University of Pennsylvania Health System

Penn Health and Wellness

Monday, January 4, 2016

Get Fit While at Work

These days, it seems as though more and more people are working longer hours and using the old "no-time-to-exercise" excuse.

Unfortunately, this lack of physical activity can be harmful to your health, as it increases the risk of obesity, back pain, poor posture, leg cramps and tense muscles, among other things.

Wouldn't it be great if you could find a way to fit in some type of workout during those 8+ work hours?

Well, the good news is…you can. It just requires a slight change in how you work or get to work, to make a meaningful improvement.


Schedule walk-and-talk meetings. Who says a meeting needs to be held around a table? Take a brainstorming stroll with a colleague. If you need to take notes, schedule the meeting at a park where you can sit on a bench.

Avoid the elevator. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise to stay fit. Stair climbing for just 10 minutes, three times a day, for example, will total 30 minutes of heart-strengthening exercise, putting you well on your way to reaching that mark.

Take a stand. Set a timer to remind yourself to get out of your chair every 30 minutes. Use this time to walk to the water cooler or check in on a project.


Workout at WorkReach for the sky. Sitting at a desk all day can lead to neck pain between the shoulder blades. You can reduce the pain by reaching both arms up to the ceiling and arching your back. Then bring your arms down and stretch forward, opening the upper back. Do this every 20 minutes.

Stretch out your shoulders. Sit straight in your chair and reach one hand behind your back with your palm out. Then reach your other hand up and bend it down, trying to touch both hands. Hold for 10 seconds.

Point your fingers. Typing for eight straight hours can be harmful to your hands, wrist and forearms. Stretch one hand in front of you, pointing your fingers toward the ground. Use your other hand to gently push your fingers down and toward your body. Repeat on the other side. Then, stretch your hands upward doing the same.


Tone your arms wherever you can. A great way to sneak fitness into your day is to do a few push-ups here and there. Remember, all you need is a flat surface – and it doesn’t need to be horizontal. Simply lean against a wall, desk or other sturdy surface and get a few reps in.

Rise up out of your chair. Even if you are stuck in your chair all day, you can still get some core work in. Throughout the day, simply lift yourself off your chair with your arms.  If your chair is on wheels, it'll be even harder to hold your body still.

Get your legs up. While sitting in your chair, extend one leg out straight in front of you and hold for a few seconds. Then raise it up as high as you can and hold it again for a few seconds. Repeat with each leg multiple times.

These simple actions can significantly increase your physical health. Squeezing in a little exercise also improves concentration and could actually improve your productivity.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Year, Healthier You

The beginning of the new year is often seen as a time of rebirth, a chance for individuals to start anew.

Each January, millions of Americans resolve to better themselves – many focusing on their health. However, it's been reported that under 10% of individuals will actually achieve their goals.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. It means that you need a plan in place and must be realistic about the challenges ahead.

Check out five of the most common New Year’s resolutions and how you can achieve your goals:

Lose Weight

One of the most popular resolutions is also one of the most difficult to achieve. People want results immediately, but losing weight takes time. Each day presents a new opportunity to make a change: improve your diet, be more active or embrace a healthier lifestyle overall.

Keeping track of what you eat will help you realize change is happening even if it’s not yet visible. It is also very helpful to have a support system in place for those days that are a bit more challenging than others.

Take it one step at a time and plan for bumps in the road.

Fit in Fitness

Getting into better shape doesn’t mean you have to spend countless hours at the gym or on the track.

For the average person, a good fitness program consists of exercises that work the entire body and lasts between 30-60 minutes throughout the day. Cardio work improves the health of your heart, lungs and blood vessels. Weight-bearing exercises enhance the function and health of the bones, muscles, joints and connective tissues.

Start slow and if you are unable to commit a full 30-60 minutes at a given time throughout your day, spread it out. Go for a walk on your lunch break, ride your bike after work or do a few reps while dinner is in the oven.

Quit Smoking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more former smokers in the United States - nearly 50 million - than current smokers. That means it’s a popular goal and that many people succeed.

Regardless of how long you’ve been smoking, quitting will be a challenge. Research the various methods available and be prepared to try different ones until you find the one that works best for you.

As with losing weight, let others help you. Tell your friends, family and co-workers about your plan and explain to them that you would like their support throughout your journey. It also may be helpful to talk with your healthcare provider as they will have suggestions on how to lessen the urge.

Get More Sleep

Have you been unsuccessful in past quests to get fit, lose weight or eat healthier? Perhaps your plan to healthier living is missing one of the most important pieces of the puzzle: sleep. A lack of sleep has been linked to a greater risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, among other things.

