Thursday, May 31, 2007


Take steps to burn more calories

My husband gave me a free pedometer he received last week, and as a registered dietitian, I didn’t think too much about it. I exercise regularly, so I should be doing all I can do to stay active, right?

Wrong. I wore the pedometer for one day which resulted in a whopping total of 7,000 steps (goal is 10,000 per day for most people). It wasn’t until I attached the pedometer to my dogs’ collar for fun that I really discovered I was still not making decisions that could maximize my daily physical activity. If he could dance around my kitchen and get a reading of 26 steps in 30 seconds, what am I doing wrong?

In reality, some of the decisions we make everyday can result in burning additional calories by the end of the week. For a 150 lb person, either typing at a desk or sitting in an office meeting for one hour results in expending 102 calories. So, how can you burn more calories throughout the day? Rather than sending an email to a coworker, get up and walk to their desk (5 minute walk burns 23 calories). Doing this 5 times per day results in approximately 500 additional calories burned per week (5-day work week). Parking an extra five minutes farther from your job adds another 40 calories burned per day.

If it takes 3,500 calories to lose one pound of body weight, it’s easy to figure out that within 7 weeks you will lose your first pound just by parking five minutes farther away from work. So, how about getting a little more active with spring activities? For a 150 pound person, golfing will expend 306 calories, gardening 272 calories, pushing a hand mower 408 calories, and washing windows 204 calories per hour.

Interestingly, if the same 150 lb person conducts regular desk work for one hour, they will burn only 122 calories. However, getting up and walking upstairs for only 5 minutes will burn 51 calories. You may have been given good advice in the past to always take the stairs instead of using the elevator, and now you know why. Doing this several times per day can really help you burn more energy to either maintain or promote losing weight.

You don’t need a pedometer to help you realize that making small decisions about increasing physical activity throughout the day can help you manage your weight over time. Next time you decide to drive around a parking lot for an extra five minutes looking for the closet spot to the door, think twice…you’ll only burn 11 calories. For more information on approximate calories burned based on activity, visit

Whitney Bundy is a registered dietitian and Director of Food and Nutrition at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Bundy and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Touch is Good Medicine

This past Mother’s Day, I found myself thinking of my children and our first experiences together. The bond begins when we first see, hear and hold our children closely. Although touch seems natural, it is not a luxury but a necessity.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the death rate for infants abandoned to orphanages was nearly 100%. They developed a profound depression with lack of appetite and wasting away, called marasmus. Although the infants were bathed and fed, they were not touched and touch was found to be as essential to sustaining life as food.

The University of Miami Touch Research Institute has conducted more than 100 studies on the positive effects of touch in the form of massage on many medical and health conditions in different age groups. Premature infants who were massaged gained 47% more weight, became more socially responsive and left the hospital six days sooner than infants who were held and not massaged or touched.
However, as a culture we have become increasingly fearful that touch will be misinterpreted and have in some cases removed touch from our work, school and healthcare environments. Some anthropologists have described America as a low touch and high aggression culture, and they believe these are directly related.
One contemporary philosopher put it this way: Infants won’t put up with not being touched – they waste away; as adults we have come to accept it.

Dr. Lewis Thomas, former president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, wrote that “touching is a real professional secret, an essential skill and the most effective act of doctors.” Yet most doctors touch patients only during diagnosis. As a nurse I remember that touch was part of good care, now there seems little time for it as the technological demands on caregivers become more pressing.

Aside from illness there are many life situations that create isolation and separation from caring touch. Once in a grocery store line I saw a young child reach and hold the arm of an elderly woman. When the father told the child to let go, the woman said “no please, I haven’t been touched by anyone in 10 years.”
We all share a common need for human contact. Creating regular and nurturing touch in our lives is essential for physical and emotional well-being, and regular touch has been shown to lengthen life and reduce illness. Touch is not only good medicine for the body but also for the mind, heart and soul. It is an expression of our deep connection as human beings.

Backus Hospital’s Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) provides bedside comfort care therapies including Massage, Healing Touch, Reiki and Reflexology to hospitalized patients and also to outpatients receiving radiation therapy.

