September is National Cholesterol Education Month

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2020, 696,962 Americans died from heart disease. A major risk factor? High blood cholesterol.

This September, we’re celebrating National Cholesterol Education Month with information to help you reduce your risk. Find out what “good” and “bad” cholesterol is, how to find out where your cholesterol falls on the scale toward optimal health, and how you can proactively prevent and manage it to reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

What is Cholesterol?

Blood cholesterol is essential for good health. Your body needs this waxy, fat-like substance created by your liver in order to perform crucial tasks, such as making hormones and digesting fatty foods. You make all the cholesterol you need, which is why you do not need to eat any additional cholesterol in your diet.

Dietary cholesterol is found in animal foods. These foods include meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Consuming dietary cholesterol leads to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels.

Managing your blood cholesterol level is important for your heart and brain. High blood cholesterol typically has no symptoms, but it can lead to heart attacks and strokes. That’s why it’s important to have your cholesterol screened regularly by your health care provider.

How to Check Cholesterol Levels

You can easily check your cholesterol levels with a screening done by your healthcare provider. A cholesterol screening consists of a simple blood test and requires you to fast for 8 to 12 hours before blood is drawn. The test will check for your levels of lipoproteins, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.

A standard measurement of healthy cholesterol levels is:
Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol: Less than 100 mg/DL
HDL cholesterol: Greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL
Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

Generally, adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Some people, such as those who have heart disease or diabetes or a family history of high cholesterol, will need to be screened more often. Children and adolescents should have a cholesterol test at least once between ages 9 and 11 and then again between ages 17 and 21. If you’re not sure how often you should have your cholesterol level measured, consult your primary healthcare provider.

What is “Good” and “Bad” Cholesterol?

You have likely heard of “good” and “bad” cholesterol. But what does that even mean?

Cholesterol travels through your blood on two types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein, which you may be familiar with as LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL raise your risk of heart diseases and strokes. The “good” cholesterol, HDL, absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, where it is then flushed out of your body. High levels of HDL can lower your risk for heart diseases and strokes.

When you have too much “bad” LDL cholesterol, it can build up as plaque on the walls of your blood vessels. Plaque buildup causes the inside of your arteries to narrow over time. This blocks blood flow to and from your heart and other vital organs, potentially leading to a heart attack or stroke.

How to Prevent High Cholesterol

In addition to heart-wise cholesterol checks at your doctor’s office, you can proactively prevent high blood cholesterol with your food choices. Research shows that eating less cholesterol reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases. Your diet is under your control, which can feel comforting when facing the prospect or management of a major disease.

We already know that your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, so you don’t need any additional cholesterol from food to be healthy. The main culprits of dietary cholesterol are foods high in saturated fat and trans fat.

For a heart-healthy diet, you can:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. The more, the better, really! Try “eating the rainbow” to ensure you get a variety of nutrients. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a flexible, well-balanced eating plan you could try.
  • Curtail foods high in saturated fat. Saturated fats come from animal products and tropical oils (palm oil, palm kernel oil, and coconut oil). A mostly plant-based diet can help you achieve this goal.
  • Reduce your sodium (salt) intake. Say no to salty foods such as canned soup, frozen meals, processed cheese, beef jerky, and smoked or cured meats like bacon, ham, and sausage; and strive for homemade meals over packaged or restaurant food. Swap salt for herbs and spices to keep your food flavorful.
  • Eliminate all trans fats. Also known as trans-fatty acids, trans fats are usually created through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil. Trans fats are downright unhealthy. Avoid it by reading labels; you’ll see it listed as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Foods that often contain trans fats include commercial baked goods, shortening, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, fried foods, nondairy creamer, and margarine.
  • Eliminate or reduce added sugars in your diet. This means fewer baked goods, desserts, and convenience foods. Turn toward fruit and other naturally sweet alternatives to satisfy your sweet tooth.
  • Choose foods naturally high in fiber, such as oatmeal and beans, and unsaturated fats, which you can find in avocado, olive oil, and nuts. These foods may help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise “good” HDL cholesterol. Browse these healthy recipes to find delicious, fiber-filled meals and snacks you can enjoy, such as Mexican Street Corn and Grilled Zucchini and Hummus Wraps.

