Monday, January 14, 2019

Tips of Winter Exercise

Many people prefer to hibernate in the winter months.  I know that it is harder for me to get up to exercise this time of year.  The days are shorter, and boy is it cold here in the Northeast!  Who wants to get out and exercise?  Let's talk about the reasons why you should exercise in the winter, and some tips for adjusting your exercise routine to the cold weather.

Tips of Winter ExerciseWhy should you exercise in the winter?
  • Sunlight is your friend during the winter months - Exposure to sunlight is beneficial in many ways this time of year.  It helps to provide your body with vitamin D, which often becomes low in the winter months.  This helps you maintain strong bones, and good immune function.  Vitamin D also helps you maintain energy and helps to ward off muscle aches and pains.  Sunlight also helps to improve your mood as we discussed in our recent Health Tip about seasonal affective disorder.
  • Exercise keeps you warm - There is a rise in your body temperature during a workout, which actually has a soothing, calming effect on your body.  It actually makes you feel warmer than using a heater, because it is warming you from the inside.  You may be cold when you first step outside, but if you dress correctly, you will be warm within no time after you start exercising.
  • Avoid the cold and flu - Research has shown that regular exercise improves your immune function.  A healthier immune system is better able to fight off those cold and flu viruses that are so prevalent this time of year.
  • Fresh air is healthier - The air inside our homes, especially in the winter when all of the windows are closed up, is not nearly as healthy for us as the air outside.  When you are exercising outdoors, you get to breathe deeply without the worry of breathing in a virus from your coworker! 
  • Avoid that winter weight gain - Exercising in the cold burns more calories than in the warmer weather.  It just takes more calories to heat up your body.  It is easy to gain weight in the winter for many reasons.  Take any opportunity to burn calories.
How should you adjust your routine for exercising in the cold weather?
  • Check the weather conditions and forecast before heading out.  Even people who are used to exercising in the cold should not be out when the temperature is too low.  If the air temperature is below 5 degrees F, or if there is a significant wind chill, exercise inside.  If it is raining or snowing, remember that being wet really makes you more vulnerable to the cold.  Exercise indoors or put off your workout until after the precipitation has stopped.
  • Dress appropriately - Wear layers of clothing so that you can be warm enough when you start, and peel off layers as you get warm, then put layers back on as you get to your cool down.  The layers, especially those closest to your skin, should be made of fabric that wicks moisture away from your skin.   Fabrics that hold moisture against your skin, such as cotton, make it nearly impossible to stay warm in the cold weather.   Don't forget your gloves and be sure to cover your ears and head.  If you are shivering during your workout, you are not working hard enough or more likely you are under-dressed!
  • Warm up inside before you go out into the cold.  Take 5 or 10 minutes to do some jogging in place or maybe some jumping jacks or other aerobic activity. 
  • If you have asthma, or other medical problems that can be worsened in the cold, be sure to check with your doctor before exercising outdoors in the winter.
  • Watch out for icy or slippery patches on the street or sidewalk.
  • Since the days are shorter, you may not get home from work before sundown.  Remember to wear light colored or reflective clothing if exercising when it is dark outside.
With a few extra steps to stay safe, you can enjoy winter exercise.

If you have any questions about winter exercise, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Friday, January 4, 2019

Healthy Resolutions for the New Year

About 45% of Americans make some form of a resolution for the New Year; with many of those including health conscious goals. Some goals are set too high and may not be realistic. Some resolutions are better for your health than others. For instance, going on a crash diet to lose a lot of weight quickly, can lead to a weakened immune system, cardiac stress, and dehydration. It also often results in quick regain of weight as soon as the "diet" is over.

Let's talk about some healthy resolutions, and healthy ways to set those resolutions. First of all, you need to set reasonable goals. If you set a goal that is unreasonable, you are just setting yourself up for failure and feelings of guilt. When thinking about setting a goal, whether it be weight loss or exercise, try to set a small goal that you will be able to reach. Instead of resolving to lose 40 pounds, try setting your goal at 5 or 10 pounds. When you reach that goal, you can always set another goal for 5 more! You may be surprised at how satisfying it is to reach your goal, even if it is small.

Think of these resolutions as a change in lifestyle, rather than a "diet", which we often consider temporary.
Instead of resolving to exercise a certain number of minutes or hours each week, resolv
e to spend as much time exercising each day as you spend watching TV. This will either push you to exercise more, or watch TV less, both of which would be good for you!

