Stay Healthy during Cold and Flu Season

Are you ready for 

cold and flu season?

 

Ugh!I can’t believe I got sick. I never get sick and as a doctor I am exposed to sick people all the time. I have attributed this to my generally healthy lifestyle. So… maybe, I haven’t been as good as I should be, not getting enough sleep, not drinking my green smoothies everyday. But, luckily, with my healthy habits, I was able to get better quickly and get back on track to stay healthy.

What causes the common cold and flu this time of year?  Contrary to grandma’s loving advice, you do not catch a cold by going outside without a hat. LOL. In fact, while the exact mechanism behind the seasonal nature of influenza is not well known, it is proposed that being indoors more, being in close contact with others that results in direct person to person transmission. Other proposed mechanisms:

  • The cold temperatures allow the virus to decompose slower and linger on external surfaces like door knobs, keyboards and counter tops
  • The cold temperatures are associated with drier air, which may dehydrate mucous membranes, leading to decreased defense against respiratory infections.

Here are the most common symptoms for the flu. The common cold, caused by a different virus, shares these symptoms, generally with less severity.

How do you deal with symptoms if and when they arise?  

Here are some of my favorite, natural, drug free tips to beat the bug and stay healthy this season

Sip Tea. I like to drink hot green tea with lemon and honey. Drinking the tea and breathing in steam stimulates the cilia — the hair follicles in the nose — to move out germs more efficiently. Lemon thins mucus, and honey is antibacterial

Drink Water. Lots of it! Water flushes out toxins through the lymphatic system.

Go Green. Green juices or green smoothies are chockful of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and delicious. Remember, the darker the greens, the higher the nutrient count. My go-to green smoothie, is kale, spinach, cucumbers, mango, berries and banana.

Eat healthy foods. Remember you are what you eat. So, eating healthy foods, should make you, uh, Healthy. We’re not just talking fruits and vegetables here, superfoods from all major food groups that can improve your immunity. Fish, oysters, mushrooms, garlic, probiotic foods, carrots, sweet potatoes and don’t forget Dark Chocolate.

Vitamin C. If you’re sick, you should consume 400-500 mg. This is hard to do with food alone, so I take a pure supplement.

Sanitize shared surfaces at home, at work and at the gym. Wipe everything down!! Viruses can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours!

Pamper your nose. 

NETI, developed thousands of years ago by yoga and Ayurveda practitioners in India, is a nasal purification technique, that involves the use of Neti pots.

The pot is filled with a saline solution (specially packaged salt mixtures can be purchased, but non-iodized salt (not sea salt) and water will do just fine. Once the neti pot is filled, its spout is inserted into one nostril while the user tilts the head to the side to allow the saline solution to flow up the nasal passage and then out the other nostril. Then the technique is repeated on the opposite side.

Neti pots do the following:

  • Clear the nostrils to allow free breathing
  • Remove excess mucous
  • Reduce pollen or allergens in nasal passages
  • Relieve nasal dryness
  • Reduce cold and flu symptoms
  • Alleviate sinus headaches
  • Improve sense of smell and taste
  • Reduce snoring

Pamper Your Body. Massage Therapy – I like to get a massage once a month to improve circulation which nourishes the cells with oxygen and nutrients. Also, massage reduces stress which means… Less stress… less of a germ magnet.

Good night. Research shows that our bodies need 7 to 8 hours of sleep to stimulate an immune response from our natural killer cells against viruses. Sweet and Healthy Dreams! 

 

Namaste

 

 

Winter Can Be Hazardous to Your Heart

As winter kicks off and snowstorms strike across the country,

the risk of heart attack rises.

Fact: More people die of heart disease in the winter, especially the months of December and January. Why?

We’ve all heard the stories about someone who suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow.  Is it the cold weather? Is it the physical activity? Is it the dark days of winter? Is it stress? Turns out, all of these factors play a role.

 

Cold weather causes the arteries to constrict, which then raises blood pressure and pulse rate. These increases put additional strain on the heart.

Additionally, hormonal changes that come with the colder weather can make blood more conducive to clotting. Cortisone levels in the wintertime fluctuate with the colder weather, causing platelets to become ‘sticky”. These sticky platelets allow clots to form more easily. For people with known heart disease this can exacerbate their disease.  As the arteries constrict due to cold air, blockages become more severe.

While intense physical activity certainly puts a strain on the heart, cold weather is an exacerbating factor which leads to an increase in heart attacks and fatalities over the winter season.

Although many experts believe that colder temperatures cause heart attacks, if temperature is the sole factor then people who live at higher altitudes, where it is generally colder, should be more likely to die from heart attacks as well. Right? However, this is not the case.

Fact: Heart attacks are less common closer to the equator, less common in the summer, and less common at higher altitudes.

Fact: Vitamin D-UVB light is higher closer to the equator, higher in the summer, and higher at higher altitudes. So, lack of sunlight and Vitamin D deficiency may also play a role.

Finally, stress can certainly play a role. How else can we explain that the 3 riskiest days of the year to have a heart attack are: Christmas, the day after Christmas and New Years Day.

Some tips to keep your heart healthy

  • Keep Warm
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to cold temperatures if you are elderly,have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease like hypertension
  • Get some sun, but bundle up.
  • Exercise regularly. Join a gym or check out one of many exercise you tube videos
  • Do not shovel snow first thing in the morning
  • Warm up the body by marching in place before heading out to shovel snow
  • Stay hydrated
  • Do not drink alcohol or smoke before shoveling snow

Just remember, that with each passing winter day, the days get longer and summer gets closer.

Namaste

 

 

Hit Your Health Goals for 2017

We all have them. What are your health goals for 2017? How will you accomplish them?

 

The first day of the first month of a new year invites us to set goals for the new year. Everyone wants good health, right? So, most people wish for health in the New Year. But we must do more than wish. Our health, our lives, are in our own hands. Let 2017 be the year of accountability. Take control of your health.

Starting point.  The first step in the process is to evaluate your current situation regarding your health and then ask yourself what you really want to achieve.

You can define your starting point by asking yourself:

  • What are your current health statistics – height, weight, Body Mass Index, blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood glucose, etc – how do these compare with normal measurements?
  • Do you exercise? How often and for how long?
  • Do you get enough sleep? Do you feel tired or do you have lots of energy?
  • What is your fitness level?
  • Do you have any bad eating habits – are you addicted to a particular food or type of food? Are you an ‘emotional’ eater? Do you eat enough?
  • Do you have any ailments that affect your health and wellbeing? Do you always seem to be run-down or picking up the latest cold or flu in town?
  • Do you often feel stressed?
  • Do you have any other bad habits that affect your well being – smoking? Alcoholism? Drugs?

Set goals. Set SMART goals. Simply saying that you want to lose weight, eat healthy, or stop smoking will likely result in failure.

SMART:
Specific
      Measurable
       Accountable
Realistic
    Timeframe

Set a specific goal.A goal needs to be as specific as possible so you can work toward it and achieve it. “Lose weight”  or “Be Healthy” as a goal is too vague. What exactly do you want to achieve and how? Why do you want to do it? Do you want to feel better, have more energy, be happier, live longer?

Make goals measurable. If you don’ make your goal measurable, you don’t know when you’ve reached it. How much weight do you want to lose? What do you want your blood pressure to be? What about your cholesterol levels? How often should you exercise? Track your progress, write it down and celebrate the small successes along the way.

Be accountable. Keep a journal. Track your progress — your weight, your workouts, your food intake, how many cigarettes or drinks you had, your stress levels. There are many health apps out there that can be very helpful. Share your goals with a friend who can help keep you on track.

Set a realistic goal. Make it challenging yet not too overwhelming. Make it realistic for you based on your life, your schedule, your other commitments.

Set a timeframe. Timeframes should also be realistic. Don’t expect to lose 20 pounds in one month. Don’t expect to quit smoking cold turkey (although possible).

  • Allow yourself 1 week per kg (2 lbs) of weight you want to lose.
  • Allow yourself 3 months to get in to peak physical fitness.
  • Allow yourself at least 6 weeks to quit a habit like smoking, and maybe even longer for alcohol and drug dependency.

It may take up to 12 months to start ‘feeling’ healthy and energetic or overcome some other particular health ailments, again depending on your starting point. So hang in there! It is worth it.

Key to whatever your health goal is…eat mostly fruits and vegetables, get plenty of sleep (7-8 hours a night), exercise regularly and most importantly have compassion for yourself. Our goals are long-term and our good intentions are how we approach them everyday. Acknowledge that there will be days off track and celebrate the good days.

Namaste

 

8 Ways to Beat SAD:Seasonal Affective Disorder

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The days are now shorter, colder and darker. This trilogy can lead to a certain mood disorder know as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, also known as the “winter blues”. Many people, and I think I’m one of them, suffer from this mood disorder, which can lead to depression if not recognized and treated. Symptoms of SAD typically start in late fall and can last throughout the winter.

Some of the symptoms of S.A.D. include:

  • Irritability
  • Poor Concentration
  • Decreased interest in activities, social events
  • Decreased Energy
  • Altered sleep patterns (generally oversleeping)
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased Libido

If this sounds like you, don’t worry, know that it is real and you are not alone. It affects about 10 million Americans a year. Although the exact mechanism is not well known, several theories exist around the lack of natural sunlight, including:

  • Lack of light alters our circadian rhythm
  • Lack of light alters serotonin levels (decreases), a neurotransmitter that regulates your mood
  • Lack of light affects melatonin levels (increases), a hormone that regulates your sleep

The good news is that there are many things you can do to relieve these symptoms. Like many illnesses or disorders, mind over matter is key to taking an active roll in healing.

Here are a few ways to treat SAD and lift your mood:

  • LIGHT. Every chance you get, go outside! Soak up all the sunlight you can. But even if its not sunny, go outside anyway,and soak up the energy that abounds, on the earth, in the stars, from the moon, and in the wind. Like many people, when I go to work in the winter, it is dark in the morning, & it is dark when I get out of work. So, on weekends, I take long walks on the beach with my dog, Rocky, and immerse myself in nature. I swear it changes me. If you can’t get outside, light boxes can transform your inside environment and hopefully your mood
  • Reduce stress. During the winter months, people with SAD have a reduced ability to handle stress. I recommend you do whatever it takes to reduce stress.
  • Meditation – scientifically proven to reduce stress
  • Yoga – ditto for Yoga. Sign up for a class. Go regularly. The routine and the community keep your spirits high
  • Exercise regularly
  • Watch your diet. While people with SAD are more likely to crave sweets and simple carbohydrates, these meals will likely exacerbate symptoms of SAD – sluggish, overweight & inactive. Choose a diet high in protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates.
  • Turn up the tunes. Research shows that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improves mood in the short and long term.
  • Plan a vacation. The simple act of planning a vacation has been shown to improve mood.
  • If you have persistent symptoms of depression, speak to a doctor.

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-11-26-56-pmNamaste

The Challenge-What We Learn and How We Grow

The Challenge….complete 21 yoga classes in the month of October. Sounds simple enough, right?

The Cambridge Dictionary definition of Challenge is — something needing great mental or physical effort in order to be done successfully, or the situation of facing this kind of effort. This means different things to different people.

Again and again, I find that what I do on my mat is often a metaphor for what I do or how I am being off the mat.

THIS IS YOGA.

I took on this challenge because I felt my soul calling me back to the yoga studio, a sort of second home filled with loving family. While stepping onto my mat at the studio brings me tremendous joy and peace, the days and even moments getting there were frankly, for me… challenging. My days at work as a cardiologist are challenging in and of themselves, add to that not knowing when the day ends and then traffic in the last moment rush to make a class, spells out …

STRESS.

Then last weekend I was on call and had a “plan” to get in at least one class on the weekend. Then, a  patient having a heart attack is flown in via helicopter and this changes everything.. my plans, my perspective, my definition of challenge. The Challenge … being the best doctor I can be, trying to save a life, fighting (loudly) for everything possible to be done, and accepting the outcomes without

SELF JUDGEMENT.