Your diet is not the only way to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. You can also make heart-healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity raise levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and affects how your body uses cholesterol. Use your body mass index (BMI) number to determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, and if it’s not, work with your healthcare provider to create a food and fitness plan that works best for you.
  • Get regular physical activity. In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight, exercise lowers your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Adults should aim to get at least 2 ½ hours of moderate exercise each week, while children should have an hour or more of physical activity every day.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking damages your blood vessels, speeds up the process of hardening arteries, and has a profound effect on your heart disease risk.
  • Limit or eliminate your alcohol consumption. Men should consume no more than two drinks per day, and women should have no more than one. Better yet, do not drink at all.

An estimated 71 million Americans have high blood cholesterol, and yet fewer than half get treatment. If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, speak with your healthcare provider. There are many choices you can make together to ease your worry and plan for a healthy future.

How to Add Fruits and Veggies to Every Meal

The health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables daily are undisputed. They contain a terrific supply of vitamins, minerals, and fiber; they are generally low-calorie and low-fat food sources; they help you maintain good health and weight; they supply antioxidants; and they are naturally low in sodium and cholesterol. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, and have a positive effect on blood sugar levels. In sum, a healthy diet reduces your risk of some chronic diseases and improves your wellbeing.

But—what if you don’t like the taste of vegetables? Or your children complain too much when a broccoli spear touches their plate? How do you incorporate more whole foods like veggies and fruit into your diet when you know it’s good for you but haven’t made the health goal a reality?

How to Make a Healthy Change

We know fruits and vegetables are essential to our health, and yet most of us are not getting enough. It can be challenging to change your behavior even when you know the facts.

The way to make a healthy habit stick is to make it easy and repetitive. Americans are increasingly turning to simple vegetables that you can grab and go out the door: avocados, salads, and favorite fruits such as bananas, blueberries, grapes, and oranges. Start by figuring out what works best for you. Go with your favorite options, the ones that are easiest for you to incorporate into your day, and expand from there. While variety is the optimal goal, the easiest way to start is whatever fruits and vegetables work naturally for you.

Repeating your new habit is key. Once you have begun to make progress on incorporating more whole foods into your diet, make sure you repeat, repeat, repeat! Repetition is what turns a good choice into a healthy habit.

You may find you need some time for your taste buds to get used to fresh produce and its subtleties, but over time you’ll find fruits and vegetables to have more flavor than any convenience food. Just give it time. Before you know it, eating healthy will be automatic for you!

How Much Produce Do You Need Every Day?

Fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at each meal for the average adult. (Specific serving recommendations vary by age, gender, and activity level, as well as whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding—consult your primary care provider to develop a plan that is tailored to you.) This translates to five servings each day of produce, according to the USDA, or approximately 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables daily.

More Fruits, More Vegetables: The Everyday Diet

Everyone can benefit from incorporating fresh produce into their diet. How should you go about making sure you get the fruits and veggies you need every day?

Plan to eat the rainbow.

Making a meal plan for the week can not only reduce your grocery bill, it can also make you eat a healthier, more varied diet. Make it a point to make vegetables and fruits the stars of every meal and snack, and build the rest of your meal around them. Part of this may involve an internal mind shift. Instead of thinking chicken wings are what’s for dinner, think Mexican Street Corn is for dinner—now what lean protein and whole grains will you add to that?

Eat local.

Shop at your local farmers’ market. The CDC finds that routine visits to the farmers market result in higher consumption of vegetables and fruits. Not only that, but being in season tends to translate to less expensive produce. Get more tips on how to make the most of your local market.

Start a garden! In addition to or instead of visiting the farmers market, a container or backyard garden can yield a whole lot more than produce. You’d be surprised how children and adults alike enjoy their food more when they pull it from the soil themselves. Plus, a garden is a cheaper way to get your veggies in. Learn more about starting your own garden.

Snack on fresh food.

Many fruits and vegetables require little to no preparation, making them convenient and nutritious. Blueberries, apples, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, bell peppers, carrots, celery, radishes, and cucumbers are all easy-to-eat, healthy snacks you can consume raw. To make these healthy choices more filling, try adding a protein-based dip like hummus or almond butter.
Spread fruits and veggies across your day.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, dinner tends to be the meal when most families eat veggies. If you want to add vegetables to your day, try focusing on breakfast or lunch. And if you skip produce in one meal, don’t fret; simply add more of it the next time you dine.

