Tuesday, September 27, 2011

All Hail the Sun (flowers) !

 By Mary Oleksowicz, MSTOM,  L.Ac.

With the end of summer upon us, it seems like all creatures are craving that last “hurrah”.  Personally, the true mark of the end of summer is the harvesting of the sunflowers that have grown in the front yard this summer. These flowers can grow as tall as 12 feet in properly drained soil. The largest recorded sunflower was over 25 feet tall!
 Many of us recognize these “giants” of the garden for what seems to be a single enormous flower with yellow petals and a brown, velvety center. However, appearances can be deceiving.  Did you know that while the sunflower appears to be one huge flower, the yellow petals are actually protective leaves that cover the central head while the plant grows. In actuality, a single sunflower head contains hundreds of tiny flowers called florets. These florets are where the sunflower seeds originate.  

Sunflower seeds have been used since ancient times. There use has been documented in the temples of the pre-Columbus Americans. While generally perceived to be an” American” flower , the sunflower also became popular in Europe through inter-continental trade. In fact, the Russian Orthodox Church increased sunflower popularity when it forbade most oil foods from being consumed during Lent. Sunflower was not on the prohibition list and thus earned enormous popularity as an “allowable” food source.

These food sources are powerhouse of nutrition. In addition to containing the powerful antioxidant, selenium, sunflower seeds are sources of magnesium and a non-dairy source of calcium. Sunflower seed can be allowed to dry on the stem, although the birds may eat them before you do!  An alternative is to cut the flower head off when the larger yellow petals have fallen off and the sunflower head starts to bend from the weight of the seeds. The stems can be hung up to dry.  I would suggest placing a paper bag with several small holes around the flower head. This will help to catch the seeds as they ripen from the stem. The holes in the bag will prevent the seeds from molding. You can then keep the raw seeds for immediate consumption. If not you can roast the seeds and keep them for yourself as well as for bird visitors during the winter months. Just remember, if you prefer your roasted seeds “salted”, be sure to soak them in a salt water solution overnight.

Perhaps the most interesting sunflower fact is related to the French name for the flower which is “tournesol”, which translates as “turns to the sun” .This designation is quite appropriate as sunflowers exhibit heliotropic behavior. As sunflowers begin to grow, motor cells tilt the sunflower during daylight hours so that the plant can receive the most light. In fact many young sunflowers follow the sun through the course of the day, tracing the sun’s position from east to west. Through the night, the sunflower returns to the east-facing position and will follow the sun’s position to the west again the next day. Once the plant begins to bloom, this unique capability ceases and the stem tends to freeze in the final eastward position.

So as the warm season ends perhaps the best “sunflower” based advice was coined by Helen Keller. “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow. It's what sunflowers do."  May you find sunshine and nourishment even on the coldest days !

Final Perspective on "Health" - Blog #3

Well, folks, here we are at long last…the end of my blogging week. So, what has been my purpose? Well, I’m not quite sure…

(Kidding of course!)

I hope that I have made the case for defining health in a way that is culturally relevant AND appropriate. Equally, I hope that I have convinced you that a definition of health should include the tripartite notion of “mind-body-spirit.”  

…But, since I am so very long winded, I have a bit more to say about “mind-body-spirit.”
I suspect most of you are familiar with the historical antecedent of the “mind-body” (yes, I know “spirit” is absent) characterization of we “humans.” However, just in case you are not, let me give you a very brief history: the historical antecedent to “mind-body” was the Scientific Revolution and the main player of interest in the modern view of “mind-body” was our French friend, Rene Descartes. As I’m sure you already know the “mind-body” view was made popular in the mid 1600’s by Descartes, who believed that what happens “in our mind” is altogether different from those things that have substance – literally those things we can touch. For the philosopher AND scientist AND mathematician – Descartes – “mind-body” was nothing more than differentiating that which does follow the laws of nature (i.e., the “body”) from that which does not follow the laws of nature (i.e., the “mind). This “mind-body” view of human nature has quite literally dominated Western thought – and medicine – and health – since the mid 1600’s.

