The Finer Points of Healing: Understanding Acupuncture

Patients walking through Virginia Mason’s Health Resources Building in Seattle might be surprised to see signs for the Center for Integrative Medicine. Integrative medicine on a hospital campus? Absolutely! It is actually a perfect fit.

Integrative or complementary medicines like acupuncture, naturopathic medicine and massage have long been recognized as beneficial to patients, especially in conjunction with traditional Western medicine. Lela Altman, ND, LAc, is one of the integrative medicine providers at the Virginia Mason Center for Integrative Medicine. We recently asked Dr. Altman to answer some common questions about acupuncture – what it is, what it treats and who it helps. 

What is acupuncture?


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that is around 5,000 years old. Practitioners originally used carved bones to apply pressure to specific points on the body – like acupressure. The difference is acupuncture evolved to use small needles to puncture the skin.

There are more than 2,000 acupuncture points on the body, along a network of pathways called meridians. These pathways create an energy flow through the body known as Qi (pronounced “chee”). An imbalance or disruption of Qi can happen in response to diet, lifestyle, injuries or illness. Applying acupuncture to certain points improves the flow of Qi, thereby improving health.

There are different styles of acupuncture, such as Japanese, Korean, traditional Chinese and Five-Element. With the different styles there are slight variations in acupuncture point locations, but the acupuncture point numbers – the specific points assigned to different areas of the body – are the same across all the different styles. The application of needles can also be different – from lightly tapped in and barely breaking the skin, to needles inserted to greater depths.

Why do acupuncture? What are its benefits?

Acupuncture can be used for most any condition you are treating. It is primarily used for pain reduction, whatever the cause of the pain. It’s highly effective with musculoskeletal pain.

Acupuncture has several other uses – from treating chemotherapy side effects in cancer patients, to getting over a cold more quickly; from dealing with the effects of trauma, to improving mood and diminishing stress. It is frequently used for infertility and hormone balancing issues. It is also highly effective for treating sciatica. Acupuncture can help with circulatory issues, neuropathy, digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), sleep disorders like insomnia, depression and anxiety.

Acupuncture typically won’t work for conditions like high cholesterol. But it can be quite beneficial when used in conjunction with other medical treatments.

How long do the effects of treatment last?

Acupuncture results depend on the person and condition. Some people feel better with one treatment – like someone with a stomach flu. Others with chronic conditions that won’t go away, like multiple sclerosis (MS), receive regular and more frequent treatments – sometimes multiple times a week.

Usually patients start acupuncture once a week, for four to six weeks. Then depending on the condition, treatment can be less frequent after that. Some patients do an acupuncture wellness “tune-up” once a month or every six months. In China, more frequent or even daily acupuncture treatment is normal.

Is acupuncture for everyone?

People who are extremely afraid of needles or are highly anxious may not be good candidates for acupuncture. However, acupuncture is highly beneficial for treating anxiety. So it’s possible to start with acupressure on anxious and needle phobic patients, then slowly work towards tolerating needles.

Acupuncture can help most people, even children. There are conditions that must be handled with caution. For example, patients on blood thinners are more prone to bruising. And some points on the body should not be used on pregnant people. But overall, acupuncture is usually safe for everyone.

What does everyone ask about acupuncture?

Does it really work? Yes. There’s a lot of data behind the efficacy of acupuncture. That’s why it’s adopted in so many health care organizations, such as Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Mayo Clinic.

Does it hurt? Many people are afraid that the needles will hurt. But most people have no problem tolerating them. The needles are tiny and solid. And acupuncture can be super calming. People often fall asleep during sessions.

Where do you put the needles? Everywhere. Needles can be inserted from the top of the head to the bottoms of the feet. There are hundreds of points in the ear alone.

What are common misconceptions about acupuncture?

People are often surprised that the places acupuncturists put the needles in are far from the problem area. They’re working on meridians that run from the head to the foot. So it’s not unusual to needle the hands or the feet for a problem somewhere else.

Some people worry needles will be reused, but they’re not. All needles are single-use and are disposed in a sharps container afterwards. All reputable acupuncturists will practice needle safety and dispose needles after one use.

