Senior Viewpoint: Insurmountable Evidence for Exercise Benefits, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

exercise benefits, holistic wellness, U.P. holistic business

The benefits of exercise are now the stuff of tabloids and daytime TV shows. We are inundated with information about health and fitness, some of it fact, some half-truth, and much of it outright lies. Few do the research to learn the true extent of the positives to health, although most know the basics. It’s good for your heart and blood flow. And, indeed, any form of exercise will have some of those benefits.

How many Americans exercise? How many are able to make these changes in their lives and do so for the “long haul”? This is a complex and nuanced question, but an easy answer is not enough. More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Studies agree that only about 23% of Americans exercise in some form with any regularity. Only one in three children are physically active every day. Human muscle tissue needs activity and exercise to be healthy. This is in contrast to the great apes, who are able to maintain fitness without regular activity/exercise. (They’ve done studies; this is not fictional!)

Muscle disuse results in muscle tissue atrophy, which is basically muscle thinning. Muscle atrophy means inevitably, predictably, weakening. Muscle activity comes in many forms but is required for muscle health, with the heart probably being the most important muscle. Aging obviously has a hand in this weakening process, but less than you might think. If you doubt this statement, learn about the famed fitness guru, Jack LaLanne.

One of the most popular and successful methods of exercise is walking. The ability to walk safely depends on a host of factors, some obvious, others not so. The coordinated efforts of many body systems are required, such as the sensory and nervous systems, and cognitive skills. The obvious ones include cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal. Others are classified as “contextual effects’”and include such things as the environment, the lighting, and the support surface upon which the individual treads.

How greatly life changes when we are no longer able to ambulate, to walk, to go for a stroll!

This is a fundamental quality of life issue, and should be valued as such. The aforementioned weakness, the result of disuse, is generally a gradual process, and easy to miss. Unfortunately, infirmity develops progressively. This often results in a reduction of core strength, an essential component of balance and reduced fall risk.

Balance is also known as postural stability, the act of keeping the body upright and vertical. A critical component of this process is core strength, and there is a multitude of ways to improve that. This is an all-around good thing since working your core muscles is beneficial to your overall physical well-being.

A combination of time and disuse can lead to many orthopedic problems. Most older adults suffer from postural changes, such as a forward-leaning posture. This is clearly associated with balance problems, and thus increased fall risk. Several studies have shown good core stability programs can help improve balance and confidence, consequently also reducing the risk of falls. Particularly helpful to fall prevention programs are “posture-challenging exercises,” something to consider when you’re looking to reduce the risk of falls.

There are many things to consider in regards to these efforts, which should be a common concern as we age. Some are easy to alter, such as clearing your hallways of clutter and furniture. Others not so, such as reversing the nerve damage of neuropathy. From joint pain that limits activity to the weakness of malnutrition (a shockingly common problem in the elderly), there is abundant evidence that exercise interventions have the potential to significantly reduce the fall rate, improve cardio-vascular health, and notably enhance quality of life, especially in older adults.

What does the research show about the true benefits of exercise in all its varied forms?

Improvements to health and well-being can occur in surprising ways, some physical and others psychological. The heart is an obvious beneficiary of regular exercise. Exercise helps the heart do a better job of pumping blood throughout the body. Our blood vessels are healthier and better able to respond to an increased demand for oxygen, such as when walking a longer distance.

People who exercise regularly seem to make better nutrition choices. Exercise also helps us maintain a healthy body weight, as well as reduce belly fat. Both appear to lend themselves to a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Exercise lowers blood pressure, since the heart will pump better and more efficiently, decreasing stress on the heart and surrounding arteries. If you have high blood pressure, cardiovascular exercise may help lower it. If you don’t, fitness activities will help you keep it in a healthy range.

Bone strength, critically important in reducing infirmity, requires physical stress, a clear benefit of resistance training. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more bone and becoming denser. It should go without saying that these benefits to bone require good nutrition, especially calcium and Vitamin D. The two types of exercise that are most effective for building strong bones are weight-bearing exercise and strength-training exercise. But these aids to bone health are site-specific. Put another way, walking improves bone strength in the legs, but has no effect on the bones in the wrist.

Adding a variety of exercises, such as running, jogging, gym work, even some recreational activities, can lead to improved brain function and faster mental task performance. Studies have shown better learning abilities, and decreased anxiety and depression, achieved with improved fitness. Certain benefits make sense, but aren’t necessarily obvious, such as an increased feeling of energy. Some of the documented psychological benefits of an exercise program include such possibilities as improved mood, reduced stress, and improved ability to cope with stress. If a person is successful with their regimen, increased self-esteem can be expected also.

The consequences of being sedentary, of sitting too much, are substantial.

