Get Started
Get Started

The “First Thanksgiving” was in 1621 between the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag tribe in present day Massachusetts to celebrate be grateful for the harvest and other blessings of the previous year. In 1789, President George Washington, at the request of Congress, proclaimed Thursday, November 26, as a day of national thanksgiving. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the national holiday of Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday of November.

Americans and Canadians continue to celebrate this holiday as a time for family and friends to gather, feast, and reflect upon their many blessings. Like most, I am very grateful for the simple things; family, good friends, food, shelter, and health. This year, I am also thankful for the dedicated scientists who developed the COVID 19 vaccination so we can safely enjoy Thanksgiving with our families. It turns out that being grateful is, not only reflective and cleansing; it is also good for your health!

Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when it is not reciprocated. A study by the University of Kentucky found those ranking higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when others were less kind. Emmons and McCullough conducted one of the most detailed studies on thankfulness. They monitored the happiness of a group of people after they performed the following exercise:

There are many things in our lives, both large and small, that we might be grateful about. Think back over the past week and write down on the lines below up to five things in your life that you are grateful or thankful for.” The study showed that people who are encouraged to think of things they’re grateful for are approximately 10% happier than those who are not.

7 Proven Health Benefits of Being Grateful

  1. Being Grateful is Contagious!
    • Studies show that something as simple as saying “thank you” to a stranger holding a door open for you or sending a co-worker a thank you note for helping you with a project makes them more likely to continue the relationship. Showing gratitude can improve your life by fostering solid friendships.
  2. Being Grateful Improves Physical Health
    • Research has found that those who are grateful experience fewer aches and pains and tend to report that they feel healthier than most people. Moreover, grateful people are more likely to be health conscious and live healthier lifestyles.
  3. Being Grateful Improves Psychological Health
    • Multiple studies have demonstrated that gratitude reduces many negative emotions. Grateful people have less anger, envy, resentment, frustration or regret. Gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
  4. Being Grateful Fosters Empathy and Reduces Aggression
    • Participants in a study by the University of Kentucky found that those who scored higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others and were more sensitive and empathetic when compared to low gratitude scorers.
  5. Being Grateful Promotes Better Sleep
    • A study published in Applied Psychology, found that 15 minutes of writing down a gratitude list before bed led to better and longer sleep.
  6. Being Grateful Improves Self-Esteem
    • When studying athletes, it was determined that those who scored high on gratitude scales demonstrated improved self-esteem which led to optimal performance. Conversely, those athletes who were not grateful and resented contemporaries making more money, for example, had lower self-esteem and negative performance outcomes.
  7. Being Grateful Improves Mental Strength
    • Research has repeatedly shown that gratitude not only reduces stress, but also improves one’s ability to overcome trauma. For example, Vietnam veterans who scored higher on gratitude scales experienced lower incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder. Recognizing all you have to be thankful for, even during the worst times of your life, fosters resilience.


Amy Morin, psychotherapist, mental health trainer and bestselling author offers this advice: “Developing an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life. We all have the ability and opportunity to cultivate gratitude. Simply take a few moments to focus on all that you have, rather than complain about all the things you think you deserve.” So…be grateful and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Source: NIH, Forbes, Amy Morin “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.”

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

 Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in "The Sunday Times" - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our exercise forum!

Part I of II

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults 18 and older had an anxiety disorder in the past year. Anxiety disorders were higher for females (23.4%) than for males (14.3%). An estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.

There are a wide variety of anxiety disorders and will vary by the objects or situations that induce them. However, the features of excessive anxiety and related behavioral disturbances are similar. Anxiety disorders can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships. Symptoms include: distress, nausea, shortness of breath, bowel pattern changes, excessive perspiration, frequent laughing or crying, restlessness, and is often associated with depression. While there are many types and degrees of anxiety and there is no substitute for medical and psychological care, there are some simple and basic tools to help manage the problem…daily exercise is one easy, affordable and accessible suggestion for most. 