Tips on Sneaking More Veggies and Fruit into Your Diet

Here are some more easy, tried-and-true ways to add more fruits and veggies to your diet:

  • Make your salads as colorful as possible. Try using three or more veggies in addition to greens.
  • Top oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt with Maine berries or fruit, or make a savory breakfast by adding sauteed mushrooms and kale.
  • Plant-ify meals you already have in regular rotation: add a can of black beans and some frozen corn to chili, toss strips of green peppers in with your morning eggs, sneak tomatoes into your sandwich.
  • Chop them up. Finely diced zucchini, mushroom, or summer squash and your family might not even detect its presence!
  • Prepare veggie snacks in advance—slice them and put them already prepared into containers for instant snacks. The more convenient you can make the choice, the more likely they will get chosen.
  • Try a salad a day. A green salad is a wonderful, healthy choice, but feel free to think beyond that color: load up a bowl with an array of cut fruits, mix and match fruits and veggies, or use a different vegetable than lettuce as your base, such as raw zucchini or grated carrots. Get creative!
  • Add fun! Skewer fruit onto kebab sticks or make veggie art. Young kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy a side of fun with their meals!
  • Introduce more vegetable- or legume-based dips into your diet, such as guacamole, hummus, and baba ganoush—and then dip in fruit and vegetables.
  • Make smoothies. So easy, so good!
  • Add cooking greens like kale, spinach, collards, or Swiss chard to your soups about 10 minutes before they are done cooking.
  • Make wraps with lettuce or cabbage leaves in lieu of bread.
  • Add sauteed mushrooms and garlic to tomato sauce.
  • Add herbs and fruit to make water extra fancy.
  • Change up dessert. Fresh or frozen fruit is a delicious and healthy way to cap off a meal.

Supporting Maine Farms: Healthy for You, Healthy for Our Community

Fresh, unprocessed, whole foods are great sources of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients your body needs—think vegetables straight from the garden, hand-picked fruit, and locally raised meat and dairy products. Fortunately in Maine, there are many ways you access fresh, local food to incorporate into your diet that’s not only healthy for you, but healthy for our local community.

Ways to Find Fresh, Local Food in Maine

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a system in which a farmer offers shares of their harvest in exchange for money at the beginning of the season, either paid in full or through partial payments. This model helps the farmer pay for early expenses while ensuring the CSA member has food at regular intervals (usually weekly). Many CSA farms offer vegetables and fruits, while some offer meat, dairy, eggs, grains, and more.

Find a CSA farm close to you.

Farmers markets are fun venues to socialize and find a ready supply of healthy, fresh food and Maine-made goods—especially in the spring and summer, when farm-fresh produce is in abundance.

In the early summer months of Maine, expect to find produce such as strawberries, salad greens, spring onions, zucchini, beets, cooking greens, broccoli, summer squash, sugar snap peas, snow peas, scallions, carrots, cucumbers, garlic scapes, fresh herbs, kohlrabi, radishes, salad turnips, microgreens, and fennel. Later in July, you can add blueberries and raspberries to that list, as well as corn, French beans, and new potatoes.

Find a farmers market near you.

Most farmers markets accept cash, local checks, credit cards, and SNAP/EBT funds, with the latter two options usually operating from a booth near the entrance. It’s simple and discreet to use SNAP/EBT funds at the farmers market, and many markets offer special bonuses to SNAP customers, such as Maine Harvest Bucks, that stretch SNAP dollars further. SNAP benefits and Maine Harvest Bucks can also be applied to a CSA share in many cases.

Low-income seniors may be eligible to participate in the Maine Senior FarmShare Program. Through this program, older adults receive fresh, local produce at no cost directly from local Maine farmers during the growing season.

Local Food: Healthy for You

You may have heard the advice to “eat the rainbow”—an easy-to-remember way to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables and fruit in your diet. By shopping at a farmers market or participating in a CSA share, you will naturally find a wide array of diverse offerings.

Have you ever tried eating kohlrabi? If garlic scapes come in your CSA box, what will you make with them? You may try something new—and like it! The many types of fruits and vegetables you’ll encounter will contribute to keeping you in good health by ensuring you are getting an assortment of vital nutrients and vitamins from local, fresh sources, and the newness keeps your diet interesting and your mind churning.

Choosing in-season produce from local farms assures you are getting the best nutrition for your dollar. Fruits and vegetables lose their nutritional value over time, so the sooner it’s eaten after it’s picked, the more nutrients can be gained. Local produce generally lasts longer in your fridge because it’s picked and sold promptly, compared to produce from away, which often travels more than a week before it reaches grocery store shelves—where it may sit even longer. Fresh fruits and vegetables also have a higher water content, making it a good source for hydration—which can particularly be an issue in hot summer weather.

Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is a substantial step forward for your health and wellbeing.

  • Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, compounds that help fight free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause damage to your body’s cells
  • Plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and legumes can reduce your risk for diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes; reduce your triglyceride levels; reduce blood sugar levels in people who have or are at risk for diabetes; increase your energy level; and promote gut health

Fresh, local fruits and veggies taste better. You’ll find more flavor, more complex notes in each bite. If you’re used to prepackaged meals and processed foods, it may take a short while for your taste buds to adjust. But once they do, processed food simply cannot compare in taste to what’s on offer at the farmers market.

A balanced diet heavy in fruits and veggies is high in fiber, which provides many positive health effects, including boosting digestive function, metabolic health, and feeling satiated. It’s good for your skin and it’s low in sugar. (Yes, fruit contains sugar, but it’s also high in water and fiber—not to mention other nutrients—so it is healthier than soda, juice, and processed foods.)

Local Food: Healthy for Our Community

Selecting local produce not only contributes to your health, but our community’s health as well. By shopping at the farmers market or belonging to a CSA, you are supporting local farms and businesses and keeping more dollars in our local community. This mutual exchange provides for a more vibrant local economy and a lasting economic impact in Maine.

Supporting local farms also means a smaller carbon footprint. The choice to eat local is a sustainable choice, because food is not trucked across the country or flown overseas before it reaches your plate. This reduction in energy needs helps our planet and our community all at once.

In addition to stopping by the farmers market or signing up for a CSA share, you may want to explore Maine farms and get to know your local farmer. Every summer, farmers from around the state participate in Maine’s Open Farm Day, welcoming visitors to learn more about their farms and to meet the farmers (and animals!). MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair is also a popular event full of local vendors, speakers and performances on all things agriculture.

Browntail Moths

Browntail moths are an invasive species in Maine that not only defoliate trees—they can cause a painful, poison-ivy like rash and respiratory issues in humans. If you’re unfortunate enough to come in airborne or direct contact with toxic hairs from the browntail moth caterpillar’s body, chances are you’re looking for relief.

Here’s what you need to know about browntail moths and two over-the-counter formulas that may help soothe the painful, itchy rash they cause.

What are Browntail Moths

Browntail moths are insects that are primarily found on Cape Cod and the coast of Maine, although they are moving more inland each year.

The caterpillar form of the moth begins emerging from overwintering nests in April to feed off budding foliage and will pupate to full grown moths by July. During this time the caterpillars shed their skin, dropping microscopic toxin-filled hairs into the environment. The hairs are barbed and get into the grass, leaves, trees, on outdoor equipment, in the air and even on your pet’s fur. While they don’t seem to cause any harm to pets, coming in contact with even a few of these toxic hairs can cause a severely painful, itchy, poison-ivy like rash and respiratory issues in humans. The rash can last from a few hours to several weeks.

Toxic hairs from the browntail moth can remain toxic for up to three years. Wind or other outdoor activities such as raking, mowing, or gardening can stir up the hairs and lead to a reaction.

How to Avoid Exposure to Browntail Moths

The rash and respiratory issues are a result of airborne or direct contact with toxic hairs from the browntail moth caterpillar. Humans have a chemical reaction to both the toxin in the hairs and physical irritation from the barbed hairs.

Here’s what you can do to reduce risk of a rash or respiratory issue:

  • Avoid infested areas
  • Cover up any exposed skin when outdoors
  • Do yard work on wet days to mitigate agitation of any hairs in foliage debrisDry laundry inside in June and July to avoid hairs getting on clothing
  • Take a cool shower and change (and wash) clothes after activities that may have put you in contact with the hairs
  • Use tape or a lint roller on your pet’s fur and your clothes to remove embedded hairs

How to Soothe Browntail Moth Rashes

Unfortunately, there is no antidote for exposure to the toxins, but there are several things you can do to relieve and soothe symptoms.

For a mild rash, take a cool bath with baking soda and apply calamine lotion, antihistamine cream or hydrocortisone cream topically to the irritated areas. For added relief, try putting the creams in the refrigerator before application.

Alternatively, the following over-the-counter formulas* can be easily made at home with ingredients from your local drugstore.

