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On the horizon

Horizon Project promotes stress reduction and wellness

Mike Grossman, a family physician and hospice medical director, talks about the “three-legged stool” of pharmaceuticals, surgery and self-care during a recent Horizon Project session at the Ishpeming Senior Center. The project is a stress reduction and wellness initiative. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

ISHPEMING — Understanding the mind-body connection is crucial toward reducing stress and becoming a healthier person overall.

That was one of the messages stressed, if you want to call it that, during a Friday session of the Horizon Project at the Ishpeming Senior Center.

The Horizon Project, sponsored by the Superior Health Foundation, is coordinated by the Cedar Tree Institute.

Jon Magnuson, the institute’s director as well as a social worker and therapist, helped facilitate the session along with local psychiatrist Kelley Mahar and Mike Grossman, a family physician and hospice medical director in the area.

“One of the things that’s happening in medicine, and actually the world, is people are realizing that everything is connected,” Magnuson said. “Although that’s something some of us kind of sense, have instincts about, actually a lot of our lives, we don’t put that together.”

Magnuson. Jon

For example, he mentioned one recent discovery about pain.

In the brain, the connections for emotional pain are the same electrical circuits that operate for physical pain.

“Who knew?” Magnuson asked. “In other words, when somebody said, ‘Oh, it’s all in your head,’ that’s real.”

So, he believes people can reduce physical pain without pharmaceutical interventions just by dealing with emotions — and the fear and anxieties about the pain.

Yet many physicians, he noted, have yet to integrate this into their practices.

Diet is important too.

“What you eat will affect your body,” Magnuson said.

He acknowledged that might be obvious, particularly when a person consumes alcohol.

“If alcohol can make the way you think change, why do we not think other foods can do that?” Magnuson asked.

Then there’s attitude.

“How we look upon our lives with meaning, the meaning we bring, will determine how physically we feel about things,” he said.

Mahar mentioned the brain connection.

“We used to think that your brain was your brain, and whatever brain you were given was it — develops when you were a kid, and that’s it,” Mahar said. “That’s all you get, and it’s downhill after that.”

That’s not true, she pointed out.

“Our brains are constantly changing, adapting to circumstances, and real estate in our brains that is meant to be used for one thing can actually change and be used for something else if we lose function in part of our brain,” Mahar said.

As people age, they get what she called “paths in the woods” in their brains — things people know how to do and are automatic.

Mahar acknowledged these are important, but learning must go beyond them.

“To learn new things, to feel more vitality, we need to be doing a little bushwhacking through the woods too,” she said. “We need to be creating new paths because that’s when new pathways in your brain light up, and that makes us feel more alive and it helps us to learn new things.

“And that doesn’t have anything to do with age.”

Mahar had participants perform exercises to turn on their “learning switches” and have them pay attention to their movements, thoughts and breathing.

One exercise involved them raising one of their arms, noticing their physical feelings. Then they had to raise their dominant arms and pretend to reach for something, and then repeat the movements, noticing their lower backs in the meantime and whether they’re moving while in neutral.

“You might notice that just by thinking about it or paying attention, it’s starting to move a little bit more than it was,” Mahar said.

Grossman emphasized the importance of exercise in maintaining health.

“By regular exercise, you’re going to be healthier,” he said. “You’re going to feel better and probably live longer. That’s been shown, time and again.”

Nutrition is another component of self-care.

A good diet is high in fruits and vegetables, particularly the whole fruit, he said.

“You get the fiber with it,” Grossman said. “Most vegetables are really good and your plate should be at least half vegetables.”

And self-care is all about keeping consternation at a lower level.

“Stress can lead to illness, so we’re all about reducing stress,” said Grossman, who noted it also leads to memory loss.

Everybody has stress — the perception or threat of danger that requires a change — but what matters is how people deal with it, he said.

Relaxation response could help.

“When you have a relaxation response, the blood pressure drops,” Grossman said. “Your heart rate drops. Your breathing drops. You don’t use as much oxygen.”

Cortisone levels drop as well.

RelaxationResponse.org defines the method as a “physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotion response to stress … and the opposite of the fight or flight response.”

Grossman had participants take part in a little relaxation response through a breathing exercise.

The Horizon Project has a lot of teaching left.

The next two sessions in the Horizon Project are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday and Sept. 6 at the Ishpeming Senior Center, 320 S. Pine St. Participants should call 906-485-5527 to make reservations.

Other three-session segments of the Horizon Project will be at the Forsyth Senior Center, 165 N. Maple St., Gwinn, and the Marquette Senior Center, 300 W. Baraga Ave.

The Forsyth sessions will be Sept. 13, 19 and 27. For reservations, call 906-346-9862. The Marquette sessions will be Nov. 8, 14 and 22. Call 906-228-0456 for reservations.

All sessions are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with lunch included.

Magnuson said he hopes the Horizon Project will be the first phase of a three-year effort across the Upper Peninsula.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.