Doctors talk the talk and walk the walk
You know those physicians who used tell us to quit smoking and lose weight while puffing away and carrying around a few extra pounds themselves? Well the good news is, today’s doctors are increasingly following their own advice. Whether they are exercising more, eating healthier or a combination of both, many Mt. Lebanon docs are practicing what they preach.
Jack Girod, a cardiologist with South Hills Cardiology Associates at St. Clair Hospital, is one who has gone all out, calling his regimen two-pronged. “I adhere to a plant-based diet, abstaining from meat, eggs, cheese. I eat vegetables, fruit, a lot of grains, beans. I work out most days, unless I’m stuck at the hospital. I mix it up, I jog three to four times a week, and I cross-train with weights. My hobby is martial arts, and I do that two to three times a week, as well. You only have to set aside 45 minutes a day for exercise.”
Girod, of Rae Avenue, has exercised his entire life, but just started the diet about three years ago—and the effort is paying off. He had an elevated cholesterol level and said, “I’m a cardiologist, and I see people with coronary disease every day. I’ve always been focused on prevention. I was treating myself with cholesterol medications, but after I started adhering to this diet, I couldn’t keep myself on the medicines as much as I had been because my cholesterol went so low. It made a huge difference.”
He tried the plant-based diet after investigating studies that had been done on vegans, and found they tend to live longer and have much slower rates of pulmonary artery disease and cancer. He recommends it to his high-risk patients as an alternative to taking numerous medications. “It worked out very well for me, and I’ve had patients who have taken my advice, and they’ve done well,” he says.
Bethany Casagranda, a radiologist at Allegheny General Hospital, also combines exercise with good nutrition, but in her case, one seemed to naturally follow the other. She plays tennis with friends year-round, taking advantage of the bubbles at the Mt. Lebanon Tennis Center to play in cold weather. She also runs two or three days a week and has done the Pittsburgh half-marathon and the EQT Pittsburgh 10 Miler.
Such exercise hasn’t always been a part of Casagranda’s life. “I was probably 35 when I re-ignited my physical activity, and now I’m 39,” she says. She blames the inactivity on the rigors of medical school. “But after working a few years, I realized we sit at computers all day long, and I was just so exhausted and I felt my posture crumbling, and I felt and looked older than I thought was appropriate for mid-30s. So I started to play tennis.”
Casagranda, Elm Spring Road, played tennis in high school but added running to her regimen by using free 5K 101 podcasts designed for use on iPods or iPhones. She went from being a complete non-runner to being able to run 30 straight minutes. Then she started running with a few friends, ran a few races, and now it’s a routine.
The exercise carried over into her eating habits. “When you start doing healthy things like running, it spills over to your diet,” she says. “When you put new demands on your body, you need to give it the fuel it needs. So I altered my diet from eating whatever was convenient, to being much more conscious of my food choices.”
Not all physicians follow such a rigid routine. Marcia Klein-Patel, a gynecologist at Jefferson Regional Medical Center and mother of two young children, 1 and 3, combines exercise with family time.
“As a family we incorporate as much outside time as possible—running around, climbing, playing ball,” she says. “We walk every day at least 30 minutes, weather permitting. Most of my activity revolves around my family.”
Klein-Patel, Parkview Drive, believes overall balance in life is important. “You have to eat well, sleep well; you have to exercise; you have to have good relationships—all of which affect each other… exercise is just one component of living a healthy lifestyle,” she says.
Judy Balk agrees. A gynecologist and colleague of Klein-Patel’s at Jefferson, she places great emphasis on proper sleep, saying insufficient sleep can lead to weight gain and mood swings. “A key to good health is sleeping through the night,” she says. “You shouldn’t be proud of saying ‘I only get five hours of sleep.’ Sleep is a gift, and it’s necessary for health.”
In addition, Balk, Valleyview Road, is a strong proponent of walking. “I’m old-school—I use a pedometer,” she says. Her goal is 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day. She and Klein-Patel look forward for opportunities to combine walks with meetings when possible. “Walking meetings are a great idea, if you don’t have to be at a computer,” she says.
Balk has been exercising her whole life. She taught aerobics in Philadelphia during medical school. “It’s a huge form of stress reduction; it’s good for your mood,” she says. “I recommend exercise to my patients, especially if you can do it with a friend.”
Although Balk embraces walking, she’s not in favor of deprivation when it comes to eating. “Rather than say, ‘Don’t eat this,’ I add fruits and vegetables to every meal. I’m not only staying fit but staying healthy,” she says.
As a dermatologist, Justin Vujevich of Vujevich Dermatology Associates has a different outlook on what constitutes a healthy regimen. “The first thing I do is to wear a broad-based sunscreen every day,” he says. “I tell my patients to wear SPF 30 on their face every day— whether it’s 80 degrees, minus-15, sunny, cloudy, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “Don’t think about it; just make it part of your morning habit. He recommends that his male patients put sunscreen next to their shaving cream. For women, he suggests putting it on as a moisturizer, before they apply their make-up.
Vujevich and his family, of Forest Glen Drive, wear clothing that protects them from the sun. “We wear shirts with what’s called UPF—ultraviolet protection factor. When we first started doing it about six or seven years ago, we were not the cool people at the pool, but now, it seems if you’re not wearing them, you’re not the cool people. It also shows the change in attitude people have of the effects of the sun on the body, and that comes from patient education,” he says.
A third part of Vujevich’s plan is to eat healthy. He and his wife started eliminating processed carbohydrates, which include rice, breads, and pastas from their diet about five years ago. “It’s not a diet,” he says. “People try to go on diets like the Atkins Diet, and they work, but it’s not really sustainable—you can’t just eat protein all the time.” He has lost 25 pounds since changing his eating habits.
So whether going all out or just making small adjustments, these physicians have found that a healthy regimen has produced positive results.
“So many of us have desk jobs, and it makes it really hard,” says Klein-Patel. “I understand, but [getting exercise] sounds harder than it is. I tell patients it would be great if everybody could have a personal trainer, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just doing something matters. You’ll feel better.”
“Sitting is the new smoking,” says Balk. Get up and stand intermittently. Just scatter it throughout the day.”
“I think you know those days when you don’t exercise,” says Klein-Patel. “Your body knows. You don’t feel great. It’s the same thing I tell patients. If you’re feeling mentally slow, the answer is probably not in the vending machine. The answer is probably in a 15-minute walk around your building.”
Take it from somebody who knows.