AUBURN — The crowd at the Coping & Caring workshop was up and moving at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn Thursday.

Dr. Marie Pasinski, staff neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, asked participants at the event to stand up, if possible, and do simple tasks like raising and lowering their arms.

The doctor and author, who was born and raised in Auburn, said standing up and doing an activity for two minutes can reduce a person's blood sugar levels and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Pasinski spoke to the audience via FaceTime about how stress works within the brain and about the various ways people can reduce their stress levels. She was one of the speakers at the annual workshop, which was held by the Cayuga County Office for the Aging.

Pasinski said she planned to attend the event in person, but an accident stopped her from doing so. Her father, Dick Burke, drove from Auburn to Massachusetts to help her recover. She asked Burke to greet the audience, so he quickly moved into the frame of the camera, said hello, and then disappeared from the frame as the crowd laughed.

Being regularly stressed and having high levels of cortisol can make a person prone to infections and cancer, Pasinski said. High cortisol levels can lead to diseases like osteoarthritis, heart disease and Alzheimer's disease. She added that frequent stress can also accelerate aging.

Thoughts have a "physical presence" within the brain, she said, and generating a particular thought stimulates a specific pathway in the brain. That specific pathway is reinforced every time a person has that thought, including when someone has a positive or negative thought continuously. 

When speaking about the importance of movement, Pasinski said standing up and being active relaxes arteries, lowers cortisol levels and promotes neuron creation in the brain.

"It's just a wonderful antidote for stress," Pasinski said.

Another tip Pasinski gave was to "never worry alone," or to share concerns with others. She said telling another person about one's worries can provide a new perspective on those issues, lower cortisol and release the hormone oxytocin, which is let loose through spending time with other people.

At the end of the event, Pasinski praised T. David Stapleton, an attorney specializing in elder law, as he was given an award by the aging office for his work. Stapleton, who is retiring soon, took a step back as he saw the award, with a look of surprise on his face. Stapleton, a family friend, originally asked Pasinski to speak at the event.

Warren "Bud" Smith and Shirley Smith, Pasinski's uncle and aunt, said they believed their niece relayed all of her information in a way that was easy to understand. The Smiths said they were proud of Pasinski and her work.

Judith Peltz said she believed she and the people she attended the event with were raised in an era when people were not encouraged to tell others about their burdens, so she found Pasinski's assertion that talking to others was a good thing to be refreshing.

Peltz said she had been a caregiver to family members in the past, and that the event provided her with ways for her to "retain my brain health more" so that her children won't have to do as much work with her later. 

Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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Education Reporter