If weight loss is a goal you would like to achieve, consider resolving to get more sleep. Getting insufficient sleep is one of the causes of weight gain, because it causes hormonal changes that increase your appetite and impair your ability to metabolize sugar adequately.

Instead of focusing on eating fewer calories, why not focus on choosing foods that contain "healthier" calories. You might consider resolving to eat more healthy fats, rather than resolving to eat less fat. Replacing unhealthy fats with healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-9 fats, can make a difference in your overall health. Healthy fats don't promote inflammation in the body like those unhealthy fats do. Healthy fats are found in foods like fish, avocados, olive oil, canola oil, walnuts. You might also resolve to choose more healthy carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, rather than more processed carbohydrates such as potato chips. All calories are not created equal.

If improving your health is a goal that you would like to achieve, consider resolving to spend more face-to-face time with friends. Research has shown that individuals who don't see friends in person regularly are more likely to have poor health than those who visit with friends regularly. Online "friendships" are not adequate to improve your health. You can have hundreds of friends on Facebook and still be quite isolated. People really do need people! Resolve to visit with at least two friends or relatives each week, particularly people with whom you feel comfortable being yourself.

Reducing stress is often a goal for the New Year. If that is one of your goals, consider resolving to focus on deep breathing for 5 minutes twice a day. You would be surprised how much that can reduce stress. You might also consider a resolution to try some meditation or Yoga. Maybe resolve to take more pictures of your loved ones to your office, which is also a way to reduce stress.

By making small changes, a little at a time, you can eventually make big changes in your life. These changes can improve your overall health, both physically and emotionally.

If you have any questions about New Year's resolutions, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to the decreased light exposure in the winter months.  I mentioned it last week as one of the possible causes of the "holiday blues", but it is an important topic that really deserves a full discussion of its own.

What are the symptoms of SAD?
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)Feeling depressed or down nearly every day (usually starting gradually in the fall, and lasting through the winter and even into early spring)
  • Losing interest in activities that you usually enjoy
  • Changes in your appetite, especially craving high carbohydrate foods
  • Low energy level, or feeling sluggish
  • Sleep problems (trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or oversleeping)
  • Feeling agitated, anxious, guilty, worthless, or hopeless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • What increases risk for developing SAD?
  • Living far from the equator.  The further you live from the equator, the shorter your days will be in the winter. 
  • Having major depression or bipolar disorder.  Either of these can worsen seasonally.
  • Family history of SAD or another form of depression.
What causes SAD?

SAD is a complex issue, and probably has multiple triggers.

There have been two very recent studies that suggest that SAD is related to special light-sensing cells in the back of the eye that have a direct circuit to the brain.  When these cells detect shorter light exposure due to the shorter days, they appear to use this special pathway to send signals directly to the part of the brain that affects mood.   Prior to this research, most scientists thought that there were only two types of cells in the back of the eye that responded to light (rods and cones which are essential to vision).  There is still much research to be done in order to really understand the role these cells play in SAD, as well as how we might use that knowledge to help treat the problem.

How is SAD treated?
  • Exercise - Regular exercise helps to improve the chemical balance in your brain.  It can help you to relieve stress and anxiety.  It can also just make you feel better about yourself to be fit.
  • Mind/body connection techniques - This includes, meditation, Yoga, tai chi, relaxation techniques, etc.
  • Light therapy - This is one of the first line treatments for SAD.  Exposing your eyes to more natural light by spending time outdoors is important, especially early in the day.  A special light box can also be used that mimics natural outdoor light.  When using light box therapy, you are exposed to this light within the first hour of waking up each day.    Light therapy appears to be effective for most people suffering from SAD.  However, it can trigger a manic episode in people with bipolar disorder, so patients with bipolar depression must be treated very carefully.  Make sure to consult your doctor before starting any light therapy treatment with a light box.
  • Psychotherapy - This can help you to learn healthy ways to cope with SAD symptoms, and learn to manage stress more effectively.
  • Antidepressant medications - If you predictably have SAD every year, your doctor may recommend starting treatment before your symptoms typically start each year. 
If you feel that you may be suffering from SAD, we have both medical and psychological providers here on our staff who would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

If you have any questions about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor