How Do You Stay Healthy?

How Do You Stay Healthy With Dr. Kate

Husband and daughter making pasta

Are you confused by all of the seemingly conflicted nutritional advice out there? I know I am, and I’m a doctor. I actively seek out nutritional information and for the most part feel like I am well informed. Yet I still question my food choices. Both what I chose to eat for myself and my family but also what I recommend to patients.

I make note of being doctor although medical education regarding diet and nutrition is exceptionally poor. In four years of medical school, I had one half-day of instruction on nutrition and seven questions on an exam. I did get those seven questions 100% correct, but that was almost 20 years ago now, and nutrition advice has evolved since then.

I found nutrition information fascinating then, and I still do now.

Everywhere you look, a different expert is proclaiming a specific way of eating as the best way, the only way.

I think there are many approaches to a healthy diet and what works for one person may not work for the next. So, I try not to overthink it.

As Michael Pollan says, eat real food, mostly plants, not too much. As long as I eat real food, I think the particular choices may not be as important. For me, I think a plant based diet makes the most sense and is the most sustainable. But does that mean I should be entirely vegan? I don’t think so.Healthy Breast Cancer Diet Part of Healthy Lifestyle

Certainly a healthy diet is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Scientific research says four health behaviors, which are a wholesome diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking, have an enormous impact on health and longevity. If you can maintain those four behaviors, you will be able to avoid up to 80% of chronic disease, adding both years to life as well as more active and enjoyable life to those years.

There is an incredible study going on at Harvard, called the Harvard study of adult development. It started in the 1930s and is still going on today more than 75 years later. It followed 724 men from two very different backgrounds. One group was composed of Harvard students, and the other was poor, underprivileged, boys from Boston’s inner-city.

Some of the original participants are still alive today in their 90s, and the study is now following the children from the initial group. This study tracked these men interviewing them, reviewing their medical records, talking to their wives and families to determine what factors resulted in health, happiness, and longevity. It wasn’t money, success or a healthy cholesterol level at age 50 that best predicted good health and happiness at age 80. Instead, it was how satisfied the men were with their relationships. Being more socially connected to family, friends, and community led to happier, healthier people who lived longer. Robert Waldinger is the current director of the study; you can listen to his TED talk here. 

Family, friends and community for a happier healthier lifeAnother example of the remarkable power of relationships and community on health and longevity is known as the Roseto effect. Roseto is a small town in Northeastern Pennsylvania. In the 1960s, a local doctor realized there was an exceptionally low rate of heart disease in Roseto -virtually non-existent- compared to some of the surrounding towns.

The inhabitants smoked cigars, drank lots of wine, ate meatballs, sausage, and plenty of cheese, while being exposed to potentially toxic gasses and dust in the slate quarries, not exactly the usual recipe for good health.

However, the community was very close knit. The was no crime; people supported each other, meals were a reason to get together and celebrate. There was a strong work ethic with everyone in town working toward a similar goal, a better life for their children. Their children did go on to have more material things and traditional success but not necessarily a better life. As the supportive community began to break down the rates of heart disease and premature death increased, equalling the rates of the surrounding towns.

And, of course, there is the Mediterranean diet with its associated health benefits. People living near the Mediterranean Sea live longer and healthier lives than in other parts of the world. Their diet is often promoted as being one of the healthiest. It consists primarily of real food – fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, olive oil, and even some red wine.Mediterranean Diet Associated With Health Benefits

But it’s not just the diet that results in exceptional health and longevity; it’s the lifestyle. People eat well, savor and enjoy their food. They are social and connected to their community. They spend time outside, moving, engaged in activity that they enjoy. A British cardiologist, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, is making a film about Pioppi, Italy called the Pioppi protocol. Pioppi is on the Mediterranean, and it’s inhabitants are among the world’s healthiest, often living into their 90s. In his film, Dr. Malhotra contends that it is the Mediterranean lifestyle, not just the diet that cultivates good health.

I say this not because diet is unimportant. Healthy food choices are essential for healthy living. The better I eat, the better I feel. And of course, science confirms the relationship between healthy food, normal weight and good health. I remind myself of these examples so that I don’t get too hung up on my particular food choices.

Diet and exercise are what usually come to mind when people think of healthy lifestyles. But, there is more to it than that. Harvard’s study of adult development, Roseto, Pennsylvania and Pioppi, Italy are good reminders of the other important contributors to healthy living.

If healthy, supportive relationships can offset some of the known detrimental effects of poor lifestyle choices like smoking cigars and eating a lot of meat and cheese as illustrated by the Roseto effect, imagine what they could do for someone who does eat well.

I eat well most of the time because I feel better when I do. But, I indulge. And when I find myself obsessing over minor details I remind myself of the bigger picture. There is more than one way to take care of yourself, which in addition to eating well and exercising includes stress reduction, plenty of sleep, and nurturing your relationships. Within and between each of these categories, there is give and take. Some days the good work I do in one category may make up for a subpar performance in another. But I strive to reach a minimum goal in each group every day.

