Category - Health Tips

1
We Are Sweet Enough
2
Five Easy Minutes
3
Making Connections for Mental Health
4
Healthy Summer Habits
5
Stop The Bleed
6
Stretch It Out!
7
Food as Medicine for Mental Health
8
Sleep!
9
Hip Hip Hooray
10
The Winter Blues

We Are Sweet Enough

By: Cole Pearson

healthy drinks for kids

As children return to school, nutrition can be an important contributor to them enjoying a successful, healthy school year. Many children enjoy sugar-sweetened beverages, but aren’t our children already sweet enough?

Are we talking about soda?

Yes, but soda is not the only type of sugar-sweetened beverages consumed by kids and adults. Sugar-sweetened beverages are any liquids that are sweetened with various forms of added sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, and more. Liquid sugar, found in sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks, is the leading source of added sugar in the American diet, representing 36% of the added sugar we consume. We know from the research that 6 in 10 youth and 5 in 10 adults drink a sugar-sweetened beverage on a given day, far exceeding their daily recommended maximum added sugar consumption (6 teaspoons max for kids and women and 9 teaspoons for men).

What is the concern about sugar-sweetened beverage consumption?

We know that drinking just one 12-oz. can of soda per day can increase your risk of dying from heart disease by nearly one-third. Additionally, people who drink one to two sugar-sweetened beverages per day have a 26% higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, compared to people who drink less than one per month. Sugary drinks give the body a blast of sugar and produce triglycerides (aka fat globules). Some of those fat globules get stored in the liver, while others will go into the blood stream, lining the arteries and putting you at risk for heart attack.

Why focus on sugar-sweetened beverages instead of sugary foods?

Although too much sugar in any form is not recommended, sugar-sweetened beverages have particular concerns. An important issue regarding sugar-sweetened beverages is the fact that it is very easy to consume way too much. Studies also show that when we drink sugar-sweetened beverages, we don’t feel as full as we would if we had eaten the same number of calories. So it’s easy to down nine teaspoons (38 grams) of sugar in a single soda – about twice as many as in an apple – and hardly notice.

Fruit juice is good for kids, right?

Although fruit juice is often perceived as healthy, it really is not a good substitute for fresh fruit. That’s because fruit juice often contains more sugar and calories than the fruit itself. In recent years, healthcare professionals have begun to advise against juice for children under age one because of its connection to rising obesity rates and concerns about dental health. We now know that fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age one and should not be included in their diet.

There are lots of swap ideas that can help reduce sugar in your beverages and RiseVT will be launching the “Sweet Enough” campaign in September to give you lots of swap ideas!  For example, it can make a big difference to swap your kid’s sports drinks for water in a cool water bottle they like, or serve seltzer with a splash of juice as a soda substitute. With six teaspoons as the max added sugar your kid should have in one day, it’s easy to max that out in one beverage—so these swap ideas can add up to make big impacts in health and wellbeing.

So remember, for a healthier, happier life, try limiting sugar-sweetened beverages. After all, our families are already sweet enough!


Five Easy Minutes

By: Daniel Regan

I have a simple suggestion that could enhance the quality of your life. It may give you a sense of inner peace and could even, in the long run, prolong your life.

Give yourself the gift of five extra minutes. I don’t mean extra minutes to stay in bed or on your phone; rather, a five-minute cushion (10-15 is even better) before your next appointment, commitment, or task.

Try it. It might lower your blood pressure and change your life. 

Did anyone watch the NBA playoffs in June? Those who did, commentators and casual fans alike, could not help but note series MVP Kawhi Leonard’s unhurried style of play and approach to the game. He seemed always to anticipate and be prepared for what came next. In the midst of a highly stressful activity and setting, he nevertheless appeared—well—at peace.

It doesn’t take his extraordinary skills and preparation to glean an important message for the rest of us, as we live our everyday lives: try to move through life quickly and purposefully, but not frantically. Doing so will enhance tranquility and heighten your ability to focus.