Final thoughts?

Acupuncture is a healing modality that can help most any person and treat nearly any condition. It’s a low-risk treatment option that is highly effective, either by itself, or in conjunction with traditional Western medicine.


Lela D. Altman, ND, LAc, practices at Virginia Mason’s Center for Integrative Medicine. Dr. Altman also teaches several classes and supervises clinical education at Bastyr University, as well as supervises the Digestive Wellness Clinic at Bastyr University.

Aesthetician Reveals Top Tips for Healthy Winter Skin

Between clocks changing and holiday planning (and myriad other things), there’s a lot to think about in November. Keeping your skin healthy likely isn’t top of mind. The days are more dark than light, so there’s less sun damage to worry about, right? Well, no. You should keep vigilant about protecting your skin, regardless of the season. So in honor of National Healthy Skin month, let’s talk healthy skin tips. Hint: It’s all about water.

Drink More (Water)!

While it’s hardly revelatory that drinking more water is good for you, it bears repeating. Your body needs water to be healthy. Along with a healthy diet and not smoking, drinking water is one of the primary ways to ensure your skin is healthy from the inside-out. Virginia Mason aesthetician Carlee Katchka recommends drinking half your weight in ounces of water per day. Getting enough omega-3 or 6’s – via fish oil, chia seeds, flaxseed, etc. – is another one of Carlee’s tips to keep your skin hydrated from the inside.

What’s in your moisturizer?

Make sure to moisturize your skinDuring warmer days you may be using lighter, water-based moisturizers. Now’s the time to switch to more lipid-rich moisturizers. “Lipid rich” or “emollient” moisturizers help retain moisture. The weight of your moisturizer depends on your skin type. Carlee suggests lightweight lotions for normal to oily skin, and heavier creams for normal to dry skin. Those wanting a richer, more emollient feel should use more lipid-based creams.

Along the same vein, if deep-cleaning masques are part of your skin care regime, consider switching to a deep-hydrating masque. Vigorous scrubs and harsh soaps can irritate the skin.

Moisturize the Air

Colder temperatures, when paired with dry days, can remove moisture from the skin. Colder temps also mean increased use of heaters. Indoor heat will definitely dry out your skin. Humidifiers are a great way to add some moisture to the air, and thereby your skin.

Carlee advises that with obvious dry skin/texture from dehydration, exfoliating your skin is crucial. We have to (gently) remove this layer of dull skin to allow the moisturizers we use to actually reach our healthy skin.

Extra bonus: humidifiers will keep your nasal passages moist – which not only makes breathing more comfortable, but helps reduce inflammation.  Make sure you use your humidifier safely.

Shed the Wet Clothing

Take off wet clothing right away. Wearing wet clothing is not only uncomfortable, it can lead to skin problems. Wet clothes chafe and irritate the skin, potentially creating rashes and cracked skin. (Cold, wet clothing also lowers your core temperature, which can lead to hypothermia. But that’s another matter.)

(The Water) Is Too Darned Hot

Don’t overcompensate for the cold weather by taking scalding baths. Hot water dries out the skin, removing healthy oils from your skin. Excessively hot water can also inflame the skin, causing itching and rashes – particularly if you have sensitive skin.

Don’t Forget the SPF

Always wear sunscreen when outdoors, even if it’s a cloudy day. Especially if you’re on snow (frozen water) that reflects the sun. OK, that may be stretching the water metaphor a bit, but the caution is real. Ultraviolet rays from the sun – whether diffused by clouds or not – are one of the leading causes of skin damage, including skin cancer. Carlee recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher, and applying it to all visible skin: not just your face, but your ears, neck and hands too. Don’t forget to check the expiration date to make sure your sunscreen hasn’t expired!

Want more expert tips on how to update your winter skin regime? Come to the Virginia Mason Medi Spa. Carlee Katchka and the other experienced aestheticians can help you achieve healthy skin, not just in November, but throughout the year.