Multiple studies have discussed the incidence of unhealthy self management of anxiety, including the use of alcohol and recreational drugs. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) recommends the following healthy tips for coping with anxiety:

Healthy Coping Tips

1. Get Enough Sleep 
Adequate sleep is critical for mental health. Unfortunately, anxiety can lead to sleeping problems and, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) inadequate sleep can worsen anxiety.

Seven to nine hours of sleep each night is recommended for most adults. The National Sleep Foundation recommends maintaining a regular schedule that includes going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning.

2. Practice Mindfulness Meditation 
Incorporating meditation into your life can help you cope with anxiety, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

Research shows mindfulness meditation programs are effective in reducing anxiety and depression. UPMC offers a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course and a Beginners Guide to Meditation that have been proven to be very effective. Another option for reduction of anxiety and stress is Progressive Muscle Relaxation. This mind-body technique can be found in 5, 10, 15 or 20 minute videos.

3. Spend Time in Nature 
How you deal with anxiety should include a walk in the forest or even a tree-lined park. In NEPA we are very fortunate to have access to beautiful walking and biking trails and state parks. Make time to enjoy them.

Research shows that “forest bathing,” long, slow walks in nature for health purposes, can lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety. A review of clinical trials published in the International Journal of Biometeorology found that salivary cortisol levels, biomarkers for stress, were significantly lower in groups who participated in forest bathing versus the control group.

4. Take up Yoga or Tai Chi 
Yoga does more than increase your flexibility. It incorporates exercise, deep breathing, and meditation. Yoga is an all-in-one anti-anxiety activity, as shown in a review of body-centered interventions published in Frontiers in Psychology. Tai chi, a mix of meditation and martial arts, works much the same way.

5. Dance Therapy 
That same research found that dance therapy, also known as movement therapy, reduces anxiety by engaging the body’s nervous system, which regulates how the body reacts to stress. In addition, dance/movement therapy increases production of serotonin, a chemical produced by the cells that’s responsible for mood.

6. Breathe Through It 
When you begin to feel anxiety or a panic attack with symptoms such as: sweating, trembling, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and nausea, start to come on, “take a deep breath.” Research shows that slow deep breaths can calm you down and lower your heart rate while quick, shallow breaths  can induce or worsen anxiety.

One breathing technique shown to reduce anxiety is diaphragmatic breathing. Using your diaphragm for deep breathing requires you to fill your lungs to capacity.

Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach rises. Then, tighten the stomach muscles and exhale slowly through pursed lips. Repeat several times.

7. Limit Caffeine and Alcohol 
Too much caffeine restricts blood vessels, which can increase blood pressure and contribute to anxiety. Coping with anxiety also doesn’t mean masking it with alcohol. Studies show that there is a complex relationship between alcohol and anxiety. While some may use alcohol and recreational drugs to mask the symptoms of anxiety (often leading to substance abuse disorder), some studies show that alcohol can interfere with the neurotransmitters that manage anxiety and prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Drinking to cope creates a sort of feedback loop, which makes the anxiety worse and can lead to alcohol dependence.

8. Check Your Medicine 
Certain medicines, such as corticosteroids, asthma drugs, and others, can cause anxiety. Ask your doctor if any medicines you take may be a contributing factor.

9. Eat Healthy Foods 
Keeping the body nourished is essential for all functions of life. New research shows that a healthy diet may affect more than just weight and energy levels. One example is a Mediterranean Diet, with lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil and a moderate amount of fish (especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids), with limited use of red meat.

10. Keep a Journal 
Keeping a journal can be a great way to keep track of your progress with anxiety and how your body responds to such situations. Tracing the triggers of anxiety can help you develop the skills to properly respond when put in anxious conditions.

11. Exercise Regularly 
Exercise promotes the release of endorphins. These brain chemicals reduce the body’s reaction to pain and stress. They also produce a feeling of euphoria, or happiness, that’s comparable to morphine. Just five minutes of aerobic exercise can kick start these anti-anxiety effects, according to some studies.  Next week in “Health & Exercise Forum” specific details about exercise for anxiety will be presented.

