Saturday, July 29, 2006

First Capitol Counseling Connection - By Dr. Howard Rosenthal

Dr. Howard Rosenthal

Power Walking On Main Street

An insightful interview with Louise Cheli first place winner of the 2006 Healthy Woman Award

HR: Louise, congratulations are in order. I understand that you just snared the 2006 Healthy Woman Award conferred via St. Luke’s Hospital. When did you become interested in health and fitness? Were you into sports and exercise as a child?

LC: Thank you Howard. I think I first became interested in health and fitness in about 5th grade. I started keeping a journal as part of a class assignment, and I loved it. I found that it really inspired me to reflect on my own behaviors,inspirations and attitudes. I started to keep a “Health File”. It contained information about health, fitness, nutrition, stress management, the aging process, prayers – essentially, anything that I thought would help me become the best I could be. I loved to play many sports, and to be outdoors in nature, climbing trees or riding my bike or skateboard. I think I was about 16yrs. old when I “officially” saw that my interest was in “Health & Wellness”. It was about this time that I then expanded my “Health File” to include files about: children, marriage, and aging as well. I knew how wonderful it felt to be fit and active and I wanted this for everyone.

HR: Bye the way, I know you grew up in South St. Louis. How did you end up in St. Charles and what is it that you like about our town?

LC: My husband Dave and I both grew up in the Carondelet area of South St. Louis. We decided that we wanted to consider buying a house with some land. Dave’s Mom and Dad had moved to St. Charles from South St. Louis, and Dave’s sister and her husband also lived out here. So we decided to look in St. Charles, and when we found our home with replete with a lot that is nearly an acre. It’s a great fit for us.

I really like our children’s school, the Academy of the Sacred Heart, our church, St. Charles Borromeo, our St. Charles libraries, the parks, Main Street stores – like the new Picasso’s, and the friendliness/thoughtfulness of the people. I like the closeness of the community here. I have met life-long friends here in St. Charles, and I feel blessed.

HR: What are the nuts and bolts of a healthy lifestyle?

LC: I am glad you asked! I am currently working on a “Health and Inspiration Manual” for children and adults. I hope to have the book published within two years –by 2008! The nuts (right away I think of protein!) and bolts of a healthy lifestyle are, in my estimation, can be viewed in light of six main areas: Spiritual, mental, emotional, occupational, social and physical. When I was in college I designed a Wellness model I named the “Balance Ball”, to teach wellness. Without a picture of the “Balance Ball” it is difficult to explain the concept, but I can say it is about wholeness and balance in each of these areas. One must find fulfillment and support for each of these areas to be “balanced and whole.” Let me give you an example. Let’s just look at two areas of a person’s being – spiritual and physical. If a person decides that they feel very spiritually “full/whole” because they pray often and attend Mass, services etc., but do not take care of their physical self by being active, eating healthfully, managing stress in healthy ways, getting enough sleep, tending to safety on the road when driving etc., then, we might say this person was a little out of balance. One must view a person’s “Balance Ball” in light of all six areas/components to get an accurate view of one’s degree of balance. It seems obvious that we, as human beings, have similar needs in the various areas of health I mentioned (spiritual, mental, emotional, occupational, social and physical), but there is much variation, of course. This model is simply a guide to assess where one is currently. Then, it is important to see where one is going – towards illness or high level wellness.

HR: How do you handle the scientific confusion? I mean today it’s fruits and veggies, tomorrow we’re supposed to measure a palm full of food in our hand to get into the Zone, the next day the rage is a caveman diet with enough meat and fat to make an Atkin’s dieter blush and God only knows what diet Oprah will be suggesting next . . . and she will be suggesting one.

LC: I consistently depend on conservative, reliable health organizations like the American Heart Association, the National Dairy Council, the Lung Association, the Diabetes Association, the Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Dietetics Association and many others. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who first coined the term “aerobics”, has a fitness/wellness center/complex in Dallas Texas, and he is another good resource. St. Charles has another great, local resource which is Healthy Communities St. Charles County (a program of Community Vision St. Charles County, Inc.). The website is: I am a skeptic when it comes to new health news. It has to stand the test of time and scrutiny by committed professionals before a claim is to be seen as legitimate.