How Instagram – and Eating Vegan – Is Helping Create a Type 1 Diabetes Patient Community

In today’s socially connected world, people living with medical conditions don’t have far to look to find others sharing their experiences. These growing patient communities have given rise to thousands of websites, blogs, discussion and online groups – all with the goal of sharing ideas and understanding about managing, and even thriving, with medical diseases or disabilities. One unexpected patient online forum emerging today is within Instagram. How does an essentially visual medium create medical communities? I caught up with Michelle Peterson from t1dveganMama to learn how she’s using social media to connect with others who have type 1 diabetes.

What got you started posting on Instagram?

Initially I created an Instagram account to follow my friends’ activities. After a time I started following a few people living with type 1 diabetes (T1D.) I found their posts interesting because they were sharing information about the same things I was experiencing. It was actually my 14-year-old daughter’s idea to set up an Instagram account focused on living with T1D and eating a vegan diet.

What are some of the challenges living with type 1 diabetes?

I have had T1D for 46 years. It is a 24/7/365 disease. There are no breaks. You need to be pay attention to it constantly. While the technology for managing diabetes has improved tremendously over the years, you still need to make smart decisions about what you eat, when you eat, how much you exercise, when you exercise and how much insulin to take. You can do something one day and have beautiful, stable blood sugar levels, and do the exact same thing the next day and have blood sugar levels all over the place.

How long have you been a vegan?

Being vegan is fairly new to me. I tried it off and on in the past, but always missed cheese and seafood. About two months ago I transitioned to a totally vegan diet after my daughter began eating vegan. Now I’m not missing cheese or seafood! My husband has now started eating vegan too, but my two boys are not quite there yet.

Do you have some favorite vegan recipes?

I have found a lot of very good recipes on the Forks Over Knives website. White bean and avocado wraps are a favorite for my family. I also found a banana nut muffin recipe that is a hit.

white bean and avocado wrap

With the holidays coming, big meals and festive gatherings will abound. How do you manage these holiday meals – both as a vegan and a person with diabetes?

When I’m hosting, I don’t plan the entire meal around my diabetes. Nor do I plan to serve everything vegan. I serve a variety of options. I can eat anything; I just need to understand the impact of food on my blood sugar level. Many people think people with diabetes can’t eat sugar. That’s not true. I love this meme that says what people with diabetes can’t eat:

  1. Poison
  2. Cookies with poison

(diabetes humor)

What is your reaction to the growth of your Instagram following?

It’s rewarding. For me, having this network of people trying to manage diabetes well and stay healthy feels very supportive. People share some of the same thoughts about managing diabetes that I have. It’s validating. And, yes, I have T1Ds who are also vegans following me.

What advice do you have for people living with type 1 diabetes?

Make sure you have a good support system. It’s easy to feel alone and like no one understands what you are going through. Type 1 diabetes is often misunderstood, so educate people on what it is and what it isn’t. Be sure to align yourself with an excellent care team that you can reach out to when you need help with managing your diabetes. My last recommendation is that you don’t beat yourself up when your blood sugars are not doing what you want them to do. That’s going to happen, so focus on what you might do next to try to have the best control possible.

You can follow t1dveganmama too! Check out her tips for living with type 1 diabetes and a healthy vegan diet.

And don’t forget — Tuesday, Nov. 14 is World Diabetes Day. Learn more about type 1 diabetes from the American Diabetes Association and the JDRF TypeOneNation T1D support group.

Don’t Let the Numbers Fool You: A User’s Guide to Nutrition Labels

woman comparing food labels in storeEver stood in the grocery aisle, staring at the nutrition label of a can of soup or box of cereal and tried to figure out if it was “healthy” or not? It can feel like you need an advanced degree in mathematics or chemistry to decipher all the numbers and ingredients. And that’s not even accounting for any dietary restrictions. For people with diabetes or congestive heart failure, trying to read food nutrition labels can not only be confusing, but potentially overwhelming. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to decrypt the nutrition label code.

The Nutrition Puzzle

According to Lane Hobbs, Virginia Mason registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, food nutrition labels are not an “eat this, not that” source of information. It’s always going to show a percentage of something higher than others. What the nutrition label can do is help “put together the puzzle of your diet.” The big pieces of your dietary puzzle should be the low calorie, high vitamin and mineral types of food such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat. The little pieces are the things that are higher in calories or fat – like butter or oil. An avocado may be higher in fat than lettuce, but that doesn’t make it unhealthy. It’s just information. Nutrition labels can help make those little pieces fit in your daily dietary puzzle.