I am realistic. Some will scoff at this simple suggestion, reject it, conclude their lives are too complicated for five extra minutes. (And if truth be told, some don’t care about making good, time wise, on their commitments; but that’s another story.) Why are some of us addicted to stress? It’s more than just an individual refusal to deprive ourselves of anything—even a proven danger like stress to our health and wellbeing.

Ours is a nation developed upon stress. It’s not just the current demands of our fast paced technological era. Much earlier in our nation’s history, the industrial era kept workers on edge so they would work hard and produce. That philosophy may have helped grow the economy, but it did not necessarily contribute to our psychological health. Stress may produce sweat, but not necessarily the best work, much less satisfaction or happiness.

So give yourself five extra minutes—to complete that required task, meet that person, show up at an appointment, pick someone up, etc. Not permitting yourself that cushion can have negative consequences. One morning I tested and verified that assertion: Had I backed out of my driveway in a rush, and skimped on looking behind me, I might have struck the little girl from next door or crashed into the car that suddenly made a U-turn and came up the road behind me. Or I might have turned left too soon, onto a busy thoroughfare, which would have added to the long list of accidents by impatient motorists. And that was only in the first five minutes after my departure from home.

So save your reaction to stress for those situations that truly require it. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and take a few extra minutes. Doing so might even prolong your life, which would make a whole lot of time cushions very worthwhile.


Dan Regan, a sociologist, is the former dean of academic affairs at Johnson State College and continues to work part-time for Northern Vermont University.

Making Connections for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

A client reported to me in session recently that something “just felt different” over her weekend. What she was ultimately able to identify is that she felt like she and her kids were becoming a part of her community. We spent time in session discussing what community means and why it matters. According to Sorab Asora, community means “empathy, inclusion and belonging, a sense of purpose, cultural understanding and exchange of ideas.” This sense of connection or belonging is what helps people thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally, which is why it is another critical Pillar for Mental Health.

According to Martin Seligman – a leading psychologist and founder of “Positive Psychology” – regardless of where you find your community, becoming a part of one is a major factor in being happy and balanced. Seligman asserts that community helps to foster the characteristics (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments) that produce healthy and happy members of society.

Indeed, involvement in a supportive and caring community and having positive personal and intimate relationships that are enduring, loving, and reliable is essential to experiencing true connection – something that humans desire and arguably need on the deepest of levels. While my personal bias is to encourage these connections to be in real-time and in-person, I have learned that quality connections that are being made online have similar positive impacts. Still, my hope is that those individuals who are spending a significant amount of time connecting online also have opportunities for meaningful, face-to-face interactions on a regular basis. There is much being written stating that online relationships are not a direct substitute for the human contact that we all benefit from. Regardless of where the connections occur, the kindness and care that comes from another human being — someone to witness our suffering, validate our stories and experiences, and to simply matter to someone despite our imperfections — can make all the difference in terms of an individual’s mental and emotional well-being.

From a Psychology Today article entitled, “On Belonging”:

“recent neuroscience studies have revealed that the brain uses similar circuits to deal with our social pleasures and pains as with our more tangible delights and woes. For instance, the brain’s reward system has been shown to respond as strongly to social rewards (e.g. social recognition) as it does to money. On the other hand, when social ties come undone and connections are severed, the resulting social injuries may not only become sources of copious ill-effects, but may also affect our brains in similar ways as physical injuries would. Thus, as some neuroscientists have suggested, human beings could be wired to feel pain when we are bereft of social connection, just as evolution has wired us to feel pain when we are deprived of our basic needs (e.g. food, water, and shelter).”

What you can do today!

