3 posts tagged “physical health”

The benefits of just a bit of exercise (+”forest bathing”?)

Posted 5 months ago by

If frequent, long workouts aren’t in the cards, here’s some good news: A new research analysis based on decades’ of studies shows the potential mental health perks of even just a smidgen of light exercise. Also, see the results of a Japanese study on something called “forest bathing.”

Exercise linked to good vibes

“Even a Little Exercise Might Make Us Happier,” a recent New York Times headline proclaims. It might sound obvious, but it’s still positive news — especially for those who may not be able to meet physical activity guidelines for the general population (30+ minutes of exercise on most days).

“According to a new review of research about good moods and physical activity, people who work out even once a week or for as little as 10 minutes a day tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. And any type of exercise may be helpful… The type of exercise did not seem to matter. Some happy people walked or jogged. Others practiced yoga-style posing and stretching.”

For the published review, researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed the results of 23 studies since 1980 that explored the links between physical activity and happiness. The studies were mostly observational (not strict clinical trials) but they involved a total of 500,000 people ranging from adolescents to the very old and from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

The Times notes that happiness is a rather “subjective, squishy concept,” and it’s not clear from these studies if working out causes happiness or if the two commonly occur together. But overall, the results are notable because “the amount of exercise needed to influence happiness was slight… In several studies, people who worked out only once or twice a week said they felt much happier than those who never exercised.” Exercising even more frequently may bring even greater happiness, the researchers say. From what my friend tells me, since he started getting Boston Tennis Lessons to ease him back into exercising, he has felt happier.

Talk with your doctor about healthy ways for you to squeeze in physical activity — ideas you’re likely to enjoy and stick with. For some people with Parkinson’s disease, it’s walking to their favorite tunes, and for those living with cancer, it may be chair yoga.

In general, try not to stress about not getting enough exercise — other recent research shows that dwelling on it isn’t good for your health.

What’s “forest bathing”?

Here’s another headline that caught our eye: “Just being outside can improve your psychological health, and maybe your physical health too.”

Quartz summed up about $4 million of Japanese research on the benefits of something called “forest bathing” (essentially, it’s just sitting or standing in the woods).

“Just be with trees. No hiking, no counting steps on a Fitbit. You can sit or meander, but the point is to relax rather than accomplish anything,” Quartz reports. “The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.”

Inhaling the essential oils of a forest, generally called phytoncide, appears to give (healthy) people an immune system boost and reduce stress. Even getting a “dose of nature” in an urban park setting can help with stress relief, studies have shown.

Some health conditions may make it difficult to spend time outdoors, such as lupus (which can bring sun sensitivity — check out these photosensitivity tips). Connect with members of your community on PatientsLikeMe or talk with your doctor about ways to safely spend time outside, considering your particular condition.

How do you squeeze in a bit of activity or outdoor time these days? Join PatientsLikeMe today to swap ideas with the community!

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Primary care that treats mind and body? It’s happening in Alaska

Posted 9 months ago by

Integrated care for both mind and body under one roof? It may sound pie in the sky, but it’s really happening at an award-winning healthcare center in Anchorage, recently featured in Politico. How does it work? And can it be replicated?

A shining example in Anchorage

“It’s a truism that the mind and body are connected, but the U.S. health care system has long treated them as separate — with separate doctors, separate hospitals, separate payment systems,” Politico reports (detailing the history of these health care “silos”).

The Southcentral Foundation, which runs a healthcare center for native Alaskans in Anchorage, is in the spotlight for successfully bridging the mind/body divide.

“In part because of their Alaska Native heritage, which puts a high value on spiritual health, the leaders of Southcentral recognized decades ago that behavioral health is tightly linked with bodily health,” Politico says. “So they became one of the early adopters of integrated care.”

At Southcentral, checkups include a mental health evaluation, and a patient’s primary care team includes on-site psychologists or social workers.

For one patient, Vera, profiled in the Politico piece, “accessing mental health treatment was as easy as going to her regular doctor, and there was no stigma attached: Her mental health services were provided at the same time and in the same place as other medical care, just like heading down the hall for an X-ray or a blood test.” Vera was sexually abused as a child and later diagnosed with major depression. She experienced suicidal thoughts and may not be alive today without the integrated care she received at Southcentral, she says.

Advantages of integrated care

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended integrating mental health care into primary care for decades. Here are some of the benefits of integrated mental/physical health care that WHO outlined back in 2001:

  • Less stigmatization of patients and staff, as mental and behavioral disorders are being seen and managed alongside physical health problems
  • Improved screening and treatment, in particular improved detection rates for patients presenting with vague somatic (physical/bodily) complaints which are related to mental and behavioral disorders
  • The potential for improved treatment of the physical problems of those suffering from mental illness, and vice versa
  • Better treatment of mental aspects associated with “physical” problems

A popular notion — and the roadblocks

Research has shown that Americans value physical health and mental health equally. Also, “nearly half of Americans think they have or have ever had a mental health condition (47 percent), yet fewer than two in five have received treatment (38 percent),” according to a 2015 survey by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

In a 2017 PatientsLikeMe poll of more than 2,000 members, support for the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”) is highly popular among those living with mental health conditions, perhaps because the policy’s “parity” requirement means that insurers have to cover mental and physical health issues equally.

Politico reports that there’s broad support for physical/mental (behavioral) health integration in both the healthcare sector and in Congress.

The Southcentral Foundation won the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in both 2011 and 2017 for its innovative, top-quality care (psst: 97% patient satisfaction) at a relatively low cost. Douglas Eby, vice president of medical services at Southcentral, says he is often invited to speak at conferences in Washington, D.C., because the Southcentral model is “popular with the whole political spectrum.” (What? Whoa.)

So what are the biggest hangups? Money and stigma.

The U.S. health care and insurance system is structured in such a way that doctors are paid more for (physical) procedures, and they can actually lose money by integrating mental health. The longtime stigma of mental illness extends into the provider space, where mental health clinicians and services are valued much less, dollar-for-dollar, than their “physical care” counterparts.

“Solving these problems will take more than money; it will require changing the culture of medicine,” Politico concludes.

On PatientsLikeMe, thousands of members are living with both physical and mental-health conditions. Join the community today to talk about topics like this with patients like you!

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