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The Lifestyle Prescription That Will Make You Well

– It turns out the
prescription for wellness in our lives is actually many things we have a lot of control over. We’re gonna learn what those are right now from Doctor Dave Larson. Welcome to Happiness Adventure. I’m Lisa, and together we’ll explore ways to cultivate real joy in our lives. (bright music) Welcome to Happiness Adventure, Dave. – Yeah, thank you, glad to be here. – You say that lifestyle
is the best medicine. And can you explain what you mean by that? – Our bodies and our brains
are information gathering and processing machines. And every single day, what
we do and where we place our intention has impact. In our brain, whatever we
focus on grows stronger. The brain’ll allocate resources
from one neural pathway to a different one based on
where we place our attention. So those small decisions of, gosh, what time do I wake up? How do I wake up? What do I eat? What’s my morning routine? How do I get to work? Do I listen to something in
the car when I’m on there? There’s so many opportunities
to make little tweaks. Some things lead to emotional well-being, but that actually can reduce stress, which has a huge impact
on physical well-being. – Yeah. We’re not one thing at a time, right? – Yeah. – Our emotions and our bodies, and- – It’s all connected,
all of it, all the time. – Yeah. So how do you see a focus on well-being and lifestyle medicine being different than what’s going on in
our culture right now? – Yeah, I think it’s very different. I have Kaiser, for example. And Kaiser talks about thrive. And yet if I don’t do
anything, nothing happens. My doctor never calls me. No one from the team reaches out. And the expectation is I kinda take care of my own well-being. And if I get sick, I’ll
go through the hoops to reach out to them. I think healthcare needs
more of a paradigm shift, from a focus on disease
and understanding disease to a focus on well-being. And rather than just leaving people alone to take care of their well-being, say, let’s study that. Let’s put some time and attention into understanding, how good can you feel? How good can your body operate, you know? We learn in medical school,
the first two years, about physiology, like
how the kidneys work, how the heart works. And then the rest of the
time in medical training is all about pathology, disease states. – Yeah. – So when you get into
studies of peak performance or astronauts, there’s a little bit of studying, how well can we function? – Yeah. – But that’s what I’m really about and what I think lifestyle
medicine is about, using those small tweaks in daily habits to actually promote well-being. Sure, we’ll handle disease if it comes up. Some diseases we can reverse. But the focus is on well-being. – It seems like in psychiatry, which you’re also board certified in, the emphasis is really on diagnosing negative mental states and not
on even naming positive ones. – Yeah, well said. There’s a whole book that comes out every few years, the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual. And it’s about diagnosing
states of mental illness. – So what do you think
the advantages would be if we shift to focusing
on how well we can be as opposed to troubleshooting
for illness or diseases? – Yeah, like I said before,
what we focus on gets stronger. So we’ll see more, a lot more education and evidence-based education for people of how do I take care of myself? How do I create quality relationships? If I wanna live a long time, the best data for long-term well-being
is through relationships. So having that in schools and in classes and a relationship well-being
checkup at the doctor, right, and having a whole team
that’s kind of there to coach. So I see a lot less chronic disease, a lot less medication and surgery, billions of dollars saved
from both the government, tax payers, and health insurers. – Yeah, you say there are several domains over which we can influence our wellness. Could you talk about
what some of those are? – Start with kinda the basics, nutrition. It’s not just food. I think conceptualizing nutrients as chemicals entering your bloodstream, so nutrition is about kind
of looking individually, is how does someone’s genetic makeup, their disease states, and
their lifestyle interact to make up their nutrient needs? And how can we get that
primarily through food, and then if we need to supplement, how do we find safe, healthy supplements? So that’s a big domain,
probably the foundation. Then the other ones are
exercise and movement, stress resilience, building
quality relationships, like we talked about, and
kind of sleep optimization. – Is there anything else
that you, as a physician, see that we should really
be focusing our attention on for better wellness that
we have full control over? – Yeah, a lot of things. (laughs) I’m thinking another,
we haven’t talked really about stress resilience. – [Lisa] What does that mean? – Think of resilience like a rubber band, and being able to stretch and
still maintain functioning. I think a lot of people have this concept that stress is bad, right, stress management, and
that’s not the case at all. Stress is essential to life. And if you study human flourishing of people who are kinda
performing at the best, they always have a history of stress. But it’s called eustress
rather than distress. That’s stress for a good reason, the type of stress, you have a goal. And you’re stressing to reach that goal, you know, the stress of training. The way I see stress resilience training is making sure people are being stressed for the right reasons. And then also over 95% of people
have no idea how to relax. And in our culture, where it’s saying do more and more and more and more, it makes sense, you know? And it’s not part of your everyday class. No one gets a curriculum in how to relax. – So how do we relax? – One hack that I like to teach patients is controlling the rate of their breath. So basically when are
