata, Phlox Subulata, Calamagrostis Acutiflora, Panicum Virgatum – they may sound alike and look alike but are all very different. The medulla oblongata is the lower stalk-like section of the brain. The rest are plants: beautiful creeping phlox and exotic perennial grass. The photograph to the right is Phlox Subulata or creeping phlox. They bloom in the beginning to late spring and are perennials. They are used for garden edges or “fillers” near a stone wall.

There is an old Chinese proverb that goes like this: “If you drink tea, you will be happy for a day. If you roast a pig, you will be happy for a week. If you get married, you will be happy for three weeks. If you garden, you will be happy forever.”  My love of gardening peaked recently when I moved to the suburbs and found myself in an apartment surrounded by beautiful and lush forestry. Never did I imagine that gardening would be one of my priorities outside of work. It’s very relaxing and a healthy way to exercise. I’m outdoors and not connected to anything electronic.  Most of the time, I do not use my gardening gloves and dig right in the dirt.  It’s like making cake batter without utensils, if you will.  The texture is soothing to the skin.  It may have something to do with childhood, like making mud pies at the beach.

When I was growing up in the Philippines, my family’s ancestral home was surrounded by a variety of fruit trees (banana, avocado, mango and jackfruit) sugar cane, bamboo, and a variety of tropical and exotic flowers including different shades of hibiscus – all surrounding an in-ground (almost Olympic size) swimming pool. Flash forward to the United States where my mom, brother, and I visited several garden centers every Sunday. They would never agree to go to a mall, so it was either another pair of shoes for me or a Panicum Virgatum which is a metallic blue (sounds like shoes to me!) grass that blooms in late summer and grows up to 3’ in height and approximately 18” wide. It has pretty blue blades during the summer and turns to golden and bright yellow blades in the fall.

I mostly grow perennials:  orange and red tiger lilies, pink and white English daisies, bright orange poppies, vinca with purple flowers.  There are purple irises, red knock-out roses (tough roses that will come back every year no matter the weather) and some annuals like impatiens and pansies as well. The benefit of gardening is twofold.  First, it’s a good form of exercise because you rake, mow the lawn, pull weeds, thatch the grass, prune trees, and design your garden so it’s esthetically pleasing. Second, gardening exercises the mind. There is a calmness and peacefulness in gardening. It’s a proven source of good mental health awareness, and releases tension. It means I have escaped confinement from my cubicle. It’s a form of exercise that soothes and calms my mood after a hectic day at the office.

Spotlight: Charlestown HealthCare Center Activity Tracker Pilot

May 1, 2014 at 10:30 am | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post, My Story | Leave a comment
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By Rajani Larocca, MD
Charlestown HealthCare Center

with Chrisanne Sikora, Senior Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program

FitBit activity tracker

Lifestyle change is ultimately in the hands of the individual, and our job as medical  providers is to find a way to empower people to make those changes. It’s an old problem, but the question is: how do we get there? And can new technology help us solve the problem in new and innovative ways?

In spring 2013, I ran a series of six weekly group visits with a group of my patients at MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center. The group was originally intended for those with metabolic syndrome, but the majority of the patients already had Type 2 Diabetes.  The idea for this program came from an interest in applying a public health approach to medicine. All of the patients volunteered for the program on my recommendation. The focus of the visits was to educate the participants about healthy lifestyle change, to help motivate them to implement this change, and to provide a support system to help keep them motivated.

Each session focused on a different topic. In addition to the introduction in the first week and a summary group in the last week, we discussed nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and social connection. A key part of the sessions included removing the all-or-nothing mentality that many people adopt when they are trying to be healthier, focusing instead on taking what steps you can and forgiving mistakes in the past.

During the meeting in which we discussed exercise, everyone who participated was given a FitBit activity tracker to wear. Once the trackers were on, the group went on a short walk through the neighborhood. Many were surprised to learn they didn’t have to walk far to reach 1,000 steps.

In subsequent sessions, reviewing the Fitbit data was part of what we did during our time together. Interestingly, everyone liked the Fitbits – even those who didn’t have ready internet access or who weren’t really internet-savvy. Because the trackers had a display which showed results in real time, everyone could tell whether they were reaching their goals on a daily basis. While there was some friendly competition among participants, most were only competing against themselves, trying to beat their totals from the previous week.

After the program ended, the participants were allowed to keep their FitBits, and some were still wearing them eight months later. Some of those who stopped wearing them said it was because they had incorporated their new habits into their routine and didn’t need the tracker anymore. When asked how he would keep up with his daily walks during the winter, one gentleman responded “I’ll wear a coat!”