Go Low

But you say, “I’m making spaghetti for my family for dinner – how do I know which sauce is the healthiest choice?” Lane suggests you look for foods that have lower sodium, higher fiber and lower sugar. Turns out, spaghetti sauces are high in sodium. Lane recommends that when you’re looking from label to label – like with spaghetti sauce – just pick the one with lower sodium. It’s the comparing that is helpful, not picking up an avocado and saying it has fat, I can’t eat that.

Do the Math

Checking nutrition numbers – sounds easy, right? Not necessarily. Percentages on nutrition labels are often confusing. For instance, you may think a label claiming the food has 12 percent fat means the food itself contains 12 percent fat. In actuality, that number is the estimated amount of fat a person needs during one day. Meaning if you eat a serving of that food, you would be getting 12 percent of the fat you need that whole day.

That information is particularly important when looking at high sodium foods like soup – one serving size may contain a third of the amount of sodium a person needs all day. So if you are comparing soups labels, go for the one with less sodium – or better yet, make it fresh yourself.

Familiarize Yourself

If you are on a no/low sodium diet, don’t panic when reading labels or trying to find heart healthy recipes. Sodium is natural in foods. Lane advises you to simply not add sodium to your meals. Or don’t eat as many foods that have higher amounts of sodium.

But how do you figure out a recipe’s sodium component? Get familiar with what ingredients already have a lot of salt like sausage, blue or parmesan cheese, or chicken broth. If those salty ingredients are already in the recipe, says Lane, don’t add additional salt. Looking at nutrition labels is one way you can starting learning what foods have a lot of salt.

It Gets Easier

New Food Nutrition LabelFortunately, reading nutrition labels should get easier in the future. New, simpler nutrition labels will be required in 2018. There will still be a lot of information on the labels, but the goal is to make some things more transparent, like serving size. Today one container of yogurt may actually have a serving size of two servings. Going forward, the nutrition information for that yogurt will indicate one serving size.

Another improvement coming to future nutrition labels: changing “sugar” to “added sugar.” Right now, sugar numbers on a nutrition label do not have much meaning. Milk and yogurt, for example, have sugar on the label because it’s natural – sugar is part of the dairy. In the future, however, the nutrition labels will indicate when sugar has been added to the food. Thus, skim milk won’t have added sugar while chocolate milk will.

But you don’t need to wait until 2018 to get something useful from a nutrition label. Lane suggests you just learn a little at a time, and be careful about serving size. Serving size is one of the most important things on the label.


Marianne is a Web Producer for Virginia Mason who hates to do math. She’s looking forward to food labels that don’t make her have to think as much.

Eight Tips to Banish Holiday Blues

holiday-blues-webCall me the Grinch, but I need to talk to you about holidays and depression. Thanksgiving and the subsequent holidays usually call up images – either in the media or our own memories – of smiling faces, laughter and festive meals with loved ones. We look forward to them with light hearts and joyous expectations.

Or do we? For people like my friend Becky, the coming of the holidays is something to dread, not anticipate. Becky just lost her mother to cancer and isn’t sure how to approach the upcoming celebrations for her family. Then there’s my friend Paul. He’s single and without family. He’s dreading all the questions about party plans and feels anxious and sad about facing the holidays alone.

Becky and Paul are not alone in their depressed feelings during this time of expected cheer. Holiday blues affects thousands of people and takes many forms – loneliness, anxiety, sadness or irritability. Sometimes mood problems are paired with insomnia, headaches or intestinal issues. What can you do to cope through this anything-but-cheerful time? Here are eight tips from the Social Services team at Virginia Mason that can help.

Be mindful. Feeling sad or stressed? That’s OK. Acknowledge what you are feeling. You don’t need to compare your happiness (or lack thereof) with others.

Respect your limits. Nor do you need to do all the “usual” holiday preparations. Pay attention to your energy level so that you don’t do too much. Just as it’s OK to cry when you need to, it’s OK to say “no” to plans and unnecessary tasks when you’ve reached your emotional limit.

