Be Well, Marsha 12/22/15

New year, new you

By Marsha Bonhart

Here we are, as we find ourselves each December, looking to a new year for refreshing possibilities. If you notice, I am reserved as I write about what can come with a new year.  Embracing refreshed possibilities is a lot easier to grasp than promises of totally revamping your lifestyle with new, profound resolutions. Let’s take it easy, one gradual step at a time. But here are some items we need to discuss and take into serious consideration for 2016 and beyond.

Jagger sang it, “What a drag it is getting old,” and it’s the truth! Your mind and body don’t match each other. What you think you can do and what you actually can do are pretty much light-years from reality. Just take exception to not taking care of yourself as best you can.

As I peruse articles to glean information for you each week, I find more writings about the middle years and how to handle common health complaints. AARP supplied me this time with articles about people who learned to take their health into their own hands, refusing to go into the New Year with the same issues.

Marnita Wiggins Nichols weighed more than 300 pounds and the weight was adding up. It took a routine work-related medical check up that let her know her blood pressure was at stroke level. When she left her doctor, she had medication to lower her blood pressure and an order to lose weight. “It was so hard to accept that I had let my body get that out of control,” she said in an interview with AARP.

So Nichols began her own weight loss journey. First on her list was soda. She stopped the daily multiple drinks and traded them for five 16-ounce bottles of water each day. She noticed weekly weight loss right away. Sautéing in olive oil was the replacement for batter when she fried her foods. Then she added more fruits and vegetables and brought her breakfast to work every day. Now, she brown bags her lunch and has eliminated red meat.

“I’ll have it [meat] when we go out to eat, but that’s no more than twice a month.”

An old exercise bike helped her with an initial exercise routine. A year later, she transitioned to a more intense work out with strength training and walking five times a week. What that has all this meant to Nichols? Now at age 53, she has lost 170 pounds, has her blood pressure under control and wears a size eight, but keeps a pair of her size 26 jeans as a reminder.

When we think of the merry-go-round of diseases that plagues us, heart disease, cancer and diabetes are at the forefront, but more than 100 million Americans, a greater number than the other disorders, suffer from chronic nerve pain.

Stephen Parsons is one of them. His suffering is an aftermath from a bout with shingles, an intensely painful skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same bug that causes chicken pox. The ailment usually goes away in a few weeks, but not so for Parsons. He developed postherpetic neuralgia, which causes constant nerve pain. The 66-year-old says his suffering can range from a 3 or 4 on the pain scale to a 7 to 9.

“Taking so many narcotics scared me,” Parsons says after his doctor prescribed multiple medications. Instead, he opted to try basic meditation techniques and found a Buddhist organization to help. “While Buddhism is a religion, it’s also a philosophy and many people who practice mindfulness meditation are not Buddhists,” he says.

What he learned has been so effective in managing pain and stress, that hospitals, corporations and the U. S. military have widely adopted his practices. The pain didn’t disappear overnight but now he does take a low dose of medications. The mindfulness, he says, has taught him to live in the moment and not worry about how much pain he will be in the next hour or the next day.

“In some cases, it does go away, so I am hopeful, but between the medication and the meditation, I know how to make myself more comfortable.”

Back pain is the number one complaint that is responsible for employee sick calls. To fix it, therapists will tell you to stay active. Acupuncture, massage and physical therapy can help. It did for me—four months, three times a week really got results, but nothing beat the special heating pad. I made one at home by wetting a towel, heating it in a microwave, wrapping the heated towel in plastic and placing it on my back with my face down. Heaven.

Pain anywhere, caused by whatever, is tough going. At 76, Jinglan Liu was letting an osteoarthritis diagnosis get the better of her and she allowed the disorder to limit her activities. Movement in her shoulder was difficult and it meant she couldn’t even carry her own groceries. Her knees were so stiff a walker was prescribed. Then her life changed when a chair exercise program opened at a local community center and Liu joined. The instructors used the elastic TheraBand to improve range of motion and when a local hospital set up yoga classes to improve bone health, she signed up for that as well.

Instructors help her and other students in and out of poses. Adjusting for pain, “I can now do the bridge pose,” she brags, describing the advanced position that boosts spine mobility. She now exercises daily with her husband and has rediscovered the joy of living without being fearful of her literal next move. Exercise, she says, is her medicine.

AARP tells us that walking, biking and mat exercises help ease pain and improve function. Avoid high impact exercises.

Happy New Year!

Be well,


Marsha Bonhart is an assistant vice president of public relations and programs at Wilberforce University, the nation’s first private, historically black college. Reach her at

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