  • Make a goal to do something with another person in your life at least one time/week. Enjoy a walk and talk or peddle your bike, meet at a cafe for food and drink, visit an art gallery together, see some local community theater, go for a drive, wade in a river, or go for a swim in a lake. Anything goes, as long as it’s done on a regular basis, with another person you feel you can trust and be yourself with.
  • Take a chance and reach out to someone you like, but haven’t spent much time with. Extend yourself and approach the idea of connection, working to deepen the relationship, knowing how it can feed your spirit and boost your mood.
  • Look for ways to become involved in your community, thinking about ways to match your interests with the needs of your specific community. There are an infinite number of areas for engagement. For example, if you’d like to help out with seniors, think about serving on the board of “Meals on Wheels” or volunteering at the Senior Center. If that’s not your preferred population, talk with your local school’s volunteer coordinator to find out whether you can help with their mentoring, after school, or school garden programs. There are opportunities at the North Central Vermont Recovery Center, libraries, second hand clothing stores, your local food cooperative (MOCO), local farms, community food shelf, and more!
  • Think about taking a class in your community. There are endless opportunities to get involved and learn something new – no matter your age! Check out events and activities being offered at such places as Morrisville’s River Arts, Community College of Vermont, Green Mountain Technology Center, Northern Vermont University, UVM’s Adult Learning, music classes with local musicians and educators, pottery, art, or photography classes with some of Lamoille County’s amazing artists.
  • If you are certain that the relationships in your life aren’t serving you and you need to change them up or possibly end them, think about reaching out to a local counselor for support. Talking with someone can truly make the difference between remaining in and suffering in dysfunctional relationships and finding the will and agency to make the changes that can support your overall health (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) and happiness.

The experiences that come with direct, face-to-face relationships are meaningful in ways that can’t always be quantified. The research is there, no doubt, but more importantly, is the intuitive sense we all have that when we are in a flow with and connected with others, we feel better. We feel we belong and that we matter. In all of my work, with everyone I’ve ever worked with, this is a universal desire and one that is indeed worth pursuing.

References:

Sorab Asora – No Stigmas “Community Engagement and Positive Mental Health” May 2017

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Sydney: Random House.

Pogosyan, Marianna, Psychology Today, “On Belonging” April 2017.

Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201704/belonging

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rethinking-mental-health/201603/gregg-levoy-meaningful-work

https://choosework.ssa.gov/blog/2016-05-27-mental-illness-on-meaningful-work-and-recovery

https://nostigmas.org/learn/community-engagement-and-positive-mental-health

Raz, G. (Producer). (June 10, 2016) Becoming Wise (Audio Podcast) https://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/481290551/becoming-wise

Healthy Summer Habits

By: Caleb Magoon

This year, it seems like we went straight from winter to summer in Vermont with only the briefest stop in spring. Now that we have a little nice weather it’s time to go out and enjoy it. That said, let’s all remember that we are pasty white Vermonters built to last a long winter and need to take necessary precautions when venturing out into the bright, beautiful sun.

One thing we do exceptionally well here is to adapt to the weather. 50 degrees in the spring feels tropical and we break out the shorts. But in October, it feels quite cool comparatively. This is essential for our survival, but when we seem to skip spring like we did this year, it’s essential we allow ourselves time to adapt to the hot weather.

Many of us don’t drink enough water and stay hydrated. I am guilty of it myself. We should always be well hydrated, but when the sun comes out the consequences of not keeping up with it become dire. We don’t have air conditioning in many places so adapting to the heat and humidity and the need to up our water intake can be tough. But it’s important to be proactive about drinking much more water right now than you think necessary. Remember, coffee, soda, and alcohol won’t cut it! If you’re thirsty, you have already gone too long without drinking water.

As I mentioned before, we are as pasty as just about anyone this time of year. I am continually reminded of that every time I look at my 17-month-old boy. We call him ‘Casper the friendly baby’ and it’s not far from the truth. Sadly, Vermont is near the top of the list for skin cancer in America. That’s not something to be proud of. Making sure we throw on some sunscreen, a hat, and stay in the shade when we can is essential to surviving that bright orb in the sky that comes around this time of year.

Lastly, monitor the weather and plan accordingly. Don’t overdo it. We simply don’t have the same stamina and ability to perform fitness functions in the heat. When it gets hot, dial back your plans a bit.

The key message here is to let your body adapt to the weather. This time of year, we need to work a little harder and be a little more vigilant to remember those simple, yet important, habits.

Stay after it! You don’t want to miss a second of the sun.