Recharge. Even without feeling down, the bustle of holiday season can wear you out. Taking care of yourself physically helps counteract holiday emotional wear-and-tear. Walk or do some other form of exercise to shake of stress. Take a bath, get a massage, read quietly or to meditate to center and calm yourself. Most of all, try to get lots of sleep.

Avoid food crutches. Holiday festivities provide lots of temptation for emotional eating and drinking. Enjoy holiday delicacies, but try not to overindulge. Overdoing the calories can not only make you gain weight, it can lead to feelings of guilt and self-recrimination.

Connect with others. Grief or loneliness can contribute to feelings of social isolation. To counteract that, accept at least one party invitation, volunteer opportunity or community event. Being among friends or helping others can provide comfort and unexpected support. That said, if you are struggling with participating in social events, allow yourself an “out” for when you need to leave.

Share the burden. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with planning, shopping and cooking, ask for help. Tap into your support system instead of stressing yourself out trying to do it all. You’ll find that people want to help – they just need you to say what they can do.

Out with the old, in with the new. For those who are grieving or going through an emotional trauma like divorce, family traditions can add stress and contribute to the sense of loss. So make new traditions. Get connected to agencies who arrange gift giving for needy families, or volunteer to provide a shelter meal or items for a food bank. Involve children in making homemade gifts. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart – even the simplest craft or food gift will do. Becky’s children and I recently shared a nice afternoon making “snow globes” out of mason jars, little toys, water and some glitter.

Celebrate loved ones. Instead of ignoring your sadness, do something positive to acknowledge your loved one’s passing. Honor them by donating to a charity in his/her name. At holiday meals ask everyone to tell a funny story or share a memory of the person. It’s not false cheer to remember a happy time in the past. Be open to reflecting on what your loved one meant to you, despite their absence during the holidays.

What if you’ve done all that and you’re still depressed? The Social Services team wants you to know that when your feelings of sadness or anxiety become persist or overwhelming – particularly after the holidays – you should consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Call them at (206) 583-6578. If you have suicidal thoughts or fear someone you know may be contemplating suicide, get immediate help. The Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 866-4-CRISIS or 866-427-4747.

I wish everyone a holiday season that is merry and bright. But for those suffering holiday blues, consider the different ways to give yourself a gift. From thoughtful self-care to the gratification that comes from helping lift others, your path through the season may turn brighter after all.


Marianne BeirneMarianne is a Web Producer for Virginia Mason. And although green is her favorite color, her heart really isn’t two sizes too small. Happy holidays everyone!

Heads Up! Concussions on the Rise in Soccer

Yeouch!!” That was the collective sound Team USA and soccer fans around the world said last Monday when star player Clint Dempsey took a nasty kick to the face from opposing Ghana player John Boye during the team’s first match in the 2014 World Cup. Dempsey, U.S. team captain and a member of the Seattle Sounders, ended up with a broken nose and black eye from the contact.

Soccerball in netUsually when someone says “impact-related sports injury,” images of bloodied hockey or pummeled (American) football players come to mind. Raging fans aside, people tend not to think of soccer as a high contact sport. Usually soccer is associated with injuries to the knees and legs.

Dempsey’s face injury didn’t stop him from scoring again Sunday against Portugal – a match that ended with another collective groan (OK, really shouts of horror) from Team USA fans. In the last seconds of stoppage time, Portugal’s Silvestre Varela scored on a header to tie the match.

Heading the ball, or headers, are extremely common in soccer. In a sport where you can’t use your hands or arms to advance the ball, every other part of the body is fair game for moving the ball forward and scoring. (See Dempsey’s use of his chest to score against Portugal.) But how safe is heading in soccer?

Current studies are not conclusive. Some have found links between concussions and using the unprotected head to forward the ball in soccer. Others reported that while concussions continue to be a prominent concern, most concussions are caused by player-to-player contact and not by contact with the ball.

Regardless of how they occur, soccer players may exhibit symptoms of a concussion without knowing it. Girls are potentially at higher risk for a concussion than boys.