Talk to a Mental Health Professional

Chronic anxiety also can point to an underlying mental health issue. When your anxiety causes extreme distress or interrupts your ability to function on a daily basis, or when panic attacks are frequent and debilitating, it’s important to talk to your physician and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. They can provide a treatment plan, which may include specialized anti-anxiety medicine, psychotherapy, or both.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

SOURCES: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC); National Institutes of Health (NIH);

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” Next week: Coping with Anxiety Part II This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. For all of Dr. Paul's articles, check out our exercise forum!

Summer heat and humidity are here and the risk of heat related illnesses are particularly high for those over 65, especially dehydration. Age, diet, illness and medications are some of the many reasons why elders suffer from dehydration not only in the summer heat, but year round. Furthermore, age related changes in 50-60 year olds can also make one vulnerable to dehydration if they are active and exercise in the heat. Not long ago, a local medical professional and good friend of mine was hospitalized for several days due to dehydration and associated illness. He is an active, fit, healthy 59 year old who continued his daily running for exercise during the June/July heat wave.

It is often forgotten that, next to oxygen, water is the nutrient most needed for life. A person can live without food for a month, but most can survive only three to four days without water. Even though proper hydration is essential for health, water gets overlooked as one of the six basic nutrients. Dehydration occurs when the amount of water taken into the body is less than the amount that is being lost. Dehydration can happen very rapidly (i.e. in less than eight hours); the consequences can be life threatening and the symptoms can be alarmingly swift.

In the body, water is needed to regulate body temperature, carry nutrients, remove toxins and waste materials, and provide the medium in which all cellular chemical reactions take place. Fluid balance is vital for body functions. A significant decrease in the total amount of body fluids leads to dehydration. Fluids can be lost through the urine, skin, or lungs. Along with fluids, essential electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are also perilously depleted in a dehydrated individual.

Dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte disorder of frail elders, both in long term care facilities and in the community! Elders aged 85 to 99 years are six times more likely to be hospitalized for dehydration than those aged 65 to 69 years. More than 18% of those hospitalized for dehydration will die within 30 days, and associated mortality increases with age. Men appear to dehydrate more often than women and dehydration is often masked by other conditions.

Elderly individuals are at heightened risk for dehydration for several reasons. Compared to younger individuals, their regulatory system (i.e. kidneys and hormones) does not work as well and their bodies have lower water contents. The elderly often have a depressed thirst drive due to a decrease in a particular hormone. They do not feel thirsty when they are dehydrated. This is especially true in hot, humid weather, when they have a fever, are taking medications, or have vomiting or diarrhea. They have decreased taste, smell, and appetite which contribute to the muted perception of thirst. Because of dementia, depression, visual deficits, or motor impairments, elderly persons may have difficulty getting fluids for themselves. Many elderly individuals limit their fluid intake in the belief that they will prevent incontinence and decrease the number of trips to the bathroom. The medications that they are taking (e.g. diuretics, laxatives, hypnotics) contribute to dehydration. 

Elders may suffer headaches, fainting, disorientation, nausea, a seizure, a stroke, or a heart attack as a result of dehydration. The minimum daily requirement to avoid dehydration is between 1,500 (6.34 cups) and 2,000 ml of fluid intake per day. Six to eight good-sized glasses of water a day should provide this amount. Better hydration improves well-being and medications work more effectively when an individual is properly hydrated. Those who care for the elderly whether at home or in a health care facility need to be alert to the following symptoms (but these symptoms apply to both young and old):

Plain old tap water is a good way to replenish fluid loss. Some energy drinks not only have excess and unneeded calories but also contain sugar that slows down the rate at which water can be absorbed form the stomach. Consuming alcoholic and caffeinated beverages actually has an opposite, diuretic effect!

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

 Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

Contibutor: Janet M. Caputo, DPT, OCS

NEXT MONDAY! – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” Next week: Part II - Dehydration Prevention”

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, check out our exercise forum!

