Daily Routines for Families to Increase Your Health

Summer is an exciting time filled with fun, late nights, and travel. With all of this craziness, there may not be any daily routine or structure. While that can be ok, and even good for us at times, we all seem to reach a point where we start craving some sort of routine that will give our life some sense of normalcy again. With summer schedules winding down, it’s a great time to start picking up where we left off and establish those much needed routines again.

Making meals and eating together as a family at night is something that should be part of a healthy routine. It will not only limit eating out, which is good for both your physical and financial wellness, it will also ensure you and your family have the much needed fuel you need to get through your day. If you have kids, you may get up in the morning, make breakfast and pack lunches for the day. You may choose to pack lunches the night before when you are making dinner. Children can be a part of this routine as well and should be encouraged to help.

Daily physical activity should also be a part of a healthy routine. If you aren’t currently exercising and want to try to fit it in, think about what time of day is best for you to exercise, i.e. when will you most likely do it? If you aren’t a morning person, don’t make yourself get up earlier to fit it in. Establishing a set time of day that you exercise is helpful, but we don’t always have that ability with varying schedules. If you can’t make a consistent time each day, try planning out your physical activity on a weekly basis. Put it in your calendar and treat it as a meeting. Evening walks after dinner with your family or lunch time walks with colleagues are also some ways to start establishing some good habits.

Screen time is one of those things that tends to become a habit, but isn’t always good for our health. Although a little screen time is fine, you may find yourself spending hours on the computer surfing the internet or watching TV. Screen time of any kind should be restricted for all of us. Setting rules in the house for regular screen time may help. We should all make sure to turn off our phones, computers, TV’s etc. at least one hour before bed. You’ll sleep better!

We typically all have bedtime routines with our children that help them to calm down and prepare for a good night’s sleep. Having our own bedtime routine can provide the same benefit to us as adults as well. Reading, journaling, making a list of to-do’s to plan out the next day, gentle yoga or light stretching, daily reflection or meditation, and prayer are all things you can do as part of your nighttime routine that will benefit your sleep. Going to bed around the same time each night and getting up around the same time each morning is also part of a healthy routine.

Following these daily routines can positively impact your physical and mental health. Although our lives may be filled with dozens of tasks already, routines can help us focus, increase our self-efficacy and keep us motivated to stay on track. Daily habits or routines allow us to free our mind up for all the other decisions we have to make during the day and give us a sense of control as well. Once habits are established you may even find you have more time and choose to add some additional tasks to your routine that will help you follow a more balanced and healthy life.

Cycling On Borrowed Time – Kurt Gering’s Story

KurtMU  If you have ever met Kurt Gering, you have likely heard of his many cycling adventures. While Gering still fondly recalls receiving his first bike for his 12th birthday, his love of cycling took on a new level of passion on New Year’s Day of 2011, when he challenged himself to ride his bike every day for a year.  Once this was achieved though, he quickly amended his goal to a 500 day cycling mission, which he achieved before eventually succumbing to a nasty bout of intestinal flu.  He continues to maintain a blog on Facebook called The Bike Warrior and this year he has already logged over 5000 miles of riding. What makes this total even more improbable, are the challenges he has faced this year in achieving those miles.

In May of 2015, Kurt embarked down a journey that was to become his greatest adventure yet, challenging not only that which was central to his life, but his very mortality. On May 6, Kurt turned 52 years old and as had long been his practice, he had scheduled an  annual physical with his physician.  While an initial visit had shown no untoward results, Gering wanted several additional tests to be performed. In the past two months, Kurt had two friends, with no symptoms, experience problems with their heart. One of them, a cycling teammate, suddenly could no longer make it to the top of a hill they frequently rode together. After some investigation, it was determined it was the result of an electrical issue with his heart. The second was a colleague, who, while going through preliminary testing for a hernia, discovered via an ECG he had some blockage in the coronary arteries of his heart and was in need of quadruple bypass surgery.

It was with these events lingering in the back of his mind that he asked for an ECG and for a cardiac stress test (with contrast) to be performed.  Though he had no symptoms such as dizziness or shortness of breath, as an avid, competitive cyclist who rode 200-400 miles per week, he wanted to be sure. He wanted peace of mind and a few painless tests requiring an hour or two of his time seemed a small price to pay.

Incredibly, as he was driving home from the test, Gering received a call saying that the testing done under stress indicated decreased blood flow to the heart, suggesting possible coronary artery blockage.  Kurt’s physician referred him to a cardiologist, who at an office visit , suggested he have a coronary calcium CT scan further discern whether there was any calcium build up in the plaque found in the walls of the arteries of the heart. A quick procedure taking less than five minutes, the scan computes a score, with Gering scoring more than twice the normal values. This was another sign that continued to tip the scale in favor of blockage and completely confirmed that an angiogram needed to be performed to be certain. Unfortunately, Kurt’s cardiologist was leaving for a speaking tour in England the following morning. However, his doctor rearranged his schedule, his doctor’s wife even held dinner, and an hour later, three hours after arriving for an office visit, Kurt was in the operating room at St. Luke’s as an angiogram was performed.