  The Challenge … finding peace in whatever happens each day, because this does take “mental effort”. Knowing that you did your best and that your best is always enough.

THIS IS YOGA.. Providing us with the tools needed for navigating the challenging course that is life.

In our personal lives, we all have our challenges. Some challenges are clearly less daunting than others but nevertheless, all are real for us at the time, and often result in physiological stress. For me, most of the time, my challenges are small and insignificant and self-imposed… getting up early to run, running a half marathon, getting to the yoga studio, meditating regularly, and being a good doctor. Nothing in comparison to my sister’s daily challenges of raising a family, running a company and dealing with her own health problems. Yet she does it all with grace and determination.

So, the question is not what are your challenges, but how do you respond to them.

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The Challenge is …. to sit quietly and listen to the wisdom that can only come from within.

This past weekend, I had the exact opposite experience of my last weekend. I went to a yoga workshop led by Rolf Gates, globally recognized yoga teacher and author. He talked about how we practice yoga on and off the mat … with an open heart and attention to the present moment. It is these tools that can help us get through the challenging moments in our lives.

The Challenge is …. Allowing. Allowing life to unfold as it will.

The Challenge is …. Accepting. Accepting Life as it is in the moment, being present in it, and being your best You.

The Challenge is … Not what you do, But How you do it.

And yes, I did complete the 21 days! On to the next challenge.

Namaste

Mind-Body Medicine

I was truly honored to be invited to talk about Mind-Body Medicine at Sentara’s 25th Annual Critical Care and Trauma Symposium for nurses and guide some of the nurses through a “sunrise” yoga practice. When I was first approached, I was surprised because traditionally these critical care meetings focus on evidence based concepts for the critically ill patients, such as how to avoid infections, improve care of heart attack patients, etc. But after thinking about it for a minute, and then talking to Ashley (who invited me to speak), I realized that mind body medicine fits in perfectly.

Mind-Body Medicine is a medical discipline based upon the inseparable connection between the mind (which is not our brain, but our thoughts and emotions) and our physical health.

mind-body

Unmanaged and overwhelming stress can turn into dysfunction and illness. So, we, the healthcare providers, need to embrace a holistic approach to our patients. The technological advances of the last century have been remarkable. No doubt, advancements in medical technology have allowed us to better diagnose and treat patients. Countless lives have been saved. But we are not meeting All the needs of our patients. As an interventional cardiologist, I am profoundly grateful for the technology at my hands which allow me to save lives and care for patients having a heart attack, acute heart failure, arrhythmias and cardiac arrest. But when I see them in the office a week or so after they’ve been discharged from the hospital, they are depressed, anxious and down right scared to death.

The use of complementary self-care modalities can help one manage stress and increase resilience. There is now significant evidence that mind-body therapies are beneficial in many medical situations, including heart disease. Mind-body therapies, in combination with conventional medicine, address the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients. Such modalities include Yoga, Meditation, Relaxation, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Dance Therapy, Taichi and Qigong.

These modalities can obviously be used by anyone & everyone for stress management and the prevention of illness. Stress does not affect only the sick. It affects all of us.

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In the hospital setting, mind-body techniques can be utilized by 1) patients to reduce their pain and suffering, 2) family members to help them cope, and 3) healthcare providers to manage stress and increase empathy.

A little plug for my favorite mind-body therapy – Yoga. The popularity of Yoga has grown by over 50% in the last 8 years. According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study, 36.7 million Americans are practicing yoga with 80 million Americans likely to try yoga in 2016. One of the  most common reasons for starting yoga was stress relief. So, my hope is that more Americans, and especially healthcare providers,will incorporate Yoga into their daily routines as a way to manage their stress and stay Healthy.

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Nurses at Sentara’s 25th Annual Critical Care and Trauma Symposium-A foggy sunrise yoga practice with dolphins

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Staff at Sentara Cardiology Specialists practicing yoga after work

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Maybe, this will be the norm in a few years!