I put together a daily wellness checklist to remind, motivate and inspire me to achieve within each of these areas. Click here if you’d like a copy. It helps me to stay on track and gives me a little win when I check off an activity as completed.

Dr. Kate KilloranDr. Kate Killoran is a board-certified OB/GYN with 15+ years of clinical experience and a breast cancer survivor. Medical school, residency, and clinical practice educated her thoroughly about disease. What her medical education failed to teach her was how to be healthy and well. This she learned from her breast cancer diagnosis.

She practices what she preaches using her knowledge of health, wellness, and disease to help other women be healthy, happy, and well. She sees patients both in her office in beautiful Camden, Maine as well as online at www.drkatemd.com.

For more information or if you’d like to contact Dr. Kate, please visit drkatemd.com.

Do You Enjoy Pushing Yourself?

Dr. Kate Master Swim Meet - Breast Cancer Survivor StoryWhat did you do this last weekend? I spent the whole weekend at a Masters swim meet. Sounds super fun doesn’t it. NOT.

I almost didn’t go, but my husband was going to be away, and I figured instead of a weekend at home, my daughter and I could take a trip to Boston. She could play with her cousin, and I could go to the meet. Even still, multiple times I wondered why I bothered to drive to Boston, arrange childcare for the whole weekend, and then spend my precious days off in a pool room.

Truthfully, I have thought about going to this meet for years, but it never worked out for me to go. Or I never wanted to commit to three days away from my family to do it.

I consider myself a swimmer. Swam in high school and college. I dabbled in master’s swimming as an adult. Enjoyed the practices, went to a few meets about ten years ago. Then the practice times changed, and it was harder for me to get there. And, as I mentioned, with a young child, it never seemed to make sense to take the time to go to any meets.

Last fall I decided to focus more on swimming. I have had some issues with fitness and overtraining. Of all sports or fitness programs, swimming is what I know best. I thought it would be a good place to start as I tried to figure out what kind of fitness regimen was going to work for me.

I planned to swim at least three times a week and entered some meets. It was more than a little depressing to see how much slower my times were, even from ten years ago. But I wanted to have some gauge of where I was at and something to shoot for.

I decided to enter a regional meet in Worcester, MA last December. I thought I had been swimming enough and that my fitness had recovered enough so I could expect to improve on my times.Dr. Kate Regional Swim Meet - Breast Cancer Survivor Story

I was wrong. I performed terribly. More importantly, I felt tired and worn out. I was gasping for air on virtually all of my races. It was so disappointing. I wondered if my breast cancer medication (tamoxifen) was interfering with my ability to improve. Or, in addition to forcing menopause upon me, did chemotherapy do some damage to my heart and that’s why I was so winded.

Not that I could do anything about those things. So I stopped thinking about the things I could not control and instead considered what I could do differently. I decided to make some changes. I did not have more time for working out. Instead, I needed to work out smarter.

I changed my swim workouts a little and added more consistent strength and conditioning (CrossFit). Seems to have worked. In fact, I think I spent less time working out in the last few months. Another reminder that more is not always better.

I know I spent less time swimming which was another reason I almost didn’t go to the meet. I figured how could I expect to swim faster when I haven’t been swimming much. I didn’t want another example of my aging body and declining fitness.

But then I decided I’ll never know if the changes I made are making a difference if I don’t test it. If I wait until I know I’m in great shape to go to another meet, I’ll never go. So I signed up. Not right away, but within a few days, I started to regret my decision, started doubting myself.

Why am I doing this? I kept asking myself that question, without a good answer. When I arrived at the meet on Saturday morning, I sat in my car for a few minutes to wrap my head around swimming and the meet; and, to try to answer why I am doing this.Dr. Kate's Breast Cancer Survivor Exercise Story

It’s supposed to be fun, right? Yes. Pushing yourself is fun. Get out of your comfort zone. See what you can do. And it was fun, because I did well. For this meet, I felt strong. I wasn’t winded. I performed well in all of my events.

So different from the meet in December. However, it is because of the meet in December, and my crappy, disappointing results, that I made changes which produced better results. If I didn’t go to the first meet, I wouldn’t have known I needed to do things differently, and if I didn’t go to the second meet, I wouldn’t know that it worked.

So that’s why I compete. Pushing yourself is fun. It’s fun to see positive results. Clearly not all results are positive, though. But better things can come from disappointing results. Poor or mediocre results are not that fun, but are useful nonetheless and can be the reason for success down the road.

Put yourself out there. Be a little (or even a lot) uncomfortable. If you fail, learn from it, make a change and come back to try again. You’ll either enjoy the ride or learn something, and that’s a win-win.