Caleb Magoon is a Hyde Park native who grew up hiking, hunting, biking and exploring Vermont’s Green Mountains. His passions for sports and recreation have fueled his career as the owner of Power Play Sports and Waterbury Sports. Caleb encourages outdoor activity and believes it is an essential element to a healthy lifestyle and the Vermont way of life. Caleb serves the Lamoille Valley by volunteering on numerous community boards such as the Lamoille County Planning Commission, The Morrisville Alliance for Commerce and Culture, Mellow Velo, and the state chapter of The Main Street Alliance. He lives, plays and works in Hyde Park with his wife Kerrie.

Stop The Bleed

By: Valerie Valcour

Have you heard the phrase “Stop the Bleed” before? You may have heard it during the month of May as it was National Trauma Awareness Month. Did you know that the person sitting or standing next to you could save your life? One of the most preventable deaths after injury is uncontrolled bleeding. Everyone should be able to recognize life-threatening bleeding, and everyone should be able to take appropriate steps to control bleeding until help arrives. The greater the number of people who know how to control bleeding in an injured person, the greater the chances of survival from that injury.

Stop the Bleed trainings are intended to help people learn how to respond to life-threatening bleeding and ways to stop the bleeding.

Once a month, Copley Hospital Wellness Center, the Morristown Emergency Medical Services (MEMS), and the Lamoille Valley Medical Reserve Corp offer FREE Stop the Bleed classes. Classes and registration are posted on the MEMS Facebook page. They are planned for the first Thursday of each month, one class from 1-2 PM and one from 6-7 PM. Due to the holiday, the July class is scheduled for Wednesday July 10th, at the same times.

The Stop the Bleed classes are located at 539 Washington Highway (Morristown Rescue). Please let us know you will attend by emailing cboisvert@morristownvt.org or phone (802) 888-5628.


Valerie Valcour is a Public Health Nurse and specializes in chronic disease prevention and emergency preparedness at the community level for the Department of Health in Morrisville. Valerie has lived in Lamoille County most of her life. She graduated from People’s Academy in 1983 and worked as a nurse at Copley Hospital for several years. In addition to her work, she volunteers as a board member of both Community Health Services of Lamoille Valley and the Lamoille County Planning Commission.

Stretch It Out!

By: Emily Neilsen

For as long as I’ve exercised, I’ve had some inkling that stretching played a role in physical fitness. Flexibility was measured in the Presidential Fitness Tests administered every year in elementary school and gym teachers and coaches diligently included a few stretches during warm-ups. But the message I always took away was that stretching was an afterthought – good to do, but much less important (and more boring!) then cardiovascular and strength-building exercise.

Photo of the author practicing yoga in her third trimester.

I took this perspective with me into the yoga studio when I first began attending classes. I loved the challenging flows and strengthening poses instructors guided us through. But as things wound down toward the end of class and slower stretches were introduced, I returned to my old thinking. “This is boring and not all that important.” It’s a bit surprising, I suppose, that I would later become a yoga instructor with a deep appreciation for the benefits of stretching. In fact, I now truly enjoy doing them.

Why the change? Adopting a regular yoga practice provided me an experiential understanding of the benefits. Quite simply, I felt markedly better in my body whether I was in motion or at rest. I came to appreciate the feeling of slowing down, focusing on my breath, and noticing my body becoming more flexible. Beyond these positive feelings, the benefits of stretching are wide-ranging. Stretching improves range of motion, enables muscles to work more effectively, decreases the risk of injury, and can greatly improve athletic performance. And, as we age, flexibility becomes essential as it improves mobility and independence. In fact, stretching is now considered as important as cardiovascular and strength-building exercise.

The good news is, you don’t have to devote your life to becoming a yoga instructor to enjoy the benefits of stretching. If time is a concern, try 10-15 minutes of stretching a few times a week or pick a couple of days a week to practice a form of exercise, such as yoga or pilates, that incorporates stretching.

If you’re stretching on your own, there are a few things to remember:

  1. Stretching is not a warm-up: Stretching cold muscles can cause injury.  Stretch after at least 10 minutes of light to moderate exercise.
  2. Be aware of pain: stretching can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. Stop stretching or take a less intense stretch if you notice pain, especially in your joints.
  3. Get some guidance: It’s worth knowing which muscles to stretch and how. Take a class, borrow a book, or do some research online.
  4. Be patient: The benefits of stretching are cumulative and you may not notice a huge shift right away. Over time though, your muscles will become more flexible, efficient and healthy, and you will likely notice an improvement in your joints.