Namaste

 

 

The Healing Power of Music

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What would my life be like without music? Anyone who knows me well, knows that Music is an Essential part of my life — at home, at work in the cath lab, on my run, on the road, and on my mat. I grew up listening to a wide variety of music, ranging from rock n roll (thanks Dad), soft music (thanks Mom), classical music, opera and disco (sorry Dad!). So as my crazy sister, Jen and I embark on a music adventure, I thought this was a great time to look into the science behind the music. We’re off to the Gorge Amphitheater in Washington state to see and hear Dave Matthews live for 3 days!! This means we have to camp out in a tent for 3 nights, something I have never done! But the idea that music can bring people together like this is compelling and exciting and inviting. We always thought we should have been at Woodstock, so here we go!

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We’ve ALL felt the MAGIC of music. Music can lift your soul and mend your heart. It has often helped heal my spirit when it was broken. It makes me feel happy when I’m stressed and strong when I need empowerment. In Yoga, we often chant (Kirtan) to raise the collective vibrational energy before, during and after practice.

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But there is so much MORE to the Healing Power of Music. This healing power has been well known for centuries and woven into many cultures.

Now with the advantages of modern technology and research, there is strong evidence to support its healing properties.

Here are a just a few examples of how Music Heals:

  • Music can reduce the perception of pain
  • Music relieves stress and anxiety
  • Music can lower heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate
  • Music can boost immunity
  • Music, particularly listening to Mozart, reduces seizure recurrence in children with epilepsy
  • Music improves post-sstroke recovery
  • Music can reduce stress, depression and anxiety
  • Music therapy, prescribed music with  therapeutic intention, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of patients with Autism, brain injury (as in the case of Congresswoman Gifford), stroke, Parkinsons disease and  Alzheimers. Fact — Music can rewire the brain!

Music also:

  • Improves Learning
  • Improves Memory
  • Improves athletic performance

The Biology of Music

Music activates many parts of the brain, including auditory, motor and limbic systems which in turn send signals through the autonomic nervous system to our major organ systems including our circulatory, respiratory and endocrine systems. This explains the changes in our emotions, heart rate, and respiratory rates when we listen to our favorite tunes. We can use these positive responses to heal that which ails us.

So, put on your favorite song and know that you are doing something good for your health! For me and Jen, it will be a long weekend of Dave Matthews Band! Woohoo!

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Namaste

Yoga in Healthcare

Last weekend, I spent a few days at a very magical place called Yogaville in Buckingham, VA with an amazing group of yogis and yoga therapists to brainstorm about the future of yoga and yoga therapy in healthcare. This was the perfect, peaceful, energized backdrop for our work.

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Each yogi has a unique professional background and offered tremendous passion and  incredible experience in the burgeoning field of yoga therapy. Included in this group was a pediatrician from UVA, Michael Lee, MA, founder of Phoenix Rising School of Yoga Therapy, Mala Cunningham, PhD, founder of Cardiac Medical Yoga, Staffan Elgelid, PT,GCFT, PhD, Associate Professor of PT and Director of Physical Therapy and Wellness at Nazareth College, and little ol’ me.

The health benefits of yoga and more specifically yoga therapy are well established and increasingly being recognized, but not very well known. So, the challenge is how to integrate this complementary therapy into mainstream healthcare – clinics, doctors offices, hospitals and rehab centers. Integrated health centers have been popping up throughout the country, and reporting incredible results for their patients, such as at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.  The University of Virginia is teaching the theory and practice of yoga in the Contemplative Science Center, which also offers free classes to the students and faculty. UVA also has an Integrated Medicine Clinic.  Progress is being made in the field of integrative health centers, but this is far from mainstream.

What about yoga therapy in hospitals? I initially thought that cultivating mindfulness and compassion in the healthcare providers would be enough. While this is critical to achieve the best outcomes for the patients, the providers already have many responsibilities. so, in comes the yoga therapist who is there for one reason only – to aid in stress reduction and pain management via a focus on the physical , emotional and spiritual needs of the patient. For example, at Barnabas, the integrated cardiac wellness program, involves a holistic approach BEFORE and After cardiac surgery.