Unfortunately, a considerable amount of blockage was found scattered throughout his coronary arteries. Four arteries had over 80% blockage and one was about 95% blocked. Dr. DeFranco, the cardiologist who performed the angiogram was quite astonished and stated, “Never, in my 25 years as a cardiologist, have I seen someone with your athletic capacity, perform at such a high level with this poor circulation.”  When the cardiologist compared Kurt to Jim Fixx, author of the Joy of Running and the so called “guru of the running world” who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 52, that was enough to convince Kurt of the seriousness and he scheduled quintuple bypass surgery for the following week.

It is important to note that leading up to his surgery, Kurt had no symptoms whatsoever. He never experienced dizziness or shortness of breath and as a competitive cyclist, Kurt regularly gets his heart rate up to 140bpm  or more for 15-20 hours each week. His diet is the envy of many a dietician and his blood pressure below normal, as are his cholesterol levels and lipid panels. However, Kurt, in asking for the cardiac stress test to be performed, chose to advocate for his own health. Had he not asked to have a cardiac stress test with contrast performed, he may not be here to spread this important message.

I’m sure there are also many people out there that might be saying, “But he was exercising and eating right and he still had heart problems, so why should I exercise and try to eat healthier?” Well, according to his cardiologist, Kurt wasn’t experiencing any symptoms because his heart had grown so strong through the many hours of exercise he performed each week, that it was still able to pump blood through the body in spite of all the blockage. This likely would not happened to someone with a less rigorous exercise schedule. He was, however, living on borrowed time. Eventually the narrowing would have become so great that his heart would not have been able to push blood past the blockage and he would have suffered a heart attack.

Kurt had his quintuple bypass surgery performed on May 22, 2015, by Dr. Eric Weiss, a cardio-thoracic surgeon from St. Lukes in Milwaukee. Because of Kurt’s extreme fitness, many of the cardiac rehab guidelines for patients after bypass surgery were amended and after several days, he was meandering about the halls of the St. Lukes, IV Stand and chest tubes following behind him. Six days after surgery on May 28, 2015, Kurt was released from the hospital and later that day as he arrived home, true to character Kurt got on his stationary bike and rode ten miles. As much as his surgeon will allow, he remains active in his recovery and as part of his rehab program takes part in the immersive spinning class through Employee Wellness. On August 30th, Gering celebrated 100 days since his surgery with a 100 mile bike ride, completed in six hours.. Incredible? Yes. But then life is not to be measured by the number of breaths we take, but rather, by the number of times our breath is taken away.

Want to learn more? On October 6th Gering will share his thoughts from 12noon-1pm in the Beaumier Suites of the Raynor Library.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cardiologist

In this GROW session, Kurt Gering provides an entertaining review of his recent journey through quintuple bypass surgery and recovery. Often humorous and filled with curious twists of fate, Kurt will share the lessons he has learned and offer suggestions for maintaining your cardiac health.

Exercise: Can We Do Too Much?

I love to exercise. I’ve always considered myself lucky. I never used to think of exercise as exercise though. I grew up on a farm in Idaho where we were running around all day. From the traditional outside activities like Frisbee, tag, bike riding, etc. to what may be considered more non-traditional activities like swinging from ropes in the barn or jumping off the loft into the hay and having rotten apple fights. In junior high and high school I got into sports and loved playing basketball, volleyball, and running track. I later joined the Marine Corps where my love of fitness continued as I was challenged both mentally and physically to complete various tasks.

Throughout my experience in the military and with high school sports I heard the saying, “No pain, no gain.” This phrase gets used a lot, when it comes to exercise. While pushing yourself can be good when you are exercising, many people tend to push through those daily aches and pains, and disregard any warning signals. When you’re young, you don’t always have aches and pains, but as we age they seem to be inevitable, especially if we didn’t take care of ourselves when we were younger. So should we be “pushing through?” Can too much exercise be bad for us? How do you know when it’s too much?

Well, there are a couple of things to think about. When we exercise we are actually creating tiny little muscle tears that need to heal so we can build muscle. Now that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to workout, but if you do a hard workout one day, it may be best to take a rest day or do an easier workout on the following day. Also, make sure you are balancing all areas of fitness – muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility.