For more information, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931.


Emily Neilsen is a mother and educator, who loves asking big questions, digging in the soil, swimming in natural bodies of water, and playing outdoors. She is a 500-hour and Prenatal certified yoga instructor. Emily currently plans arts & cultural events and reading initiatives, and works with first-year students at Northern Vermont University-Johnson. She cares deeply about health and believes mental health, movement, and diet play essential roles in wellness. Emily lives with her husband and 2-year-old, as well as a husky and a calico cat in Hyde Park, VT.

Food as Medicine for Mental Health

By: Julie Bomengen

Around 400 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” While this quote is commonly used in reference to physical health (think about doctors prescribing heart-healthy diets to reduce rates of heart disease), in today’s blog post we will be extending the tenet of “Food As Medicine” to mental health as well. Indeed, recent research confirms what Hippocrates said so long ago: nutrition is a key pillar for supporting positive mental health outcomes. 

Simply put, our mood and food are intimately connected and bi-directional, each impacting the other. When we pay attention to the cues our bodies give us, we can often mitigate unwanted and unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms. For example, when I have clients tell me they are anxious, one of the first things I ask them about is their caffeine and sugar consumption. If you are experiencing a racing heart, pressured speech, or a cranked/on-edge nervous feeling, it may likely be that you have thrown your body chemistry out of balance by either over-consuming caffeine and/or eating too many-fast burning carbs which can lead to blood-sugar dysregulation or hypoglycemia, resulting in a yo-yo effect on your mood and energy levels. Perhaps an easy first step is to be curious about how you might feel differently if you were to reduce your caffeine use or eat a more nutrient-dense breakfast that stabilizes blood sugar levels and evens out your mood.

Did you know that our mental health is dependent on our body’s ability to make neurotransmitters, such as our “feel-good” chemicals, serotonin, dopamine, GABA, glutamate, and norepinephrine?  Did you know that we need amino acids to make the neurotransmitters and that amino acids come from the proteins we consume?  While the importance of eating good quality proteins cannot be overemphasized, it is equally as important that our bodies are digesting and breaking down these proteins into the amino acids that are the building blocks in the production of neurotransmitters. Approaching our consumption of food in a more intentional and slower manner and taking the time to awaken our senses as we eat is an important step in ensuring optimal digestion. With peak digestion comes prime production of the neurotransmitters that support positive mental health. 

Lastly, there is growing research on the link between gut permeability (a.k.a. leaky gut), inflammation in the body and depression. Doing whatever you can to reduce inflammation by watching your stress levels and eating the types of foods that soothe and heal your intestinal lining helps support positive mental health outcomes (more on this in a later blog post).

Specific steps that can support positive mental health:

  • Hydrate with water immediately upon waking. Drinking water supports cellular health and helps with mood, energy, mobility, and pain. Aim to consume 50% of your body weight in ounces of water every day. For example: If you weigh 150 pounds, shoot for 75 ounces of water per day. For every cup of caffeinated beverage you consume (these have a dehydrating effect on the body), compensate with an additional 2 cups of water.
  • Eat food before consuming your coffee in order to mitigate the impact of the caffeine on your body’s nervous system. 
  • Choose longer-lasting sources of foods in the morning to prevent the mood swings and irritability often associated with eating sugary, processed foods. For example, make a simple breakfast sandwich with bacon (cook a few pounds of bacon over the weekend and store it in your freezer for easy use throughout the week) or sausage, eggs and greens, or make a breakfast bowl with rice, quinoa, scrambled eggs, greens, and cheese. This website offers multiple ideas on how to start your day with superfoods that support your physical and mental health.
  • Eat your meals slowly, chewing each bite longer than you think you need to (or want to) to ensure the proper breakdown of nutrients in the body.
  • Consider consulting with some of our local nutritionists or working with a health coach who can help you follow-through on meal planning and support the changes that can sometimes be difficult to make initially.
  • Remember that even small changes will impact your mental health. Start to identify what foods make you feel poorly and what makes you feel best. Paying attention to how you feel helps. Keep a food/mood journal for 3-4 days, writing down everything you put into your mouth – solids and liquids. Notice your moods and digestive issues. Are you bloated and uncomfortable, is your heart racing, do you have energy, are you experiencing foggy brain, are you angry or irritable? Charting this information will help you remain objective and clear about what is and what is not supporting your mental and emotional health. Food is information, thereby, putting healthy ingredients into our bodies helps optimize both our physical and mental health and functioning.
  • Understand that Excitotoxins – aspartame, sugars, artificial sweeteners – all have an impact on our focus, energy, and mood. Consider exchanging them for stevia, raw honey, or maple syrup. Similarly, eliminating additives and preservatives from foods will reduce their damaging impact on your mood.
  • Eliminate harmful trans fats and oils, which lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. As you work to decrease inflammatory processes by using healthy fats and oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, you will be supporting optimal mental health functioning and reducing the risk of depressive symptoms.

