Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Are There Weeds In Your Garden?

Metaphorically speaking of course.

Are there things in your life that just aren't right, and you know it? Do you have relationships that are strained? Do you have finances that aren't up to where you need them? Are you overweight? Do you have a deadline that is approaching for something and you're just not ready for it? Do you have some sort of challenge that is really wearing you down? In other words, do you have STRESS in your life? Those are the metaphorical "weeds" in your garden, the garden of life.

I am sure that most of us can answer yes to at least one of those questions above, or to other similar questions about our lives. Rare is the person that can say to you they have no stressful situations in their life. Stress is a fact of life for at least certain seasons. Some undoubtedly have more than others, and some undoubtedly deal with stress better than others. But the fact remains that stress is a part of life. It's not a matter of IF you'll have stress, it's a matter of WHEN, and more importantly, HOW you will deal with it.

I've read stats that say 90% of visits to doctors offices are in some way stress related. In my experience I'd have to agree. Stress does quite a number on our bodies. It affects rest, raises our blood pressure and pulse rate, reduces our immune response, damages our ability to digest food, and more. It even helps to create chronic inflammation in the body, which, if you've read my articles, you know is the breeding ground for pretty much every disease process known to man.

So now we know two things: 1. We all have stress, at least for a season, and 2. That's not a good thing. Feel encouraged yet? Neither do I. I promise we'll end on a good note, on how to deal with the "weeds" in our garden in an appropriate, wellness oriented manner. My 11 year old daughter was asking what my article was about just now, and I told her it was about dealing with stress, and she said to deal with stress one could just throw things around. That IS a response to stress, one probably used by some, but probably NOT a wellness oriented manner to deal with stress! (yes she was joking, no flying inanimate objects are allowed in Casa De Dr. Bruce)

So if we have weeds in our garden, what should we do? One way people deal with them is to whine and cry about their weeds. The get so wrapped up in them they sometimes don't do anything else because of their weeds. In other words they let their weeds limit their lives, they focus on them and get more distressed, depressed and don't perform at their best. Others try positive thinking by staring at their garden and saying "there are no weeds, there are no weeds, there are no weeds". In both of those scenarios, the weeds will take over your garden.

It's best to understand that there are two types of things in life: Those that you can affect, and those you can't. Once we realize that, then we can focus on dealing with the things we can change, and we won't waste time on those we can't, which does nothing but stress us out more. So find the weeds you can deal with, break out the weed killer and get to work. Don't go crazy and spray your weed killer everywhere indiscriminately, it may kill things that you don't want to kill. In other words, if we dive headlong into dealing with stress, without regard for how we might affect others, it can create more damage, hurting others and then creating more stress. Be strategic in your use of "weedkiller."

Ways to deal with stress include finding relaxation techniques (they're all over the internet). Use them regularly. Another is to live a life of gratitude. We have techniques to help people do just this in our office. Appropriate exercise also helps reduce the effects of stress significantly, and we often coach our patients on how to go about incorporating it into their lives. Learning how to rest well, with appropriate sleep hygiene diminishes the effects of stress as well. I've seen great results with patients once we get them to understand how to rest in a wellness manner. Developing a purpose in life helps to give one direction and prevent wasting of time on non-effective areas of life.

The results of doing these things are more than just stress relief. Relationships get better, people are healthier and more effective in their lives at work and home. Blood pressure drops many times. Medications can be reduced. Remember, if 90% of doctors visits are stress related, then learning how to best manage stress must then affect almost anything that would bring you in to see your health care providers in the first place.

Hey, wait a minute. If you control your stress too well, I may not be needed as much. I feel MY stress levels rising now. Scratch everything I said earlier!

Until next time...Be Well! (and less stressed)

Dr. Bruce

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Community Wellness: The Ride Of A Lifetime 2011

Well I/we did it again. Once again I had the chance to participate in Lifetime Fitness's "Ride of a Lifetime". Last year we did it for the first time, and this time it was done bigger and better. We again set the world record for the largest 2 hour outdoor spin class, this time with over 800 participants!

