Trees

exercise. the best medicine. (podcast!)

Growing up, I was a kid who hid in the back corner during gym — because dodgeballs are hard and kids are mean. I never developed a sense of myself as athletic, and mostly didn’t miss it.

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Instead, I found my physicality by carrying my life essentials on my back for four days on a backpacking trail. It was life altering — but somewhat location dependent.

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Several years ago, I hit a personal low. I had tried pretty much all the things, but wasn’t feeling any better. After being strongly advised by a non-medical friend to consider pharmaceutical medications, a Facebook post from a doctor friend jumped out at me: Weight-bearing improves mood.

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So I tried it. And it made a huge difference.

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The research literature has long supported exercise as a treatment for depression and anxiety. The side effects of exercise, properly applied, are increased strength, improved blood sugar balance, better immune function and more.

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(Note that I don’t tout weight loss here. Not everyone loses weight, and not everyone needs to. Overall health should be the goal, with weight optimization a possible secondary side effect.)

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When it comes to depression, research shows that while medications may work faster, exercise is equally effective after 16 weeks and better than drugs after 10 months. And it doesn’t take much: Just 20 minutes three times a week of moderate-intensity exercise makes a significant difference. (PMID: 15361924.)

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The same pattern holds for anxiety. Even a single round of resistance exercise can lower anxiety significantly. (PMID: 25071694)

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My patients will attest to this experience. Many of them start exercising and find the stressors that would stop their lives cold no longer affect them nearly as strongly. It’s been a lifesaver for them, as it has been for me.

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I mention my story because it’s not unique: Many of us have traumas and resistance around athleticism, gyms and “exercise” in general. You don’t have to even want to be an athlete to get these benefits. You just need to do the things.

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I started going to the gym with the idea that it was something I had to do regardless of whether I found a strong community or even liked the activity. It was a prescription. In the end, it surprised me with both community and an activity I enjoy. I’m still no athlete, but having exercise as a tool in times of stress is a huge help.

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The podcast below is one I did two years ago with Michael Skogg, the owner of Skogg Gym in Portland. (If you’re not local, he’s got both videos and virtual memberships available.) In it I review the science behind exercise as a treatment for depression and anxiety.

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If you find it useful, I hope you’ll pass this post along.

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Dr. Orna Izakson | natural mental health | exercise with kettle bells

the nature Rx for hot flashes

I got out to my favorite park recently and thought about all my videos about the beneficial effects of nature on health.

 

And I thought, maybe people are getting bored with me talking about how nature is great for supporting mood, cognition, immune function, and so on.

 

And then I thought, what about my per/menopause friends? Because, at least in theory, getting out in nature should help reduce hot flashes.

 

Here’s the logic: (more…)

three great books for healthy holidays

Filed under: food as medicine,healthy living,Uncategorized,Vitamin N — Orna @ 2:43 pm

Yes, I’m a book geek. It’s how I was raised.

 

So it’s no surprise that when it comes to gift suggestions for the holidays (or any time of year), books are a go-to recommendation.

 

I think they’re especially apt gifts during the December holiday season.

 

Why?

 

First, reading is a great inward activity during an inward time of year. The weather outside is sometimes frightful, and cozying up with a book can be delightful.

 

Also, if you choose the right books, they can be a great counterbalance to the unhealthy traditions that are so hard to avoid at this time of year.

 

For both of those reasons, consider these three book recommendations for the reader, the eater and the nature-needer on your list.

 

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four ways food choices impact mood

A journalist friend recently messaged me asking for help understanding the ways food choices affect mood.

 

It’s a big topic. And since managing mood is one of my clinical specialties, and since food is always the first medicine, you won’t be surprised to hear that I have a lot of thoughts.

 

But it all boils down to a few simple things, which I discuss in this quick video.

 

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change your mind, change your life

Do you ever find your thoughts getting in the way of your life? That ideas you have about how things should be prevent you from doing the things you know you want or need to do? Have you ever thought that if you could just change your mind you could change your life?