Additional Resources to Further your Education and Information:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201509/when-food-is-medicine

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/09/food-mental-health

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rhythms-recovery/201703/eat-right-feel-right-mental-health-nutrition

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/well/eat/food-mood-depression-anxiety-nutrition-psychiatry.html?utm_campaign=Chris%20Kresser&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=71957723&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_XeO7wHLYkxiu89irzH7xIryxnphpBSEiG-mBm2s66VwSbfQV4jPINyWWiq582Wj6EaACKW-vtinV-rd5ifqtjbpE2WQ&_hsmi=71957723


Julie Bomengen is a Vermont Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC) with 22 years of experience in the field of mental health. Julie is also a Nutritional Therapy Consultant (NTC), a certification of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She lives, works and plays in Lamoille County.

Sleep!

By: Emily Neilsen

Sleep has always been important to me.  I grew up in a house where everyone’s first question in the morning was, “How’d you sleep?” In our home, naps were regularly taken and rest was often prioritized over other needs or wants. As an adult, not much has changed for me. So I was not just a little surprised to learn that the sleep habits I had developed as an adult were to blame for my less-than-perfect sleep patterns through the night.

This all came to a head about 2 years ago, when I was six months into parenthood. I was exhausted. There was a depth to my tiredness that felt almost irreversible. Well-intentioned friends and family noticed and provided assurance and advice: Buy an espresso maker! Rest when the baby rests! Don’t worry: the baby will start sleeping much more soundly soon! But the truth was that the baby was a great sleeper, who was often down for 8- to 11-hour stretches. It was me who was tossing and turning.

Around this time, a friend suggested I start following a sleep hygiene routine. I had never heard the term before, but I quickly learned that if sleep was my goal, I had to do some research and face the problem intentionally. Along the way, I came across a book that provided a paradigm shift for me: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Ph.D.

Walker covers a host of topics related to sleep, but most powerfully for me, he speaks to the health consequences and risks of failing to sleep enough. In short, sleep impacts virtually every measurable health outcome. Failing to sleep enough (defined as 7 or more hours a night) doubles an individual’s risk of developing cancer, increases the incidence of Alzheimer’s, shortens one’s lifespan, increases the likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes, and increases all psychiatric illnesses, including anxiety and depression. Additionally, in recent years, drivers impaired by lack of sleep caused more vehicle accidents than those impaired by drugs and alcohol combined. For these reasons, along with others, the World Health Organization has declared a sleep loss epidemic in developed nations.

While I had known that sleep was important, I had never known that my survival was so dependent on getting so much sleep, consistently. Sleep, it was becoming clear to me, is incredibly serious business. So, how can we best ensure a good night’s rest? Experts recommend developing strong “sleep hygiene”, or habits that are conducive to regularly sleeping well.  Below is a list of behaviors that promote good sleep:

1. Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol, and other substances that interfere with sleep. Some resources recommend avoiding caffeine after noon and giving your body plenty of time to digest alcohol before going to sleep.