Even a short walk, performed regularly at mild-to-moderate intensity, can improve your mood and energy, as well as your heart health. For longer-term benefits, you should exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes per session at moderate intensity. A critical component of physical well-being is core strength, so be certain to include abdominal and back work.

Surprisingly, Medicare now covers the prescribing of an exercise program, typically instituted by a physical or exercise therapist. This tells us the benefits have been proven beyond any doubt. If our government takes it so seriously that they will pay for it, why doesn’t the American public? Why do so many of us eat poorly and get so little activity? As is often the case, there are a plethora of factors at play. But ignorance is no longer an excuse. The truth is out there: get moving and get some exercise. You’ll be getting healthier and smarter.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Inner Nutrition: Discomfort & Cultural Identity, Charli Mills

When I learned that one of the Anishinaabe’s protocol for a Water Walk meant I had to wear a skirt, inwardly I groaned. I grew up out west among ranches, logging camps, and mountains, feeling more comfortable in a flannel shirt than a flowing skirt. However, the walk was not an event; it was a ceremony, and a skirt announced to the earth we walked upon that we People of the Heart were women, the containers of water, the bringers of life.

For this, I would wear a skirt.

Someone gave me a fun thrift-store find, knowing I called my literary community a ranch. It was a Western skirt of many colors with motifs and a narrow lace hem. I planned to wear my walking boots with it and leggings underneath. The night before the walk, I gathered up my clothes for an early morning departure to Copper Harbor from Hancock. To my embarrassment, I realized the motifs were small panels depicting a theme of “Cowboys and Indians.”

No way could I wear this skirt. I called a good friend who was also walking and also white. I told her what I had discovered about my only skirt. She confirmed I couldn’t wear it. Miserable, I ransacked my closet and found a lounger, something like a house dress. Covered with a t-shirt that proclaimed, “The Revolution Has Begun,” our official 2019 Water Walk slogan, and a Women’s March sweatshirt, my PJs passed for a skirt.

I’m writing this column to explore what it is to be white and an anti-racist.

It’s likely the most uncomfortable topic I’ve ever tackled. Can I change the subject? Because discomfort is hard to experience. But here we are, me writing and you reading, all of us willing to sit uncomfortably in the muck of what American cultural identity has become. But as the condensed version of a quote by Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, goes, “no mud, no lotus.”

Let’s talk about my cultural identity since I’m tapping the keys from the hot seat. Then you can think about yours. I’m an American, a fifth-generation Californian who grew up on the Nevada border not far from Lake Tahoe. I could ride a horse before I could walk, and somewhere I have photo-evidence. You might laugh, but Charli is short for Annette. It’s a buckaroo culture thing— nicknames are popular, and my dad gave me mine as a baby. He says Charli was his imaginary friend as a child. He didn’t tell me this until I was fifty-three years old.

My full name at birth was Annette Marie Fernandes. Mills is my married name. I’ve been told all my life, “You don’t look like a Fernandes.” Really? I think I have the nose to prove it. I have my great-grandmother’s nose. According to family legend, I was a “Portagee Red.” It meant I was Portuguese with red hair. Okay, so the hair is unlikely Portuguese. It turns out the nose isn’t either. Great-grandma was Basque and Scots. According to my DNA, I’m Basque, Portuguese, Scots, Irish, Spanish, French, and English with a smattering of Swedish, which is kind of weird because my great-grandfather came from Denmark, not Sweden.

I’m western European. I’m western American. I grew up identifying as Portuguese, eating linguisa for breakfast, and marcella at Christmas. My dad’s family was Catholic, and that’s likely the common denominator among my most recent ancestors. My mom’s mother was half Portuguese and half Danish (until I found out it was Swedish). All my Portuguese ancestors came from the Azores or Brazil, first to Hawaii Territory and then to California.

Why does heritage matter?

I can’t insist that it does because my strongest cultural identity growing up was that I rode horses, pushed cattle on trails, and could braid rawhide leather into horse reins. I wore chinks (Vaquero-style chaps), Wranglers, and satin neck-scarves. I was born a buckaroo (a variation of the word Vaquero, a traditional horse culture that worked the land-grant ranchos and ranches of California and Nevada) and have lived in every western state except Oregon, Colorado, and Wyoming. As a writer, I belong to an organization called Women Writing the West. I write women’s fiction, reclaiming forgotten voices from the fringe and frontiers.