Although everyone has different sleep patterns and slightly different needs, it is recommended that you get at least seven hours of sleep per night. If you have trouble doing so, try avoiding electronics an hour before bed. The blue light emitted from your television, laptop or smartphone can trigger alertness, keeping you awake longer. Also, try to stick to a schedule, regardless of the day. If you go out late on Saturday and sleep in on Sunday, you may have trouble being ready for Monday morning.

Cut your stress

We all do it. Work is overwhelming, we have a list of chores we need to take care of or we are trying to stick to these New Year’s resolutions. We put added stress on ourselves, which leads to a lack of sleep, poor eating choices or other unhealthy habits.

Make sure to make time for yourself. If you’re like many, you have vacation time saved up – use it. Don’t make yourself available 24/7. Turn off your smartphone, television and computer for an hour a day.

Removing unnecessary stress will go a long way in helping you achieve your other New Year’s resolutions.

Here’s to a healthier you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Avoiding Holiday Hazards

Robyn S. Medina, DO, a family medicine physician at Penn Family Medicine Valley Forge, offers tips on how to avoid the added risks that accompany the holiday season.

The holiday season is a time for relaxing and celebrating with friends and family. Sitting in front of the fireplace, admiring the decorations and, possibly, sipping on some seasonal cocktails are likely some of the items on your to-do list.

Sorry to be the coal in your stocking, but the most wonderful time of the year can be the most hazardous. Dr. Medina is here to help you prepare for the holidays without the added risks sometimes associated with them.

Enjoy the glow without going up in flames.

Although candles and fireplaces can create a cozy ambiance, increased use combined with other seasonal decorations means more risk for fire. Make sure you:
  1. Never leave burning candles unattended or sleep in a room with a lit candle.
  2. Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.
  3. Don't burn candles near trees, curtains or other flammable items.
  4. Don't burn trees, wreaths or wrapping paper in the fireplace.
  5. Check and clean the chimney and fireplace area at least once a year.

Get into the festive d├ęcor while leaving out the danger.

From tinsel to mistletoe, and Poinsettias to spray snow, holiday decorations are all around. Creating festive displays is one of the best ways to get in the holiday spirit; however, you should make sure you pay attention to any small children or pets that may be around.
  1. When trimming the tree, place breakable ornaments and those that have metal hooks toward the top, away from the smaller creatures in your house.
  2. Keep poisonous plants (including some Poinsettias) out of reach of curious children or pets.
  3. Keep indoor paths clear of wrapping paper, decorations, light wires, toys, etc.
  4. Remember not to spray chemicals when others are around. Adding a frosty look to a surface is easy with spray paint; the problem is it can irritate lungs if inhaled, especially those of little tikes. 

Keep holiday drinking under control.

If there is ever an opportunity to overindulge, the holiday season is it. Between the eggnog, mulled wine, champagne and other alcoholic beverages, the options just seem to be a bit more enticing this time of the year.

If the concern of becoming the topic of water-cooler chatter or making those family gatherings a bit uncomfortable isn’t enough, keep this in mind: The time between Christmas and New Year’s is one of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road. This is because of the number of people on the road significantly increases, which also means those driving under the influence increases. On New Year’s Day, nearly half of all traffic fatalities involve alcohol, the most of any U.S. holiday.

So, make sure you:
  1. Know who’s the true man (or woman) of the hour (AKA who’s your designated driver?).
  2. Buckle up, no matter how long or short the distance being traveled.
  3. Don’t text and drive. Distracted driving causes one-quarter of all crashes.
  4. Are prepared for more traffic than usual and possibly bad weather.
Ensure this month is a time of joy and cheer. Just a bit of preparation can go a long way in helping you and your friends and family safely enjoy the season.

Happy Holidays!

Interested in learning more helpful tips?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Eight Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Indulging during the holidays is expected, but keep these tips in mind so the holidays don’t mark the start of a downward spiral into poor eating habits.

1. Weigh yourself

The holidays are not the time to avoid your scale. If you see the pounds creeping on, stop more weight gain as soon as you see it. Be proactive in avoiding holiday weight gain.

2. Write it down

Food journaling works best if you record your food and beverage intake as you go. Write down what, when, where and the quantity that you eat. Make sure to include all snacks and beverages even if you grab just one cracker on your way out the door.

3. Make time to exercise

Exercise helps you de-stress and clear your mind of all that you need to do this holiday season.

Walk the mall before you start shopping, take a new exercise class or practice some yoga or stretching to relax. If it’s too cold to exercise outside, treat yourself to some special cold weather workout gear. Working out in cooler weather can be invigorating, as long as you have the right clothes to stay comfortable.

4. Breathe

If you are a stress eater, consider an alternative to eating when you need a break. Just sitting silently with your eyes closed at any point during your day, or when you feel stressed, is very helpful for keeping yourself in balance. Remember, it doesn’t have to be for a long period of time: even just one minute of relaxing breaths in the midst of a busy holiday season goes a long way!