Last year we had about 600 people, and the temps ranged from 37 to 45 degrees. This year it was MUCH warmer, about 75-80 or so. MUCH MUCH warmer! But, now I am one year further into my fitness plan, and I do 2 spin classes/week and hit it hard when I do, so even though it was warmer, I felt it was easier to get through.

There was an air of excitement and I admit to having goosebumps as we got started (they wore off quickly though). It was great being part of such a large group, and spinning withe many of my regular 5:15 a.m. spin class partners, and spending time getting to know them a bit more prior to the event as well. Much water was consumed, gatorade too, and a few bites of banana that were passed out by the staff from LTF. There's nothing quite like the site of 800 people all dressed alike, riding in unison, fighting to accomplish the same goal. It was an outstanding event to be part of!

When I first went to a spin class, less than 2 years ago, I was afraid, as a man in his early 40's that wasn't in the best cardiovascular condition. If you had told me after that first class I'd be able to do a 2 hour class, twice in the next 2 years, I'd have laughed. I remember having trouble sprinting while out of the saddle those first several classes, due to my conditioning, and to my coordination. But because of persistence, and the encouragement of LTF instructors, I am 10 pounds lighter, one pant size smaller and in much better condition than I ever thought I'd be in my mid 40's. I am forever grateful for that.

All in all, the Ride of a Lifetime was/is a great event to be part of. I hope to do this every year (if they put it on) and watch everyone get pumped about being part of it and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment I get from completing it, in hot or cold weather!

Everyone should find some way to get involved in a community of like minded people that support them in their quests for wellness. This is what I've found in the spin classes at Lifetime. I have many accountability partners that I spin with. I am grateful for the community I've found, and for Lifetime creating these opportunities! I hope you find something similar in your life to help you in your quest for wellness.

Until next time...Be Well!

Dr. Bruce

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Resting Well

We all know sleep is important, and we all sleep a bit pretty much every day of our lives. It's vital to our well being, it's vital for our bodies to function at peak levels. Without it, we can become ill, and even getting just a bit too little sleep over the long haul sets us up to be more susceptible to disease and illness. Why is sleep important, and how do we ensure we are getting it appropriately? That's what i am going to visit on here today.

First let's throw out a controversial statement to get you thinking: Sleep and rest can be two distinct things. One can sleep, but not rest. Follow me on this. Rest occurs when we spend a good amount of time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement, not the rock band)sleep. REM sleep is the deepest levels of sleep. It is not as vital for us to sleep as it is for us to reach REM sleep. At these deepest levels of being asleep is when rest really occurs. And getting to rest allows our bodies to do the repair work that needs to be done after being awake for 16 hours.

We all have had times where we slept for a long time. Have you ever slept a long time and NOT felt rested? That's the difference between sleep and rest. Something kept you from getting to REM sleep. Maybe it was too much caffeine, eating too late at night, not feeling well, stress, exercising too close to bedtime etc. Even alcohol abuse inhibits REM sleep, which is why people can drink all night, sleep for 12 hours and feel horribly tired. Alcohol may put you to sleep, but it interferes with REM sleep, thus keeping you from resting.

The more often we miss out on rest, the more we move toward the illness side of what you hear me call the "Wellness Spectrum". Our immune systems drop, our ability to think clearly is impaired, our energy levels decrease, our productivity decreases, we become more on edge with our love ones. None of this fits in with a wellness lifestyle does it? Of course not. So what do we need to do to ensure, or at least improve our odds of getting proper rest? That's where we're going next.

Sleep hygiene refers to the habits we have prior to bedtime. These become more important as we age and our body secretes less of a hormone called melatonin that helps regulate our sleep cycles. One of the first things you can do is begin to create a regular routine for your bedtime. Go to bed (and rise) at the same time, or at least close to it, every night. Do this even if you aren't working the next day. Routines are very important for helping us develop good rest patterns. People with jet lag are caught out of their routines and thus don't rest well.

Avoid substances that interfere with sleep too close to bedtime. No caffeine after 5 pm is a good rule of thumb. I know some of you will say "I can drink a pot of coffee and still go to sleep". I remember doing that in college too. You may be able to sleep, but you won't rest well since caffeine interferes with your ability to get to REM sleep (rest). Alcohol in excess does the same thing as we mentioned earlier.

