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).
Dr. Richard Carmona
I’ve interviewed Dr. Richard Carmona (the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, and former EMT, nurse, and surgeon) several times on this blog and have been intrigued by his insights and approaches to health. In our most recent interview, he discussed obesity from a provocative new angle: national security.
Dr. Val: What do you mean that obesity is a national security issue?
Dr. Carmona: There are many competing interests on Capitol Hill – the war, the economy, etc. and obesity is something that just doesn’t get enough traction. When I was serving as Surgeon General, I realized that obesity was acting as an accelerator of chronic disease and was the number one health threat to our country. But after several failed attempts to get attention focused on this issue, I realized that I had to present the message in a unique way in order to get it to resonate. It occurred to me that if I used different language to describe the threat, people would allow me to connect the dots and explain the problem fully.
Retaining EMS, police, firemen, soldiers, sailors, and airmen has been challenging because many of them can’t pass their physical fitness tests due to obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Health is therefore inextricably tied to national security. Describing the health threat in these terms helped legislators to understand the complex ramifications of the condition.
Dr. Val: How rigorous are these fitness tests? Are we talking about soldiers not being able to run a 5-minute mile, or is it less challenging than that?
Dr. Carmona: The fitness tests are based on research from the Cooper Clinic in Texas and include a measure of aerobic capacity, strength, and flexibility. There are standardized minimums based on gender and decade of age, and although I don’t have the exact minimums memorized for each age group, they’re very reasonable. We’re not talking about having to run a 5 minute mile. More like having to run a mile and a half in 15 minutes or having the flexibility to touch your toes in a seated position. As far as push-ups are concerned, the qualifying range is about 20-45.
Dr. Val: One of my blogger friends relayed a story recently about a surgeon who asked his hospital cafeteria to serve healthy options instead of fried food. They responded that no one would buy the healthy food and they’d go out of business – so economic necessity required that they continue to serve unhealthy food. What would you say to that surgeon?
Dr. Carmona: I’d invite that surgeon to come out to Canyon Ranch where we serve healthy gourmet meals every single day. Our chefs are very innovative and entrepreneurial – they make healthy food taste delicious, and at a cost-effective price. Americans need to learn how to make healthy food delicious. My friend Toby Cosgrove is a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, and he was able to spearhead a healthy food initiative there that has been very successful. We strive to find new and creative ways to prepare healthy food at Canyon Ranch – and are always coming out with new recipes and cookbooks to keep people interested in healthy eating.
I caught up with Dr. Carmona at the STOP Obesity Alliance briefing about the new GPS (Guide for Policy and Program Solutions) initiative. Please click here to learn more about the STOP Obesity Alliance.