The sunny warm weather is conducive to outdoor sports and activities. Countless adults and more especially students out of school for the summer are participating in tennis, soccer, cross country running, gymnastics, and other sports. These student athletes and others who engage in recreational sports and exercise can be vulnerable to excessive training for all the right and wrong reasons. Parents, family members, coaches, teachers, athletic trainers, friends and health providers must be aware of potential for exercise abuse…as part of the “fitspiration” movement.

It takes only a cursory glance through social media to become aware of the “fitspiration” movement. This catchy term may accompany posts of workout videos, pictures depicting physical activity, or pictures of individuals showing off the muscular bodies they obtained through dedication to rigorous exercise regimens. In a sense, exercise and fitness have become trendy in our society, with more strenuous exercise routines being perceived as more impressive. Cars boast bumper stickers with numbers such as “13.1,” “26.2,” or even “50,” referring to the distances so proudly conquered by runners. When we hear a friend has decided to commit to a rigid training schedule to complete a marathon, we are often in awe of their self-control and motivation, wishing we were that dedicated. But can exercise be a bad thing? The answer is complicated. Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our health. I have heard physicians say that if all the benefits of exercise could be bottled up into a pill; pharmaceutical companies would be fighting for the chance to sell it. However, it can get complicated when one’s reasons for exercising stem from a potentially destructive place, rather than a pursuit of health.

Exercise Bulimia/Anorexia Nervosa

Exercise bulimia is a term used to refer to the excessive use of exercise to burn calories or try to keep a low body weight. It is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself, but the notion of using exercise to make up for excessive calorie consumption or maintain an unhealthily low body weight can occur in both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Moreover, when excessive exercise occurs in combination with a significantly low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, a disturbed body image, undue influence of body shape on self-worth, or a failure to recognize the seriousness of the condition, an individual would meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa can cause serious complications in all body systems. Some examples include disrupted functioning of the heart, reduced lung capacity, hormonal imbalance, amenorrhea, (loss of the menstrual period in women), changes in brain structure, and in severe cases, difficulty with memory. The hormonal changes associated with amenorrhea, especially when coupled with extreme exercise, can lead to reduced bone density and can put women at high risk of stress fractures. Stress fractures are breaks in the bone that occur from overuse through large amounts of exercise rather than the traumatic bone breaks we typically think of where an obvious event results in a broken bone.

Warning Signs

Because exercise bulimia can be a part of an eating disorder with potentially life-threatening consequences, it is important to be aware of the warning signs that someone’s exercise routine might be part of an eating disorder. Signs of exercise bulimia may include:

Not Clear Cut

While the definition of exercise bulimia implies a voluntary engagement in excessive exercise for weight loss, my experience from being on female track and cross country teams in high school and college has shown me that anorexia nervosa does not always fit the mental picture we may have of someone who refuses to eat at all or even of exercise bulimia where an individual compulsively engages in excessive exercise. During cross country, the mileage we ran likely would have been considered excessive by the average person. Our team often trained 7 days a week with run-length ranging from 5-12 miles. Most runs were at least 7 miles, and some of my teammates had long runs in excess of 12 miles. The men on our team ran even farther. In hindsight, one of my teammates may have met the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. Her weight was significantly below normal, she feared weight gain, did not eat sufficient calories to replenish what she burned on runs, and despite knowing she was thin, did not fully recognize the potential health consequences due to her low weight. However, it was not a clear cut problem. She was not an obvious candidate for an eating disorder because she was not pursuing the excessive exercise; she was simply following her coach’s training plan. If she did not exercise to the extent she did, the amount of food she ate would have been considered normal, so seeing her eating habits alone did not trigger any red flags. Finally, cross country runners are known for being lean, often even emaciated; it was a common side effect of the sport often not given a second thought. Thankfully, this runner never fell victim to the dangerous downward spiral that is sometimes seen in patients with anorexia nervosa. However, it is important to be aware of the unsuspecting ways in which an eating disorder can sometimes present.


