Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Andre Weil gave a lecture on longevity, fitness, lifestyle changes and the current state of the nation’s health-care system on Nov. 15 at the Trustees Theater in Savannah. The lecture was sponsored by Gulfstream as part of the company’s “Live Well/Be Well” series for their employees and the general public.
Weil, known as a pioneer in health, wellness and integrative medicine, has written best-sellers, including “Healthy Aging,” “Spontaneous Healing” and “True Food: Seasonable, Sustainable, Simple, Pure.”
For more than 34 years, Ornish has led research showing that comprehensive lifestyle changes may begin to reverse heart disease — without drugs or surgery. He is the author of six best-sellers, including “Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease” and “Eat More, Weigh Less.”
Both experts touched on a variety of topics that supported their stance on overall wellness and stressed that individuals have the ability to restore their bodies to true health through basic lifestyle changes. These alteration — which involve diet, dealing with stress and exercising daily — allow the body to restore its innate ability to heal, prevent certain diseases and limit our risks for developing others, according to the speakers.
Regarding physical activity, Weil and Ornish said most people have trouble maintaining an exercise routine because they view it as another job or daily task that needs to be done among other items on a long list.
According to Weil, exercise has to be fun, and that is possible. He directed the audience to thefuntheory.org, a site that maintains something as simple as fun is the easiest way to positively change people’s behavior.
“If you get the opportunity to go to this website, please do so,” he said. “The website offers a series of videos. There is one of a subway station in Stockholm during morning rush hour and you can see people getting off the trains and there is a staircase and an escalator. Everybody getting off the train takes the escalator. Not one person takes the flight of stairs up. Then you see a team of engineers come in and work on the staircase, and they wire it up and it is made to look and sound like a giant set of piano keys. Soon, again it is rush hour and people get off the trains and look at the staircase a bit puzzled. Eventually, somebody wanders over and places their foot on one of the steps and it makes the piano sound. Pretty soon, everybody is rushing up the stairs and hardly anyone uses the escalator.”
According to statistics posted on thefuntheory.org, 66 percent more people than normal chose the stairs over the escalator.
Ornish agreed, adding that too many people see fitness as another stressful thing they must accomplish.
“Your exercise program should not be about creating stress,” he said. “It should be about fun and fitness. Make it easy on yourself and find the path of least resistance.”
Ornish talked about a new program he is launching called “Spectrum.”
“Sustainable changes in our lifestyle are based on joy, pleasure and freedom,” he said. “If you go on an exercise program, sooner or later, you are likely to go off it. That sense of failure is built into us and nobody wants to fail, so most people just say to heck with it. And if you tell somebody what to do, they immediately want to do the opposite … it’s just human nature. So we built a program based on pleasure, not pain; science, not myth; abundance, not deprivation; and most of all, compassion, not guilt.”
The “Spectrum” program allows participants to decide how much they want to change in four areas — nutrition, activity level, stress response and how much love and support they’re willing to welcome into their lives.
“You have a spectrum of choices in each of these four elements,” Ornish said. “It is based on what you want to do and not what someone else says you should be doing.”
He said the program accounts for events that could throw a curve ball in maintaining rigid exercise programs.
If you eat unhealthy one day, then you can make up for it by eating better the next day, Ornish said. Should you miss your exercise routine one day, you just add some more time to the next day. And the more participants surround themselves with loving and supportive people, the easier it will be to stay on track, he added.
“This program is built around love and that is what enables us to make sustainable changes,” he said. “It turns out that feeling loved and supported doesn’t just feel good, it is really good for your health.”
Weil said those ready to make a change also have science on their side.
“The human body is meant for movement,” he said. “A wide variety of modern epidemics — from heart disease to diabetes, to name a few — are rooted in our sedentary lifestyles. Lifelong physical activity is crucial to optimal health, but running marathons is not required.”
Weil said finding an activity that is enjoyable and fun will make it easier to stick to long-term goals.
For more information on the Spectrum, go to http://ornishspectrum.com. For more information on Weil’s programs, go to www.drweil.com.