 

In this video, one patient describes his experience:

 

 

Of all the treatments I’ve used in my medical practice, the most magic I’ve seen comes from using flower essences to address exactly this. (more…)

rites of spring: rose petal honey

Rites of Spring: Rose Petal Honey | Dr. Orna Izakson | herbalist + naturopathic doctor | Portland Oregon

Alchymist climbing rose in front of the clinic.

It’s full-bloom time here in the City of Roses. Which means I’m munching on flowers.

 

Did you know that rose petals are edible? Some taste better than others, and all are somewhat astringent. But the best ones carry both the rose fragrance and flavor. (Try them! Just make sure the plants aren’t sprayed with pesticides.) (more…)

terrain

Filed under: chronic disease,healthy living,Uncategorized — Orna @ 8:50 am

Gardeners know that healthy plants have certain basic requirements: they need the right temperature, the right amount of sun, the right amount of water, and the right amount and kind of nutrients in the soil. Different plants have different needs, but one that has all these will be the most resilient, able to withstand pests, diseases and climate variations.

 

People are no different.

 

I was a gardener long before ever thinking about becoming a doctor. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the idea of feeding the soil is fundamental to naturopathic medical philosophy.

 

The profession even has a specific term for it: Terrain. (more…)

herbal steams for respiratory health

If you’ve watched my herbal origin story video, you know that thyme is one of my secret weapons for colds and flus — any kind of stuck or infected issue in the upper or lower respiratory tract. Steaming with thyme is one of my go-tos in the clinic, and one of the key practices described in my Winter Wellness Toolkit (Haven’t downloaded it yet? Check out the link at the bottom of this post to grab your copy.)

 

I almost invariably recommend that my patients with colds, flus or sinusitis symptom use thyme in an herbal steam. I give them a handout and describe the procedure using hand gestures.

 

This is the kind of thing that sounds confusing until you see it demonstrated or figure out how to do it yourself. So I made a quick video for you.

 

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do you know how to eat?

Filed under: food as medicine,healthy living,Uncategorized — Orna @ 4:53 pm

Portlanders are a pretty food-savvy bunch. We know what to ask about the provenance of our food. We pay attention to ingredients, to gluten, to dairy, to grass-fed/free-range/high-omega-3/sustainability parameters (except when we just go for a donut.)

 

So it sometimes surprises me that folks who know what to eat often don’t know how to eat. And while great food matters, what’s the point if we don’t digest it well?

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Dr. O’s Holidays Stress Less Vitamin N Challenge

Filed under: healthy living,mood cures,Uncategorized,Vitamin N — Orna @ 2:23 pm

It’s two days before Thanksgiving and even though my plans are pretty mellow, I’m starting to feel the stress creeping into my body. This morning it woke me up, feeling like tendrils of tension wrapping around my throat and heart.

 

My still-half-sleeping brain began noodling on the question of what to do about it. And I thought, if Nature is the best medicine, what about committing to spending time out in it each day until the holiday craziness is safely past?

 

And then I thought, wouldn’t this be easier, more joyful and more effective if a bunch of us did it together?

 

And so I bring you my very first Vitamin N (nature) Challenge, which you can join on Facebook here.

 

Dr. Orna's Holidays Stress Less Vitamin N Challenge

 

Each day between now and January 2 I’m committing to a minimum of 7 intentional minutes with Nature as a way to tame my holiday stress.

 

Will you join me?

 

The rules: Since this is about reducing stress, the goal is to keep it simple and manageable. Say hi to an urban street tree for a few minutes. Put yourself into an amazing vista. Tickle whatever’s alive in your garden. Walk along a creek, river or beach. Get to wilderness, if doing so won’t increase your stress. And if you live in a deeply rural setting? Just take that 7 minutes a day to be in and appreciate some aspect of your landscape.

 

It all counts if you do it purposefully — as a commitment to connecting to nature, ideally outdoors, to reduce your holiday (or other) stress.

 

I’ll be taking and posting pictures of my daily Nature time to the Facebook group because 1) it’s fun and 2) it will hopefully inspire you. Please share your own pictures, stories and questions!

 

So here’s to a smooth slide through the upcoming season. Thank you for getting into Nature with me.

 

PS. Want to learn about my other challenges, classes and healthcare offerings? Sign up for my newsletter here.

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