Shower about 30 minutes prior to your bedtime every night. Turn the lights down lower as you approach bedtime. These are factors that get your body ready for rest.

No exercise for about 2 hours prior to bedtime, it tends to keep your heart rate up too high in some people to allow for good rest.

Turn on some soft music and spend some time without the TV on (tv will stimulate the brain too much). Learn some deep breathing techniques to begin slowing your mind patterns down.

If you have trouble sleeping there are some things to do to help out as well. Don't toss and turn for 20 minutes or more, get out of bed if you can't sleep and go read something pleasurable, or practice more deep breathing. If you stay in bed too long, your body will begin to associate the bed with stress. If you get up, do NOT turn on the lights too brightly, this signals your body to wake up more. You can try some natural relaxants like Passion Flower, Valerian Root, or even melatonin. Check with your natural health care provider for ideas on supplements that will work for you. We carry in our office something called Formula 303 that is a combination of relaxing herbs and minerals that we use for muscle spasm and for de-stressing/relaxing.

Remember, the goal is to develop a healthy pattern for rest. Good sleep hygiene will put you on the road to resting well.

Until next time...Be Well!

Dr. Bruce

Monday, March 21, 2011

Health Care Is Not Expensive

Got your attention? I bet I did. I know everyone of us are thinking about health care these days, one way or another. My goal today is to tell you how you can be less concerned about what changes are really coming down, and show you how you can have less costs with regards to your health, and, how if we all did this, it would save the country hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe even billions.

First, let’s clarify a couple of things. For starters, when you go to your doctor for an illness, (are you ready for this?) you are NOT receiving health care. That’s right, you heard it here first, it is NOT health care. It is SICK care. It is DISEASE care. You are going there because you are sick, or have a disease. You are there because for some reason, your body has broken down and is not doing what it’s supposed to have done, you body’s function has decreased enough to where an illness has temporarily (hopefully temporarily) won the fight for who is in charge inside you. This is true for the flu, a sinus infection, pneumonia, and diseases such as cardiovascular issues, diabetes, cancer etc. So, you have chosen to go and get some help via medications to suppress said sickness/disease/symptom in the hopes that either your body will kick in again and knock down the issue, or you can at least keep it down to a dull roar.

Please hear me, I am not condemning going to get treated for your disease. It is necessary sometimes. Otherwise, the results could be severe, even fatal. I am reminded of a patient I had a few years ago that didn’t seek care fast enough, and lost the lower ½ of his leg to a diabetic neuropathy. (More on this guy later). I am only trying to get us to think differently about health care vs. sick care or disease management. Remember, the type of thinking that we’ve developed so far in our country with regards to health and wellness has gotten us to where we are now, which is a very sick nation, with rampant obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many other diseases of lifestyle. That same type of thinking will not get us out of this rut, and will keep us reliant on medications, surgeries, and, of course, insurance plans.

Do you realize that much of our illness/disease in this country is caused by lifestyle decisions? What if we started thinking radically differently about our lifestyles? Obesity, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease are things that cost us directly when we have to deal with it, and indirectly when they reach epidemic levels as they have here in our country. What if we changed that?

Do you realize how much cheaper it would be for us if we only learned how to take better care of ourselves? If our thinking was so radically changed that we no longer tolerated putting toxins in our bodies that are disguised as food, we would chart a totally different course for ourselves, our families and our country regarding health. If we sought out health care providers that focused primarily on lifestyle changes, and supporting us in those endeavors, what would that do for us? If we joined a gym and actually used the membership, or started a walking group, how different could our lives be? It would cost us personally so much less for starters. And it would cost the nation much less too! Follow me here: The sicker we are as a nation, the more we have to use health insurance. The more we have to use health insurance, the less the insurance companies profit. They tend to not like that much, so our premiums go up. When our employers have to pay more in premiums, it cuts into their profits. That loss of profit is usually offset by the company charging the consumer more for their product or service. Do you see how every time one more of us gets sick and has to seek out sick care, it has an impact on the entire country? This doesn’t even count lost productivity because of absent workers! When you look at it in this way, the concept is staggering!!