For parents, that can be disturbing information. Soccer has seemingly never been more popular with children and teens. It’s a great sport for developing reflexes and overall fitness. And it’s fun! So what’s a parent (or soccer player of any age) to do?

“I think it is important that parents and players educate themselves on concussions and their management,” says Virginia Mason’s Jordan Chun, MD, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. “Head injuries, including concussion, are a significant problem in soccer.”

Dr. Chun noted that the Centers for Disease Control has created free tools for parents, athletes, coaches, and health care professionals that provide excellent information on preventing, recognizing, and responding to a concussion.

Some other things to consider:

  • Be aware of the equipment: Whether you fall into the pro-helmet camp or not, be aware of your soccer player’s age and the equipment being used. Padded goal posts help prevent injury with younger players. Water logged or heavier soccer balls should be replaced with safer, lighter ones.
  • Be mindful of technique: Heading the ball should be carefully taught as a technique and only with older children. Soccer players will inevitably head the ball in play. Not teaching safe heading skills may actually be more harmful.
  • Be cautious about returning to play: In soccer the clock never stops. This means plays are called to keep moving and return to play despite stunning blows or other injuries. But the risk of getting a concussion goes up after each concussion. Ask your soccer coach or athletic trainer to make sure to take players out of the game if they’ve taken a hard hit to the head (from the ball or otherwise).

With a little caution there’s no reason why your Mia Hamm or Clint Dempsey in training can’t continue to play the game they love. It’s still one of the safest sports for children according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. And did I mention that it’s fun?

Marianne loves to give the Sounders her full 90 when she’s lucky enough to catch a game. Otherwise you can find her at Virginia Mason, giving her all to the company’s websites. Go Team USA!

Super Bowls and Heart Attacks – NOT a Winning Combination

Heartbeat Monitor with football

Less than a minute left of regulation play and I’m sweating. San Francisco keeps moving toward the end zone. My heart is racing. Colin Kaepernick’s pass is caught! The ball is now on the 18-yard line. I can’t breathe! This could be the end! The snap. The ball goes flying into the end zone. My heart stops. But wait! There’s Richard Sherman’s arm! Intercepted pass! No touchdown! Seattle Seahawks have won the NFC Championship!

And I feel like I just ran a marathon.

Thankfully I have a healthy heart that could handle the pressure. But for more than 67 million other Americans, such a pressure cooker of a game could be potentially deadly.

Racing heart, breathlessness and sweating could be signs of a really exciting game — or symptoms of a heart attack.


Football induced heart attack?

Yup! It can happen.

Just ask a Rams fan. In the two weeks after the Rams lost the Super Bowl in 1980, the number of reported heart attacks went up according to a study published in the American Journal of Cardiology. A similar study of the World Cup in 2006 showed a 2.66 percent increase of cardiac events in Germans whenever the German team was playing.

Penalty flag!

So how’s a fan to know he or she is in danger? We love our teams and can’t help getting caught-up in the drama of game.

Don’t throw a challenge flag yet. There are things you can do to help.

First, learn to recognize the primary symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Tightness or aching pressure – like a band – across the chest, possibly moving out to upper body
  • Indigestion, nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating
  • Overly rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Fainting or lightheadedness

If the pain or pressure persists more than a few minutes, call 911 or get someone to drive you to the emergency department.

According to Drew Baldwin, MD, a physician in Virginia Mason’s Cardiology Department and Heart Institute, “Chest discomfort can be due to many different causes, but a heart attack is one of most dangerous. A heart attack happens when one of the arteries to the heart muscle is blocked. If that happens, the blockage should be treated as soon as possible. If you have chest discomfort or other symptoms suspicious for a heart attack, you should call 911 and get evaluated right away.”

So Hawks (and Bronco) fans out there: enjoy the game safely this Sunday. Your team wants you to root for them again next year.

Despite being raised a third-generation Giants fan, Marianne is a proud member of the 12th Man (and web producer for Virginia Mason.)

Making Time for Exercise

I notice it first in the mornings: It’s darker when I head to work. Evenings are getting cooler, faster. Yes, autumn is upon us.

