by Matthew Ellis   |   comments

Ignorance is Bliss 

I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for ice cream and in the summer I occasionally like to walk the four blocks to Steak 'n Shake to have the signature meal: a hamburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. I always knew this was not exactly a healthy meal, but the hamburgers are reasonable and I don't overload on fries. Not bad every once in a while, right? I had purposely avoided nutritional information about that incredible, rich, creamy chocolate shake and for good reason. One day, my wife mentioned that she heard a large chocolate shake there was almost 1000 calories. Could this be true? The chocolate shake actually comes in at 900 calories and my other favorite, the Butterfinger shake comes in at... (yikes) 1100 calories

Knowledge is Power

I haven't had a Butterfinger shake since. One overlooked component of the new health care reform regulations is that all restaurants with more than twenty locations will soon be required to post calorie information right there on the menu.  No longer will we be able to pretend that we're making healthy choices when we're not. That 1100 calorie shake will be staring you right in the face. Will I still order it occasionally? Probably, but I'll do so knowing the consequences. I'll be inclined to work out a little longer or make 'extra-healthy' choices the rest of the week. 

Shine a Light

Another effect of posting calorie amounts directly on the menu is that restaurants will either have to be clear about the calorie contents of their foods or change their content to be a little healthier. Starbucks recently switched from whole milk to 2% in many beverages, largely due to NY regulations requiring posted calorie content in restaurants. Burger King has for years heavily advertised with pride their huge, calorie-rich meals. They have now recently introduced a low-calorie meal plan. Dunkin' Donuts now features an egg white veggie flatbread

Personal Responsibility

Of course, while these regulations will encourage restaurants to modify their menus to be a little healthier, we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make. One of the most frustrating aspects of our current situation is the 'better' choice is not always clear. Sometimes a salad is not the healthiest option on a menu. The choice is rarely between an apple and a double cheeseburger with extra bacon. It's more often a choice between two items that seem similar but often have significant differences in calories and other nutritional content. Without access to basic information, the choices seem arbitrary and can sabotage our best efforts to choose a healthier lifestyle. 

in the future, when we give thanks for the hands that prepared our food, we will be a little more informed about what they have actually prepared for us. Millions of people making better choices from improved menus could have a dramatic impact on our nation's health over time. I'm looking forward to these new menus!

Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM).

by Phyllis Strupp   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/the-good-news-about-the-brain">The Good News about the Brain </a></h1>

The 15th Annual Brain Awareness Week is March 15-21, 2010. This global event is designed to educate and excite people of all ages about the brain and brain research. For more info:

So what's the big deal—why get excited about your brain?

Recent findings in neuroscientific research have uncovered some unexpected good news: your brain is designed to improve with age like a bottle of fine wine.

Your 3-lb. brain has 100 billion neurons 2with trillions of synaptic connections that are custom-blended in a unique way just for you. As with fingerprints and DNA, every human brain is unique, yet all brains contain the same basic structures.

During midlife, the brain deliberately trades off efficiency and speed of output to favor increasing integration of all the various parts tends to generate wisdom, befitting to the role of tribal elder. Recall of names and other facts may slow down, but that is a small price to pay for wisdom, at least as far as your brain is concerned.

So if the brain is supposed to get better with age, why do Alzheimer's and other cognitive diseases plague so many Americans?

No one knows what causes Alzheimer's. The peculiar plaques and tangles associated with the disease may well be a symptom rather than a cause.

However, two major findings from Alzheimer's research provide some helpful insights:

  1. As with many other major diseases, Alzheimer's is associated with inflammation.
  2. Alzheimer's is classified as a psychosocial disease (connected to emotional conflicts arising from individual impulses and the social environment).

Additionally, there is no reason to live in fear of Alzheimer’s. Here’s some more good news—a healthy brain can tolerate Alzheimer’s with little or no functional or behavioral symptoms!

So what does it take to have a healthy brain as you get older?

Everything the brain does is through electrochemical conversations between neurons that occur at synaptic connections. Growing new synaptic connections is the name of the game in brain health.

More good news: your brain is ready, willing and able to keep growing new synaptic connections as you get older!

