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Seven Simple Steps for a Health Care Pro to Get Into the Best Shape of their Lives

Over 65% of North Americans are overweight or obese and diseases related to inactivity and overeating are on the rise. At the rate we are growing, researchers from Johns Hopkins have estimated that over 92% of North Americans will be overweight by 2030. Something has to give soon.

Other than looking a little bit better in your Facebook picture profile, why else should we get a little leaner? There are over numerous articles in major medical journals pointing to excess body mass as a culprit in supporting chronic inflammation. In turn chronic inflammation plays a key role in many serious systemic illnesses.

Dr Walter Willet from Harvard School of Public Health reported that the number one way to reduce chronic inflammation in thebody was to reduce excess body fat. So here we are. What to do about this common dilemma?

The problem is not a lack of information. Libraries, bookstores and the Internet are overflowing with exercise and nutrition advice. It can be overwhelming for the average dentist when they Google “nutrition” and come up with 161 million results. Or Google “fitness” and find 494 million resources! Combine the plethora of information with lack of time and energy from a busy practice and you can guess the outcome – an expanding waistline!

After years of research, reading, training, and personal experience I have identified some simple action steps that will have a significant impact on your health and vitality. Many dentists sabotage their success with an all-or-nothing attitude. This intense approach is fine if you’re a Spanish Conquistador landing your ships on the shores of the Yukatan. But for the 45 year old general practice doc, an all or nothing approach could leave you with a bad back, plantar fasciitis, acid reflux and disappointing long term results.

I love the quote by Confucious, “The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.” This insight doesn’t mean launching out  on Saturday morning for a four hour ride on a $3000 racing bike, 10 Power Bars and cycling tights. Some entry level prep is needed. For example: a complete physical by a physician; a graduated periodized cycling program by a certified trainer, a nutritional assessment, etc.

I enjoy having a long term vision for my health. It isn’t a wild and woolly race to an unknown finish line. It entails making mindful decisions each meal, enjoying playing with my young children and regular complete exercise program.

We have found that taking one simple step in the right direction can lead to a whole new healthy existence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

“De-junk” Your House – Eating is one of the most intimate things we do with our environment. The foods we select to eat literally become our skin, our muscle and our hair follicles. It must be chosen with reverence and a mindfulness befitting of the magnificence of the human body. Not a carcass you’re pulling from operatory to operatory. What does De-Junk Your House involve? Purge your house of high glycemic junk food and treats. If the high fat snacks and treats are not around, they are less likely to whisper your name in the night! Author of Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink PH.D., reported that eliminating junk food from the home will prevent absent minded overeating. Did you know that 100 extra calories per day (e.g. medium size cookie) can add up to 10 pounds in one year? As a leader in the dental office, why not walk the talk on the home front too?

Count Your Steps – Walking is one of the easiest, safest, and most beneficial forms of exercise. Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Healthy Aging, recommends walking as the number one exercise that can be maintained for a lifetime, and the whole family can participate. Purchase a pedometer (keeps track of the number of steps you take) and aim to increase the number of steps you take each day. A long term goal of 10,000 steps per day will put you in the elite group of walkers. A Stanford University 20 year study with 4384 people showed that walking just once a week would cut your risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease in half. Okay, what are you waiting for?

Eat Slowly - Look closely at the food that you are about to order off the menu or put in your shopping cart. Honestly ask yourself if it will add to your health or subtract from it. Your body is very intuitive, if you listen, you will choose food for function. Food for Function is a way of eating whereby you seriously look at how each food item is going to help your wellness plan or hinder it.

It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain that it is full. It is easy to overeat when you polish off the entire meal in less than 10 minutes! The top world record holders at international eating competitions can eat up to 83 hot dogs in 12 minutes. Let’s leave the speed eating to the professionals and chew your food until its liquid and allow your stomach and intestines to provide you with more nutritional bang for each bite.

Wet Your Whistle - Water is an extremely important nutrient. W.H. Auden once said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” Water is a key factor in all our body’s metabolic processes. Aim to drink at least six to eight glasses of water every day. It is nature’s true elixir!  It detoxifies, re-hydrates, refuels, and rejuvenates.  Start by adding one extra glass this week.  Increase the next week and you will soon notice that your breath is fresher, your body feels less sluggish, and your skin more supple. I have emails from past attendees at my seminars reporting of weight loss up to 20-30 pounds all stemming from a renewed commitment to drinking water. Let’s toast to H20.

Sleep Tight - In a long term study from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio - of 68,000 middle-aged women, researchers found that women who slept only 5 hours per night were 32 percent more likely to gain a significant amount of weight compared to those who slept at least 7 hours per night. Inadequate sleep also increases your arterial aging and your risk of heart attack according to doctors Roizen and Oz in their bestseller, You: The Owner’s Manual. Try adding to your sleep time by getting to bed 10 minutes earlier this week. Your waistline will shrink and guess what? You will be more alert for your treatment planning and crown preps. The Canadian Medical Journal reported that people who are sleep deprived and only get six hours or less of sleep a night operate similar to someone at a .05 alcohol level the next day.

Muscle Up – Without exercise, after age thirty you will lose up to 1% of your muscle mass annually. This means if you don’t do any form of resistance training between ages 30-75 you will lose about 45% of your muscle mass. This translates into an inevitable physical decline and loss of independence. You can enjoy the benefits of resistance training in as little as two 30-minute workouts per week. My advice? Hire yourself a trainer and get some introductory sessions. Also read some entertaining yet informative fitness magazines like Men’s Health and Oxygen Magazine.

Exercise Your Mind – Harvard professor and author of SPARK, Dr. John Ratey, reported a direct correlation between cardiovascular exercise and brain function. Students in a morning fitness program scored better in science, math and language arts. Forget about the term: Dumb Jock!  Experts recommend that you elevate your heart rate to about 80 percent of your age-adjusted maximum (to calculate your age-adjusted maximum: 220 – age) for about 20 minutes three times per week to experience benefits for your brain, heart and lungs.

And as I sit here at a desk finishing this article for you in my hotel room in England I feel energized. It is midday in a new time zone. I just took an all-night cross Atlantic flight to get here. But what has given me mental alertness and zest in my step was a quick 50 minute leg, back and biceps workout in the hotel gym upon check-in. Easy to do? Maybe. But like business philosopher Jim Rohn used to say, “What’s easy to do is easy not to do.”

Taking action on any one of these seven simple steps will help your family unit toward better health and well-being. You will feel great knowing you are taking charge of an important aspect of your health. The obesity epidemic is not going to respond to just the federal government throwing money at it. Families must step up and take some responsibility. As oral health care providers why not us?  Since dentists and hygienists spend proportionately more time with their patients than the average medical doctor, let’s show our leadership in the wellness realm.

I firmly believe we can inspire patients and their families to enjoy a higher standard of health. It all starts with a conversation. First with oneself. Then your team, And then your patients. There’s an American Indian quote that says in every seed lays the promise of a 1000 forests. Let’s plant some seeds. All the best in your personal wellness quest.


Wansink, Brian. Mindless Eating. New York: Random House, 2006.

Weil, Andrew. Healthy Aging. New York: Random House, 2005.

Roizen, MF, and Oz, MC. You The Owner’s Manual. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

Ratey, John. Spark New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.