What matters to me are the lost voices of my female ancestors. If I don’t heal my own losses, how can I reach out holistically as an anti-racist? This is a fine line to navigate. Too much self-reflection and I lose the chance to bridge cultural reconciliation; too little and I might unwittingly appropriate a culture not my own. Whether or not you feel called to reclaim your own ancestral roots, an anti-racist must accept the humanity of every person.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, healing my own ancestry is what drew me to my first Water Walk. The Anishinaabe women (kwe) are committed to bringing awareness to water’s importance in our region. Water is life, no matter where any of us come from. The kwe invite all peoples to join them in understanding this sovereignty of water. They call those who accept the invitation, People of the Heart.

Often, the heart needs healing. When we turn to address the history of a nation built on slavery and genocide, it’s enough to diminish any heart. Origins of America as a nation cause the ultimate in discomfort when walking the path of an anti-racist. How can one be proud of cultural identity and reconcile our past? Avoidance is one strategy. That may temporarily protect the heart from pain. Deflection is another. Some people get angry over the subject.

To heal, we must look back to understand our present moment to choose a better future.

Despite the discomfort, it doesn’t last. That moment when I really saw my Western skirt in a different gaze, I felt embarrassed. I sought support. A good friend may help us sit with the uncomfortable emotions and support the right choice. I learned to recognize cultural misuses and found a creative solution that hurt no one. I could still be a buckaroo who helped kwe in a water ceremony that heals us all.

This is not the end of the story. This year, I did not participate in the Water Walk. Part of the reason was COVID-19 and my reluctance to gather. Mostly, it was due to the demands of my thesis at the time. But I still went into solitary sacred space for the weekend, meditating, singing a song to Nibi, and contemplating what it means to be Indigenous. I am not Indigenous to America, but my ancestors were once Indigenous to Western Europe. All my DNA leads back to the tribes of Celts.

Native singer, speaker, and poet Lyla June Johnston’s song “Mamwland” took me home to my earth healers, whose voices I can hear when I hold the earth in my hand. Healing as an anti-racist, I realized, may look a lot like the reclamation of cultural identity—not to create further division, but to understand that we are all humans indigenous to this great round world.

It is important to me to actively seek out where racism yet roots within me. When I sit with the discomfort that can rise from my European cultural identity, I get the chance to give up unnecessary trappings. And I get to wear something new with broader, inclusive meaning.

Charli Mills grew up out west where she once won a rodeo trophy for goat-tying. Now she wrangles words from the Keweenaw as a literary artist, writing about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history. She makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com.

Recommended Listening: Earth Talk: Mindfulness, Healing and Racism: Cultivating Right Relations with Lyla June Johnston, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20dOZaIzF1c

Work Cited: Johnston, Lyla June. “Mamwland.” YouTube. https://youtu.be/TeGLDwfrvb8

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Healthy Cooking: Making Millet & More, Val Wilson

Cooking for the holidays can be a joy or stressful. Here are some tips to keep things upbeat. Use recipes that are simple when making dishes for the holiday. Trying to follow an elaborate recipe can create stress, especially if you spend a lot of time on it unsuccessfully. Prepare some dishes ahead so you’re not overwhelmed on the big holiday. Loafs can be made the night before, or even a couple of days ahead, and refrigerated. Then all you have to do is bake it the day of your holiday dinner.  


Millet is creamy, nutty, slightly sweet, and gluten free, plus the easiest whole grain to digest. Millet has a high amino acid protein profile and iron content. It also contains B vitamins, phosphorus, 15 % protein, and feeds and nurtures your spleen, pancreas, and stomach.  


Tempeh is a complete protein containing all eight essential amino acids, and is 19.5% protein. Made by partially cooking, then fermenting soybeans, tempeh is easy to digest. Soybeans have easily absorbable iron, many B vitamins, and carotin, and support detoxification. Known for promoting vitality, and having anti-cancer properties, soybeans feed and nurture the lung and large intestines.


Kudzu is a thickening agent that is also very medicinal. When purchased, it looks like white chunks. Dissolve the chunks in water before adding them to the hot gravy for thickening. Kudzu helps to alkalize your body, relieve stiff muscles, and may help relieve migraine headaches by dilating blood vessels. The plant arrowroot is also a thickening agent used in cooking. Arrowroot is very soothing to your digestive tract.  


Tempeh Millet Loaf with Onion Gravy 

1 cup millet 
2 cups water 
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 (8oz.) package tempeh 
1/2 onion (diced) 
3 garlic cloves 
1/4 cup walnuts 
3 T. tamari
5 T. tahini 
1 tsp. basil 
1 tsp. marjoram
1/2 tsp. paprika 
1 carrot (grated) 
1/2 cup rolled oats 
2/3 cup water

Put millet in a soup pot with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes until all water has been absorbed and millet is soft. Let sit 5 minutes, then stir in the 1/2 tsp. sea salt. Puree the tempeh, onion, garlic, walnuts, tamari, tahini, basil, marjoram, and paprika until smooth. In a large bowl, mix together the millet, pureed tempeh mixture, grated carrots, rolled oats, and water. Press into an oiled loaf pan, bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting. 

