Fitness, Guest Post

Beginning Yoga

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

Fitness, Guest Post

My Be Fit Success Story

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

Fitness, Guest Post

Adventures in Stand-Up Paddleboarding

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!

Guest Post, Heart Health, Nutrition

Spotlight on the Mediterranean Diet

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.

Guest Post, Health

Healthy Vision Month: Cataracts

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.

Guest Post, Health

Healthy Vision Month: Glaucoma

By Aparna Mani, MD, PhD
MGH Medical Walk-In Unit

Aparna Mani, MD, PhD

Eyesight develops from the initial rudimentary flickers of a newborn to the full kaleidoscope of adult vision over the first three to five years of life. Our sense of vision has such a powerful impact on how we define ourselves, our loved ones, and the world in which we live.  Yet it’s one sense that can slowly slip away as we age.  Glaucoma and cataracts are two of the most common causes of vision loss and blindness in the aging adult population. But here’s some good news:  both conditions are treatable when caught and acted on early.  I will look at both in depth, starting today with glaucoma and continuing next week with a discussion on cataracts.

Glaucoma is a disease of increased pressure in the eye leading to damage of the optic nerve – the nerve that carries all the visual information our eyes pick up to the brain where it is interpreted. Think of the eye as a fluid filled, globe-like structure with the optic nerve exiting the back like the electrical cord on a toaster or TV. If the flow of fluid in the eye is not kept in balance, increased fluid pressure can develop inside the globe leading to compression and irreversible damage to the optic nerve.  There are two main types of glaucoma:  open angle, which accounts for approximately 90% of the glaucoma in the United States, and closed or narrow angle glaucoma.

Open angle glaucoma affects about 1 in 200 people over the age of 50.  A slow, chronic process, this type of glaucoma develops over a number of years. In fact, open angle glaucoma is often called the ‘silent thief of sight’ because of its painless presentation. However, once vision loss sets in, it is progressive and irreversible. People at increased risk for glaucoma include those with a family history of the disease; African Americans and Latinos; and people with heart disease or diabetes.   The risk of developing glaucoma also increases with age for everyone, regardless of whether they have any of the above risk factors.

So if glaucoma is “silent” how can you detect changes in time for treatment to be effective? Your health care provider can detect early changes with an eye exam before noticeable vision changes develop. In addition to examining the optic nerve, they will do a formal visual field test, measure intraocular pressure (fluid pressure in the eyes), and observe for any changes in eye size and shape. Although there is no cure for glaucoma at this time, early detection and initiation of treatment can help halt or slow down the progression of the disease. Treatment may entail prescription topical eye drops, laser therapy, or surgery. If you are prescribed eye drops for glaucoma, it’s crucial you take them as directed —not keeping up with treatment is a major reason for progression to vision loss. The American Diabetes Association also recommends seeing an eye care professional (either an ophthalmologist or optometrist) for a comprehensive eye exam at least once a year.  Don’t hesitate to ask if your provider is familiar with identifying and treating glaucoma and other diabetes eye conditions.

In contrast to the quiet and slow progression of open angle glaucoma, closed angle glaucoma is a medical emergency. Closed angle glaucoma presents with sudden vision loss and pain that often prompts one to seek medical care right away. In addition, a person may experience any of these symptoms:  seeing halos around lights, nausea and vomiting, developing a red eye and/or a fixed and dilated pupil. Again, this form of glaucoma is considered a medical emergency – if you experience any of these symptoms seek medical attention immediately.

Fitness, Guest Post

Changing Seasons, Changing Habits

By Monica

Changing the way we do things, especially if it’s something we’ve done for a long time, is the hardest task anyone can ask.  We create a comfort zone of tranquility, serenity and calmness that our mind comes to prefer.  But it is not always the best.

As we get older, our appetite changes.  Our metabolism is different too, and we burn fewer calories.  We need to change the way we eat and learn to substitute in healthier foods.  And in order to continue to maintain a good healthy lifestyle, our daily routine needs to shift in a more active and productive way.  It’s not always easy, but it can be done with support from friends and family.

Regular activity is not just for little kids or young people – we all need to be active, and it’s never too late to start.  We had such a long winter; now that spring is finally here we have a chance to go outside and enjoy the warmer weather.  It’s also a perfect opportunity to change some of your habits.  Rather than just sitting in the sun, go for a little walk.  If you can, bring along a friend or co-worker.  You’ll be doing something good for yourself and getting a chance to be social at the same time.

Is there an activity you’ve always wanted to try?  Go for it!  Just about everyone has something they’ve said they’d like to try “someday.”  Well, why not now?  If you go to a gym, ask if they will let you try out a class to see if you like it.  There are also some programs in Boston that plan community fitness events or offer free classes like yoga and Zumba in spring and summer.  The Boston Natural Areas Network is another great group that organizes community activities like bike rides, canoeing and gardening – great opportunities for families to do something healthy and active together.

Let the change in seasons inspire you to get out there and get moving.