This is supposed to be a time of “change”, so how can we change this situation? Seek out wellness oriented healthcare providers. Let them work with you in making lifestyle changes that will help you step closer to wellness. This is what we do at our office every day. We teach people what it means to eat better, move better, rest better and think better daily. We set goals for them, we support them as they work through changing 20, 30, 40 years or more of thinking in the old paradigm. It’s fun to see them lose 40 pounds under our supervision and feel “better than ever” as one 60+ year patient told us. It’s exciting to see people’s cholesterol levels normalize. It’s rewarding to hear how a person has learned to deal with stress so much better that they finally feel rested when they wake in the mornings. It IS possible. It IS happening right now. It CAN happen for you, and it would benefit not only you and your family, but our great nation as a whole!

So, back to my diabetic patient with the prosthetic leg. He chose NOT to learn to eat, move, think and rest better, he chose NOT to pursue true health care. I saw him a while back. He’s now in a wheelchair, with BOTH of his legs now removed from the knee down. A very sad story for a young man. A very costly process for him. A huge lesson for us all.

“Health Care” is NOT expensive, “Sick Care” is.

Until next time, BE WELL!

Dr. Bruce

How Did We Get Here, and How Do I Get Where I Want To Go?

That’s the question of the hour. Wherever you are, how did you get there? And if you’re not where you want to be, how do you get where you want to be?

Of course, if you’ve been following me, you know I am speaking of where we are in our health. Specifically, wherever you are on the “wellness spectrum”, you got there (usually) because of the choices you’ve made over the years. If you’re high on the wellness spectrum chart, it usually because of a series of positive decisions you’ve made over the last 10, 20, 30+ years. They have a cumulative effect on us. Remember in previous articles I’ve written I speak of the fact that there is no “zero sum effect” with regards to the wellness decisions we make daily. Every single choice we make moves us one way or the other on the spectrum, there’s no escaping it. If we choose to take time to de-stress via exercise, massage, relaxation techniques etc, that moves us toward the wellness end. If we choose to eat a diet that is primarily made of processed food, soft drinks etc., then that moves us toward the illness end of the spectrum. If we’re spending our free time on the couch watching reality TV and not moving much, that moves us toward illness. When we choose to take time to get good rest nightly, we end up closer to the wellness end. I hope that puts into perspective how important it is to pay attention to our daily habits and decisions related to wellness.

So, to answer the questions listed at the top, let’s take the first one: How did we get here? It’s really very simple. The answer is …one step at a time. Ok, so that didn’t come with much fanfare. I understand. But it really is that simple. If you’re really unhealthy, you probably didn’t just wake up that way last Thursday. Our current health status is the sum of all of the choices we’ve made in our lifetime. Often times inch by inch we start changing our lifestyle. It happens almost imperceptibly. We don’t think about the fact that we’ve started drinking a few more soft drinks than we used to, maybe it’s only one more per week to start with. Then a few months later we add in another, and the trend continues until suddenly we wake up and realize we’re consuming way more than we thought we’d ever allow ourselves to. So we’ve taken a small bad habit and slowly incorporated it into our lives in a manner that we really don’t even see until we have a full blown bad habit affecting our health.

The opposite occurs too. Sometimes we imperceptibly drop a good habit inch by inch. Maybe at one point you were an avid exerciser. Maybe something happened to your schedule so that it became more difficult to keep exercising, so you drop one day a week. After a while you’re so used to the new schedule that you think it would be ok to drop a day again. A year later you’re hardly exercising at all, and you wonder why your blood pressure, your waistline, and your blood sugar are all heading higher. Now you’re in a lifestyle you don’t even recognize.

So the bad news is we are the sum of our own decisions when it comes to our health. But that is also the good news since obviously then, we can begin to turn this ship of ours around if it’s not where we want to be, and head in the right direction. So to answer the second question in the title of this article, you’re only one step away from making yourself healthier right now. Right now, wherever you are on the wellness spectrum, you can drop one bad habit or add in a new good habit and immediately begin moving yourself more toward the wellness end. I recommend focusing on starting a new habit rather than subtracting a bad one. That’s one reason we do Wellness Wednesdays in our office. One day a month we get people to sample a new product or taste a new “concoction” we put together that they can create or buy that would help them become healthier. By adding in enough new habits, they can begin to crowd out the bad ones. If everyone would focus on a new habit every month, or even every other month, we’d all be headed down the road to wellness together, inch by inch, one step at a time.