OTC Lotion

Combine equal parts of the following creams:

  • hydrocortisone 1% (Cortizone 10)
  • diphenhydramine hydrochloride 2% and zinc acetate 0.1% (e.g. Extra Strength Benadryl),
  • lidocaine 4% (Aspercreme)

OTC Spray

In a spray bottle, combine equal parts of the following cremes and fill the rest of the bottle with witch hazel.

  • hydrocortisone 1% (Cortizone 10)
  • diphenhydramine hydrochloride 2% and zinc acetate 0.1% (extra-strength Benadryl),
  • lidocaine 4% (Aspercreme)
  • witch hazel

If pain continues without relief, or you have trouble breathing, swallowing, or have swelling of the face or throat, contact your healthcare provider.

 

 

*provided by Coastal Pharmacy + Wellness

How to Garden for Your Health

Gardening is good for you. So good in fact, it:

  • Exercises your mind and body. Planning, preparing, planting, and tending to a garden gets you thinking and moving.
  • Builds self-esteem. When you learn to grow plants, you learn an important life skill and accomplish something new, lighting up the reward activity center in your brain.
  • Decreases your risk of dementia. Gardening may cut your chances of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as 50 percent, studies show.
  • Lowers your blood pressure. Nature really is restorative!
  • Reduces tension and stress. Being outside and gardening lowers your cortisol levels and can help to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, giving you a chance to focus on something and put your mind to a task with an end goal.
  • Boosts your mood. Seeing plant life thrive and knowing you played a role in that growth is a smiling-inducing feat! Plus, gardening boosts your endorphin levels, and the daily dose of vitamin D does its job, too, in turn benefiting your bones and immune system.
  • Saves you money. According to the National Gardening Association, for every $1 you put into your garden, you get $8 back.
  • Gives you healthy produce. Fresh, local vegetables are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, all of which has been shown to prevent cancer and promote health and wellbeing.
  • Improves your quality of life. How could it not, with this long list of benefits?

No wonder gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in America.

What is Container Gardening

If you’re short on space or new to gardening, consider getting started with a container garden. Container gardening is when plants are grown in containers rather than in the ground.

You’ll be surprised by how many vegetables can be grown in a small area, and you’ll have the added advantage of being able to move your containers around, controlling the amount of sunlight and warmth each plant receives to maximize its growth and food production. Plus, very limited weeding!

How to Start Container Gardening

First, choose what you want to grow. Easy plants to grow include herbs such as parsley, chives, basil, mint, and thyme. Additionally, lettuces, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, aloe vera, and zucchini are also fairly easy to grow and are known to thrive with container gardening.

Next, select the containers you’ll use. Old wheelbarrows, recycled food containers such as yogurt cups, terracotta pots, empty milk jugs, window boxes, and buckets all make suitable pots for plants. Choose a larger size than you think you’ll need to allow enough room for roots to grow. Make sure each container is clean and has at least one drainage hole (about ½ inch in diameter), which you can drill in if your container doesn’t already have one.

Then, use a potting mix or make your own with garden soil, compost, peat, and vermiculite to put into the container and put in your seeds or seedlings. If using seeds, each seed packet will tell you what conditions the plants need in terms of sun, space, and warmth, as well as how far down to put the seed in the soil. If you want an even easier option, start with seedlings instead.

Next, pick a spot. Most plants need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. Some gardeners keep container plants outdoors in the warmer weather, while others keep theirs indoors year-round.

Water, water, water. Plants in containers dry out more quickly than plants in the ground. Count on watering your plants every day, beginning on Day One.

Keep an eye on your plant as it grows. If it looks tall and spindly or there are bites taken out of it by pests, look up University of Maine Cooperative Extension or MOFGA gardening tips online to troubleshoot any problems that may arise.

Now that you’ve got your containers planted, it’s time to sit back and watch your garden flourish and—the best part—pick your vegetables when ripe and enjoy!

How to Add Steps Every Day

Walking is a healthy habit that’s free and easy to fit into your day. Every step you take burns calories, strengthens your heart, eases joint pain, improves sleep, and boosts your immune system, your mood, and your energy. Walking may even prolong your life. So whether you’re a regular walker or taking baby steps to get there, remember that each step you’re taking adds to your overall wellbeing.

Every step counts—literally!

More Americans are seeing the benefits of walking and beginning to add more steps to their day. If you’re not currently a walker, start thinking of yourself as one! When it comes to creating a healthy habit, behavioral science has a few things figured out.

