Primary care physicians (PCPs) hold the key to better health for you and your family. These physicians are on the front lines of health care and they get to know you, your family and medical history. It’s important to have a PCP that you like and have a good relationship with to get the best care possible.

Your PCP is like the quarterback on a football team calling the plays, or in this case, making the plans to address your health concerns and guiding your plan of care. Primary care can handle 85 percent of the problems that patients have, and can coordinate care needed for other problems as well.

It’s so important to get good primary care that many health care systems, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, are creating a new approach to primary care called “medical homes.”

Vice President of Population Health and Advancement at Howard County General Hospital, Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, Ph.D., offers some important insights on the benefits of primary care.

Broad Knowledge and Skills
While PCPs are not specialists, they have a special skill set, which allows them to be adept at spotting a broad, underlying condition responsible for a range of symptoms. Depression or a chronic inflammatory disorder, for example, can manifest in any number of ways: stomach discomfort, joint pain or problems with multiple organs.

There is a growing emphasis today on preventive medicine and maintaining overall wellness to ward off problems before they occur, if possible. Helping preserve and protect your health helps you save money on health care costs and also reduces costs for the health system overall.

For example, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions are preventable. The effect of healthy habits on a person’s life can be enormous. Recent preliminary evidence shows a 5 percent reduction in weight in an overweight person can reduce their risk of diabetes by 65 percent.

Your Primary Care Team
To help ensure care is delivered most effectively and efficiently, health care systems are creating the “patient-centered medical home.” In short, the medical home transforms a primary care clinic or other facility into a home base, where most of what a person needs for better health is located and available.

Though the primary care physician remains at the center of providing care, emphasis on a team is paramount. These teams typically include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, health coaches, community health workers and more.

Technology Makes It More Personal
Electronic medical records are another component of the medical home that seamlessly weave together detailed notes from every care provider who sees the person, lab and imaging results, and the like. This way the primary care team can get reports on which patients are facing gaps in their care.

For more information about the benefits of primary care and selecting the best physician for you and your family, read Four Reasons Why You Should Have a Primary Care Physician.


read more

Why Movement Matters

Think of what you want to experience in your life. Build a life around healthy living to open up opportunities and possibilities. Instead of looking at weight loss as your purpose for exercise and eating healthy, shift your thought process to a lifetime of wellness. Moving your body matters, here’s why:

Do you feel sluggish? Do you feel fatigue late in the day?
Movement for as little at 20 minutes, three times a week can increase your energy level. This improves your focus and helps you get more done in a day. Even better news, movement can be anything you enjoy and at a moderate level. If you experience a busy, stressful week- high intensity exercise can often leave you feeling more exhausted. This shows that more is not always better. That is, exercise smarter, not necessarily harder in this case.



Are you one of those people who lays in bed at night and can’t fall asleep?

Or do you fall asleep for a few hours only to wake up and and stay up? Well, exercising for 10-20 minutes most days of the week improves your quality of sleep. Pay attention to those days you exercise and see how your sleep patterns change. Since sleep impacts several things, monitor your energy level and mood the next day as well. Speaking of mood, we know that exercise improves our mood and even helps with depression. While exercise is the last thing you feel like doing when you’re sad or tired, it could be the best thing for you. Exercise releases chemicals and endorphins that impact your brain causing an improvement in mood. Again, the good news here, any physical activity such as gardening, walking, bike riding, and even dancing helps.

Does your back feel stiff in the morning?
Do your knees creak going up and down stairs? Do you find it increasingly difficult to get up off the floor? Appropriate movement can help you feel better. All this movement in turn helps develop stronger muscle and bone resulting in a decrease in aches and pains. Remember your heart counts as a muscle so it gets stronger too! Imagine the positive impact on blood pressure and heart disease.

Be active. Move! Strive to be the healthiest version of yourself possible; one step at a time and one day at a time. You’re worth every minute!

Lisa Martin founded the Girls on the Run program in Howard County in 2009. Lisa is AFAA & NSCA certified, has more than 15 years of personal training experience, and practices a multidimensional wellness approach at her studio, Salvere Health & Fitness. Lisa says that one of the best things about being in the health and fitness industry is watching people accomplish things they never thought possible.

read more

Healthy Weight: How to Achieve and Maintain

Measure your health scale.

Measure your health scale. [Credit: Iqoncept] / [Dreamstime]

A healthy weight is an important contributing factor in your overall health. It can help you prevent and control many diseases and conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems and certain cancers.