Onion Gravy 

4 cups water 
1/2 onion (diced small) 
1 tsp. sea salt 
3 T. tamari 
4 T. kudzu or arrowroot, dissolved in 1/2 cup water 
1/4 cup minced parsley 

Bring water to a boil in a pot. Add the onions, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sea salt and tamari. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Dissolve the kudzu or arrowroot in the 1/2 cup water and add to the pot, whisking as you add the thickening agent. Gravy will thicken as it continues to cook. Turn off heat once thick, and add the parsley. 

Chef Valerie Wilson, aka Macro Val, has been teaching cooking classes since 1997. She now offers cooking classes you can attend through Zoom. Visit http://www.macroval.com.for class schedule, purchase of any of her five cookbooks, phone consultation appointments, or radio show, Facebook Macro Val Food.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Gifts from Nature: Sprouts!

Crystal Cooper

As we prepare for winter amid these overwhelming times, great opportunity and responsibility exist for maintaining our health and strength. Relying on our abilities and resources has become vital as our societal systems sustain prolonged, multi-faceted stress. One way to move forward with health-focused lifestyle changes is to grow food indoors for whole-being inspiration. Considering combined nutritional value, cost, and required effort and maintenance, one method outshines them all—sprouting! By harnessing the ancient practice of sprouting seeds, we can reap the benefits of eating live food while it’s too cold for plants to grow outside.

Through the sprouting process, water and electricity awaken and enliven stored enzymes, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. Eating sprouts is like eating every part of an entire plant at a very young age. It’s as simple as soaking, draining, rinsing, and storing. Given the convenience of such a power-packed food, sprouting is a historically popular form of ancient agriculture.

The advantages of eating sprouts are vast. Being easily digestible, the bioavailability of sprouts provides a synergy of nutrients with gut flora. This makes them a notable source of energy and protein. The sprouting process also inhibits certain anti-nutrients found in many grains and nuts. Enjoying your crop as raw as possible provides the most benefit, as heat can damage nutrients. It’s also wise to introduce sprouts in small quantities, as some bellies may be sensitive to this live, concentrated food.

In addition to being a superior food, studies have shown that sprouts particularly benefit the brain, heart, lungs, organs, and bones, as well as help with cancer prevention and lowering cholesterol. They also regulate blood sugar and are therefore ideal for those with diabetes and inflammatory issues. You can access these benefits by incorporating sprouts long-term into your diet. Furthermore, not all sprouts are created equal. Specific plants provide particular health advantages. Sproutpeople.org is a great resource for research.

An abundance of information and options exist in the simple world of sprouting.

A cornucopia of seeds can be used, including all edible grains, seeds, and legumes. From a simple mason jar or hemp bag to self-draining, variable ventilation, stacking sprouters, a range of growing mediums are available. Sproutpeople.org is a complete sprouting info and resource website, providing all one needs to know about sprouting while streamlining the process of purchasing quality seeds and growing mediums.

Dry seeds can remain viable for one to five or more years, making them ideal for stocking up and storing. Dormant seeds should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place. You can freeze them for increased shelf life; just be careful to avoid freezer-burn. Since refrigerators are humid, they are not ideal for dry seed storage. However, once the seeds have been sprouted, rinsed, dried completely (towels or a salad spinner are helpful), and stored in air-tight containers, they’ll stay fresh and bacteria-free in your refrigerator for weeks.

With a fresh crop of sprouts, occasions to experiment with flavors, textures, and consistencies are infinite! From spicy to sweet, big fava beans to small sesame seeds, recipes are limited by only your creativity level. They can be added to salads—but not just spinach and lettuce ones. Sprouts spice up anything from tabouli to potato salad. Being the most bio-available and nutrient-dense protein for the cost, sprouts are a sustainable meat alternative. Sandwiches, soup, hummus, salsa, pizza—they can even be dried and ground to make bread flour. Sprouts are a natural, nourishing way to support us when we need it most.

It can be challenging to remain happy and healthy throughout our long U.P. winters. We can grow these fun, teeny kitchen gardens to satisfy our minds and bodies with a living harvest during our darkest months. Making sprouts a regular part of one’s diet can provide extra energy, vitamin C, and weight loss—something many particularly appreciate this season. Plus, these baby plants can delight us with their sweet spark of new life in our indoor winter world.

Crystal Cooper has called Marquette home for over a decade and is passionate about natural healing modalities as well as personal and global sustainability. Crystal advocates resiliency-promoting actions within the community in the face of our changing climate.Crystal.coocooper@gmail.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.