First of all, it helps to label yourself a walker and begin your new practice after a “fresh start,” such as your birthday, a meaningful life event, the first of the month, or even a Monday. By starting with a blank slate, your motivation to change behavior naturally increases, according to Katy Milkman, author of How to Change.

Secondly, make a plan and try to be specific. Here’s an easy formula to get started:
When [regular event] happens on [specific day] at [specific time], I will [insert healthy goal, such as walk 20 minutes].

After you set your plan, publicly commit to your goal, set visual or smartphone reminders (and take action right when they go off!), and get moving!

Ten Tips to Add Steps to Your Day

While we recommend that you aim to get a daily dose of 10,000 steps (the equivalent of about an hour and a half of walking), you don’t need to do it all at once. Read through these tips on how you can add steps here and there throughout the day, consider how you might apply some of them to your own life, and make a plan for how you can get there.

1. Make it fun! Behavioral science research shows that when you make exercise fun, you’re more likely to make a habit of it. So think zany: Walk like an Egyptian to your mailbox instead of grabbing it from your car window. Line up your family and imitate each other’s walking styles. The more fun the better!

2. Stroll in town. Purposefully pick a parking spot further away from your destination. If you have two or more places to be in the same neighborhood, walk instead of drive to them. Better yet, walk to work or errands if you can.

3. Walk while you wait. Americans spend 37 billion hours waiting in line each year, according to the New York Times. March in place when you wait in line or ask the person behind you to hold your spot while you do a loop. If you’re picking up kids from school or an after-school activity and you get there a few minutes early, turn off your engine and add some steps to your day.

4. Pair walking with indulgence. Behavioral scientists refer to this as “bundling”: take a pleasurable activity, such as listening to your favorite tunes or an audiobook, and indulge in it only when you engage in a healthy habit.

5. Take the stairs. You’ll build muscle and probably get there faster anyway!

6. Walk and talk. Strive for face-to-face communication. Instead of texting a coworker or calling out to a family member in the next room, walk over and talk to them in person.

7. Buddy up. Walk on your lunch break with your coworker and after dinner with your family or neighbor. Start a small walking group among friends. Take your dog on a weekend hike. Phone a friend while you stroll. When you partner social and physical activities, you do a great service for your mental health.

8. Walk farther. If you can’t get in the recommended 10,000 steps every day, don’t despair—just add more steps to another day. It all adds up! Looking for weekend fun? Grab a water bottle, slather on some sunscreen, and explore our beautiful state on foot. Maine by Foot has a great travel guide to hikes you can search by towns, including the areas surrounding all four DFD Russell Medical Center locations. Don’t have time to spare? Pick up your pace! You’ll get more steps in by walking faster.

9. Wander and wonder. Try meditative walking. Also known as kinhin, this practice consists of focusing attention on your movement and the world around you rather than your breath, as in traditional meditation. When you walk, you reap the benefits of relaxation and stress reduction alongside physical activity.

10. Go the long way. Sometimes we pick convenience because it seems like common sense. Challenge some of your usual routines: walk to the bathroom farthest away from you. Take the long way around the kitchen to get what you need. Opt for walking into a store or a bank rather than using the drive-thru. Return the shopping cart all the way to the grocery store instead of the nearest receptacle. When you add steps to every task you ordinarily do, you’ll easily get more exercise into your day.

What are two or three ways you’d suggest to someone who wants to get more steps in?

Check with your provider if you’re looking for more tips and a personalized plan on getting more physically active.

Keep Moving!

A Guide to Aging and Exercise


Think that exercise is only a young person’s game? It’s not! People of all ages should be participating in regular exercise. It’s essential for maintaining our physical, mental, and emotional health as well as preventing injury, illness and disease.

Can I exercise as I get older?

Yes! You can absolutely exercise as you get older and we encourage it. If you’ve been sedentary for a while and are looking to restart an exercise routine, it’s important to start small and start where you are. Exercise goals are just that, goals, and they take time, patience and commitment.

What exercise activities should I be doing?

Generally, people of all ages need a combination of strength training, moderate-intensity aerobic movement and regular stretching.

Strength training is described as movement that makes your muscles work harder than usual such as bodyweight training and weightlifting. Moderate-intensity aerobic movement is exercise that gets your heart beating faster such as brisk walking, jogging or swimming. And don’t forget to stretch! They can be simple stretches or even yoga and pilates programs.

How often should I exercise?

Great question! How often you exercise will be dependent on your current physical fitness and personal medical situation. It’s always recommended to discuss your fitness goals with your healthcare provider before you start a new exercise program or activity.