Determining a Healthy Weight
How much you should weigh is not as simple as looking at a height-weight chart. You need to consider the amount of bone, muscle and fat in your body’s composition.

The amount of fat your body carries is a critical measurement, and can be measured using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Our Adult BMI Calculator helps you determine if you are at a healthy weight, overweight or obese.

If your results indicate you are overweight, having extra body weight from muscle, bone, fat and/or water; or obese, having a high amount of extra body fat; you should consider speaking to your health care provider. While BMI provides a fairly accurate assessment, it’s not a perfect measure.

You may also find it helpful to attend our Wellness Screening for Your Health, which provides a free weight risk assessment.

Achieving a Healthy Weight
Many factors can contribute to your weight, and while you may not be able to control factors like family history, the environment, genetics and metabolism, you can change your behaviors and habits.

The service providers of our Journey to Better Health program, a program that provides health monitoring and support services to Howard County residents and faith community members, recommend the following when trying to lose weight to achieve a healthy weight:

  • Set a goal
    Your weight loss goal should be a realistic goal that you can accomplish. You should start slow and change only one habit at a time.
  • Conduct a needs assessment
    Identify what you need to accomplish your goal. Make a checklist of supplies/tools and resources you need to support your goal. For example, identify the amount of healthy food options in your pantry. If you have little to none, you will need to stock up on your healthy food supply.
  • Start immediately
    In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” Empower yourself to make small efforts that can be repeated to make your goal come to fruition. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator or include a fruit or salad with your meal.
  • Track your progress
    Whether it be on paper or a mobile app, recording your activity informs you of how you are progressing towards completing your goal. You may find you are on target or need to make improvements. It may seem mundane, but tracking your progress is critical towards achieving success.
  • Celebrate your success
    Find healthy ways to reward your accomplishments. For example, schedule a massage or go line dancing with friends.

For more information on losing weight, read our Five Step Weight Loss Guide for the New Year.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Continuing the healthy lifestyle changes you adopt, including eating a healthy diet and engaging in 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

Successful weight maintenance is considered to be regaining less than six to seven pounds in two years and sustaining a reduced waist circumference of at least two inches.

For long-term motivation, ask your friends, family and health care provider(s) for encouragement, consider joining a support group and attend health screenings that assess your weight. Our Journey to Better Health program offers such screenings in the community for free. For a schedule of dates and locations, call 410-720-8788 or send an email to hcgh-j2bh@jhmi.edu.

The longer you can maintain a healthy weight, the more likely you will achieve long-term success.

For more healthy weight information, view Aim for a Healthy Weight from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


read more

30 Days of Walking for 30 Minutes

Just after Thanksgiving, I came across a 30 day fitness challenge designed to get anyone, at any fitness level moving: 30 minutes of walking for 30 days. I figured that committing to something as simple as walking could only be a good thing. I was right!

My doctor has often said that walking is the best kind of exercise I can get. Walking regularly is one of the best things you can do for your wellness. It can help prevent heart disease, mitigate blood sugars, and combats obesity and depression while strengthening your body. Just speak with your family doctor and follow their suggestions on how you might begin a walking program. If you need materials to help get you started, Leslie Sansone is a big advocate of fitness walking. You can find many of her book and DVD titles at hclibrary.org. Until then, I’ll share with you what I did.

#1 COMMIT
In order for me to complete this challenge, I had to have a plan. I made walking a priority in my day. I set aside enough time for warming up, walking, and cooling down. My shoes and clothing to walk in were always ready no matter the weather. My water bottle, cell phone, and inhaler (I’m asthmatic) were always with me. When I walked alone, I told someone when and where I was going for my walk. I did everything I could to ensure I would be able to achieve my goal. After all, 30 days of walking 30 minutes was a healthy, attainable goal.

#2 GET SUPPORT
Support meant letting people know this was a goal of mine. I asked friends to walk with me and check-in to ensure I completed my daily walk. This was great because I was building a network of support and accountability. Let’s just say, I leaned on my husband a lot. I essentially told him that no matter what excuse I came up with would only hurt me in the end. That is, not completing this challenge wasn’t an option. Thanks to him and others, I was able to do it!

#3 DO IT
Finally, I just started walking. Without judgment or additional pressure. I warmed up by walking to my starting point on my planned route; set my timer for 15 minutes and started walking. When the time was up I would turn around and start my timer for 15 minutes back. At the end of the 30 minutes I walked from my starting point to my front porch to cool down and I did some easy stretching. I varied my route daily so it would never get boring and I’d have some hill variations in my walk too. I have gotten to the point where I can walk a good while at a decent pace where I can’t hold a long conversation, but can answer with a word or two.