For most people, autumn means crazy days of back to school, new school and work schedules, and the end of the summer vacation lull. With all the additional stress there is often not much motivation – or time – left for exercise. Who wants to leave a warm, comfortable bed to face the cold wet? The snooze button is so close and allows that few extra minutes of much-needed rest.

Except that when we don’t get enough exercise we feel more drained, with less energy to handle the ever mounting stress of responsibilities. So how does today’s busy person find time for fitness in our shortening days?


Walk with a whistle for safety.

Get a Buddy (and Get Visible)
If you’re finding it harder to get motivated for an outdoor workout, see if a friend or neighbor will join you. Often being accountable to another person can help overcome resistance to leaving a warm, dry house for cold rain. If you’re happy with your solo workout routine, it’s time to adapt to changing weather conditions. It only takes a few key pieces of clothing to help make you dry and visible. Look for bright, reflective colors and water repellant/resistant materials.

But whether alone or with a buddy, make sure you exercise safely in the darkening days. Eric Rodriguez, captain of the Security Team at Virginia Mason provides this expert advice: “If you are walking or running, no matter what time of day it is, be aware of your surroundings and walk or run with confidence. Do not look down or away when approaching another person; maintain eye contact. Try to stick to well-lit areas with a populated route and always keep a cellphone at hand, but not in hand since it could attract would-be robbers; be ready and able to call 911.”

I know I always run with a whistle, as well as a phone.

Take It Inside
If facing the dark and elements doesn’t appeal, it could be time to discover a new indoor activity. Did you like bicycling as a kid? Try a cycle class. Always wanted to mountain climb? Try indoor wall climbing. Maybe you were like me and danced in the living room, the kitchen or any place you could find. Try swing or another type of dance class that sounds appealing. Let your imagination lead you. Many gyms and local community centers offer fitness options based on dance (Zumba, Bollywood), mind-body movement (Tai Chi, yoga) or martial arts (kickboxing, Tae Kwan Do) – just to name a few. Odds are you’ll be more motivated to attend a class if it’s fun.

Maybe you prefer a more traditional regimen but don’t have enough time for a full class. Try a high-intensity class that compresses a quality workout into a short time frame. These high-intensity workouts can be challenging, but they pack a big health-benefit punch.

copier calisthenics

Work in your workouts during your work day. Copier calisthenics, anyone?

Workout the Work Time
For some folks with busy family schedules, work time is their only “alone” time. If that is the case, try squeezing in a walk at lunchtime. Again, finding a work buddy to walk with you can help with motivation. If walking is not an option, try the stairs. Take five to 10 minutes to walk a well-lit stairwell. Do it two or three times a day for even greater cardio benefit.

Regardless of how much or little exercise you can squeeze into your workday, make it a point to get up from your chair once an hour. Stand, stretch, refill your water bottle — anything to move your body and release you from the mental and physical energy fog of sitting too long. I like to do leg lifts whenever I’m waiting at the copier or microwave. Sure, people may look at me funny, but I don’t mind. Those two minutes of calisthenics add up over the day.

Boogie that Burger
Feeding yourself and/or your family is a daily necessity. But it doesn’t have to be dull! Try turning on your favorite tunes and cook to a groove. Shaking your “thang” while shaking the seasonings or stirring a pot is a fun way to get moving without even realizing you’re exercising. Just be careful if you’re busting a move while handling sharp knives!

Make Down Time Active Time
A stationary bike or other indoor exercise equipment can help you carve out time for exercise. Don’t want to give up your favorite TV show? Use that time to be riding a bike while watching your favorite show or sports event. If you don’t have the means or space for equipment, walk in place or lift light weights. You’d be surprised the common household object you can integrate into a workout: soup cans for weights, a step stool or low chair for a stepper. I like to walk around the room while on the phone or watching a movie.

Make Sleep a Priority
Too often we cut into our sleep time by trying to finish up all those tasks we didn’t get to during the day. But losing sleep is a terrible thing for our health, no matter how more important those tasks seem. Lost sleep leads to energy loss and weight gain. Try to make sleep a key part of your healthy routine. If you have trouble winding down (especially if you’re still mentally running through your “to do” list), try a few stretches, Yoga positions and/or deep breathing.