Electronic trackers like the FitBit make developing healthy lifestyle habits more fun, but we can’t underestimate what the social connection of the group did to foster people’s success. The participants really enjoyed the group setting, especially the sense of community that developed and the confidence they gained from learning that others face many of the same challenges. Living with a chronic disease can be isolating, but in this group, people realized that they were not alone.

Beginning Yoga

October 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Brenda Santora, Yoga Teacher
The Clubs at Charles River Park

with Chrisanne Sikora, Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program

Yoga is the integration of mind, body and soul. It’s physical, it’s relaxation. It’s working on flexibility, meditation and calming the mind. Ultimately, it’s learning and accepting your own body. There’s a perception that you need to be an athlete and/or able to twist yourself into a pretzel in order to practice yoga. The truth is we’re all built differently. If you can’t do the final pose, there’s nothing wrong with that! Not everyone will be able to do every pose.

If you’re new to yoga, a good first step is finding the correct level class. Starting with something that’s too advanced can be discouraging (and possibly unsafe). Check out the websites for studios in your area and look for classes with the words Intro, Beginner, Basics or Foundation in their title. If you’re still not sure which class is the best fit, you can always call the studio. They’ll be more than happy to answer your questions and make recommendations. Another option is looking into what’s offered by your local YMCA/YWCA or Adult Education Centers. These community centers are a great place to learn about yoga before moving on to classes at a yoga studio.

It’s normal to feel a sense of being overwhelmed at first. Part of it is simply the experience of doing something new, but you’ll find that after a few classes it becomes very familiar. Also when you’re getting started it’s quite normal to see something you’ve never done and feel like you can’t do it. Instead of saying I can’t do this, focus on what you can do. Just walking in the door and standing on your mat is an accomplishment! Over time you’ll start to notice you’re working and stretching parts of the body you didn’t know you could before. You may also notice you start to just feel good and more relaxed.

Finally, remember instructors are all different and each has their own individual way of teaching. Before your class take a look at their background, where they did their training, and with whom. If something doesn’t click with your instructor, don’t give up. Keep an open mind and try experimenting with different styles and teachers.

Brenda is an RYT 200 registered Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher at The Clubs at Charles River Park

My Be Fit Success Story

August 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | Leave a comment
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By Jina Rameau, RN, MPH
Project Specialist

I was new to the MGH community, just 3 months into my position. During new employee orientation, I heard about all the benefits we can access. One in particular really caught my attention:  the MGH Be Fit program. Be Fit is the MGH employee wellness program, a free 10-week program that focuses on helping employees learn to eat healthier and exercise more with guidance from nutritionists and personal trainers.

I knew I wanted to join the program, and began contacting the directors. There was one hiccup:  I was pretty new to my department, and the program requested teams of 15-25 people within your department. I remember thinking I don’t know enough people to get a group together! I explained my situation to one of the directors and promised my commitment to Be Fit. He advised I could possibly join another team! I was ecstatic, and couldn’t wait to be a part of the program.

I joined the team at the Diabetes Research Center (team name: Sweet Success).  The time flew by with weekly team breakout sessions with our nutritionist, Debra, and personal trainer, Pete. Weekly rallies were also held to review team stats for submission of food logs, the total time we spent exercising, how many times we practiced relaxation response techniques, and number of steps taken. There were a total of 6 teams, and Sweet Success remained within the Top 3 throughout the 10 weeks. We felt a sense of achievement whenever we took a trophy home.

In addition to 1 hour weekly strength training sessions with Pete, I also participated in the weekly group exercise classes at the gym right next to the hospital. I fell head over heels for Zumba:  a fun, effective workout system featuring dance moves set to Latin and International music.  As a result of Be Fit resources, I learned relaxation techniques (i.e. deep breathing and visualization) as well as nutrition facts like how to read a food label, portion size and healthy snacking.  I lost over 15lbs and continue to include exercise in my daily routine. It’s a lifestyle!

Go Team! Sweet Success'Be Fit Trophies

Adventures in Stand-Up Paddleboarding

July 3, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Posted in Fitness, Guest Post | 1 Comment
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By Chrisanne Sikora
Project Manager – Social Media

Chrisanne headshot

“It’s like skateboarding-plus-surfing-plus-canoeing.”  That’s how I tried describing stand-up paddleboarding to a friend as we talked about what we were looking forward to doing this summer.  I’d been curious about trying stand-up paddleboarding (or SUP as it’s often called) after watching people paddling around a harbor near Chatham last year.  I did a little research to see if there were any places closer to home where I could try SUP.  As it turns out, my local sporting goods store offers outdoor “adventure” classes, so last month I signed up for one of their Intro to SUP classes.

