I was inspired this past weekend by Tieraona Low Dog, MD, speaking about her life journey and her latest book, “Life is Your Best Medicine.” A leader in the integrative health movement, she has had a multi-faceted journey—high school dropout (related to dyslexia), massage therapist, midwife, herbalist, karate black belt/instructor, who later completed medical school specializing in family practice. Her caring energy filled the large conference room, and her personal warmth and compassion were evident later as she interacted with conference attendees.
I was reminded of a quote sent to me recently by a good friend: “A wise physician said, ‘The best medicine for humans is CARE and LOVE’ Someone said, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ He smiled and answered, ‘Increase the dose.”’ Dr. Low Dog seemed to embrace this sentiment, as she talked of the importance of our stories and how important it is for the physician to take the time to listen (and hear) how a patient describes/explains their journey – emphasizing that people are more than their symptoms and lab test results.
There is so much wisdom and “food for thought” in her book, including “There is no magic pill or supplement for much of what ails us … “Research shows that if Americans embraced a healthier way of living – a balance between rest and exercise, wholesome nutrition, healthy weight, positive social interactions, stress management, no smoking, limited alcohol use, and limited or no exposure to toxic chemicals – 95% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes, and 36% of all cancers could be prevented!”
Along these same lines, I was also struck by a Medscape post this week by cardiologist John Mandrola, MD: “Our tricks can no longer overcome eating too much and moving too little… If you waddle, snore at night, and cannot see your toes while standing, how much will a statin or ACE inhibitor … help? … In fact, a reasonable person could make an argument that our pills and procedures might be making patients sicker… But the thing I cannot get over is that I am doctor, not a proceduralist. … New anticoagulant drugs are easy. Ablation technology is easy. Statins are even easier. The truth—nutrition, exercise, balance in life—is hard.
Yes, changing habits takes time and effort, but the rewards are worth it in both quality and quantity of life – more life in your years and more years in your life. Successful behavior change starts with identifying priorities and setting achievable goals. And regarding priority setting, Dr. Low Dog says “When [a patient] tells me they’re too busy to exercise, cook, or make time for themselves, I use it as an opportunity to explore what’s really important to them.” Ah! Priorities and goal setting … so important for successful behavior change.
On reducing stress and resetting priorities, I loved this list from integrative dietitian/nutritionist Kathie Swift “THE LESS LIST” 2015:
- Less indoor time, more outdoors, no matter what the weather.
- Less computers, more face-to-face time.
- Less social media – more real connection!
- Less stress – more relaxing yoga!
- Less clutter – more space to dance in the living room!
- Less guilt for not completing everything on the to-do list.
- Less time sucking, more delegating and saying “no” a little more often.
- Less commentary from the inner critic – more self-compassion and forgiveness
And regarding the importance of exercise, I am always inspired by Deborah Szekely, Founder of Rancho La Puerta Spa, Tecate, Baja California. In a recent post from her health advocacy organization Wellness Warrior, she says “We ask too little of our bodies … Get moving! Or risk being ‘convenienced’ to death.’”
Current guidance for daily exercise encourages at least 10,000 steps/day and at least 150 minutes of moderate activity/week. Szekely describes moderate activity as exercising to “huffy puffy.” And it looks like smaller bouts of exercise (say several 20 minute sessions daily) are even more important than sitting all day and then exercising all at once.
As a food-oriented nutritionist, I appreciate the impact of what and how we eat on our health, but I also appreciate the critical importance of exercise in maintaining a healthy circulatory system – to deliver nutrients to our tissues and to take away toxins. Health always comes back to balance — body, mind, and spirit. So I appreciate Dr. Low Dog saying in her book “True healing can only be found in the way we live our lives, which includes our relationships, thoughts, and beliefs.”
And being mindful that sharing home-prepared meals with family and friends supports both health and healing, how about trying our Chicken in Pumpkin Seed Sauce. This protein-rich dish is both quick and easily prepared – a nutritious “meal in minutes” served over your favorite (preferably whole-grain) rice, along with some steamed colorful vegetables and/or a mixed vegetable salad.