University of Pennsylvania Health System

Penn Health and Wellness

Monday, December 15, 2014

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, according to a report from Forbes, just 8% 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

New Years Resolutions
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!

Need additional help getting started on your resolutions? Speak with a primary care doctor in your neighborhood.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Prevent Snow Shoveling Injuries

If the start of the season is any indication, salt, shovels and snow blowers are in the forecast for most of us over the next few months. This means more risk of injury. Although cardiac-related injuries tend to be the most serious, sprains and strains, especially in the back and shoulders, are the most common injuries related to snow shoveling.

Andrew F. Kuntz, MD
Andrew F. Kuntz, MD
“This time of the year, we tend to see many shoulder and elbow fractures due to slips and falls,” said Andrew F. Kuntz, MD, Shoulder and Elbow Surgeon at Penn Orthopaedics. “We also encounter a good number of sprains and strains directly related to snow removal.”

It is important to note that the design of the snow shovel does very little to help those with pre-existing back and shoulder problems. The length tends to be too short for most and a shovel made of steel adds significant weight that an individual must lift. Poor form can force individuals to bend and twist when shoveling heavy snow, which can lead to injuries.

The good news is there are tips that you can follow to reduce the risk of these types of injuries:

Warm-up your muscles

You should always remember that shoveling can be a very vigorous activity. If your muscles are cold and tight, you will be more susceptible to injury. Do some light exercises, stretch your lower back and hamstrings and loosen your arms, legs and shoulders before venturing outside - just as you would for any other workout.


Use proper technique

Proper snow shoveling techniquesJust like weight lifting, having good technique can help you avoid injury and use your energy more efficiently. When possible, push the snow in front of you, rather than lifting and twisting. Be sure to always bend at the hips and lift with your core muscles instead of just your back and arms. Finally, keep your loads light and alternate shoveling between arms. Having good form will remove some of the stress put on your back, spine and arms.

Pace Yourself

It’s cold outside and all you want to do is get the driveway and front walk shoveled and hurry back inside your warm home, but go at your own pace. It is recommended that you shovel a small area, then give your body some time to rest before moving on to the next section. During breaks, stretch your muscles again and keep moving, so that you don’t tense up.

“It is extremely important to take your time and not to overdo it,” said Dr. Kuntz. “When there’s a big job ahead of you, take frequent breaks and remember to use proper technique to minimize your chances of injury."

Pay Attention to Your Breathing and Your Pulse

Shoveling snow is a strenuous exercise that can put undue strain on the heart. Factor in cold air, which constricts the blood vessels and increases blood pressure, and you have a dangerous combination for people with coronary artery disease or other forms of heart disease.

So before you go shovel your walkway or let a loved one shovel their own, take a few moments to review some common heart attack symptoms. If you feel soreness, pain or strain despite following these tips, it might be time to hand the shovel off to an ambitious or helpful neighbor.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whooping Cough: What You Need to Know

Paula S. Barry, MD, an internal medicine physician at Penn Family and Internal Medicine Longwood, explains exactly what whooping cough is and how it can be prevented.

Paula S. Barry, MD
At one point in history – during the early 1900’s – whooping cough was one of the most common and serious illnesses affecting children. As was the case with many childhood plagues, children began to receive regular immunizations and cases of the disease dropped dramatically.

Now, partially because of waning immunity, cases of whooping cough are on the rise – and affecting people of all ages.

What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is caused by an organism known as B. pertussis. A highly contagious bacterial disease, whooping cough is characterized by uncontrollable, violent coughing, which can sometimes end in a "whooping" sound when the person breathes in.

The first symptoms are similar to those of a common cold: runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever. After a week or so, the dry, irritating cough can evolve into coughing spells.

In the past, this was an illness mostly seen in children who had not been adequately protected by immunizations. Over the past few years, though, there have been more and more cases of adults being diagnosed. Adults and teens with whooping cough tend to have milder or atypical symptoms, such as a prolonged cough, rather than coughing spells, or coughing without the whoop.

How Do I Protect My Family From Whooping Cough?

whooping cough
As stated above, anyone can be at risk of catching pertussis. Health care and child care providers, as well as parents and grandparents that may be around an infant under one year of age, are at the highest risk. It is also important for pregnant women to speak with their obstetrician about being immunized.

The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated. The recommended vaccine for infants and children is called DTaP. This is a combination vaccine that protects against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Tetanus can cause “lock jaw” and muscle spasms, while diphtheria can cause a thick coating on the back of your throat.

Tdap, a vaccine for adolescents and adults, has been approved as a booster against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. It is recommended that adults get Tdap rather than their next regular tetanus booster.

If you have additional questions, talk with your health care provider. A little bit of prevention can go a long way.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What are Patient-Centered Medical Homes?

“Patient-Centered Medical Homes are models of health care that assemble a practice team of health care professionals and staff that put the patient needs at the center.”
Charles F. Orellana, MD

Charles F. Orellana, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Clinical Care Associates for Penn Medicine, recently discussed how Patient-Centered Medical Homes are transforming the delivery of primary care, placing the patient at the center.

Numerous Penn internal and family medicine practices have received Level III certification from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) for providing coordinated, efficient care through the Patient-Centered Medical Home program. This Level III certification is the highest designation granted by the NCQA.





Tuesday, November 25, 2014

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? Find a primary care doctor near you and get started!
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