Treatment of eating disorders typically involves a multi-pronged approach with nutritional counseling, psychotherapy, and general medical care playing a role. The nutritional counseling aims to help the patient restore a healthy diet to attain a healthy weight, the psychotherapy aims at getting to the root of the issues that may have contributed to the onset of the eating disorder, and general medical care may be necessary to manage any complications from the eating disorder depending on its seriousness. Educational programs about eating disorders and risk factors have also been shown to be successful in helping to prevent eating disorders.

It can sometimes be a fine line between a healthy passion for exercising and eating well and the start of an eating disorder. Especially in athletes where extreme exercise is part of the sport and putting in extra training is rewarded, it is valuable to be aware of the signs and symptoms of exercise bulimia to help prevent a loved one from crossing over that line. Though serious health consequences are possible in the setting of an eating disorder, treatment and recovery are very possible.

GCSOM Guest Author: Mary Pelkowski, Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine MD Class of 2022.

For More Information:

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

For all of Dr. Paul's articles, check out our exercise forum!

Exercise is important for prevention!

In 2000, President Bill Clinton dedicated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The purpose of this designation is to increase public awareness of the facts about colon cancer – a cancer that is preventable, treatable and has a high survival rate. Regular screening tests, expert medical care and a healthy lifestyle, which includes a proper diet and exercise, are essential for prevention. Several studies have demonstrated that exercise can also help prevent colon cancer. 

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be approximately 107,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2023. Of these, 52,550 men and women will succumb to the disease. It is the second-leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths for both men and women combined. The good news is incidence and mortality rates are dropping both nationally as well as in northeast Pennsylvania. The bad news is northeast Pennsylvania still has increased incidence and mortality rates when compared to the national average.

Colon Cancer Facts:

Studies show that prevention of this disease is multifaceted and includes: engaging in daily exercise, eating a low-fat diet with little red meat, avoiding smoking, drinking in moderation and having regular colonoscopy screenings.

Early detection is the key to survival. Death from colorectal cancer can be eliminated if caught at the earliest signs of disease. Colorectal cancer progresses very slowly, usually over years. It often begins as non-cancerous polyps in the lining of the colon. In some cases, these polyps can grow and become cancerous, often without any symptoms. Some symptoms that may develop are: blood in stool, changes in bowel movement, feeling bloated, unexplained weight loss, feeling tired easily, abdominal pain or cramps, and vomiting. Contact your physician if you have any of these symptoms.

The risk of colon cancer increases with age, as 90 percent of those diagnosed are older than age 50. A family history of colon cancer increases risk. Also, those with benign polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease are at greater risk and should be screened more frequently.

Prevention of Colon Cancer:

  1. Colonoscopy – The colonoscopy is the most accurate screening test for detecting polyps and colorectal cancer. A long, thin, flexible tube with a camera is used to visually examine the lining of the colon. Polyps can be removed at the time of the exam if necessary. Most people should have this test starting at age 50, although high-risk populations (i.e. those with genetic predisposition or inflammatory bowel disease) may begin at age 40 to 45 or even younger.
  2. Diet & Nutrition – Diets rich in fiber are generally considered beneficial for overall health, including colorectal health. Limit high-fat foods especially from animal sources. Limit red meat and dairy. A diet consisting of fish, fruit and vegetables is valuable. Some researchers theorize that Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage may trigger a chemical process to turn on a gene to suppress tumors. Sunlight and vitamin D are thought to be important too. 
  3. Lifestyle & Personal Habits – Smoking and excessive alcohol use increases risk for colorectal cancer and other forms of cancer. Stress and anxiety can be cancer triggers.
  4. Exercise – While there have been many studies about the benefits of exercise for colon cancer, none have been more encouraging than a recent study from the Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle. Patients with abnormal cells on the lining of their colons, as found by colonoscopy, demonstrated positive changes and reversal of these cells after engaging in four hours of exercise per week for one year. Some studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 50 percent.

How Exercise Prevents Colon Cancer:

The intestine works like a sewage plant, recycling the food and liquid needed by your body. However, it also stores waste prior to disposal. The longer the wastes remain idle in your colon or rectum, the more time toxins have to be absorbed from you waste into the surrounding tissues. One method in which exercise may help prevent colon cancer is to get your body moving, including your intestines. Exercise stimulates muscular contraction called peristalsis to promote movement of waste through your colon.