Some days were easier than others. Believe me, the days that were miserable were the greatest when I got back to my house. My reward was that feeling of accomplishment- never giving up. My results are not that surprising. I feel better, my clothes fit better, and my posture has definitely improved. Now that my 30 days are up, I’m pretty proud of myself.  I’m going to do what I can to ensure a minimum of 30 minutes of walking daily because it’s the easiest and best thing I can do, 30 days at a time.

JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch & STEM Education Center. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, KPOP-addict, baker of cupcakes, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

read more

How to Care for a Loved One with Dementia

Family caregiver serving food to loved one. [Credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz] / [Dreamstime]

Dementia touches most everyone, whether they have it or know someone who does.

Dementia is the gradual loss of cognitive functioning (thinking, remembering and reasoning), which eventually interferes with a person’s daily life. Dementia is a set of symptoms, not a disease. Memory loss is a common dementia symptom and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.

As dementia progresses, people cannot manage their lives on their own and depend more on others for help. Their caregivers are often family.

When caring for a loved one with dementia, caregivers should:

  1. Make decisions in advance. Have conversations about finances, health care, transportation and living arrangements, while it is still possible for the loved one to participate in the decision making process.
  2. Research resources. The Alzheimer’s Association is a great place to start—offering a 24-hour hotline and local support groups.
  3. Stay active. Encourage the loved one to remain socially active and continue to pursue activities he/she enjoys.
  4. Play music. Dementia patients often respond to music from an era when they were active, and music is a great way to involve a younger generation in caregiving and connecting with the loved one.
  5. Make safety a priority. Keeping the loved one safe becomes a big issue as dementia progresses. It may be necessary to schedule additional in-home help or move the loved one into a care facility.
  6. Manage medications. Keep a current medication list and seek medical assistance in eliminating drugs that might cause or add to your loved one’s confusion. Use pill boxes to manage medications and seek pharmacies that can prepackage medications in daily doses.
  7. Stay calm. Personality and behavior changes, especially agitation and depression, are all common symptoms of dementia. Try to be agreeable in your conversations and do not argue, unless there is imminent danger.
  8. Keep to a routine. Maintain regular routines in a calm, familiar environment to help reduce the stress and anxiety that often occurs in people with dementia.
  9. Take care of yourself. Caregiving can be extremely stressful and comes at great cost, often including a loss of the relationship with the loved one.

read more

Running for Beginners

Girls on the Run

According to research done by Running USA, about 17.1 million people participated in running events in 2015, about 57% of those female and 43% male. With the start of the new year, many of us look for new workout ideas, to start something different or to restart something old. For many, this includes a running or walking program. Sometimes it’s the “I want to run a marathon before I turn (insert age)” or a search to experience that runner’s high. Regardless the reason, finding the right program with appropriate progress and balance can be difficult.

Before you start out to become a runner, do a little self-analysis. When did you last run or walk with any regularity? Do you have any ankle, knee or hip issues that might resurface? What other workouts do you do throughout the week or month? The process of building a foundation focusing on form and safely adding miles often gets overlooked with running and walking programs and people start to aggressive.

If you’re just beginning (or restarting) your journey, start slow and give yourself time to build up both duration and miles. Allow a few weeks to get your body accustomed to the movements of running. Set aside three days each week and go out for 20-30 minutes with a combination of running and walking in an interval format. Don’t worry about distance for now.

While you’re building your foundation, pay attention to specifics with your form. Position your body in a slight forward lean from the ankles, not a bend at the hips. Try to keep from bouncing up and down to minimize the stress on your lower body. Hold your head and chest up and swing your arms forward and backwards letting your fingertips lightly brush your ribs. Be careful to not cross your arms in front of your body. Finally, pay attention to your breathing and be sure to not hold your breath and keep a steady rhythm.

Girls on the RunOnce you get through several weeks of consistent training or if you started out with a little bit of a foundation, start planning for your event or mapping out your goal for miles. Use an app such as Map My Run on your phone or a device like the FitBit to check in on your miles. On your next outing, track the miles on your normal route to determine your baseline. From there, maintain a three day a week program and build by adding between 0.5 – 1 mile per week on at least one of your runs. If it feels difficult at any mileage level, stay there until you feel comfortable moving on.

