Canyon Ranch Speaks: A Look Within
Prior to becoming a doctor and even a medical student, I had been given much experience in life as a patient. For years, I had cursed my challenges with weight management, thyroid illness and knee pain. Nearly twenty years ago, during a frustrating time in my life, I was given sage advice in the form of ancient Asian adage:
“No sickness, shorter life; small sickness, longer life…”
This proverb perplexed me at first and then its meaning began to unfold. These learned words noted that we may not seek to engage in a daily practice of health and wellness until we are confronted with the lesson in the form of a symptom or illness. Hopefully, one does not have a catastrophic condition prior to honoring the need to care for his or her mind, body and spirit. For me this lesson of sickness continued until I began to truly honor the need to seek attention to my internal health, nutrition, physical activity, sleep and stress management.
So I invite you to be witness to the feedback from your mind, body and spirit. Our experiences provide us with the personalized lessons to be learned. Upon holding this wisdom, we journey upon the path of health and wellness.
Cheers to your health,
I previously wrote about how I was asked to comment on the book and movie “Eat Pray Love” and whether it was necessary for people to travel to transform. Naturally, despite all the travel I have done and the trips I take, I said “no.” Now that have seen the movie (and read the book) I must say that there are two very important messages in each:
- Follow your passions in a way that respects and nurtures yourself.
- Be willing to give up what you know for a new perspective on life.
Following passions can be as simple as taking a class, making time for a hobby, or giving yourself permission to try something that fulfills a dream. Getting a new perspective can be as simple as committing to be less reactive, judgmental, and more open-minded; take a different way home from work, meet new people outside your circle, explore foods, places, and perspectives you have been previously unwilling to consider. Whether you like the book or movie isn’t the issue, can you accept the lessons and make them work for you? Inspiration is a choice.
I truly am so honored to be a physician as it gives me an opportunity to get to know people as part of most special discussion of health and wellness. Yet I will admit that I struggled while making a decision as I am enamored with not only health and science, but also with many other fields. I knew in selecting a career that I would chose one that would allow me to funnel my joys and passions.
When seeking my professional calling, I actively explored a career in education in addition to medicine. As a part of many great discussions with loved ones, my father impressed upon me that as a doctor that I would have the ability to teach people much about their health and healing. Years later, I discovered that the word “doctor” originates from “docere” which in Latin means to teach.
As with most who seek to be a teacher, I honor the need to continually learn and respect the classic hallmark of learning— repetition. However, it is not uncommon for any of us to read or hear something over and over again yet still have not gleaned its full meaning. Instead it is with having a meaningful experience and being immersed in most if not all of our five basic senses that we learn our lessons. Health and wellness are not simply topics to only read about but that we need to be fully engaged in by seeking an experience. Such experiences will include best nutrition to nourish, movement to build the body, and sleep to restore. As part of this ongoing blog, I look forward to encouraging a journey and set of experiences that are fully immersed into health and wellness.
Cheers to your health,
On any given day at Canyon Ranch, you might spy me or one of my designated accomplices ordering an entrée, salad, or dessert from one of our restaurants. Very quietly and out of sight of the chefs, we scrape the food off the plates into plastic containers. The containers are labeled and placed in an insulated container with ice packs and shipped to an analytical laboratory where the food is put to the test.
The lab analyzes each item for calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber. Once it sends back the results, we compare them to the dish’s actual recipe using our comprehensive food service analysis software program, Computrition, to ensure there’s no more than 10% variance between the lab results and our computer-generated information.
This rigorous testing and comparison is just one facet of the quality assurance program we use so that the food we serve meets our strict Canyon Ranch nutritional parameters. Whenever we create a new dish, we check at each step in the process – from the idea stage where we first analyze the recipe, to how the recipe is finally prepared and served. That way, the nutritional information on the menus is credible and reliable each time you order. And you can savor every bite, knowing that the food you enjoy here is as healthy and nourishing as the menu says it is.
Canyon Ranch – and I, personally – lost an inspiring, long-time friend on July 4, when Robert Butler, M.D., the immensely influential creator of the field of medical geriatrics, coiner of the term “ageism” and tireless advocate for older people and for healthy living, died of acute leukemia at the age of 83.
Bob, who has given many presentations on age and health at the resorts over the years, was scheduled to speak at Canyon Ranch in Lenox this month. He worked until three days before his death.
A widower since 2005, he is survived by his four daughters and six grandchildren.
Bob Butler was raised by his grandparents, who sparked in him a passionate lifelong interest in and affinity for older people. Out of his work as a psychiatrist, researcher and advocate came his Pulitzer Prize-winning Why Survive? Being Old in America in 1975.
He was the founding director of the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, and later founded the International Longevity Center, which he still led at the time of his death. He gave countless speeches and testified before Congress and the U.N. about aging, healthy lifestyle and longevity.
Canyon Ranch hosted annual ILC roundtables on various topics for years. These brought together renowned experts, and we supported the production of white papers and educational materials that emerged from these meetings.