HR: Do you personally ever cheat when it comes to diet? I must tell the readers that I once . . . yes just once . . . spied you seemingly enjoying . . . dare I say it . . . a slice of fast food pizza!

LC: Pizza is tasty isn’t it! I truly never think of anything I eat as “cheating”. There is room in one’s diet for any food one likes – in reasonable amounts. It is a matter of balancing energy in (food/nutrients/calories) with energy out (calories/energy expended in exercise/activity). I don’t think anything is “forbidden.” It really doesn’t fit a healthy mindset towards food. When I teach children about nutrition, I tell them to erase the words good and bad food from their vocabulary.

I tell them, “There aren’t “good foods & bad foods,” unless we are talking about taste, and then of course there are! Some taste good & others taste bad. These terms can be replaced by more appropriate terms: “more nutritious & less nutritious.” I teach that (excluding allergies to certain foods for certain people) all foods can have a place in our diets.

Food should be enjoyed in moderation in a healthy eating plan. We have to watch our portion sizes too. A serving of meat, for instance, is 3oz. of lean meat, which is about the size of a deck of playing cards! It is a wonderful thing to have the immense variety and nutritional value we enjoy here in the United States. It is our responsibility to use our abundance to benefit our health as a nation, not diminish or damage it! I do believe US citizens are on our way to healthier days!

So, I shall restate your question to allow you to get at the answer you are looking for. Do I ever overdo it? Occasionally, I probably have too much “dairy” in my diet. Translation: I enjoy ice cream. (It is usually low-fat. ☺)

HR: I’ve seen you zoom past me as you power walk down Main Street or Fifth Street on numerous occasions. What is your personal daily exercise workout like?

HR: The YMCA is my favorite place to exercise besides the KATY trail or my neighborhood. I work out at least three times a week at the YMCA. I do at least 30 to 60 minutes of strictly aerobic exercise such as stair-climbing, the treadmill, or riding an exercise bike. I also engage in 20 minutes of weight-lifting for all the major muscle groups. It is a blast! I love to walk (when I have seen you) and thus do it nearly every day.

A lady at the YMCA asked me why I was smiling so much when I was running on the treadmill and I said, “Because it is fun, and I love the challenge of it.” She shook her head and said, “Well, I am not there yet.” I encouraged her and told her it is great she works out at the Y, and to stick with it. She smiled and said she intends to.

HR: How does one achieve emotional well-being?
LC: Let’s have a clear understanding of what emotional well-being is first, before we proceed. According to the psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger co-founder of the well-known Menninger Clinic, emotional health is a matter of degree. We all have in our minds what we consider the ideal emotional maturity and well-being we seek on some level. But because of the many facets of our personalities, we exhibit signs of emotional health and well-being as well as emotional difficulties. Here are some of Menninger’s criteria of an emotionally mature person: Ability to function under difficulty; capacity to change; control over tension and anxiety; capacity to find more satisfaction in giving than in receiving; consideration of other persons; curbing hate and guilt; capacity to love. I would add that an emotionally healthy person is realistic about one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and accepts their own feelings about those traits. An emotionally healthy person is assertive (not abrasive) in communicating their feelings both positive and negative to themselves and others. An emotionally healthy person can accept criticism with the dignity of an adult, not the grief of a child. An emotionally healthy person continually tries to be the best they can be by utilizing their God given talents.

I think one achieves emotional well-being by first going to the bed-rock … the foundation of what is the truth: each person possesses unsurpassable human dignity. John Paul II said, “Nothing surpasses the greatness and dignity of the human person.” If a person knows and believes this to be true, one would naturally cherish oneself and all others. To cherish is to love and hold dear. We are indeed worthy of the best possible care and love. Out of this truth, we become dedicated to caring for ourselves the best we can so we can care for others –the best we can. Respect is grown from this vine of greatness and dignity. By appreciating others, we learn to live in relationship to others with increased openness and better communication which fosters emotional well-being also.

We achieve emotional well-being through perseverance. We maintain emotional well-being through perseverance, and as M. Scott Peck put it in his wonderful book, The Road Less Traveled, “mental health is dedication to reality at all costs.” An emotionally healthy person pays attention to the red flags, or the symptoms which indicate that things are getting out of balance, and takes steps to get things back in balance as readily as possible.

