Practitioner encourages active lifestyle, examination of habits in 'keeping brain sharp'

Mar. 24—EDITOR'S NOTE — This is one in a series looking at individual and community efforts to give area senior citizens options for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

As a functional medicine practitioner, Natalie Jo Flynn addresses numerous aspects of general care.

However, she realizes that the brain, the most critical and complex component of the "human adventure" can, ironically, at times, be taken for granted — especially when arbitrarily pitted against the heart — due to its obvious all-encompassing nature, biological and beyond.

And keeping the brain sharp, naturally, outside of the sphere of trauma or hereditary conditioning, she noted, must remain a top priority for all people, particularly seniors.

According to Flynn, though age remains a central factor, exercising brain function begins at pre-birth and is influenced through the life span.

"Everything we see, smell, touch, hear, taste, and how we navigate our body, has an effect on our brain health," she said. "We are in the infancy of the discovery of how much genes play a role, but we do know more about the risk factors in memory loss, dementia and other brain diseases. But more so, it's the epigenetics, how we live, and what we are exposed to....these influences will turn on or off certain genetic pre-dispositions.

"Keeping the brain sharp has been linked to people who carry out active lifestyles, including after retirement, in addition to those who have pets and eat well — what you eat matters a lot," Flynn emphasized, noting consistent family and social influence, as well as activities like travel and reading, for example, add to brain stimulation.

Seemingly pedestrian things also serve significantly, including proper sleep and supporting body changes.

Self-awareness also plays a huge role.

"When you stop this approach, your body will quickly take note," Flynn said.

With over 20 years in traditional medicine, Flynn spent more than half a decade in a mountain community witnessing how active lifestyles, the outdoors and eating right made all the difference.

Fast-forwarding to providing care in a "typical" metropolis, the professional said she's seen thousands of people in and out of nursing homes and hospitals, comparing the experiences to a revolving door.

"I saw preventable issues with almost all (the patients) and I could do nothing in the way of helping at the time when I was working in a system that was not health-promotion oriented," Flynn said. "By the time I saw these folks, it was only my job to manage medications that truly did not help....

"I wanted to educate, make people aware of their options, so they could be in control of their health, body, and minds, and to see what the causes were that could be changed to avoid serious breakdown of the body," she added. "Health is our wealth — it's easier to stay well....

"Our bodies are remarkable, survivalist mechanisms, and we are built for homeostasis, balance," Flynn said. "The body will 'take from Peter to pay Paul,' meaning our flesh, bones, and brain will give little by little to maintain, then, one day, you feel something and by then it's into the process. This is not to say it cannot be supported or reversed, but it may be more difficult to recover from and cost more, too.

"I know traditional health insurance will cover many things now, like acupuncture or chiropractic (issues), but, usually, after something is wrong."

Pro-active investment in the brain, "therefore the body," Flynn asserted, remains as crucial, if not more so, than any everyday habituation or exercise-building activity.

Through her "Move That Mountain Functional Medicine" practice, Flynn uses "way of life" as medicine for a comprehensive holistic approach to health care.

"I teach you to understand what is going on inside your body," she said. "No more mystery medical talk. I investigate, specializing in root causality to reverse chronic-, age- and lifestyle-related medical conditions."

Additionally, Move That Mountain uses "an individualized, patient-centered, science-based approach to treat the underlying causes of disease to promote optimal wellness, forever learning, and keeping up" with current developments and research.

"Move That Mountain is dear to me as it was a banner I saw daily when I was in the midst of my own health battles I overcame," Flynn said. "That sign gave me strength and determination. It takes the strength of a mustard seed to move a mountain and it does accumulate. People struggle with so many mountains in different ways, and I have moved all of mine so far. I'm here to help support and guide the next person who wants more and knows they have a healthy life to live, too."

Flynn holds multiple degrees and certifications. Before functional medicine, she primarily worked as a registered nurse and nurse practitioner, and in internal and occupational medicine.

Since 2018, Flynn has been coaching virtually and in clients' homes. In 2021, she opened her Functional Health piece space.

"The idea to pursue creating health came after my own dissatisfaction in my career, the way I was told to practice and having my own health to heal, which I always thought I was doing right," Flynn said. "I truly want people to be the CEO of their health and to stop suffering — I do not want one more person to tell me they do something because the doctor said so and they do not know why.

"I am now taking clients for spring and summer, and I see clients one-on-one and do not pack my schedule due to the behind-the-scenes research I do for many involved cases," she added. "I prefer a three-month commitment to really get you on your feet to go forth with a good set of tools, have a plan and then follow up monthly, depending on the severity of the cases."

Adults, ages 20 to 80, start with a free consultation followed by a full assessment, evaluation and lifestyle prescription, eventually coached through habit changes while being guided to make better health decisions.

Flynn offers suggestions and alternatives when appropriate, as some people, she added, are eventually weaned off of "many medications."

She also conducts in-person or video educational seminars to groups, schools, and workplaces, and works openly with additional health care team members, if needed.

"I do get a lot of calls and people want me to take insurance, but this is where I lose them and it's my biggest heartache....if you wait for insurance, many times it's not what you need and you end up worse off," Flynn said. "Lately, people seem ready to take charge. They are aware of functional, integrative medicine and are ready to be heard and feel better.

"People need to know they have power over their lives and bodies — no one knows better than you and if you are not getting the answers you need, it's time to look elsewhere," she added. "We are not robots, we are flesh (and blood) and we need to care for ourselves as we are designed to be cared for. I take people back to the basics of health and grow from there."

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