Bob loved what Canyon Ranch does and felt that we had the right approach to fostering successful longevity. He did trainings with Ranch staff and was an advocate and adviser for the development of programming that addresses aging. And he loved just being at the Ranch. We loved having him.
Enid and I and the whole Canyon Ranch family mourn the loss of a friend, colleague and true visionary. He will be terribly missed.
Feeding our brains well and exercising are great, but brains also need rest and relaxation. Sleep is when repair work is scheduled for our brains. It’s much easier to do repairs if parts of the brain are “taken offline” while we sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is almost epidemic in our culture, and that doesn’t allow the brain to repair itself or stay healthy. There are lots of ways to help get better sleep, but trying to stay on a schedule and minimizing sleep disruptions are two of the best.
And don’t forget the relaxation part! Stress, pressure, responsibilities, deadlines and multitasking all take their toll, and even the brain needs to go on vacation now and then. Take a trip, go to the beach, get a massage, read a book or just spend time with friends or family to allow your mind to relax and recharge. Meditate, do yoga, practice breathing or use other mindfulness techniques to give your mind a vacation from its otherwise constant vigilance and worries.
There are lots of other ways to keep our minds sharp, active and as youthful as possible for decades to come. We’d love to hear your ideas for keeping the brain healthy, so join in the discussion!
Like a muscle, our brain has “plasticity” – the ability to grow, repair and develop new connections well into adult life. One of the best ways to enhance the brain’s neuroplasticity is moderate aerobic exercise. Researchers at the Salk Institute have shown that daily, moderate aerobic exercise actually “wakes up” dormant stem cells in the brain’s short-term memory center, producing new neurons and helping counteract aging’s effects.
Brain exercises can help promote plasticity too. But crossword puzzles and duplicate bridge may not be enough “heavy lifting.” Most effective are brain exercises that increase processing speed, such as learning the game Guitar Hero or the fast steps of a salsa dance. Some companies, like PositScience, have developed computer games for adults that focus on just that – building up the speed of our reactions and making our brains functionally younger in the process.
Exercise is great, but our brains also need rest and relaxation. While we sleep, our brains undergo crucial repair work. And that will be our next step to brain health.
“If I knew I was going to live this long I’d have taken better care of myself.” - Eubie Blake
We need to take better care of ourselves – and our brains – now, when we have the best chance of preventing or delaying brain aging. Once our brains have aged, the damage is much tougher to undo.
As with any part of our body we need to start by feeding the brain correctly. Try these simple dietary goals for slowing brain aging:
- Eat fish at least twice a week.
- Eat less meat and dairy fat.
- Eat a diet rich in colorful antioxidant vegetables and fruits.
- Eat primarily whole grains, and fiber rich foods like nuts, berries and beans.
If that sounds like the Mediterranean diet, you’re right. Studies show this diet benefits the brain. In fact, a recent study of 1,880 New Yorkers over 5.4 years found that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 40 percent.
Our diet can affect the health of our brain, but so can many other factors including stress, mood, exercise, sleep, our attitude and engagement in life experiences, and mental agility training.
Start by feeding the brain. Next we’ll talk about what it takes to give your brain a good workout.
Thirty years ago, I wasn’t exactly a poster boy for healthy living. After decades of yo-yo dieting, my weight had ballooned to an all-time high. My blood pressure was in the stratosphere. And I was nursing a half-gallon-a-night ice cream habit. My overall health was that of a much older man. A geriatric man, to be specific.
Fortunately, at age 50 I finally faced facts. If I kept living the way I was, I might not be alive much longer. So I began making the kinds of lifestyle changes you’ll be reading more about in this blog. And in so doing, I learned something profound: change your life, and given time, your body will change too. This insight is a key part of what led Enid and me to open Canyon Ranch. And it’s a key part of Canyon Ranch’s healthy weight philosophy. New Year’s resolutions and fad diets may take weight off, but they don’t keep it off – consistent, measurable changes you can live with do.
So take it from a former stressed-out, Rocky Road inhaling, overweight executive on the fast track to a coronary. If I can achieve a healthy weight, a more joyful, vibrant life, and still enjoy ice cream (in moderation!), so can you. And the purpose of this blog is to inspire you on that journey.
Everyday, the team here at Canyon Ranch addresses a wide range of topics that impact our guests’ health and wellbeing in ways great and small. We treat each item with equal importance. One recent question – should we offer Stevia as a sweetener to our guests? Although this may seem like a rather simple question, here at Canyon Ranch we needed to dissect it further.
First off, for those who may not know, Stevia is a very sweet herbal extract that can sweeten with fewer calories.
With the help of Marilyn Majchrzak and her food development team, we ran Stevia through a battery of tests. Based on those tests, we’ve decided to offer Stevia as a condiment. We do not, however, use it as a cooking ingredient.
To create an environment that helps guests live a truly healthier life, you have to think comprehensively. Every single thing – no matter how small – contributes to the environment we’re striving to create.
We filter our own water, create our own solar power, and mix our own natural sports drink. We’ve even installed machines that wash all the produce that enter our restaurants. Nothing is overlooked. Some people might call us obsessed — and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Yours in health –