Secrets to Healthy Living From Harvard Doctors

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Like most people, I don’t love exercise. When I started to gain weight and my wife bought a rowing machine, I barely used it at first. But then I figured out that if I put a TV by it, and exercised while doing something else I wanted to do, I could go on a good long while. In fact, I would even forget how much time was passing.

I can run on a treadmill for a full 90 minutes when the Patriots or Red Sox are playing. And there are certain movies that enable me to run as long as the action is sustained, like Avatar, or the opening of Saving Private Ryan. I’m so time-conscious that I would be very aware I was doing nothing if I were just watching these things; likewise, if I didn’t have something to distract me from how boring it is to run on a treadmill, I would quit in five or 10 minutes.

Psychologically, I always have the escape clause of “I really need to get back to work.”


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I feel pretty strongly that weight problems that many folks have are related to lots of carry-out food or eating out, where one can’t control what is in the food or the size of the portion. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but I used to cook mostly on weekends for friends. Now that I have a family, I really focus on good, fresh food that can be cooked quickly (especially on weeknights). I keep a selection of chicken, fish, pork, and shrimp in the freezer, and try to have fresh and/or frozen vegetables on hand, as well as fresh or frozen herbs and spices, spice rubs, etc. And I have a binder with a bunch of recipes that take 20 minutes or less to put together.

Cooking is very intimidating for many folks, but if one starts with a few simple recipes and then starts reading magazines and cookbooks that focus on fast, easy, and fresh food, it really can be pretty easy.


I pay close attention to my mental health. I try not to read work e-mail on the weekend. I love weekend naps. I aim for true downtime with my husband and daughter; sometimes we just snuggle on the couch, sometimes we ride bikes or go to the park. I make an effort to be involved with my daughter’s school and her activities.

And every Friday, my college roommates and I e-mail each other. Our only rule for these missives is that we have to come up with several successes that we’ve had during the week—however small, however bad the week may have been. I always feel lighter and calmer after these exchanges. We’ve done this for many years and we all treasure it.


I refuse to use a smart phone. In a world that’s already pulling me in 10 directions at once, I don’t need to be pulled in an 11th direction. I don’t want to be interrupted every few minutes by a signal that says there is a new message for me, because my personality is such that I’ll stop what I’m doing and look at every message. And forget what I was doing just before I got the message. And go crazy trying to remember. And going crazy is not good for your health.


I do not take any supplements except vitamin D. I tell all my patients to throw away essentially every supplement they swear by. It is amazing to me that incredibly intelligent individuals flock to supplements; I see it at the boathouse where I row on a regular basis. I think some folks believe that they can make up for a poor diet (with limited fruits and vegetables) by taking vitamins. But studies have generally not shown them to be helpful for disease prevention.

I do think calcium supplements and vitamin D are likely to be useful for women at risk for osteoporosis, especially if they don’t get enough from their diet. But overall, if people eat a healthy diet, they really shouldn’t need supplements.


Patients (and their doctors) tend to overlook the impact of joy on health. It’s hard to know why: perhaps because there is no number to follow, we focus instead on “hard” values for cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, PSA, etc. Those are all important—but so are relationships, personal fulfillment, and optimism.

There are plenty of medical studies that link optimism, happiness, and joy with good health. Research also shows that good marriages predict good health, whereas marital stress predicts the reverse. So I guess I do have a secret shortcut to health: her name is Rita, and we’ve been married for 43 years.

Healthy Living: The Complete Package

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