If you are someone who gets up every day and goes for your morning run, but then skips breakfast, or other meals throughout the day, you are missing a key component needed to recover – PROPER NUTRITION! If we are not fueling our body appropriately, we cannot perform at our best.

I think the most important piece of advice I can give is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Pain is a different feeling than the burning feeling we may feel in our muscles when doing a tough workout. It’s okay to be uncomfortable and to “feel the burn,” but if you are in pain, that’s when it’s time to stop. Physical activity can actually help alleviate some of our achiness and stiffness, and help us to feel better. If you don’t feel better during or after your exercise it’s probably time to slow down and get checked out. Overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, or tendinitis are a sure sign you are doing too much or you’ve started your exercise program too fast.

You don’t have to be a marathon runner or a triathlete. Moving your body some is better than not moving it at all. We should all aim for at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity and try to limit our time spent sitting. Being physically active doesn’t mean it always has to feel like exercise. Find activities you enjoy and do them.

Tips for Better Work/Life Balance

As a wife, mother, and someone who works full time it seems like I am always on the go. I often wonder how families make this work and think about all of the things we do to fit it all in – and we only have one child! Juggling schedules can be tricky. If you’re lucky, your place of employment offers a flexible work schedule, so you don’t have to be there from 9-5, and you may even be able to work at homes at times. This helps, but how do you make sure that you have time for you and the people who matter most to you in your downtime. WebMD posted an article back in 2013 with five tips on how to do this. For the complete article go to: http://www.webmd.com/health-insurance/protect-health-13/balance-life?page=1 . Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Build downtime into your schedule.

When you plan your week, make sure to pencil in quality time with your family and friends or schedule an activity that helps you to recharge, like a massage. These activities can give you something to look forward to during the week.

  1. Drop activities that sap your time or energy.

If there are activities that fill up your time or people in your life that bring you down, don’t waste your time on these activities or relationships. Social media can be a huge time sink as are negative people in your life.

  1. Rethink your errands.

Household chores and errands are time consuming. My husband and I already divide the errands in our house. For example, he does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. If one of us cooks, then the other one does dishes. I often spend a whole day (or at least a morning) cleaning house and have considered hiring someone to clean so I can spend more time doing things I enjoy. WebMD lists some other ways you can outsource some of these tasks:

  • Order your groceries online and have them delivered. Check out http://www.peapod.com/ !
  • Hire a neighborhood kid to mow your lawn.
  • Have your dry cleaning picked up and dropped off at your home or office.
  1. Get moving.

Although it’s hard to fit exercise in when life is crazy, getting regular exercise can actually increase your energy levels so you are better able to keep up with all the activities. I always tell people to put it on your calendar and treat it like a meeting. Also, pick a time a day that you are more apt to do it. I’m a morning person, so I get up at 4:30 or 5am on some days. I also bike to/from work a couple of times a week. Whatever it is you do, make sure you enjoy it.

  1. Remember that a little relaxation goes a long way.

Although we’d all like to change our behaviors overnight, it’s important to remember to set realistic goals, make changes slowly, and take time for you. Changing behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. Think about what you want your priorities to be and start with some small changes that you can do to make that happen. Take time to relax and clear your head to help reduce stress as well.

Summer Sun

Summer is here, and with that brings more outdoor time in the hot sun. Although sun exposure to some extent can be good for us, when it comes to helping us make Vitamin D, too much time in the sun without protection can be harmful. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Each year there are 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed in the United States, which is more than all other cancers combined.

So how do we protect ourselves and our families? Well, there are several steps that can be taken to help decrease your risk of skin cancer. First, you should use a broad spectrum sunscreen that has at least 30 SPF to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t skimp on the application either! One ounce, about a palmful should be used to cover your legs, arms, neck, and face. Use more to get your ears and feet and any other exposed skin. Reapply every two hours or sooner if you are in and out of water. Make sure to check the expiration date on your sunscreen as well. Throw it out if it is 2 years or older. Another step you can take is to wear a hat. This is especially important if you have thinning hair or are bald. Make sure to protect your eyes too by wearing sunglasses. If you are spending all day outside, spending some time in the shade or covering up during the day is wise, especially between 10am to 4pm. And, although we all want a golden tan, tanning beds and lamps should not be used.

No one is immune to skin cancer, but you’ll need to take extra precautions if any of the following apply to you:

  • You have natural blonde or red hair
  • You have freckles
  • You have fair skin
  • You have a lot of moles, or large or irregularly shaped moles
  • You have had a lot of sunburns and burn before tanning
  • You have a condition that lowers your immune system
  • You have had skin cancer before
  • You have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
  • You spend a lot of time outdoors
  • You live or travel to hot climates or high altitudes
  • You take medications that make you sensitive to light

Learn more at http://www.cancer.org/cancer/skincancer/index.