HR: I know you consider yourself a very spiritual person. Tell us about that. How does spirituality fit into the health equation?

LC: To me, spirituality is the very essence of who we are. I think it is the foundation of everything we do. It is life, meaning, growth, change, intensity, relationships. In a word: LOVE. God is LOVE. For me, it all grows from the two great commandments: Love, God and love your neighbor as yourself. That is it. Spirituality demands that whatever state of health we are in, we do the best we can, where we are with what we have. We do the best we can at what? At loving God and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Will we love others if we do not love ourselves? Can we give to others what we do not have? That is where health fits in, to me, in the spirituality equation. There is a responsibility to do one’s best in taking care of oneself because others who are less fortunate may need you to help them in their suffering, struggling and hardship. Taking care of yourself enables you to take good care of others too! Plato said, “The soul by its own excellence ensures that the body be as fit as possible.”

An example may prove helpful. Let’s take a 15 year old who has allowed himself (due to inactivity, poor eating habits and lack of sleep) to become out of shape and out of balance. He may not be able or mentally willing to help an older man next door who would like help in cutting his lawn. Possibly, too, the young man becomes so preoccupied with himself and his own imbalance that he is not conscious of those around him who may need him.

If I were to put this into an equation it might read:

Healthy living (good habits etc.) + Spiritual living (sacraments and loving God and your neighbor) = fully alive/responsible life

HR: You have always looked up to Father Richard Tillman, a trained social worker and the Priest at St. Charles Borromeo. What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your discussions with Father Rich?

LC: I certainly do look up to Father Tillman. That isn’t to say we always agree. The most important thing I have learned and reinforced from discussions with Father is to respect and love all life: human beings and nature. This has helped me become more accepting of people and less judgmental.

HR: Some studies indicate that fitness in kids is at an all-time low. Should we force them to get involved in organized sports? And if I’m not being too personal: Have you ever forced your children to play soccer, baseball or whatever?

LC: No, a parent shouldn’t force a child to become involved unless the child has an interest in participating. Encouraging/expecting and requiring a certain amount of outdoor activity/exercise is reasonable however. No, we have never forced our children to play a sport or participate in something they didn’t show an interest in. It would seem to be an unhealthy thing to do!

HR: Your husband Dave is an accomplished businessman and a consummate musician. Does music play a part in one’s quest for total health?

LC: What a great question Howard! Yes! Music comes into the equation by being a source of spiritual, mental, emotional, social, physical and possibly even occupational health. Think about this: Music is a universal language…like a smile. People can relate and connect even if we are from different cultures…or different centuries! Bach once commented that music’s gift to our health is that it can wipe away the dust of everyday living.

Music is one of the best ways to handle stress! Like prayer and exercise, music can transport you to a beautiful place to give you a respite from your troubles. It is a healthy way to cope! Playing an instrument involves one’s whole self (spirit, mind and body) and thus enriches one’s whole self. We have no idea how deeply music can affect our spirits, our minds and our bodies. Norman Cousins unearthed the wisdom of laughter and its positive effect on our immune system. I believe music’s power is similar. It heals and lifts us up. Of course, some types of music can have the opposite effect as well. One must be selective. Another aspect of music which is so powerful is its ability to free us from being too complacent at times. It touches us deeply.

HR: Are there any final gems of wisdom you’d like to cast at our readers?

LC: I don’t know if this is a “gem of wisdom”, but I would like to cast this line into the waters:

Try waking up THANKFUL each and every day. Before your feet touch the ground from your bed, try saying a prayer of gratitude for LIFE and LOVE, and FOR THOSE MOST IN NEED.

Thank you, Howard, for your thoughtful questions, and the time you took to interview me.

Dr. Howard Rosenthal is professor and program coordinator of Human Services at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley and a multi-book author. His book Therapy’s Best: Practical Advice and Gems of Wisdom from Twenty Accomplished Counselors and Therapists (Haworth Publishing) will be released this summer. His website is Copyright 2006. Dr. Howard Rosenthal