Friday, February 15, 2013

What Did You Give Up?

Lent came early this year- tough to have Valentine's Day the second day of this season if you gave up chocolates! While certainly not everyone practices Lenten observances, I think most people are familiar with the general concept of offering some sort of self-discipline as part of a religious practice, so this is a good opportunity for me to share a thought about the mix of religion and medicine.

As a physician- especially as a Catholic one- I really appreciate Lent. Just as New Year's resolutions for healthy changes are fading away, in comes Lent to save the day! All kidding aside, while many of us have wonderful intentions of limiting sweets, sodas, alcohol, nicotine, or you-name-it in the name of HEALTH, a good portion of us need that extra nudge of discipline that comes when these intentions are linked to a higher good. One way to do this is indeed the traditional practice of a "fast"from an earthly pleasure. If every time we start to reach for or simply crave our "off-limits item", we instead check ourselves and take a minute for prayer or reflection, how great is that? Not only are we not harming our body with an unnecessary substance or calorie load, but we gaining the peace and lower blood pressure that comes from meditation. Definitely a win-win! (Of course, if we gripe and grumble and feel extremely self-deprived every time, that's a whole different ballgame...)

Whether it is fasting, prayer, meditation, or acts of service for others, religious practices can be a wonderful asset to our health- both physical and mental. In my practice, I have seen tremendous success  when patients combine their spiritual and physical efforts in a very practical manner.

BOTTOM LINE: Harness the power of your religious strength to give you that extra push to stick to healthy life-style choices!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Till We Meet Again...A Special Note to my WLFP Patients

To my wonderful patients from West Lake Family Practice,
This note is a month overdue, not from neglect, but from the inadequacy of my words each time I sat down to write. I simply cannot express what a privilege it has been to care for you and your families. Many of you have been trusting your healthcare to me for almost two decades- first at my practice on 38th street and then in Westlake. I truly cherish our friendships and shared experiences- through occasionally bewildering medical challenges and with your "real life" experiences, both the joyous and the sorrowful. When I think about the practice of medicine, it's not about cancer, diabetes, weight, heart attacks, depression or sore throats- it's about the complete person dealing with these challenges, and his or her stories and relationships. That is why I love family medicine.

When I took what I had hoped to be a six month leave of absence last year to finish up two writing projects, I had every intention of returning to WLFP. Unfortunately, publishing world turnover created chaos in one project, extending my leave to a full year. Meanwhile, medical care is obviously in the midst of upheaval and evolution, and primary care practices in particular have been swept up in these changes. WLFP is no exception, as I am sure you are aware. Like any business, our practice both gained and lost personnel as the ownership changed hands.  I believe many of these changes in healthcare will push the practice of medicine in the right direction (such as electronic medical records)  but patience is required, as the growing process can be challenging for all of us. With all of these changes, however, the timing is right for me to make another transition in my career.

Although I miss the patients, co-workers and staff at WLFP, I am truly enjoying being back at the University of Texas, seeing students in the urgent care area of the health center. (The reflection from my Aggie ring makes all that burnt orange look maroon...) Seriously, though, please make sure your current Longhorn students know I am available for them! Additionally, many of you know that I have been working with our Bishop Emeritus, John McCarthy, on his book (very near publication), and I am excited to bring my life full circle soon by joining the team at Seton's McCarthy Clinic (named in his honor.)

A special thank you to Cary Douglass, MD, for inviting me to work at WLFP a decade ago, and always supporting my editing, writing, publishing, and media adventures. To Scott Gaertner, MD, & Kristyn Fagerberg, MD, I miss you both and wish you success at West Hills Family Health Center.
To Mary Sue and the front office staff, thanks for juggling my schedule without complaint. To Deana and Lorie, I know you will keep taking great care of our patients, thank you! To Virginia, all the best...until we meet again.

BOTTOM LINE: My dear patients, I will not say goodbye, but only "till we meet again"...and many thanks for your trust and friendship. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

P90X- Bring It!

Okay, my post about the FB pledge to better health with P90X has generated lots of questions for me (and I suppose smiles for the makers of the DVD- and NO, I do not have any financial or other ties to them!) I will explain what it is and why I personally enjoyed it, but more importantly, I want to encourage you to find what will push YOU a bit out of your comfort zone.

P90X is a series of exercise DVDs. To be honest, I learned about it several years ago when I was in a hotel exercise room and the infomercial was on the locked-in TV channel, so I was a captive audience. Time seems to be my scarcest resource, so exercising at home is my preference. That being said, both my body and my mind get bored with simply walking the dogs or riding the exercise bike, and I am not one to spontaneously drop in to push ups or heaven-forbid, sit ups! Each DVD in this series is different, from old-fashioned calisthenics (though who knew their were over a half dozen kinds of push ups??) to yoga to kick-boxing. I am generally in good shape, but the first week of this program, I literally felt like a truck had run over me- and that was with only being able to do maybe 10% of the exercises! I'm happy to say that in several weeks, I could do everything (okay, except the yoga, which I never mastered.) And, for full disclosure, I developed a shoulder injury that was aggravated with the pull ups, so I had to put P90X back up on the shelf, but I did so with vastly improved upper body & torso definition and strength, and I went back to a self-modified version of this program after I rehab'd my injury.

Would I recommend P90X for you? Maybe. From my standpoint, this type of program is best for the person is at or within roughly ten pounds of their ideal body weight, is already doing some kind of cardio consistently, but wants to get serious about changing their body shape and strength, AND will commit to the hour per day that this program demands. Talk to your doctor and see what she recommends.

The take home message here is that if you stay in the same exercise program for prolonged periods and expect different results, you are setting yourself up for disappointment (especially if you are walking or running.)

BOTTOM LINE: I have always encouraged cross-training for this reason, but pushing yourself to the next level- more intensity, more muscle groups, or simply different muscles- is the best way to break out of a body plateau.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Facebook Diet!

Happy February! How are those New Year's Resolutions holding up for you? I hope at least a couple healthy choices are sticking with you...If not, I've got a social media suggestion that might just keep you on the straight and narrow. Meet the "Facebook Diet" concept!

Full credit for this idea comes from my high school friend, Anne White. In fairness, in her case, I should call it a FB Exercise Plan, but the concept is easily extended to other healthy choices such as pumping up your fruits and veggies, quitting smoking, or yes, exercise. Back to Anne. In December, she boldly proclaimed on Facebook that she was committing to 90 days of a very challenging exercising program called P90X. Each day, she posted a short blurb about what she did or what muscles were screaming, as the case may be. I am proud to boast that last I FB stalked, Anne was on Day #37, and going strong!

There are so many positives about this form of accountability: 

  • Simply recording your action makes you accountable to yourself, and has been repeatedly shown to increase success of maintaining a habit. Recording it PUBLICLY adds the bonus of accountability to others. In the case of social media, MANY others!
  • FB or other social network posting takes a tiny amount of time, and no travel.
  • POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT- friends cheering you on is wonderful!
  • 21 days to make a habit- so "they" even if you only post for a few weeks, you may have done enough to create that new habit
  • Inspiring others! Anne's pledge has motivated many of us to dust off our old P90X DVDs and "Bring It" once again. For non-P90X'ers, Anne has motivated them to pick SOMETHING to push their own bodies out of our comfort zones.
Anne has impressed me so much with this public declaration of prioritizing her health. When she got sick with the flu, she simply posted on FB that she was down a couple days, but then jumped right back in once she was physically able. 

BOTTOM LINE: If you use social media for fun and entertainment, why not use it for health? Set a goal, make it public, and let all those FB friends cheer YOU on to better health!