Your job is to be a good partner by giving your brain what it needs to keep growing new synaptic connections:

  1. Nutrition: omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants from a well-balanced diet that is low in omega-6 fat. Be careful in substituting supplements for foods.
  2. Exercise: anxiety kills neurons. Physical exercise is the only known defense that protects neurons from anxiety at the cellular level—plus it provides the oxygen your brain needs to grow.
  3. Sleep: many important brain housekeeping tasks (including memory consolidation and building new connections) occur at night. It’s your job to make sure you get a good night’s sleep. If your brain wakes you up at night, chances are the culprit is anxiety or a stimulating substance such as caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, or protein.
  4. Novelty: the brain needs NEW experiences, ideas, activities, skills, tasks, and people to keep growing new connections. Crossword puzzles and sudoku are not nearly enough work for 100 billion neurons. Lifestyle ruts that get too deep encourage your brain to be lazy. Your neurons will do the work you give them to do—use them or lose them!
  5. Social interaction: too much or too little social interaction jeopardizes brain health. Human relationships are perhaps the most potent force in brain health, literally sculpting the brain’s tissue for better or for worse.
  6. Transcendence: maintaining perspective and rising above the emotional ups and downs of daily life requires a connection to something bigger than you. Stay focused on the sources of meaning and purpose in your life and the larger story of your life.

Here’s even more good news: several traditional spiritual practices have been scientifically validated as beneficial to wellness and brain health. The greatest benefits accrue from studying scripture, prayer (including meditation), journaling, and keeping the Sabbath. Music and singing have also proven to be highly beneficial to brain chemistry and function. And all these brain-boosting activities are FREE!

Hopefully all this good news has inspired you to celebrate Brain Awareness Week and give thanks to God for your amazing brain!

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14 NIV)

Phyllis Strupp, MBA, Brain Wealth Coach, motivational speaker and author brings a results-oriented approach to the business of growing the brain and improving memory. She graduated from the Brain Research in Education Certificate Program of the University of Washington-Seattle. She is a member of the CREDO Wellness Program finance faculty, and is the author of the award-winning book "The Richest of Fare: Seeking Spiritual Security in the Sonoran Desert." Her educational background includes an MBA in Finance from Columbia University. Visit her website at:

by Revd Paul Holley   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/anglican-health-network">Anglican Health Network</a></h1>

I am grateful to Matthew Ellis for inviting me to write something about the Anglican Health Network (AHN). This is a new initiative that seeks to strengthen and renew health and healing activities in the Anglican Church throughout the world. NEHM is an important and supportive partner in AHN. Matthew and I are keen to invite parishes to share their experience of health ministry and to reflect together on the impact of community programs, pastoral care and prayer not just in the US, but in the wider world.

As I write I am taking part in the conference of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network. Anglicans have gathered from around the world in my home city of Geneva. It is a wonderful reminder of the energy and creative stimulus of gathering with fellow Anglicans from very different traditions and experiences. This at a time when the bonds of communion within our Church seem so weak.

When politics are put to one side we find that we have much in common and much to learn. As I have talked with fellow Anglicans from a whole range of settings I have found health to be high on the agenda. Our colleagues feel called to extend their work. The assumption that health care should be offered only by government services or profitable businesses is no longer justified. Anglican health facilities in Africa, Asia and the Americas have recognized unique opportunities in their work, believing that they add value not found in either of these other sectors.

I looking forward to sharing more in future blogs, but at this stage I am glad to introduce this initiative to you. For further information, check out our website:

Rev. Paul Holley is the coordinator for the Anglican Health Network.

by Rev. Joanna J. Seibert M.D.   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/psalm-1">Psalm 1</a></h1>

Psalm 1
“On his law, they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
Which yield their fruit in its season,
And their leaves do not wither.”

The dreaded call comes late at night. “Your grandfather is in a coma. We think he had a stroke.” In the morning I board the first plane back to my hometown of Tidewater, Virginia to visit him.

Thoughts flood my mind on the long plane ride. My grandfather was the most significant person in my growing up years. I spent every Sunday afternoon and evening with him and my grandmother. We ate the same Sunday dinner: fried chicken, green beans, potato salad, and Mabel’s (my grandparents’ cook) homemade pound cake. After dinner I would sit on his knee as he read me the funny papers. We all then took a short nap. I can still see him and my grandmother lying together on the small couch in their dining room/den. Then we would go to the country to his farm, walking the length of his property by the river as he told me stories about his growing-up days. Sometimes we would visit his nearby relatives and the cemetery where my grandmother’s parents are buried. Then we’d walk to his townhouse for Sunday night church, 7-up floats, and the Ed Sullivan show. I would spend the night in their big guest room bed and then walk to school the next day.