Until next time…Be Well!
Dr. Bruce

Monday, March 7, 2011

Are you Addicted To Mental Junk Food?

We all know that junk food is bad for our body. Eating a preponderance of candy, soft drinks, processed foods etc has deleterious effects on how our body functions. It is the bane of our western civilization's health. It is consumed regularly, repeatedly, without regard for our long term well being. It is promoted without apology, 24/7 to our nation, with its target audience largely being our young children. In my opinion it is a crime and abusive to a certain degree to have our kids enticed, and then as parents, to let them indulge non-stop in this type of poisoning. I know that's strong, and some of you may think I am over the top on this, but it is how I feel, and there's abundance of research to back up why I feel this way. Most of us know this to a certain degree, but many choose to ignore it, and thus our nation's health continues to degenerate, to the point where the generation growing up now, will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than its preceding generation.

Don't worry, I am not going on a rant about junk food (maybe I did already?). Instead, I am going to use the analogy of junk food for our body, to speak about junk for for our brain. Namely, I am going to rant today about media. Yes, media is the equivalent of junk food for our body when it comes to our mental health. To me it has never been so apparent how unhealthy our exposure to media can be as it is right now. Right now, as I write this, the media is full of another story of one of our illustrious troubled Hollywood characters. And we as a nation lap stories like this up, constantly craving the next juicy tidbit of news about this spectacle. We seemingly cannot get enough of it, and when this story fades out, there will be another one to take its place, and then another as we require more and more "hits" to achieve our "high" and satiate our appetite. In addition to this sensationalistic story, the news if full of who killed who, what business went bankrupt, what country has unrest, and how broke our nation is. We read it on the internet, have conversations about it on electronic bulletin boards, facebook and tweet about it, see it 24/7 on one of the many news channels, listen to it on talk radio etc. It's everywhere, and you cannot avoid it, unless you really try.

That's what I want really want to talk about: avoiding it. I am not talking about sticking our head in the sand and denying there is bad stuff around. You can't turn away from your garden that is full of weeds and say "there are no weeds, there are no weeds". There ARE weeds. There IS junk happening in our world. I am not here to try to deny it. But in this day and time, there is an overabundance of focus on it, via our media, social media/internet etc. And, being exposed to it 24/7 has deleterious affects on our mental health. I saw it change me when I began to tie into news all the time after 9/11 occurred. I've heard it in voices angry and filled with hate toward people just because of their political affiliation. I have seen it in people glued to their TV/Computer following a story that has NO bearing on their life in the least. It's like watching a train wreck occur over and over again as the same story is repeated, ad nauseum on the many outlets available. In kids it can provoke fear and/or anxiety. It can create a new "unhealthy" normal by numbing our minds to the most outlandish events and occurrences. It plants ideas in our heads of how we should be, what we should wear, what's now acceptable behavior, what we need to look like, who we idolize and more.

Now, if you're OK with that, I am not here to condemn you. That's your call. I am only here to voice a different concept. I am here to voice the idea that we should do more to filter what we let into our heads. Why? Because whether you like it or not, the repeated exposure to events DOES have an effect on you. It goes into your brain and either has a positive or negative effect. Many of you, (depending on your generation) if you heard me sing "Here's the story, of a lovely lady..." you could chime in without thinking and sing the entire song. You know what? I bet that you NEVER sat down and said "I am going to memorize the words to the Brady Bunch Theme". But you heard it over and over, and it became part of your mind. It is in there, no matter what you do.

So, just like we need to be careful what we allow in our body physically for health reasons, we need to be selective in what we allow in our brains for our mental health. Just like when we ingest food, there is no "zero sum effect", meaning we can't eat something without it moving us toward or away from wellness, nothing we allow in our brain has a zero sum effect. This doesn't mean you can't read any news, or do any of the social media that are so popular. It DOES mean that we need to watch our diet of what goes into our brain.

