Exercise, relaxation and sleep lead to optimum health (Aug.14 2008)

Aug. 14, 2008
By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Staying healthy is a daily concern for many people, and physicians across the country fear Americans aren’t healthy enough. Obesity is on the rise, as is heart disease, diabetes and other deadly ailments. But staying healthy, while hard work, can be a fun and sometimes relaxing activity. Here are some tips on maintaining your health:

Get out and move


Observer photo by Tim Simard
Dr. Scott Luria and his daughter, Hope, ride their modified tandem bicycle. Luria rides his bike to work every day and touts the benefits of exercise for better health.

Dr. Scott Luria, an avid cyclist, bikes into work every morning and bikes home every afternoon. It’s 7.25 miles from his home in Williston to his office at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, and the ride takes Luria about 30 minutes each way. Luria said biking to and from work every day increases his energy and sense of wellbeing, and keeps his body strong and in shape.

Since moving to Vermont 21 years ago, Luria has biked to work every day in rain, sleet and of course, snow. In winter, he outfits his bike with studded tires for the snowy conditions. He’s clocked more than 77,000 miles on his bike, with some of those miles taking place over extended bike vacations.

Luria recently completed a 700-mile bike ride to New York City by way of New England’s southern coast with his 12-year-old daughter, Hope. They took a unique modified tandem bike for their epic trip.

Luria’s case might be extreme for some, but he said biking to work is a good way to fit in the exercise you need to stay healthy.

“You’ll feel more energetic,” he said. “It’s great for mental health. It relieves stress very well. And it gets your motor running in the morning.”

As a primary care physician, Luria treats patients with diabetes, heart disease, emphysema and other health problems. He said many of these ailments could be significantly reduced by exercise and better health practices. For instance, Luria said diabetes used to be a rare disease, but doctors are now discovering its rise is linked to increased weight gain.

“It’s a massive health toll, being overweight and out of shape,” Luria said.

Along with stress reduction, more exercise lowers blood pressure and total cholesterol. It also improves insulin resistance and reduces the chance for diabetes, Luria added.

Hiking and walking have the same effect, Luria said. With the Green Mountains so close, it’s easy to get out and hike one of the many area peaks, he said. He called Vermont a “hiking paradise” in terms of its offerings, as well as the nearby Adirondacks in New York and White Mountains in New Hampshire.

“We’re close to some of the best hiking in the East,” said Luria, an avid hiker. He’s completed all the 4,000-foot mountains in the Northeast, and has climbed many of the high points in all 50 states.

Luria said it’s “almost a blessing” gas prices have gone up and forced people to think about biking to work more. He said he’s seen a huge increase in the Burlington area in the past year. He hopes people will keep up the healthy routine.

“It’s a rare person who doesn’t need more exercise,” Luria said.

Relax

Sometimes exercise causes soreness that can be easily remedied by an hour with a massage therapist. Flower Kotkes, a massage therapist with Oasis Day Spa in Williston, said a good massage is a relaxing way to stay healthy.

“There are a number of people that come in regularly who have added massage to their healthcare regimen,” Kotkes said.

Kotkes said Oasis offers many kinds of massage therapies, including Swedish, deep tissue and hot stone massages. Massage can help reduce pain and stress, as well as increase circulation.

“It’s a good way to restore after a workout,” Kotkes said.

Kotkes has been giving massages for 13 years as a way to assist people with their health. And it not only helps health, but also gives people a great sense of wellbeing, she said.

“People walk out feeling better all the time,” Kotkes said.

Catch up on sleep

After a long day at work, and especially after a good exercise routine, it’s important to get a full night’s sleep. Unfortunately, America is fast becoming a sleep-deprived country, doctors have said.

“We’re a 24-hour society, but we’re not programmed for 24-hours,” said Dr. Garrick Applebee of the Vermont Regional Sleep Center at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.

Applebee said he sees many health issues directly related to lack of sleep and sleep disorders. At the sleep center, Applebee helps treat insomnia, sleep apnea and other causes for disrupted sleep patterns.

“I think it’s something people don’t realize is a health issue,” Applebee said.

Applebee said he treats sleep disorders through behavioral treatments and by teaching patients better sleep patterns. He also said some patients need medication for their problems. Behavioral treatments sometimes work better in the long term, Applebee said, as patients can sometimes become dependent on medications.

One of the best ways to curb daytime sleepiness and feelings of exhaustion is to make time for more sleep, Applebee said. People should average eight hours a night, he said, but that doesn’t happen as often as it should.

“Certainly, the nation is sleep deprived,” Applebee said.