2. Establish a consistent bedtime routine and head to bed around the same time every night (even on weekends).

3. Set boundaries around screen time and limit blue light exposure in the hours leading up to bedtime.

4. Make your bedroom a place of rest – keep the bedroom dark and the temperature comfortable. Avoid doing work or watching TV in the bedroom.

5. Get outside and move during the day. Regular exposure to sunlight (even on cloudy days) and as little as 10 minutes a day of exercise positively impacts sleep cycles.

6. If you are a nighttime clock watcher or phone checker, take both out of the room.

7. Stay calm when you can’t sleep. Limit your awake time in bed to 10-20 minutes. If you can’t fall asleep (or back to sleep), do something else relaxing somewhere else in your house.

8. Experiment and be patient. Different approaches work for different people and finding the right mix of behavioral changes may take some time.  

Tips adapted from:


Emily Neilsen is a mother and educator, who loves asking big questions, digging in the soil, swimming in natural bodies of water, and playing outdoors. She is a 500-hour and Prenatal certified yoga instructor. Emily currently plans arts & cultural events and reading initiatives, and works with first-year students at Northern Vermont University-Johnson. She cares deeply about health and believes mental health, movement, and diet play essential roles in wellness. Emily lives with her husband and 2-year-old, as well as a husky and a calico cat in Hyde Park, VT.

Hip Hip Hooray

By: Dan Regan

The other day, Presidents’ Day to be precise, I had my hip replaced. Years of playing squash, a fast-moving and otherwise healthful racquet sport, had worn away the cartilage on one hip and had ground the joint down to nothing. The surgeon’s highly technical (sic.) diagnosis was that it was “beyond broken.”

Leading up to this common but still major surgery, I found myself with three overwhelming concerns: (1) my toenails; (2) a slight irritation at waist level, dry skin from Vermont’s cold winters exacerbated by a styrofoam flotation belt worn for exercise in a pool; and especially (3) whether home health, after the operation, would look askance at our small house, and at the clutter and occasional mess created by its three dogs and three cats. Anyone who has given birth may already be scoffing at these concerns. Whether they are merely peculiar, fairly usual, or an abject denial of what was to come, I am not sure.

importance of preventative care

I do know for sure that, soon to turn 73, I am extraordinarily fortunate. This was the first time I had ever been an in-patient at a hospital. By contrast, in a single year—2016 for instance—7% of the total US population experienced a hospital stay of at least one night duration. That’s over 35 million inpatient stays in one year.

These Americans—readers of this blog among them—are a hardy bunch. My hospital of choice (Copley) provided an exceptional quality of highly personalized care during my recent stay. The entire staff was just terrific.

Nevertheless, no matter how wonderful the ministrations of a healthcare team, a hospital is a humbling place. That’s because a hospital is an example of a « total institution »—that is, a place of work and residence where a large number of people are cut off from the wider community for a considerable time. Their new community has its own rhythm, rules, and procedures. For the healing and recovery process to play out properly, hospital patients must skillfully play their important roles; above all, they must make an effort to get better.

Of course, the promise of eventual recovery makes it all well worth it, but hospitalization is nevertheless far from easy: frequent patients have to be mighty tough. For one thing, a slight pall of anxiety overlays everything. Patient instructions, for instance, even for a planned-in-advance procedure such as mine, can end up seeming more complicated than assembling furniture from IKEA. Amidst the swirl of prescriptions, instructions, do’s and don’ts, it’s hard not to feel at least a little dense.

To be sure, lots of valuable lessons are learned in the process, including humility, gratitude and our common humanity. But they come at a price: a temporary loss of privacy, nakedness and exposure, the surgical assault upon one’s body, as well as a forced immersion into the private travails of strangers who are all too close.

No one looks forward to feeling these ways. Their antidote would seem to be minimizing hospitalizations. Accomplishing that will require, on the part of many of us, a greater focus on wellness. And even then, some hospital stays are the product of bad luck or non-preventable circumstances beyond our control. Certain microorganisms, genetic legacies, environmental factors or accidents can land us on our backs.