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The challenge with any relatively new treatment method, is education and unfortunately reimbursement. The education piece is being addressed. “Wellness” is being introduced into the school curriculum for doctors and nurses. Also, in the Era of Accountable Care, wellness is becoming a core competency for hospitals. As hospitals explore different ways to address “wellness”, the hope is that they will incorporate more yoga therapists in their wellness strategies.

These are exciting times!

Namaste

New day, New week, New month, New moon

Monday, August 1, 2016 – New day, New week, New month, New moon

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I wake up each day with the realization that each morning provides fresh opportunities and new beginnings, regardless of what happened yesterday. But there’s something particularly exciting for me when that new day is the beginning of a new week, a new month, a new year or a new moon.

 

I’m a hopeless Believer or many may say, Dreamer, or perhaps  even Delusional.  Regardless, I wake up every day as if yesterday never happened and am excited about the opportunites ahead . I am given another day, another opportunity to be better at whatever I do — a better doctor, better runner, better daughter, better friend.  That’s a gift we are all given when we wake up. 

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The New Moon, technically is on Tuesday, August 2nd. The day before the New Moon is a time of reflection and preparation.

When the moon is new, the two lights in the sky, the sun and moon, are aligned in the same Zodiac sign. In astrological terms, this is a time charged with great energy that can lead to new and exciting possibilities in our lives. 

A New Moon is a symbolic point of attention, and a symbolic portal for new beginnings. New Moons are a great time to set intentions for things you’d like to create, develop, cultivate, or make manifest.

We can prepare for the New Moon by making sure we are clear about our intentions.

So why not start this day, this week, this month and this Lunar cycle with Hope. Set your good intentions forward and be your best Self.

Peace, Love, Health & Happiness

Namaste

Sunshine for Health

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Get outside and enjoy the health benefits of the beautiful sunshine! The summer is my favorite time of year because the days are long and the sun shines warm and bright. Did you know that direct exposure to the sun (brief or protected) is good for your health? Yes, it is a fact that prolonged, unprotected sun exposure is linked to skin cancer. However, recent research suggests that the benefits may outweigh the risks, particularly when we are mindful of skin type and time spent in direct exposure.

Here are a just a few benefits of beautiful Sunshine.

1. Boost Vitamin D levels and Bone Health. Vitamin D is crucial for our bone health, especially athletes. Please note that in order for the skin to make Vitamin D, the skin must be exposed to direct sunlight without sunblock. So, keep it short, then apply sunblock if you plan to stay out longer.

2. Happiness! Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of a neurotransmitter called Serotonin – our bodies natural antidepressant. When combined with exercise, the mood boosting effects of sunlight are especially potent. I, for one, can totally vouch for this one!

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3. Sleep better! Exposure to sunlight during the day helps keep circadian rhythms on track and boosts levels of serotonin, which in turn helps you fall asleep more easily, enjoy a better night’s sleep and wake up more refreshed.

4. Lose weight  People often lose more weight in the summer for a number of reasons. First, the sun often brings people outdoors, which usually results in more physical activity. In addition, the increased serotonin helps control appetite.

5. Enhance your Immune System.  Research suggests Vitamin D plays a vital role in immune health. Exposure to the sun’s rays ensures the vitamin is present in the body and can be used to benefit T cells, which are key to defending against infection and other autoimmune diseases.

6. Prevent Cancer – That’s right, I said, prevent cancer (possibly, more research is needed) with sun exposure. According to a scientific paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “Whereas skin cancer is associated with too much UVR exposure, other cancers could result from too little. Living at higher latitudes increases the risk of dying from Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as breast, ovarian, colon, pancreatic, prostate, and other cancers, as compared with living at lower latitudes.”

 

Bottom Line: As with everything in life, the solution lies in balance. The sun is good. The sun can be harmful. So be smart. Enjoy the sun, particularly early in the morning  and later in the evening, and avoid the strongest,harmful UV rays between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. cropped-cropped-how-yoga-and-meditation-can-improve-your-overall-health-_327_409883_0_14085765_300.jpg

Namaste