So there you have it then: a “mind-body” view of health completes our picture – case closed! (Thank you, Descartes!) J

NOT SO FAST, folks! What has been traditionally absent in the Western view of health, and what has been a key feature in the Eastern view of health, is the seminal role of “spirit.” For Eastern health practitioners our “spirit” (i.e., our essence including our values, morals, desires, and our connectedness with nature or the universe) shapes the type of health we have, the type of illnesses we may contract or develop, and our ability to heal.

Well, “so what!” you shout at me.  Well “hold your horses,” I shout back. There is something quite important – and historical – about the Eastern view of “spirit” in health and well-being. As it turns out, we are seeing an integration of traditional Western views of health (i.e., “mind-body”) with the importance that traditional Eastern practitioners place on “spirit.” Hence, what has been held constant since the last days of Descartes, our “modern” view of health and healing as a “mind-body” issue, seems to be going through what Thomas Kuhn has called a “paradigm shift” – the change from one way of thinking about “something” to another way of thinking about that same “something. The “mind & body” is evolving into the “mind & body & spirit.” This is what is often meant by an “integrated” approach to health. It should come as no surprise when I tell you that some Western and Eastern health practitioners are choosing to define health as a function of our “mind” and our “body” and our “spirit.” Sadly, if you are lacking in any of these areas you may not be as healthy as you think you are (I invite you to revisit the characters from our first blog as a “case in point.”).

And so my friends, we have the opportunity to “ride the wave” of change as we move from a Western, dualistic notion of health, to a more integrated view of health - a view that encompasses the best of the West AND the best of the East! So, I leave you to ponder the nature of “mind-body-spirit” and how adopting an integrated approach to health and healing may be our single best chance to come to any understanding – any definition – of the ubiquitous nature of “health.” Sincerely,  ~Kevin         
Monday, September 26, 2011

What is "Health" Blog 2

So, my friends, where does our search for the meaning of “health” leave us? Are we forever doomed to the realm of confusion and incoherence? Absolutely not! The truth is, I kinda set you up. (I know, I know, I can’t believe I did that either! J). Let’s see if I can know provide a bit more clarity on the health issue.

Take another quick read of each scenario (e.g., Bill, Georgia and Sam). What do you notice in these scenarios?  (HINT: think "mind-body-spirit"). Now come on, you can’t fool me…I know you didn’t reread the scenarios. Go ahead, do it now, and as you do, think “MIND-BODY-SPIRIT.” What do you notice about the characters in each scenario? How might using the elements of “mind-body-spirit” help you better explore each character’s “health?”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I notice that an element of “mind-body-spirit” is missing from each of our characters.

Bill seems to be “a-okay” in the area of “body” (i.e., exercise, diet, illness/disease), but not in the area of “mind” (i.e., emotional health) or “spirit” (i.e., values, morals, meaning of life, attempts at flourishing). How can a person be healthy if that person lacks emotional and/or spiritual health?

Georgia seems to be doing just find in the areas of “mind” and “spirit,” but lacks strength in the area of “body.” How can a person be healthy if that person lacks physical (i.e., body) health such as exercising regularly and making healthy food choices?

Sam seems to be developing very nicely in the “body” area of “mind-body-spirit” and reasonably well in the “mind” area of “mind-body-spirit” but is definitely lacking in the “spirit” part of “mind-body-spirit.” I say, Sam is doing reasonably well in the “mind” area because, even though he suffers from mild anxiety (a “mind” aspect), the anxiety stems from his undeveloped or underdeveloped “spirit.”

Before I continue with the blog, I’d like to digress for a moment. Did you notice anything else about Sam? Read Sam’s scenario again.

Yes, Sam is gay – and this was quite intentional. It was also intentional that I made Sam the character with the “spiritual issues.” Some readers – unfortunately – might assume that Sam’s “spiritual issues” are present because he is gay - e.g., “Well of course he suffers from lack of spiritual development. He lacks spiritual development because he is gay!” Whereas this could be true – we do not have enough information on Sam to come to that conclusion. He might be a very well-adjusted gay man but be struggling with spiritual issues because he’s uncertain what faith means or because his parents are not spiritual people and so he has not received information on, or coaching about, spirituality.