My grandfather is a symbol of unconditional love, always there for me, supporting and loving me in good times and bad. I did not spend much time with him after I left my hometown and went away to college and medical school. He, however, never forgot me and sent me letters every week on his 30-year-old typewriter with intermittent keys that barely print. Every other sentence ended with etc, etc, etc. Each letter was filled with stories of his experiences away from home in World War I and words of love and encouragement. Always enclosed was a dollar bill. When he suffered this stroke twenty years later, I am devastated. I cannot bear to lose the love which I knew he showed to me no matter what I had done.

I walk into my grandfather’s hospital room for the first time. There is an immediate look of astonishment on his face. I believe he knows me even though he never again shows any sign of recognition. As I sit by his bed and listen to his labored breathing, I feel helpless. What can I do? All my years of medical practice do not give me answers. I remember his faith tradition and honor it by reading the Psalms aloud, beginning with this first Psalm. I am embarrassed when personnel come into the room, but an inner voice says this is what my grandfather wants to hear. I am calmed. This is what I would want at my deathbed-- to hear the Psalms read by someone who loves me.

My grandfather’s illness and death become a major turning point in my life. This is the beginning of my journey in earnest seeking to find a connection with a power greater than myself. I desperately want to believe that somehow I will stay connected to my grandfather, and my tradition tells me this might be possible through a belief in a God. I cannot bear the thought of never again knowing the love I received from my grandfather. I want to return to my tradition and begin a new spiritual journey. My grandfather’s unconditional love leads me back to the unconditional love of a God. We now begin this journey reading the Psalms together. We will be “trees planted together by streams of water,” hoping to bear fruit in our season.

What do these Psalms mean to you? For me they are readings that I can turn to when I need to give or receive comfort. When I read this first Psalm, I return to my grandfather’s hospital room reading this passage to him. I feel his love, even in his unconscious state, as I read to him words he loved and shared with me in his daily living.

Remember today someone who first showed you a glimpse of the unconditional love that you long to receive from your God. If they are alive, call or write and thank them. If they are dead, give thanks for them.

-From The Call of the Psalms: A Spiritual Companion for Busy People.

Dr. Seibert is a pediatric radiologist at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences who has been an ordained deacon in the Diocese of Arkansas for nine years. She is a facilitator for the Community of Hope, Walking the Mourner’s Path and Trinity’s health ministry. She is also on the board of the National Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. You can find about more Dr. Seibert and her books at

by Matthew Ellis   |   comments
<h1><a href="/blog/a-good-nights-sleep">A Good Night's Sleep</a></h1>

Everyone's tired. In our culture, it's practically a badge of honor to brag about how little sleep you get on a routine basis, as if admitting you need sleep makes you somehow weaker than those who put that 'wasted' time to better use. I never felt rested, but I just thought that was normal. I was really, really wrong.

The Sleep Study

My wife had grown tired of trying to moderate my snoring by kicking me until I turned to my side. When even that no longer worked, she insisted I mention it to my doctor the next time I saw him. So I did. My doctor frowned, then asked if I was tired, daydreamed a lot, had trouble concentrating. Yes, yes, and yes. I expected him to tell me to go to bed earlier. He said I should have a sleep study.

The room for the sleep study was very comfortable, more like a hotel room than a hospital. I was able to watch television until they began hooking me up to the wires. This was no small thing, as the photo here illustrates and it took forever to get me all hooked up. How would I ever sleep in this gear?

Somehow, I did sleep... sort of. I felt like I had a good night's sleep and expected to hear that all was well. Instead, I heard that I had some pretty significant sleep apnea problems and I'd be coming back to be fitted for a CPAP machine.

A New Life!

Once I received my CPAP machine, it only took one night to notice a profound difference. It was as if I had been walking in a fog which had suddenly dissipated. I was able to think more clearly and to stay focused. I had so much more energy and felt truly awake for the first time in months, maybe even years. I couldn't imagine a night of sleep could make such a huge difference in the way I felt and interacted with others.

Now I tell everyone: If you're not feeling rested, be sure you are getting enough sleep. If you are getting 8 hours or so and still don't feel refreshed, talk to your doctor. Lack of proper sleep has been linked to gains in abdominal fat and depression, among other health problems.

The good news is nearly all sleep problems can now be addressed with the help of medical professionals. Don't let a lack of sleep prevent you from being fully present in your life. Denying yourself a good night's sleep is probably hurting you more than you'll ever know.


Matthew Ellis serves as executive director of National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM).

tags Sleep