If the inaugural Resolve to Get Healthy symposium was any indication, the wellness movement has taken off. A sellout crowd of 317 took part in the January 23 event at the Kingsgate Marriott, a project of the Center for Integrative Health and Wellness at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, UC Health Integrative Medicine, and the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. Participants listened raptly to lectures about health and wellness, and they participated in hands-on sessions that explored mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, the practice of gratitude, sacred chanting, and singing bowls.
“We underestimated the number of you who would turn out,” said Sian Cotton, PhD, executive director of the Center for Integrative Health and Wellness at the UC College of Medicine. “We are reaffirming our growing wellness community in Cincinnati.”
Integrative medicine: a new model for healthcare
Integrative medicine is the practice of using non-invasive, low-cost strategies, such as nutrition, exercise and mindfulness, to optimize health and well-being, to prevent illness, and to extend and maximize quality of life when disease is present.
Brad Jacobs, MD, MPH, Medical Director of BlueWave Medicine in California and the event’s keynote speaker, noted that whereas the medical profession’s predominant current approach relies heavily on devices, surgery and drugs, the emerging paradigm of integrative medicine and health stresses self-care.
“This is an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to clinical care that stresses the importance of the provider-patient relationship and has respect for our innate capacity to heal,” Dr. Jacobs said. “It involves active patient participation in healing, and the practitioner serves as a model for health. This is new for us as medical doctors.”
The approach is changing, Dr. Jacobs said, because the leading causes of death – including heart disease, cancer and stroke — are less important than “the actual causes of death,” which include tobacco, poor diet, lack of exercise, alcohol, infectious agents, pollutants, toxins, firearms, sexual behavior and motor vehicles.
Dr. Jacobs pointed to the six pillars of healthy living:
1. Active living
2. Healthy eating
3. Restorative sleep
4. Mental focus and resilience
6. Passion and meaning
Achieving those pillars may be less difficult than one imagines. “Fifteen to 20 minutes of exercise a day is all you really need,” he said. “If you can find time to walk 15 minutes a day, you are doing yourself a huge benefit.”
Meanwhile, every extra serving of vegetables you consume each day makes you less apt to die of any condition in a given year by 7 percent. (The optimal number of vegetable servings each day? Seven.)
Junk in, junk out
John Sacco, MD, a radiation-oncologist affiliated with UC Health Integrative Medicine, noted that our genes are not destiny.
“The genome is the hardware that makes up the human body,” he said. “The epigenome is the software. And to a large extent, you are the epigenome software programmer in charge. Through diet, lifestyle, stress reduction, sleep, and social connectivity, you can change the way your genes are expressed.”
Dr. Sacco said that in a study of patients with prostate cancer who declined surgery or other interventions, a plant-based diet down-regulated or shut off 200 different genes. In addition to this “reprogramming of the onco-gene,” he said, none of the patients’ PSA’s went up.
Almost any diet will work, Dr. Sacco said, including the Mediterranean diet. “The only diet that doesn’t work is the standard American diet, which is abbreviated SAD.”
He said that switching to a plant-based diet “is the nutritional equivalent of quitting smoking.”
Loneliness: the equivalent of the Alzheimer’s gene
“Science says that if you’re lonely, lots of things not wonderful will happen to you,” Dr. Jacobs said. “Loneliness is associated with mortality and morbidity from cancer, heart disease and other causes of death. The risk of Alzheimer’s from loneliness is equal to that of the Alzheimer’s gene.”
In a simple exercise, Dr. Jacobs asked the audience which four people they would reach out to if something major happened in their life. Then he asked, “When was the last time you had contact with them? We get into the business of life and see those people at funerals and weddings.”
Of mindfulness, meditation and memory
Maintaining peace of mind in a super-charged world may be one of the hardest parts of healthy living.
Richard Sears, PsyD, PhD, a Cincinnati psychologist who is affiliated with UC Health Integrative Medicine, said the stress response, reflected in increases in adrenaline and cortisol, was designed to be short-term. It was useful when our ancestors had to run from a saber-toothed tiger, for example. “Long-term, it brings many problems,” he said. “Ninety percent of physician visits have a stress component: mental tigers.”
Dr. Jacobs noted that a protracted high level of cortisol leads to memory loss and shrinkage of the hippocampus, the memory center in the brain. “It’s important to self-regulate to avoid chronic stress pathology,” Dr. Jacobs said. “Accept a challenge, have the moment and then move on. Don’t relive the conversation 16 times.”
One proven solution involves mindfulness, meditation, or mindfulness meditation — mental disciplines that involve being conscious of the moment, nonjudgmental and forgiving of oneself. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction, has defined mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”
Mindfulness deactivates rumination and worry, experts say, but that may be easier said than done.
“Our mind is full of the past and the future,” said Geraldine Wu, PhD, a community psychiatrist who is also affiliated with UC Health Integrative Medicine. “It is easy not to be mindful of what’s going on. It is difficult to be mindful. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that involves a continuing effort to concentrate. It is a serious cognitive process. When we concentrate on the present moment, we cannot be anxious, worried or distressed about other issues.”
Dr. Sears encouraged his audience to take a few minutes to stop and breathe six times a day. “Pause and take a deep breath. Be aware of your breathing. Let go of the struggle. Be kind to yourself.”
— Cindy Starr