Exercise to prevent colon cancer does not have to be extreme. A simple increase in daily activity for 15 minutes, two times per day or 30 minutes, once per day is adequate to improve the movement of waste through your colon. This can be simply accomplished by walking, swimming, biking or playing golf, tennis or basketball. For those interested in a more traditional exercise regimen, perform aerobic exercise for 30-45 minutes four to five days per week, with additional sports and activities for the remainder of the time. For those in poor physical condition, begin slowly. Start walking for five to 10 minutes, two to three times per day. Then, add one to two minutes each week until you attain a 30-45 minute goal. 

Medical Contributor: Christopher A. Peters, M.D

Dr. Christopher Peters is a partner of Radiation Medicine Associates of Scranton (RAMAS) and serves as medical director of Northeast Radiation Oncology Centers (NROC). He is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. Sources: American Cancer Society/Northeast Regional Cancer Institute, and CA Cancer J Clin.

EVERY MONDAY - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey "Health & Exercise Forum!"

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM. For all of Dr. Mackarey's Articles, visit our Healthcare Forum!

For those trying to lose weight or “get in shape” for the New Year (number one resolution), a better understanding of the role sugar plays in your diet and overall health may be valuable. You have probably noticed a lot of attention being paid to sugar lately. Many television stars, like Ellen DeGeneres, have shared their experiences using a “sugar cleanse” when they need to lose a few pounds and get healthier.  I have had several patients and friends tell me the same thing.

For 4-6 weeks these people decide to avoid all refined sugars with the goal of losing weight and improving their health and wellness. Well, what is all the fuss about? Terms like simple sugars and simple carbs, which are purported to be bad, and complex carbs, suggested to be good, are being used ad nauseam. While medical research does not support the value of a short term “sugar cleanse,” it may have value for another reason. For example, it would be very beneficial if one engages in a “sugar cleanse” for the purpose of changing their palate with the hope of developing long term healthy eating habits, especially for those with diabetes.

So, with this in mind, I decided to find the answers to some simple questions about the fuss over sugar. What is a simple sugar? What is a complex sugar? Which sugars are good for you?


Sugars, along with starches and fibers, are one of three types of carbohydrates (also referred to as a carb). A carb is “simple” or “complex,” based on its chemical composition and how it is processed in the body. It gets a little complicated because some foods have both simple and complex carbs.  Typically, simple carbs are chemically more “simple” and basic, and therefore they are broken down more easily and serve as a quick source of energy. Some of these carbs are naturally simple (like fruit and milk) while others are processed or refined sugars such as those used in candy, soda and baked goods.

It is Good Sugar or Bad Sugar?

To determine if a food product has good or bad simple sugar, you must also know how much fiber, vitamins and minerals are in the food. A food with a higher sugar content combined with a low fiber, vitamin or mineral content will be worse than  a food with the same sugar content but high fiber and vitamins or minerals. For example: a candy bar, which is high in sugar without fiber or vitamins or minerals, is not as healthy as a fresh orange, which contains fiber, vitamins and minerals along with its simple sugar (fructose).

Examples of simple carbs:


Complex carbs have a more complicated chemical makeup and take more time for the body to break down for use as energy. Therefore, these are considered “good” carbs because they provide a more even distribution of energy for the body to use during activity. They cause a more consistent and gradual release of sugar into the blood stream (as opposed to peaks and valleys caused by simple carbs) and provide energy to function throughout the day. Additionally, “good” carbs have the added benefit of providing vitamins, fiber, and minerals that are missing from simple carbs.

Examples of complex (carbs):


Remember that carbohydrates fuel the body and are an important source of energy, especially for active and athletic people. However, carefully selecting the type of carb you eat is critical to peak function and performance.

Simple Carbs

Complex Carbs


Sources:;; Mayo Clinic

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

For All of Dr. Mackarey's articles: visit our healthcare forum!