We began the class by meeting our instructor, Tom, and introducing ourselves to our classmates.  After a little explanation of what we were going to learn in the class, Tom helped us get fitted for life vests and set up our paddles.  Next, he went over the different parts of the SUP board and taught us the basic paddling strokes we’d be using: forward, sweep (turning) and stopping.  We practiced our paddling strokes on the grass for a little bit, and then trooped down the hill to the river where Tom helped us get onto our boards and explained how to fall correctly if we should lose our balance.

We paddled around near the shore a little bit to get used maneuvering the board, and then headed off upriver.  I’ll be honest I was a little nervous about paddling against the current at first, but it turned out to be pretty easy once we got going.  Being out on the water, falling into a rhythm with paddling, was really peaceful.  I watched a duckling swimming near the riverbank; a couple of dragonflies hitched a ride on my board; fish jumped out of the water trying to catch the little insects buzzing around the surface.  We spent almost two hours on the water but it didn’t feel that long at all.

I’m happy to report that I didn’t fall off my board once.  I did, however, have to duck under some low-hanging branches several times once or twice and got tangled up in some weeds by the shoreline for a bit.  Guess I need to practice that sweep stroke.  It was definitely a good workout and fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  Looking forward to doing it again sometime!

Spotlight on the Mediterranean Diet

May 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Guest Post, Heart Health, Nutrition | 2 Comments
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By Emma Louise Toolson
Dietetic Intern

Med Diet Pyramid 2

Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study linking the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  Quite simply, the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional foods and cooking styles of countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The general eating pattern while following a Mediterranean diet includes:

  • Several servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • Focus on healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil
  • Consuming fish and poultry at least two times per week
  • Limiting dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets
  • Use of herbs and spices to flavor foods in place of salt
  • Red wine, in moderation (if appropriate)

While the Mediterranean diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, a typical Western diet, in contrast, contains more processed foods, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. Another key feature of the Mediterranean diet is the inclusion of regular physical activity — the Western diet, meanwhile, tends to be more sedentary.

The NEJM study followed 7447 participants over 6 years. Two groups of participants were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet pattern, while a third followed a low-fat diet which acted as a control. The two groups following the Mediterranean eating plan were given either olive oil or mixed nuts to provide the monounsaturated (healthy) fats. Restricting calories was not advised for either group.  The study observed a Mediterranean diet, in which extra-virgin olive oil or nuts were the main source of fat, resulted in a significant reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals. This led researchers to conclude that following a Mediterranean diet may prevent cardiovascular disease, particularly in those that are already at risk.

Healthy Vision Month: Cataracts

May 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Posted in Guest Post, Health | 1 Comment
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By Aparna Mani, MD, PhD
MGH Medical Walk-In Unit

Aparna Mani, MD, PhD

Much like with a camera, the lens of the human eye helps to bring the image  you’re looking at into focus.  The lens measures in length about half the diameter of a dime and is made of a gel-like protein called collagen. Through the work of thin muscle fibers, the lens changes its shape to bring objects into focus.  With age, pigment can collect and cloud the crystal clear lens resulting in vision loss. This clouding of the lens, called a cataract, is the leading cause of blindness worldwide.  Since the normal aging process is one of the main causes for cataracts, we are all at risk for developing cataracts.  However, people with diabetes, those who use corticosteroids for an extended period of time (for instance as treatment for asthma or arthritis), who smoke, or have a family history of cataracts are at increased risk.

Though painless, the presence of a cataract may cause symptoms such as increased glare from lights, difficulty with night driving, difficulty reading, and reduced ability to appreciate colors. The severity of these symptoms can increase over time and begin to impact one’s lifestyle. Though your health care provider may be able to pick up the presence of a cataract during a routine visit using an ophthalmoscope, you will need a comprehensive exam and detailed vision testing by an ophthalmologist to fully assess a cataract. Recommendations on management and treatment is based on this assessment.

Currently, the only treatment for cataracts is surgery, normally done in an outpatient setting.  Depending on the degree of the cataract and its impact on vision, the ophthalmologist may recommend observation and follow up vision testing for a period of time, or proceeding with surgery to treat the cataract.  With surgery, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one made of plastic or silicone to restore vision. Results are usually apparent right away within hours to a few days of post-operative healing.

Though there is no proven therapy to reduce or slow the progression of cataracts, some studies have suggested that eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and vitamins such as lutein is associated with a lower risk of developing a cataract. In addition, since smoking is a risk factor for cataract development, quitting tobacco use may help prevent cataract formation.

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