The brief discourse above on Sam is provided for two reasons: 1) I am a gay male and since I am writing this blog, I wanted the readers and participants to know that I believe in the importance of considering diversity in our views (and definition?!) of health, and 2) To suggest to the reader to remain ever mindful of assumptions we make of other’s perceived “health” or lack of “health” in the “mind-body-spirit” domain. For example, “She’s unhappy because she’s lesbian.” Or, “He has body image issues because he’s overweight.” Or, “She is addicted to exercise because she’s afraid of putting on weight.” Or, “He’s not very spiritual because he comes from THAT country or is affiliated with THAT culture.”  

Alas, what is my point to all of this? Well, if I have done my job over the last two blogs then I have made the case that:

1. A definition of health should be considered from a “mind-body-spirit” paradigm;

2. Any definition of health should be mindful of diversity and should not be based on our own assumptions, biases, and personal ideologies; health, however defined, should be inclusive of all people, cultures, identities, and orientations.

Hahahah….I bet you did not expect THAT twist in my blog, huh? I definitely through a curve ball at ya! So, let me wrap-up this blog by asking you if using a “mind-body-spirit” approach to defining “health” is useful. Perhaps using “mind-body-spirit” is too simplistic, or too convoluted or just plain crazy! Perhaps diversity is not that important in how we define health. Perhaps I’m focusing too much on the “gay issue” because it is important to me and therefore I am guilty of violating point #2 above – my own ideologies have tainted my ability to be objective. Is it even possible to remain completely objective in our effort to define health? Are these questions even necessary? Perhaps I’m blowing this waaaaay out of proportion!?

As usual, I welcome whatever thoughts you have about any aspect of this blog.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Illusive Nature of Health

The Illusive Nature of Health

What is health? Do you think you know? I mean really, truly, know? Sure, you can probably quote to me the World Health Organization’s definition of “health,” and you can probably quote to me the Journal of Health Promotion’s definition of “health,” but does that mean you know what “health” is?

I suspect that many of you reading this blog are either in the health field or studying health with the goal of entering the health field. Yet, I wonder if even we – the practitioners of public health – would agree on a definition of health?  I will admit upfront that I believe there is a lack of true comprehension about this construct we call “health,” sadly, even from those of us in the health field. So, you don’t believe me? Well then try this experiment: Google the word “health” and see what “pops up.” Read the myriad definitions provided and count how many definitions you find. Well? What did you discover? Still don’t quite believe me about the apparent lack of agreement on, and comprehension of, the word “health?” Then try this experiment: ask five or six different people in the health field or helping profession (e.g., a physician, a psychologist, an academic, a health educator, a fitness trainer, a priest/minister/monk) to define the word “health.” I will bet all the money in my bank (which would not be much!) that you will get different answers from each of the different people you ask.  Furthermore, I am equally confident that, although different, there will be a small common denominator in each of the answers. That common denominator will be something related to “the physical body,” such as weight, illness, or disease (or lack of illness/disease) or “working out” or “eating right.” But, again, each of those definitions has to do with the physical characteristic of the body. So, does that mean we should define “health” according to some “physical characteristic” of our body? If I “look good,” have a good blood-lipid profile, am within my ideal weight range, and work out regularly does that mean I am healthy? (And do notice my deliberate change from trying to pin down a definition of “health” to the perception of what we think is “healthy”). Let me share what I mean about the illusive nature of health. Below, I have provided three scenarios of three different people.  Read each scenario and ask yourself which of the three individuals is the healthiest. (And, yes, you MUST pick at least one). In fact, try ranking them from most to least healthiest and then ask yourself why you ranked them in the order you did.

BILL, aged 25, is the picture of perfect physical fitness and good health: most people consider him very attractive with his blond-hair, blue eyes, “6-pack” abdominal muscles, slim body and toned muscles. He exercises regularly, competes (and often wins) in triathlons and is successful at work. Yet, at home, he verbally abuses his girlfriend and has come close to physically assaulting her on at least one occasion.  Would BILL fit our definition of health?

GEORGIA, aged 19, is a warm, generous woman who gives time and energy to help the homeless in her community. She goes to church weekly, participates in both church and community activities, and always shares a smile or kind word with strangers. She is well liked by people who know her and seems very secure with herself. She meditates as often as she can. Yet, according to height/weight charts, she is 40 pounds overweight, does not exercise, and has elevated triglycerides.  Would GEORGIA fit our definition of health?

