October 2009

Stay well

As you may know, I recently had my annual four-mile “Fun Run” with our students. It’s a special way to get to know them better, and also a small piece of what for me is a much bigger picture: striving to make our Medical Center a flagship institution in helping people stay well.

A growing proportion of our academic and clinical programs—including our new Center for Healthful Behavior Change, our Center of Excellence on Addiction, and our Institute of Community Health and Research—have that very goal. But I think an important part of this must also be that we lead by example, understanding that modifying behavior is the hardest thing there is.  

You know the kinds of steps we’ve taken: the complete ban on smoking in and around the Medical Center, the focus on improving nutrition in our cafeteria, the Reach for Wellness program, and so on. The latter initiative, designed to help employees tackle their own health challenges (like losing weight or exercising regularly) recently earned us the American Heart Association’s Platinum Recognition Award, an honor bestowed on only 110 organizations nationwide.   

Alongside these institutional initiatives, I would hope to see each of us—as parents, friends, teachers and caregivers—dedicate ourselves to a healthy lifestyle, in all the small ways that make such a difference over time. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator when we can. Taking a piece of fruit instead of a candy bar. Taking whatever medication we’re supposed to be taking. And so on.

With fully half the deaths in this country attributable to unhealthy behaviors, not to mention the toll of preventable conditions that sap energy and vitality, I’m convinced that helping people protect their health is probably the biggest contribution we can make, both to individual well-being and to reducing the costs of care. And to me, doing everything we can to protect our own health—and help those around us protect theirs—is where it all starts.