"The Best Health Advice I Ever Got"
BY: Stacey Colino
It’s that time of year again when many of us take stock of our lives and try to make things better. Fresh out of ideas? If anyone knows the best ways to get healthy and stay that way, it’s the country’s top doctors. To get the 411 on what they do to stay healthy, we asked four leading physicians to share the best health advice they ever received. Here’s what they told us:
1. Carry your own pen wherever you go.
Where it came from “I actually got the idea from my father, who was an old-fashioned family doctor in the South Bronx in the 1940s,” says Neil Schachter, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and author of The Good Doctor’s Guide to Colds & Flu (HarperTorch 2006).
Why it works By carrying your own pen, you avoid the germ-laden ones in doctors’ offices, shops, restaurants and other places where you use a credit card or sign in for an appointment. “Nearly every time you’re given your charge receipt, you’re offered a pen. During the flu season, this pen is passed to dozens of people each day -- and it’s a superb carrier of cold and flu viruses,” says Dr. Schachter. “By simply using your own pen and not lending it out, you can significantly cut down on your exposure to the cold virus.” More germ-fighting tips: Avoid public phones, use a paper towel (or your sleeve) to open restroom and other public doors, wash your hands frequently, carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (for those times when a sink isn't available) and avoid shaking hands with someone who is obviously sick.
2. Plan your snacks ahead of time.
Where it came from After a nutritionist reviewed the quality of Dr. Rita Beckford’s meals, she advised, “Plan, plan and plan some more” -- especially when it comes to eating on the run and between meals.
Why it works “There is nothing worse than eating something simply because you are a captive audience and don’t have other healthier choices,” says Rita Beckford, M.D., a family physician in Cleveland, who lost 80 pounds and created the “Home With Dr. B” weight loss and exercise DVD. “So now I pack myself a healthy lunch and four to five healthy snacks of fruit for during the day.” Besides being rich in vitamins, health-promoting phytochemicals and fiber, fruit is relatively low in calories. And having healthy snacks every few hours can help you keep your energy up and your hunger in check. Plus, Dr. Beckford says, “eating sweet, flavorful fruits -- kiwi, mango, cherries, grapes, melon and so on -- makes me feel like I am giving myself a special treat.”
3. One up, two down.
Where it came from “During my residency, I spent part of my time in a building with woefully inadequate elevators,” explains Paul Lyons, M.D., professor of family and community medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia. To relieve congestion, signs were posted to encourage people to use the stairs instead of the elevator whenever they had to go up one or down two flights. “It struck a chord, and I’ve used the advice ever since,” says Dr. Lyons.
Why it works For every five minutes you spend climbing stairs, you get heart-protective and bone-building benefits, plus you burn calories (51 if you weigh 150 pounds), which can help you control your weight. “The average American puts on 25 pounds between the ages of 25 and 45,” notes Dr. Lyons. “Little things like taking the stairs, if done consistently, can prevent this. It’s like compound interest -- a little bit every day adds up over an extended period of time.”
4. Protect your emotional energy.
Where it came from “My psychotherapist was the first person to understand that I’m what’s called an ‘emotional empath’ -- I’m like a sponge that absorbs the emotions and energy around me,” explains Judith Orloff, M.D., a psychiatrist in Los Angeles and author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life (due out in March from Crown Publishing Group).
Why it works While it’s important to stay open and compassionate, it doesn’t help anyone to get bogged down in someone else’s pain. To protect her emotional energy while dealing with patients, Dr. Orloff learned to take 15-minute breaks between appointments, to meditate and breathe out any stress she soaks in, and to listen to her body when it sends out distress signals. “Now, when I notice early signs of feeling drained, I visualize a protective shield going up around me,” she explains. So when someone starts draining you emotionally, envision a protective bubble going up around you so that you can still hear what’s being said without the emotions behind the words getting to you. If that doesn’t work, excuse yourself for a bathroom break, to make a phone call or to attend to an urgent matter at home or the office, if need be. What matters most: Learn to come to your own emotional rescue. It’ll result in a healthier, happier you!
Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Woman's Day, SELF, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal. Stacey is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.