SAM, aged 23, is physically fit, is within his ideal body weight, eats right, is well liked by his family, friends, and colleagues, and is generally described as a highly intelligent and capable person. He has a stable job, makes good money, and spends quality time with his boyfriend. Yet, he often describes himself as “lost,” describes his life as “without purpose,” and suffers from anxiety due to his constant search for “the meaning of life.” Would SAM fit our definition of health?

I’m curious if our answers – especially for those of us in the health field – would match up. How would the “average person,” (whatever that means) rank these scenarios? Should there be consensus in our answers? I’ll have more to say about these three individuals later in the week. In the meantime, I would like to hear from you.
Friday, September 16, 2011

Resources....last one for this week!

Hi Again,

Today I’d like to share the NCCAM website. If you know nothing about CAM practices (or would like to deepen your understanding)—this is the place. This website describes common CAM practices, allows you to browse the current research, learn about what is safe and effective, and so much more. It has a wealth of information about CAM:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Resources, references, cont...

Hi Everybody,

Continuing on with my share CAM resources theme….today I’d like to offer up the NCCAM Herb fact sheets website. Here you can learn the uses for herbs, potential side effects, what the science says and more…

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Resources, references, etc...

Hi Everyone,

Considering I work for 3 online schools, I tend to spend a lot of time on the internet. I love it. Information is literally at my fingertips--and considering that I am a bit of an information junkie—I am in heaven :). Naturally, I become acquainted with many resources throughout my day. I thought it would be cool to share some with you all. This week I’d like to share some useful CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) websites. According to the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine), approximately 38 percent of US adults use some form of CAM. Considering this interesting tidbit—I thought it would be important to share sites where folks can get reliable information about CAM. First one up is the NIH dietary supplement fact sheets website. One can find comprehensive information about many different vitamins and supplements here: Safety, indications, contraindications, food sources, etc:

In my book, whole food sources for vitamins are best, however, if you do need to supplement your diet--you will find the website above handy :).

Nancy Silva, ND
Health and Wellness Dept
Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Runner in Recovery: Part III

I don't know much about architecture.  I don't know the difference between Gothic and Revival (are those even real terms, I can't be sure). I don't know about columns and arches or even green spaces.  But I am familiar with one architectural concept: form follows function.  According to my limited knowledge, this principle basically means that a structure should be built according to its function or use.  Apparently there's a reason why homes look like houses and not office buildings.

The principle of form follows function also applies to human bodies.  If you want a hard body, you have to work hard.  There is an epic quote by strength and conditioning coach Mark Rippetoe that says (in part), "The two things that most influence our physical appearance, exercise and diet, have in common the fact that doing them correctly means choosing to do things that involve discomfort."  In summary: get comfortable with uncomfortable. 

I am not saying that everyone wants the physique of actor Chris Hemsworth (Thor) or trainer to the stars Jillian Michaels.  Wait, who am I kidding, yes we do.

As mentioned in my last post, HIIT can deliver results in the form of increased fat burning and improved endurance.  It can also build muscle when you incorporate strength training aspects (I'll get there in a minute).  Form follows function.  An important study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2005 was the first that found that high intensity interval training (in this case cycling sprints) could dramatically increase aerobic endurance.  In how long you might ask?  In bouts of exercise lasting 2-4 minutes over two weeks for a total of six sessions.  Let's do the math: that's 12-15 minutes.  Impressive, no?  Perhaps you don't care about endurance.  Perhaps you care about weight loss.  But who wants to just lose weight?  We want to lose fat.  A similar study also published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that subjects who underwent a HITT program (7 sessions, 2 weeks) increased their fat oxidation by 36% in their post-test.  I don't know about you, but I am in favor of burning fat.

So how should you incorporate HIIT into your current program?  Start small, this is tough stuff (or should be if you're doing it correctly).  Incorporate one day of HIIT training into your exercise routine.  Remember, it should be short duration (9-20 minutes) and be close to max effort.  As you progress, add 2-3 days per week.  You should see results fairly quickly -- remember the subjects in the aforementioned studies saw results in just a couple weeks.  Get comfortable with uncomfortable.

