I just got back from a blog workshop at the Canyon Ranch Institute in Tucson, co-led by yours truly and the lovely and charming Kerri Morrone Sparling of SixUntilMe. We had a wonderful time with the locals, acquainting them with social media terminology, and teaching them how to blog and Tweet. We were also immersed in their culture, which largely meant that I lectured (for the first time in my physician career) in yoga pants, and enjoyed small portions of food rich in fruits and vegetables.
Despite the arid, inhospitable environment, the Arizona desert is teeming with life. Quail, rabbits, lizards, javelinas, humming birds and woodpeckers, bob cats and coyotes – all roam around freely near adobe homes nestled between flowering cacti. The extraordinary liveliness of the desert takes the casual visitor by surprise, and the variety of scrubby plants, aloes, and cacti of every imaginable shape, size, and pricklyness is a horticulturalist’s dream.
Since I was on east coast time, I was willing to participate in the 6:30am speed walks in the desert each morning. The lovely landscape inspired reflectiveness in the walkers, though I was somewhat distracted by the roaming hoard of javelinas (very large peccaries who resemble wild boars, smell like skunks, are virtually blind, and live to eat flowering plants). The javelinas had new babies with them – described by one Canyon Rancher as “footballs with legs.”
In between workshop lectures, Kerri and I were treated to some spa services – (regular readers know that I’m a huge fan of massages) which were welcome respites from our very busy work lives. But best of all, we got to spend some time with Dr. Richard Carmona (who attended our workshop), and we discussed how social media could be the key to inspiring behavior modification in Americans who need to eat more healthily and get more exercise.
As beautiful as the Canyon Ranch is, the healthy lifestyle it promotes won’t reach beyond its own walls if they don’t engage people in ways that fit their budgets and time constraints. Now that 70% of Internet users are engaged in social media, and Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and online support groups are growing exponentially, there’s never been a better time to find ways to reach people with disease prevention messages and strategies. As Washington gears up to support preventive health initiatives as part of healthcare reform, innovative non-profits like the Canyon Ranch Institute can play an important role in helping us get America back on track in terms of weight management and fitness. Online communities like SparkPeople or the Canyon Ranch Institute could be one avenue for change.
Of course, if you can afford to vacation in Arizona, the place itself has a calming, therapeutic effect. If that’s not in the cards for you, you can still emulate the lifestyle in your own javelina-free environment. As I take my regular walks back in DC, I’ll be sure to remember those cute little footballs with legs, and wear yoga pants as often as possible during future lectures (if the NIH looks at me quizzically next month during my NLM presentation, I’ll just blame Rich Carmona).