Your fitness journey starts like any other – with small steps. Finding time for fitness is much easier if you are creative with your choices and time. You’d be amazed how even a few minutes of exercise a day can refresh and empower you. Grab (and hopefully do-si-do with) them where you can!

Exercise and Support a Good Cause
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While many women will never have breast cancer, nearly all of us have a friend or family member who has been affected by this disease. The Breast Care team of Virginia Mason is dedicated to decreasing that impact every day.Join them at the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk to raise awareness and funds in the fight against breast cancer.Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013

8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Downtown Bellevue Park, 10201 NE 4th Street

To join the team, go to: > Team name: Virginia Mason

You can find Marianne Beirne doing office calisthenics periodically during her day as a web producer for Virginia Mason.

Why I Ran in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon

I am a chocoholic. I have a little bit of chocolate every day. That’s why I run. Or rather that’s why I started to run.

Running shoesIt began in my 20s primarily as a weight management practice. I considered running a necessary task to counterbalance my love of sweets. But as with most chores, I did it begrudgingly and with little joy. I struggled with getting through a mile. Over time something happened though. Without noticing or deliberate intent I was able to run 2, then 3 miles at a time.

Somewhere in my 30s, I discovered how much running soothed my mind. Stressful day at work? Relationship heartaches? Hit the road! After a mile, whatever was plaguing me would simply melt away. I had more energy. I slept better. I felt good – despite the occasional aches and pains. What once was a necessary “evil” became so integral to my life I would actually become cranky when an injury or scheduling prevented me from runs.

Running a half marathon, however, is something else altogether. Nowhere in my daily feel-good runs did I pick up a desire to run marathon distances. Five to 6 miles a day kept me happy and fit. I wasn’t driven to push myself beyond my normal capabilities. Then my friend Brenda reshaped my thinking. Brenda has MS.

Multiple sclerosis – commonly known as MS – is a degenerative autoimmune disease that attacks a patient’s central nervous system. Symptoms often include gait and balance problems, fatigue, and numbness (among others and different by patient). When she was diagnosed with MS in 2005, Brenda was overweight and inactive. She couldn’t walk a mile. But being handed a diagnosis for an incurable disease shocked her into trying to improve the aspects of her health she had control over. She began walking and watching her diet. She lost weight – a lot of weight. And she started walking more and more. She felt how the changes in her diet and exercise helped her manage her MS symptoms.

“Physical activity and exercise are crucial elements to healthy living with MS,” says Mariko Kita, MD, director, Virginia Mason Multiple Sclerosis Clinic. “For some patients with MS, pain, fatigue and mobility issues, among others, can make the idea of exercise daunting. But exercise can take on many forms and I encourage my patients to find a regimen that works for them.”

Brenda recognized how her walking benefited her living with MS, so she kept challenging herself to do better. That’s when she started participating in races.

I don’t know how many races Brenda has completed since her diagnosis – there have been that many! She carefully monitors how exercising impacts her MS symptoms. Prone to tight hips, she must stretch before, during and after a walk or race. Still, she considers herself lucky – she knows others with MS who struggle with severe joint pain that make regular movement difficult. So when Brenda told me that she was going to participate in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this past June, I was inspired to do the same. I am glad I did. As exhausting as the race was, I knew I achieved something significant.

Many others did something significant that race day, though their part is largely unsung. Many Virginia Mason volunteers mixed and doled out gallons upon gallons of Gatorade for we thirsty runners. It must have been a long day for the volunteers – set up for the racecourse started before the first 7 a.m. wave and didn’t close until early afternoon. But I, for one, was extremely grateful for the Virginia Mason staff and hundreds of others who gave their time that day to make sure I was hydrated, safe and had a good run.

And Brenda? She did great – completing the 13.1 miles faster than the goal she set for herself.

Dr. Kita sums it up best: “Bravo Brenda! You are an inspiration to us all!”


Besides chocolate and running, Marianne loves the outdoors — particularly the water. A former Connecticut Yankee, she now produces web content for Virginia Mason’s external and internal websites.