It takes time to create that foundation so don’t rush the process. If you want to run an event over 10 miles, give yourself several months to slowly build your routine. If something starts to hurt, pay attention and back off if needed. In addition to running, be sure to add a day or two of cross training, especially strength exercises to balance out your running. Take time to enjoy the process, stop and smell the roses and vary your routine to see places and experiences only your feet can take you.

[Editor’s Note: Always consult your doctor before starting any kind of diet or exercise program.]

Lisa Martin founded the Girls on the Run program in Howard County in 2009. Lisa is AFAA & NSCA certified, has more than 15 years of personal training experience, and practices a multidimensional wellness approach at her studio, Salvere Health & Fitness. Lisa says that one of the best things about being in the health and fitness industry is watching people accomplish things they never thought possible.

read more

Five Step Weight Loss Guide for the New Year

Woman on scale happy about weight loss. [Credit: Edward J. Bock III] / [Dreamstime]

Woman on scale happy about her weight loss. [Credit: Edward J. Bock III] / [Dreamstime]

Weight loss is one of the top items that appear on New Year’s resolution lists. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people succeed, while most see it as a reoccurring item for the next new year.

What most people do not realize is that is takes more than just desire to lose weight. It takes commitment and planning, beginning with our step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Make a Commitment
Rather than just committing to losing weight, commit to specifics. Commit yourself to the amount of weight you want to lose, the date by which you want to lose it, diet changes you will make to establish healthy eating habits and your plan for exercising regularly.

The best way to lose weight is to set a reasonable goal and lose it slowly and gradually. An initial weight loss goal of 5 to 7 percent of body weight is realistic for most individuals.

Step 2: Know Your Current State
Speak with your health care provider about the state of your health, specifically asking about weight-related risks. Healthy weight is especially important if you have or have had heart disease; type 2 diabetes; stroke; high blood pressure; high total cholesterol level; cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, breast or colon; and arthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the back, knees and hips.

Keep a food diary for a few days to realize what and when you are eating so you become aware of the types of food you eat most often and your mindless eating tendencies. If you find you eat a lot of processed foods, know that those foods tend to be high in trans fats, sugar and sodium or salt, which make it difficult to lose weight.

Also analyze your lifestyle. Identify obstacles that could be a challenge for your weight loss, and think of solutions to overcome those challenges. Recognize opportunities that can support your weight loss (e.g. living near a fitness center) and how to take advantage of those opportunities.

Step 3: Set Milestones
Establish short-term goals for yourself that will act as milestones to getting you to your long-term goal weight. These goals should be specific and realistic. For example, lose 1/2 to 1 pound a week. Achieving your milestones will motivate you to continue making progress.

Your milestones should also be forgiving when you experience occasional setbacks. Rather than criticize yourself and give up, forgive and get back on track as soon as possible. It’s realistic for you to sporadically have setbacks.

Step 4: Take Advantage of Resources and Support
Reach out to family, friends and co-workers who will support you. Perhaps they are trying to lose weight as well, in which case you can support and motivate each other. You are more likely to eat better and exercise more if your friends and family are doing the same.

Also look to local organizations for information and guidance. For example, Howard County General Hospital offers a free Looking to Lose Weight class where a certified nutritionist and registered dietitian discusses the physiology and health challenges that affect weight, and teaches meal plans that taste great, provide a balanced diet and promote health.

Learn to read food labels to make better food choices. Foods like gravy, mayonnaise, sauces and salad dressings often contain hidden fat and lots of calories, and some yogurts may be low in fat, but are high in carbohydrates and sugars. Or, eat foods in their natural state, and you will not have to read labels at all!

Step 5: Monitor Your Progress
Evaluate your progress of the milestones you set in Step 3. Identify areas of your plan that are working well and areas that need adjusting. It may be necessary to rewrite your short-term goals and plan accordingly.

As you are monitoring your progress, you may find you need to focus more on the fit of your clothes and less on reading the scale, especially if you have increased your exercise level. As you increase muscle mass and lose fat, the reading on your bathroom scale may not change much, but the fit of your clothes may be looser. Measure your waistline and compare the results.

Do not forget to reward yourself for your successes, but not with food. If achieving your milestones are coming too easily, consider adding a new, more challenging milestone that will get you to your long-term goal.

Using this step-by-step guide will get you on your way to achieving your New Year’s weight-loss resolution and having a healthier new year.


read more