By Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D.
I love Thanksgiving. I love preparing the food all day and enjoying it while sitting around a table with some of the people I love most. And there is one holiday tradition that I have grown to adore. As we sit down to eat, we share one thing we feel grateful for this year.
Practicing gratitude has been shown to improve aspects of mental health and our sense of well-being, and it isn’t hard to understand why. Saying or thinking “I am grateful for…” feels really good and doing so regularly can help shape our outlook on the world and our place in it. I know this, and still, I fail to follow through with regularly practicing gratitude like some experts recommend.
There is no time like the present, right? Let’s try it. Here are some things this Prairie Doc is feeling particularly thankful for this year:
I am thankful for my health, thankful to be alive. As I grow older, and as I continue to walk with my patients as they encounter disease and sometimes death, the simple wonder of being alive and feeling well has never felt so clear. None of us will avert death but feeling gratitude for life does make each day a little sweeter.
I am grateful for my family and friends who have sustained me through difficult times and shared in my joy. I am on the receiving end of hugs, snuggles, and the hilarious and warm actions of my children, who give me laughter and hope every day.
I am incredibly grateful to be a physician. I feel fortunate to have a profession that gives me meaning and connects me to people and my community. I am indebted to my colleagues and mentors, including my Prairie Doc cohorts and the original Prairie Doc, Rick Holm, who generously shared so much with me about being a physician.
There. That felt good. I hope you’ll try it too, around the Thanksgiving table, privately in a journal, or however it works for you. Let’s make a habit of practicing gratitude.
Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices internal medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.
Healthy Eating Is Success
By Debra Johnston, M.D.
Obesity affects approximately 40 percent of American adults, and I’ve been one of them for nearly as long as I can remember. There are innumerable schemes that promise effortless, or nearly effortless, weight loss, and many diets that claim to be the best approach.
Most of us recognize that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. It’s much simpler to identify the miracle potion advertised on our social media feed as snake oil, than it is to sort through all the conflicting and seemingly changeable advice on what makes a healthy diet. Should we be cutting out fat, or cutting back on carbs? Is there a particular combination of foods or spices or supplements we should be eating to be slim and trim and healthy?
In truth, obesity is a tenacious disease, and many people successfully lose weight with any of a multitude of diets. Many people are also unsuccessful with those very same diets.
Between my second and third years of medical school, I had a month without work or structured academic obligations to study for the important Step 1 board exam. Every morning, I would get up and exercise for an hour before I hit the books. I would prepare healthy meals, and snack on carrots and celery while I read. I was determined to lose some of my excess pounds and set a good example for my future patients.
At the end of that month, I’d lost two pounds. This was not at all what I had anticipated. I was frustrated, angry, and hurt. I felt that my efforts had failed. I felt that “I” had failed.
Let’s think about what “success” means. Although we may want to get down to our ideal body weight, very few people with obesity actually achieve that goal, especially without surgical help. From a medical perspective, loosing just five to ten percent of your body weight improves your health in a variety of ways. More importantly, the lifestyle changes that can lead to that weight loss have health benefits of their own.
With the wisdom of nearly 30 years in medicine, I realize that by focusing on the scale, I hadn’t seen something even more important. Eating fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes, cancer, and many other chronic diseases. Daily exercise strengthens hearts and bones. In short, even without weight loss, exercise and a healthy diet are good for you.
Experts may debate the nuances of the “best” diet, but there are some fundamentals which can bring success with or without the loss of pounds. Eat a variety of produce, and lots of it. Watch the sodium. Minimize processed foods. Avoid added sugars and trans fats. Your diet isn’t something you are “on” or “off”. Your diet is the way you nourish your body every day, and success is the choices you make that support your health.
Debra Johnston, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.
Resetting the Internal Clock
By Jill Kruse, D.O.
Daylight savings time has just ended and now everyone has had the chance to “fall back” to standard time. While many people enjoy that extra hour of sleep that comes each fall, 63 percent of Americans say that they would support the elimination of seasonal time changes and there are some health issues to consider. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine also supports this stance due to the sleep disruption that occurs related to this biannual change.
Our body has its own internal clock called the circadian rhythm which helps set our internal sleep-wakefulness cycle. This cycle is sensitive to light, especially daylight. It is responsible for the production of melatonin and serotonin in our brain. Melatonin helps synchronize our sleep-wake cycle to our environment. Unfortunately, bright lights and anything with a back lit screen – phone, television, tablet, or computer - suppresses your body’s production of melatonin and can adversely affect your sleep quality.
A study completed in 2020 by the National Institutes of Health found that 150,000 Americans experience negative health effects related to daylight savings time changes, mainly with the “spring forward” changes. The four most prominent health conditions with increased risks of occurring in the weeks following the time changes include the following: cardiovascular disease (including increased risk of heart attacks), increased risk of injuries, worsening of mental or behavioral disorders, and flares in immune related diseases.
What can you do to minimize your risk? Try to gradually prepare the body by slowly adjusting your sleep cycle before and after the time change to make the change less abrupt. One thing that will help is by slowly changing your bedtime in 15 to 30-minute increments each night until you get to your new desired sleep and wake times. In the hours leading up to bedtime, try to avoid bright lights and anything with a back lit screen.
Going outside in natural daylight, especially in the morning, can help reset your internal clock. Light exercise in the morning or afternoon can help lower stress hormones and promote better sleep later that evening. Try to keep a bedtime routine and work to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. A consistent schedule for when you go to bed and when you get up is much easier on your body and its internal clock.
So, after you have changed your smoke detector batteries and reset all your clocks, remember to work on gently helping your body reset its own internal clock with healthy choices. This will help you transition to the new time schedule with ease. Your body will thank you.
Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.