But there remain many hospital stays that result from individual lifestyle choices. My hope is that, to minimize the chances of being hospitalized, readers will take whatever steps they can toward their own wellness. Recent posts on this blog, for instance by Caleb Magoon and Michele Whitmore, provide some great and practical suggestions. Future posts will provide more, so stay tuned.  

In addition, wouldn’t it be great if insurance providers increased their support for wellness? In Germany, for instance, certain blood pressure readings would yield an Rx for hydrotherapy and spa treatments. Try charging your insurer for those! Nor is there generally insurer support for membership in a gym or fitness center, despite the consensus among healthcare providers that more exercise would be beneficial for most people. Acupuncture, in spite of its lineage that dates back thousands of years, is rarely supported. Even therapeutic massage, the benefits of which are widely recognized, is not generally covered.

A greater investment in preventive and wellness measures would save a great deal of money now expended on curative, after-the-fact treatments. So I urge readers to take whatever steps they can, hopefully with—but even without—the support of their insurers. The hospital, even a great one, should be a last resort.


Dan Regan, a sociologist, is the former dean of academic affairs at Johnson State College and continues to work part-time for Northern Vermont University. He writes for a variety of publications about whatever interests him, including—recently—climate change, living with arthritis, the NFL players’ protests, and higher education.

The Winter Blues

By: Caleb Magoon

Seasonal Affective Disorder

In my blog posts, I normally talk about staying active, fit and healthy. Of course, this is my wheelhouse. But this month I’m tackling a different subject: the all-too-familiar winter blues.

I’m generally a positive and upbeat person. I also love winter. I like to play in the snow and make the most of it, no matter the condition. But just a couple weeks ago something happened- I was in a bad car accident that has left me injured. Though my injury isn’t severe, it has left me unable to participate in many of the winter activities that bring me joy during these challenging months.

This has been a profound awakening for me. While I undergo rehab to get back to form, I now have a much greater understanding of and respect for those who are not able-bodied. The challenges of staying upbeat in our long winter become even harder with even modest limitations. So do mundane tasks like shoveling snow and walking down the road when your body can’t keep up.

What can we do but adapt? This can be very hard for someone like myself with set ways and ideas of how my winter should be. But adapting and making adjustments is the only way to stay positive. Here are some thoughts I have about the process:

  • Do what you can! Walking is widely recognized as an excellent exercise. It’s considerably lower speed than I am used to but necessary. It’s forced me to slow things down and take stock. This is good for both physical and mental recovery. Don’t discount the importance of some quiet time to think.
  • Stretch – Anyone can do it. A little physical therapy and stretching can do everyone good. It’s also the gateway to more robust activity. There are so many resources online that it’s easy to get started.
  • Exercise is mental – Every time I ski or bike I am helping my body and my mind. While my body must take it easy for the immediate future, I need to focus on sharpening my mind. I am reading the paper a bit more, writing in a journal about things going on in my life and working to reflect on the good things in life. Stay positive.
  • Set some goals – We all want to get back out. Setting modest goals will help the downtime fly by and keep you focused on recovery. We all want to be ready to enjoy that first sunny, 50-degree day in March. Be ready for it!
  • Don’t forget to socialize – Mental health is greatly improved when we engage with other people. Taking myself out of my routine pulls me away from the people I normally interact with. I tend to pull back from people and isolate a bit. This isn’t healthy. In situations like this, we all need to go out of our way to stay engaged with others.

I now recognize the challenges of those who are less able-bodied to get through our long winters. You can make it through by staying positive and focusing on doing the things we are able to do.


Caleb Magoon is a Hyde Park native who grew up hiking, hunting, biking and exploring Vermont’s Green Mountains. His passions for sports and recreation have fueled his career as the owner of Power Play Sports and Waterbury Sports. Caleb encourages outdoor activity and believes it is an essential element to a healthy lifestyle and the Vermont way of life. Caleb serves the Lamoille Valley by volunteering on numerous community boards such as the Lamoille County Planning Commission, The Morrisville Alliance for Commerce and Culture, Mellow Velo, and the state chapter of The Main Street Alliance. He lives, plays and works in Hyde Park with his wife Kerrie.