5. Don’t skip meals

Skipping meals often backfires. If you skip meals, you may overeat at the next meal, or let your hunger make bad food choices for you.

6. Learn How to Say “No, Thank You”

It’s hard to pass up goodies when they are offered. Not only are you turning down delicious foods, you may be worried that you are offending the host or hostess.

It’s okay to say no, but if you need a more creative way to say no, consider these:
  1. Thank you, but I already ate.
  2. That looks too good to eat!
  3. Thanks, but I'm getting a jump start on my New Year's resolutions!
  4. I worked out earlier, and I am trying to stay on track tonight.
  5. I'm trying to pace myself, but thank you!

7. Get enough rest

When you skimp on sleep, your body works harder to stay awake, and may lead you to make poor food choices. You might reach for another cup of coffee or a sugary snack to give you some energy. Or you might skip a stop at the gym because you are too tired. A lack of sleep can sabotage your efforts.

8. Watch the liquid calories

Holiday cocktails and wine with friends all add up to a lot of empty calories.
For example:

  •  One cup of eggnog – without liquor – has about 350 calories and 19 grams of fat.
  •  One cup of champagne has about 182 calories.
  •  One, 4-ounce serving of red wine has about 100 calories.
Of course, you can swap out healthier versions of classic favorites (light eggnog, for example), but alcohol can also loosen inhibitions, and lead to poor health choices. After a few drinks, you might be more likely to eat more, derailing your diet plans.

Interested in learning more helpful tips?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How to Have Your Cake and Eat it Too – Holiday Edition

Lori M. Noble, MD
Lori M. Noble, MD, a primary care physician at Spruce Internal Medicine, located at the new Penn Medicine Washington Square building, offers tips on how to satisfy your sweet tooth this holiday season - and do so in a healthy way.

Last year, I wrote a blog post proclaiming my addiction to all things sweet and shared some tips and tricks that have allowed me to satisfy my sweet tooth without breaking the sugar bank. Well, now the holidays are just around the corner and that can only mean one thing – delicious, decadent food will be all around us, just waiting to wreak havoc on healthy lifestyles everywhere (cue sinister laugh track)!

That may sound a little melodramatic, but the holidays are notoriously a time when people give up healthy eating habits because the temptation is just too great. So this year, I thought I would share some tips that will make it easier to prepare, and enjoy, all those savory and sweet holiday treats – without the guilt.

Call for a Substitute

Recipes often call for heavy, high-calorie ingredients. Most of the time, these can be substituted for much healthier options without sacrificing taste.

For instance, baked casseroles can sometimes call for as many as a half-dozen eggs. You can easily swap the eggs for egg whites (or egg substitute), which come prepackaged in affordable, easy-to-use cartons. This switch will help reduce the fat and cholesterol in many recipes.

Similarly, unsweetened apple sauce can be a replacement for oil in a one-to-one exchange in baked goods. Even that little tablespoon of oil has 120 calories. Those savings can really add up!

On the Side, Please

When preparing your next holiday feast, put all the extras on the side and allow your guests to put as much or as little as they’d like of each on their meal. That goes for dressing, sauces, gravy, extra cheese and any other condiment.

These can add many additional calories and we often don't even realize it. When food isn't smothered in these extras, each person has to be conscious about how much or how little to add and will often wind up using less.

Fruit Is Your Friend

Far be it from me to tell anyone not to indulge in a piece of pie at the end of a holiday meal. That would not be realistic. But, in order to help keep it to just one piece, load up the rest of the plate with a healthy fruit salad topped with low-fat whipped topping. Fruit is high in fiber and much lower in calories than the standard dessert. It helps keep you satisfied and is delicious – a true win-win situation.

Veggies Are Your Best Friend

I know I've made this recommendation before, but that's because it’s so crucial to healthy eating habits, so load up on the veggies! The fall and winter seasons are full of many delicious options – butternut squash, brussel sprouts, pumpkin, broccoli, cauliflower…the list goes on.

Sprinkle your favorite with some salt, pepper and fresh herbs, drizzle with heart-healthy olive oil, and roast in a pan, the oven, or on the grill for a filling, healthy addition to your meal. Anytime you want to go back for seconds of other food items, I challenge you to eat more veggies first and then ask yourself, "Am I still hungry?" More often than not, the answer will be no.

Cut Out the Extra

Many recipes call for more of certain ingredients than are really necessary, with the biggest culprit being butter.

For example, my mom's sweet potato casserole is a must at our holiday dinners, but the recipe calls for almost two sticks of butter! I cut out over half of the recommended amount and no one could tell. Shhh! (If you're nervous about this, do a test batch using less of the selected ingredient so the recipe can be made without a hitch on the real day.)

This year, try some or all of these tips to make your holiday meal flavorful and filling without sacrificing your health.

Interested in developing a personal fitness plan that includes good nutrition?

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