Once you are familiar with the HIIT concepts, incorporate other exercises that focus on strength rather than exclusively cardio.  The fundamental exercises:  squats, pushups, sit ups and pull-ups are an excellent place to start.  Apply HIIT principles to these exercises:  short bursts of max effort followed by recovery.  Add in more variety: jump rope, barbells, box jumps, lunges... the more variety of exercises you perform, the better your fitness will be.  Form follows function.

If you are someone who has grown bored and weary of the endless hours of cardio, I encourage you to step out of the box (or off the treadmill), challenge yourself physically and see the results you've been searching for.  What do you have to lose except wasted hours in the gym?

Posted by Rachel L. May, M.S.
Adjunct Faculty, School of Health Sciences
Friday, September 9, 2011

A Runner in Recovery: Part II

Every day I meet people who are at wits' end with their exercise program.  Many of these people complain that they carve out 90 minutes - 2 hours per day for exercise, perhaps exercising two or more times per day just to fit it all in.  These frustrated individuals come to me and say, "Why aren't I losing weight/getting fitter/seeing results?  I simply don't have any more time to dedicate to exercise!"  And who can blame them?  Not many of us have the time (nor inclination) to spend 60+ minutes every day working out. 

Somehow the majority of exercising Americans have come to believe that in order to get more results, you have to do more exercise.  Now if you're someone who is sedentary or exercises very little, this is true.  But if you are someone who exceeds the ACSM Guidelines for physical activity (30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity most days of the week) you may be stuck on what I like to call "the cardio hamster wheel."

As mentioned in my previous post, I was someone who was once stuck on that wheel.  I thought that if I wanted to be in better shape I just needed to run more.  But no matter how much I ran, I never saw the results I wanted.  Even though I was at my lowest weight (113 lb at 5'7"), I still had a fluffy midsection (ahhh the dreaded "skinny fat").  And even though I exercised for 2 hours per day, I couldn't even move a couch without some assistance, let alone do pushups. 

Frustrated, I went (skeptically) looking for something else, something to do in conjunction with my running, not in place of running because again, I knew that fitness = running. 

And I found myself at a local Crossfit affiliate.  Perhaps you've heard of Crossfit.  It is beginning to come out of garages and small gyms and into the national spotlight (ESPN2 is now covering the National Games).  The fundamentals of Crossfit are its high intensity, highly varied workouts that combine aspects of many sports (power and Olympic lifting, gymnastics, and sprinting) to create workouts that are designed to keep your body guessing.  As I tell people, I thought I was in shape until I went to Crossfit.

But this isn't a post about Crossfit, it's a blog about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and how you should be incorporating these principles into your workouts.

Elite athletes have been using interval training for more than 70 years to improve performance.  Yet the general public has largely been left-out.  HIIT is defined as cardiovascular training designed to improve fitness and reduce fat while increasing muscle in short (9-20 min) and intense workouts.  Raise your virtual hand if you'd like to improve fitness, reduce fat and best of all, do it in less than 20 minutes.

Below is an example of what a simple HIIT workout might look like: 

Warm-Up: ~ 5 minutes (Ex: Walk/jog)
Intervals: Near maximal effort of short duration (Ex: Sprinting)
Recovery: About 50% of max effort (Ex: Walk/jog)
Ratio: 2:1, Recovery: Interval
Cool-Down: ~5 minutes (Ex: Walk)
The example provided above is based on running, but you can do HIIT with any mode of exercise: walking, swimming, biking... the key is that your intervals have to be hard.  Like really hard.  Maximum effort kind of hard.  Most of us are not familiar with this type of intensity, most of us like to keep it moderate.  But the athletes who are familiar with that intensity -- the 100 meter sprinters, the Olympic weight lifters, the gentlemen who play in the NLF -- they look like they work intensely.  And personally, I want to look like them.  Moderate intensity = moderate results.
In the next blog installment I'll tell you why HIIT works, and give you some more ideas about creating your own HIIT programming.  And to catch your attention, here’s a photo of my good friend and training partner, Katy.  Mother of three, mid-30s, and someone who trains less than 20 minutes per day. 

Posted by Rachel L. May, M.S.
Adjunct Faculty, School of Health Sciences


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