If you’re currently moderately active, the general guideline is to aim for strength training at least twice per week in addition to 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Stretching should be done every single day, but especially before and after physical activity.

What are the benefits of exercising as I get older?

There are so many benefits to exercising while you age! Benefits will depend on your individual physical and medical situation, but these are some common benefits to look forward to:

Physical Benefits

  • Increases muscle strength and bone density
  • Improves balance, mobility and dexterity
  • Maintains a healthy weight
  • Reduces hypertension
  • Lowers risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and more

Mental Benefits

  • Independence, less reliance on others
  • Improves cognitive function and memory
  • Promotes quality sleep

Emotional Benefits

  • Improves social engagement
  • Boosts your mood, energy and outlook on life
  • Decreases stress, anxiety and depression


For ideas on strength training, stretching and aerobic exercise, we recommend speaking with your provider. Because each person is different and has different healthcare needs, ask your provider which exercises are safe and effective for you.

Snacking for Heart Health

Everyone loves snacks! However, when we’re hungry and reaching for something quick to eat, it’s very easy to grab what’s convenient—and not always the most healthy. Eating snacks between meals helps to maintain blood sugar, gives us extra servings of fruits, veggies and nutrients, and can give us a boost of energy.

To keep your snack game strong, we suggest a balanced eating approach. This means that while we don’t suggest depriving yourself of your favorite treats, we do suggest that you indulge in moderation by focusing on whole, minimally processed foods, and avoiding or limiting heavily processed foods. Let’s take at our favorite heart healthy snacks.

Leafy Greens

Okay, you probably won’t grab a handful of greens to snack on but these powerhouse vegetables serve up a hefty dose of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A and C. We suggest adding one to two handfuls of kale or spinach to your favorite smoothie recipe. For a nutritious (and quick) snack, blend up our “Greenest Smoothie.”

Berries

Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries are the ultimate sweet treat. Berries feel indulgent because of their natural sugars but are actually packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. We suggest starting with a serving size of one cup of frozen or fresh picked berries. Enjoy them as they are or add them to a smoothie or on top of a serving of plain yogurt or cottage cheese.

Pro-tip:

To avoid sugar spikes when snacking, add a serving of healthy fat and/or protein. Think banana with peanut butter or apple slices with cheese.

Avocados

This green, nutrient dense fruit is incredibly versatile. Packed with healthy fats to keep you feeling full and with a mild flavor, it can truly take on any form you’d like. Add 1/2 of a ripe avocado into a smoothie. Scoop out the flesh, sprinkle with salt, pepper and a dash of hot sauce and smear it on your toast. Or use it as a veggie dip with cucumbers, carrots, or sliced bell peppers (much like guacamole).

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are small, but pack a mighty punch with a satisfying crunch. Grab a handful of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, or macadamia nuts. Add chia seeds, flax seeds or hemp seeds to your smoothies or homemade dips. Be cautious of serving sizes as nuts and seeds contain a lot of (healthy) fat.

Hummus

Hummus is typically made from chickpeas but can also be made from white beans, black beans or even mashed cauliflower! Hummus can be store bought or made at home where you can control its ingredients. When made with chickpeas or beans, a serving of hummus offers a generous amount of protein and pairs perfectly with veggie sticks or multi-grain crackers.


While we suggest limiting packaged and processed foods, it’s important to note that not all packaged or prepared foods are bad and should be avoided For instance, washed and packaged leafy greens, pre-cut and washed vegetables, fortified juices, and nut butters are completely acceptable to purchase and enjoy. For best practice while grocery shopping, read all nutrition labels.

On the other hand, we do suggest limiting or completely avoiding heavily processed packaged foods that appear in the store as “ready to eat.” Typically, these food items contain a high amount of processed sugars (e.g. corn syrup), sodium (e.g. salt), trans fats, preservatives and other harmful ingredients. Consider limiting:

  • Chips, popcorn, most crackers
  • Cookies, candy and candy bars
  • Soda, energy drinks or other sugary drinks
  • Dried fruit and fruit cocktails
  • Flavored yogurts


When wanting to choose healthier snacks, try having healthier choices at home that are convenient and ready to eat and therefore easy to choose. Try the following:

  1. Rinse and portion leafy greens so that they’re ready to be blended into your smoothie.
  2. Wash, cut, and store carrot sticks, cucumbers, peppers and other vegetables for dipping in the fridge.
  3. Pre-portion nuts and seeds and nut butters so you can grab the correct serving size without accidentally overdoing it.