Dr. Kate KilloranDr. Kate Killoran is a board-certified OB/GYN with 15+ years of clinical experience and a breast cancer survivor. Medical school, residency, and clinical practice educated her thoroughly about disease. What her medical education failed to teach her was how to be healthy and well. This she learned from her breast cancer diagnosis.

She practices what she preaches using her knowledge of health, wellness, and disease to help other women be healthy, happy, and well. She sees patients both in her office in beautiful Camden, Maine as well as online at www.drkatemd.com.

For more information or if you’d like to contact Dr. Kate, please visit drkatemd.com.

How To Get Yourself Back After Cancer Treatment

How to get yourself back after cancer treatmentThis past weekend I ran a 10-mile race. I realized afterward that it has been exactly three years since I received the call that changed my life. I remembered this same race, the Mid-Winter Classic in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, three years ago. I did not compete, but my husband did. That year the race was a few days earlier, and I didn’t know what was coming.

I had a mammogram and ultrasound, done two days before, which were both “reassuring”. I distinctly remember waiting for my husband to finish and thinking I had nothing to worry about.

I was wrong, and four days later I knew it. Because of the timing, in my mind, this race will always be associated with my cancer diagnosis. I competed this year for the third time. It is a great race. Well organized, good course. Big enough to be fun, but not so big that the logistics become difficult (making it less fun.)

The first time I ran was two years ago. I had just completed my treatment three months before; and, I had a great day. The weather was warm, for February. I ran well, finished strong and felt good. Since I had lost a lot of conditioning during treatment, I had no real expectations about pace or time and was pleased with an 8:39-minute/mile pace. I even ran the last mile, which is mostly uphill in an 8:08-minute pace. I have never been a fast runner, usually in the middle of the pack. The 8:39 put me right where I wanted to be.

I had come full circle. It had been a year. My treatment was behind me. I felt strong, was able to push myself. I had gone from thinking all I would need was a biopsy, to surviving the full monty of breast cancer treatment and now thriving enough to run a 10-mile race in a respectable time.  I felt like my old self.

After the race, I kept training and pushing myself to get faster. I did another 10-mile race two months later and ran faster. I did a few sprint triathlons and continued to feel strong, fast and improve with every race.

Until sometime in July, when the wheels came off the bus. I was tired and sore all the time. I did some more races. Instead of feeling strong and getting faster, I felt awful and got slower and slower.

In October, I ran a half marathon that was almost a minute per mile slower than I had run in April. I then realized my clothes didn’t fit, and I had gained ten pounds! I was exercising vigorously every day, and yet I had lost fitness and gained weight.

getting back to good health after cancer treatmentI am still figuring out what went wrong. So far I have come up with a few theories. I overtrained and did not let myself recover. I needed to back off, give myself some time to rest, both from my workouts as well as the long year of treatment.

I did not do any strength training. We all lose muscle mass with age and all the training I was doing, without any recovery, accelerated that loss.

Or maybe it was just too much for my poor body which had been through so much with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Whatever the cause, I was out of shape and overweight, despite working out all the time. What should I do now? I needed a new plan. More exercise, or, at least, more aerobic exercise, was clearly not the answer. But what was?

Some discomfort and soreness during and after a workout are good, which is part of what helps you to improve. Knowing when you have crossed the line from a challenging workout to an overdoing it workout is hard. I usually think more is better, now I know that it is not. Frequently, but not always, I can tell when I am doing too much. I listen to what my body is telling me because it does tell me.

It also seems that I needed more strength training. Strength used to be an afterthought. I more or less thought it was a waste of time, and it was the first thing to go if I had time constraints or flagging motivation. Strength and conditioning are now a priority that I make sure to do at least two if not three times per week.

Happily I can report that these changes seemed to have worked!

I ran the race this year 10 seconds/mile slower than I had two years ago. I think that’s a win. Pace aside, I felt strong, I finished well and had fun, which of course should always be the primary goal. So often the fun part gets lost, especially when you have a goal time in mind. This race reminded me that pushing yourself to perform is fun, even when it’s hard, and sometimes hurts.

The last 12-18 months were frustrating after realizing what I did to myself. I learned that my body has changed, I am sure cancer treatment caused, at least, some of that change, but so does age. The good news is that you can still improve even when you are getting older, and even if you have had to suffer through cancer treatment.

Listen to yourself, you can learn a lot.

What obstacles did you have getting back to good health after cancer treatment? Let me know

Dr. Kate KiloranDr. Kate Killoran is a board-certified OB/GYN with 15+ years of clinical experience and a breast cancer survivor. Medical school, residency, and clinical practice educated her thoroughly about disease. What her medical education failed to teach her was how to be healthy and well. This she learned from her breast cancer diagnosis.

She practices what she preaches using her knowledge of health, wellness, and disease to help other women be healthy, happy, and well. She sees patients both in her office in beautiful Camden, Maine as well as online at www.drkatemd.com.

For more information or if you’d like to contact Dr. Kate, please visit drkatemd.com.

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