The sessions have helped to significantly reduce pain and anxiety and promote healing. One patient commented “I never thought I would look forward to my radiation treatments; now I do”. These therapy sessions as well as Acupuncture are also available to the public at the Backus CHI center.

Amy Dunion, a registered nurse and licensed massage therapist, is Coordinator of The William W. Backus Hospital’s Center for Healthcare Integration. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dunion and all of the Healthy Living columnists at


STROKE: Early Recognition makes a difference

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke is the number one neurologic diagnosis requiring hospital admission. Over the course of the past thirty years, medical science has made great strides in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of patients who have suffered a stroke. Recognizing a stroke as soon as it begins is crucial.

There are two types of stroke, hemorrhagic and ischemic. The hemorrhagic type is caused by a blood vessel in the brain that begins to leak. An example is an aneurysm or other malformation that may burst. An ischemic stroke results from a blood vessel that is clogged and deprives an area of the brain of its vital blood supply. Some examples of ischemic stroke include an embolus or abnormal particle which travels to the brain, and a thrombus or clot which can build up in a diseased blood vessel.

There are many similarities between heart attack and stroke. The risk factors, causes and many treatments are the same. Similar to heart attack we have found that early recognition of a “brain attack” is critical to survival. The Cincinnati Prehospital Stroke Scale provides three signs of early stroke:
1. Facial droop. Ask the person to smile. Both sides of the face should move equally.
2. Arm drift. The person closes their eyes and holds both arms straight out for ten seconds. Both arms should move the same or not move at all.
3. Speech difficulties. Ask the person to say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The person should use correct words without slurring.
If any one of these signs is abnormal, the probability of stroke is 72%.

All stroke treatment is most effective when intervention is within hours of symptom onset. It is important to initiate a multi-disciplinary approach to stroke with a coordinated effort among emergency services, neurology, nursing and rehabilitation. This approach, along with early recognition, reduces the morbidity associated with stroke.

I urge anyone interested in stroke to visit the website of the National Stroke Association. Please remember that if you believe that you or someone you know is having a stroke, act quickly because brain cells are dying.

To view a video about warning signs of stroke, click here.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is a neurologist on the The William W. Backus Hospital Medical Staff in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at


It’s spring – time to think fresh asparagus

Spring is finally here! Time to start thinking about the garden and the new plants and flowers sprouting up. It’s also time to think about spring vegetables: rhubarb, lettuce, spinach, and peas. My personal favorite is asparagus.
Years ago I lived where there was a ready-made asparagus bed. I liked nothing better than to raid the bed as the tender sprouts came up. Garden fresh asparagus is nothing like the vegetable that is found grocery stores. This delicacy can actually be eaten raw.
When I was thinking about a vegetable garden of my own, one of my first thoughts was to plant asparagus. Anyone who has ever built an asparagus bed knows the work and effort that goes into it, but I was determined to have these green gems for myself. With effort goes reward, and within three years I was harvesting enough stalks for my family friends.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family. It is an excellent source of folic acid (60% of the daily recommendation). This B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects in babies, may protect against heart disease and is needed for blood cell formation. Asparagus also supplies 3 grams of fiber in a ½ cup serving, and 400 mg of potassium (a mineral that is important in regulating blood pressure).
Asparagus is very easy to prepare. Tender stalks can be eaten raw. Larger stalks are more tender when the tough ends are trimmed and peeled. To cook asparagus to the crisp, tender stage, microwave in a small amount of water for 4-7 minutes or steam for 5-8 minutes. Above all -- do not cook the poor things until they go limp. Asparagus can also be prepared on the grill. Add asparagus to stir fries and egg dishes. Serve with a light sauce or ranch dressing.
Asparagus can be roasted in the oven at 400 degrees after spraying lightly with olive oil. Serve drizzled with good balsamic vinegar and crumbled goat cheese.
To keep your green spears fresh if not using right away, wrap them in a moist paper towel and use within 2-3 days. It can also be stored upright in an inch or two of water.
Even if you think you do not like asparagus, try it cooked in a different way. If you’ve only had the canned variety, try fresh. If you’ve only had it steamed, try grilled. You may be pleasantly surprised. You have just added a nutritious and delicious food to your diet.
Mary Beth Dahlstrom Green is a dietitian at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Green and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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