Sometimes when our health is bad, we have to take some more drastic steps initially to get us going in the right direction. Sometimes we have to do a cleanse for our body, or totally fast from junk food for a period. Let me encourage you to do a cleanse of sorts for your mental health. I am currently starting a one week long "media fast". I am staying away from media for this entire week, with few exceptions. I will do some social media/email/internet for work (just as I am right now) but that is all. I will check the weather on occasion so I know what to expect. I may take in a sports event (maybe not since I want to avoid commercials and news blurbs). Maybe a week is a bit long for you. If so, then try a day of TOTAL fasting from media. Start when you wake and don't touch/see/read any of it until the next morning. If you survive (and I think you will) plan on two days of it next week, then work your way up to a week. When you are tempted to "feed your habit", instead, fill your mind with good, healthy things. Start a gratefulness journal, pick up a good book, read some scripture, pray, write down your thoughts on what you're experiencing, listen to some good music, whatever it takes to get you past your "withdrawals".

Hey, I won't mind if you even fast from reading my stuff here or on facebook for a week!

Until next time...Be Well!

Dr. Bruce

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Fever Means You're Healthy

Well now how's that for an eye catcher? I can imagine what some of you are thinking: "A fever means you're healthy? Are you serious? He's written some crazy sounding, counter-cultural stuff sometimes, but now I think he's gone off the deep end. Next think you know he'll say that vomiting means your healthy too" Stay with me on this one for a second. (By the way, that last comment about vomiting isn't far off the mark, and I'll touch on that in a bit).

Here's the deal. Every day your body is assaulted by germs/bugs/bacteria. They're on your hands, in your mouth, on your skin when you get a cut or scrape, they're all over. You can't escape them. Heck right now you have strep in your throat, you have cancerous cells in your body, you have flu bugs in your nostrils etc. That's the bad news. The good news is your immune system, when it's functioning well, fights off these invaders daily and keeps them at bay. But, sometimes your immune system is overwhelmed and the little bad guys start to win the battle. When that happens, your immune system has to kick into overdrive. One of the ways it does that is by raising the body temperature. A lot of these bugs can't replicate as quickly in a higher temperature setting so this makes it more difficult for them to proliferate. So, in reality, the fever shows that a body is healthy in some respects, because it is a healthy response to an illness. By this thought process, you can see that if you eat something bad for your body, and your body decides to expel it (vomit), then that process is a healthy process as well. The same can be said of many coughs, runny noses etc. They are reactions to invaders and attempts to expel the invading bug.

The sad thing is, many people, as soon as a temperature gets above 98.6, decide to medicate and bring down the fever so they can "feel better". That shortcuts the innate response of the body and prolongs illness, and weakens the immune system's ability to fight. Thus, you can actually make the body less healthy overall by jumping the gun and taking medication for a fever. In addition to this, all drugs, over the counter or otherwise, can have deleterious effects on the body. Thousands of people per year die due to taking NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)too regularly. Ibuprofen is in that class of drugs. You cannot put a drug (chemical) in the body without some kind of negative effect, whether seen or not. This doesn't mean drugs are not ever necessary, but we have to stay away from the mentality that is so prevalent that says "For every ill there is a pill" because that mentality has gotten us a very sick nation, reliant on more and more drugs, and less healthy for all our science.

So, we need to do things that boost our immune system regularly, and avoid doing things that lower our immunity regularly. Some of you that know me know where I am going with this now. Yes, we need to eat well ,move well, think well and rest well. Performing poorly in any of those areas lowers your immune system. Did you know there are studies showing that ingestion of refined sugar immediately lowers the immune system? So having that soft drink, or candy, or refined, processed food, makes you less healthy immediately. Not exercising lowers your immunity. Living a western culture style of life that is stressed to the max lowers your immunity. Staying up late all the time watching TV or on the internet lowers your immunity as does eating or drinking things that impede your body's ability to get true rest. I could go on but I know you get the picture.

So the thought for today is that our fever is a healthy response to an unhealthy condition in the body, and by doing things that short circuit our body's innate attempts to get healthy, we can actually do more harm than good.

Until next time... Be Well!

Dr. Bruce