Remember that snacking is a great way to maintain your blood sugar and keep you satisfied until your next meal, but it’s not meant to make you feel too full or will have a sugar crash!

If you need help determining which snacks are best for your lifestyle, consult with your primary care provider or with a certified nutritionist.

To Our Patients

As you know, the past eighteen months have brought unprecedented challenges – for all of us.

We recognize your frustration. We are frustrated too. But now more than ever we need to work together, to be kind to one another, and to remember that we are all in this together.

Like so many healthcare organizations throughout our state, we are experiencing extreme staffing shortages. It’s then coupled with an ongoing, and still raging, pandemic that requires additional time for patient screening, immense provider resources, and staff isolation after exposures. As you can imagine, COVID-19 makes a staffing shortage worse at a time when patient volume is increasing exponentially.

It’s why you may be placed on hold when you call or wait a day for us to get back to you. It’s why we recommend calling a few days earlier for a prescription refill or suggest that you call in the mid-afternoon when our phone lines are less busy. It’s why you may have to wait a little longer for certain preventative services or to schedule a routine follow up with your provider. It’s why your appointment might be cancelled if your provider becomes ill or has to quarantine due to COVID exposure.

It’s why we’re writing to you today – to ask for your patience and understanding.

On top of all this, our phone system is a problem. We’ve heard you, and we are working on it. Engineers from our phone carrier and IT department are working on improvements to system performance and our call-tree structure to help reduce delays in calls getting through.

We know how frustrating this is but ultimately, it is not our staff’s fault. They are working tirelessly, and we would like to humbly ask that you keep this in mind and approach our people with kindness and understanding. A friendly smile or a kind word would go a long way.

Most importantly, we want you to know that we are working very hard every day to take care of all of your medical needs. It is not only our mission but our greatest honor and privilege to serve each one of you.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to navigate this unprecedentedly difficult time.

– DFD Russell Medical Center Leadership Team

The Best Foods to Boost Your Immune System

During the holidays and the chilly winter season, we tend to gather more often with others indoors. As a result, flu and cold viruses quickly make their way around. You can protect yourself and your family from illness by wearing masks, washing your hands, and getting flu shots.

However, you can also be mindful of what you eat and drink as a preventative measure to stay healthier. Consider adding the following foods to your diet to keep your immune system humming along—no matter what time of year it is.

Bluberries

These powerful berries contain antioxidants that have been proven to aid the respiratory tract defense system. Add 1/2 cup to one whole cup of blueberries to your cereal, oatmeal, smoothie, salads or yogurt every day.

Fish

Oily fish such as tuna, salmon, anchovies and sardines are packed with Omega-3 healthy fats that can reduce inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases and heart disease. It’s recommended to eat two servings per week at three ounces per serving.

Broccoli

This crunchy, dark green vegetable is packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, true heros fighting for your immune system. Some studies have shown that 2-3 servings per week may help to reduce risk of certain cancers. Try adding one cup of cooked or raw broccoli to your meals at least twice a week for its health benefits.

Spinach

Another dark green vegetable, spinach is a powerhouse when it comes your immune system. It’s packed with vitamins A and C that are known to enhance immune system function, as well as carotenoids and flavonoids that help prevent the common cold in healthy individuals. Add two cups of dark, leafy greens such as spinach to your food intake every day to get the most benefit from its nutrients. Spinach is great cooked as a side dish or raw in salads and smoothies.

Ginger

Ginger is a slightly spicy, warming ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties. It can be cooked into your favorite dishes, added to smoothies, or enjoyed with a cup of tea. Ginger has been known to calm upset stomachs and soothe sore throats. Try adding a tablespoon of grated or chopped ginger to your next stir fry or soup recipe. If you’re feeling unwell, add a few slices to a cup of warm lemon water as a way to stay hydrated.


While we don’t suggest a restrictive diet any time of year, we do suggest being aware of certain foods. Consider limiting:

  • Fried foods
  • Fast food
  • Candy
  • Soda and sugary drinks
  • Alcohol and caffeine


Indulging in eggnog and pumpkin pie happens, so don’t be too hard on yourself this holiday season! Give yourself permission to enjoy your favorite holiday treats and allow yourself to truly savor them. Just keep in mind your portions and sugar intake and remember to eat a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables and lean protein.