Cutting Out Sugar

Our bodies are addicted to sugar. We don’t just want it, we crave it, need it. Cutting back sugar can greatly change your diet, and it eliminates foods you may not even expect. In a class I took here at Marquette, sugar addiction was compared to many illegal drugs and found to be more addictive. You wouldn’t expect it to be as dangerous as cocaine, heroin or other drugs, however, it may be. Think of all the negative risks of craving foods when we do not need them. Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease kill enormous numbers of people in the US every year, and could all be the result of dietary dangers.

In this article from Harvard medicine, they argue that the sugar itself could be causing heart concerns, and even those who are not overweight, but consume a high sugar diet, are at risk. Most of our sugars come from sugary beverages like soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and juices. Even one soda per day puts one over the daily recommendation of sugar. In addition to beverages, deserts like cookies, cakes, ice cream etc. as well as cereal, bread, and pasta are big sugar weights on the diet.

These “empty calories” are foods we consume that do not provide us with nutritional value via vitamins, minerals, or meet other dietary needs. When these make up a certain percentage of one’s diet it sets them up for Diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The argument has been made that the total number of calories eaten is not as important as the quality of those calories for the development of Diabetes. The empty calories we consume trick our brains into believing we are not full, they do not satiate us as well. This causes us to overeat leading to increasing our empty calorie count. This article goes deeper into the science and politics behind the high sugar problems our society faces. Perhaps this is the idea behind the free bread at a restaurant? Why else would they give us free stuff?

Now, if we know it is bad for us, the question remains as to how to cut it down or out of our diets. There are multiple ways to go about this; however, making a plan is important. These 12 steps are the right idea, however, you many need to pick and choose what works for you. It’s important to learn how to read a nutrition label and look into ways to sweeten without sugar. Honey, cinnamon, and vanilla extract are alternative ways to sweeten foods. Cutting sweets out of a diet entirely, can be very difficult; however, cutting down alone can have benefits. Trying not to drink sugars makes a big difference, and is a first step if it is overwhelming to try to do it all at once. In short, look around for a method that works for you, and be educated about what is adding sugar to your diet.

Lastly, like many things, this isn’t for everyone and while I believe that we could all cut out some sugar and feel healthier, this may not be the case for you. If you are concerned about changing your diet and need a second opinion talk to a registered dietician or your doctor.

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern

Reducing stress with breath

Stress management and reduction have become a big part of health management in current times. Stress is a huge complaint in multiple work places, and it makes sense that on an academic campus it would be a big concern. The deadlines, exams, and fast paced style of the setting add stress and pressure where we may not even expect it. There are many ways to reduce stress including exercise, listening to music, drinking tea, laughter, however, one that may not immediately come to mind is breathing. This may sound like the beginning of a yogi rant about cleansing the lungs of toxins, but before you make that judgement, there is a little bit of truth to that idea. When we are stressed our heart rate and breathing rate increases. Despite that we are breathing more, we have to take shallower breaths so less oxygen gets into the body when breathing rapidly. If less oxygen is going in, less carbon dioxide can leave, and in a sense we are retaining more “toxins” in our blood stream.

The most important part about this change in the body is that if you take control of this system, you can “trick” your body out of the stress response. Our bodies are programed for fight or flight, but the kinds of stress we encounter during our work day cannot be fought or run from. By slowing this breathing rate, the other stress responses and feelings of anxiety can be reduced and calmed. This is why long term stress can be concerning, it keeps the body on high alarm and results in health concerns like high blood pressure. The lungs like any unused organ can become lazy. Hunched postures or lack of exercise can allow the lungs to expand little and still meet the body’s needs. If we stretch and use those lung tissues they will be more available to us when we need them.

Deep breathing, abdominal breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing are all synonymous and translate to stopping those shallow breaths and allowing full deep breaths in. This could be a simple practice to do before beginning work again after your lunch break. Taking a few deep breaths could help clear your mind, and relax your breathing rate. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates are all exercise forms that encourage this deep breathing in their practice, and it is part of the reason why they are recommended to reduce stress.

There are multiple health benefits to deep breathing practices. Some are outlined in this article found in Yoga Journal. Happiness and emotional stability are listed first. I find this fitting because if we are able to lower stress levels and reduce tension we really can find ourselves more calm in our desk or on a yoga mat. Allowing the release of the tense day or a few minutes to just focus on something other than the building work pressures is a practice that could allow the composure we need to remain productive on a busy day.

For more information on how to perform these breathing techniques read here and here. There are a few different methods to try and finding one that fits you and your schedule could save you anxiety down the road.

Breathe easy!

Shannon Gambon

Employee Wellness Intern



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