you the most relaxed? When you’re in that deep sleep. And how fast are you breathing when you’re in that deep sleep? It’s about 14 seconds per breath. – [Lisa] Wow. – So like four breaths a minute. – I didn’t think it was
possible to breathe that slowly. – Yeah, and so sure
enough, you start breathing that slowly when you’re awake, you activate what’s called your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your unconscious rest
and digest nervous system. So I tell people just close their eyes, breathe in to a count of seven or longer, and then breathe out to a
count of seven or longer. – Okay. – That’s 14 seconds. Do it for at least, in
studies it’s done two minutes three times a day. And after six weeks, we
see all sorts of changes. Depression, anxiety, FMRI
changes in the brain. So that’s one hack, breathing techniques. Another obviously huge one
is mindfulness meditation. And that’s basically deliberate practice, drills of creating a space
between stimulus and response. – Okay. – So instead of having
a knee-jerk reaction, if my knee itches and I scratch it, it’s creating the ability in my brain to say, oh, I’m aware
that my knee is itching and that I want to scratch it. And I can choose, in that moment, do I wanna scratch it or not? – Yeah. – And you can imagine,
if you get really good at that skill of creating space, you kinda become like a ninja in life. You can just sit in a place of calm and really make intentional decisions rather than running around like a chicken with its head cut off. – Yeah. – So meditation, especially
in my anxious patients, they need to be warned that you feel a lot worse when
you start to meditate for about six weeks. It’s gonna be really unpleasant
and really uncomfortable. And it’s worth it, so do it anyway. – What is that discomfort
that an anxious person experiences in the process? – So a lot of time people feeling anxiety will try to get away from it, either by being busy, by going for a run, by drinking, by getting
lost in a conversation, ’cause they’re trying to get away from being with themself. So in meditation, you stop all that. You can’t do any of that. – No more crutch. – And so they have to sit with whatever’s alive in them. And so if it’s anxiety,
it’s really uncomfortable just to sit with that. – Yeah, so it takes about six weeks, and then it gets better? – Yeah, so about six weeks is around when you start to actually
experience pleasure from the act of meditating. And you start to get all the
other evidence-based benefits. So stress-related illnesses,
we see a reduction, longevity, learning and memory, dementia. The way the brain learns is
more through spaced repetitions rather than duration. So I would much prefer someone to meditate twice a day for two minutes than three times a week for an hour. – Okay. – So in general, 20
minutes is around the goal of what people shoot for. But when you’re getting started, I usually tell people like
five to eight minutes. – [Lisa] Okay. – ‘Cause I want them to be successful in getting a daily
session in for six weeks. – Yeah. If someone is feeling depressed, which of these lifestyle domains that you’ve mentioned
is a good place to start in kind of pulling themselves out of that? – Yeah, so the best
treatment for depression, with evidence, is called
cognitive behavioral therapy, CBT. And in cognitive behavioral therapy, where we usually start is
called behavioral activation. So we don’t pay attention
to what people are thinking. We don’t really pay attention
to what they’re feeling. We pay attention to what
they’re physically doing. Even if you’re feeling
horrible and depressed, when you start doing the activities or the behaviors that you used to do when you were feeling
like you were thriving, it’s really difficult to feel depressed. So I had a few patients
who used to love to golf. And so part of his
treatment plan was to golf while depressed. So if depression kind of came mostly in a certain room in the
house or in your office, changing your environment
and your physical state can help you access
different thought patterns. And there’s even research,
if we paralyze with Botox the frowning muscles, sure enough depression gets better. – Wow. (laughs) – We block the ability to frown. – So the body is really
telling the mind how to feel in some way. – It’s a two-way loop. So definitely, 100%. – Well, Dave, our culture is very, let’s fix what’s broken,
let’s name a disease and address it. But we’re not as proactive about having, let’s say a health plan. So when you want to prescribe
a lifestyle to people, how do you recommend that we go about shifting our mindsets
to not just getting by or preventing disease but actually being our best selves? – What I want and hope is
that that’s a lifelong mission and commitment. I think without growth,
life is really boring. With anything, you know, if we don’t, if we’re stagnant, things
start to rot and decay. So I think that’s one
of the purposes of life, is continual growth. And the journey kinda into well-being is one that’s limitless
and that we can continue to grow into. In Western culture, there’s a
big deficiency in self-care. And I think sometimes people
think of it as selfish. And one of my teachers, he uses the word enlightened self-interest,
because I know as a dad, when I take care of myself and my cup’s full and overflowing, the quality of my presence with my family is so much better than if my cup is empty. – Yeah. – And that’s true with my patients. So I kinda see self-care
as the primary mode of being of service in the world. When my cup overflows, I share it with my committed relationships, and if there’s more,
then it’s with my work and then my community, kinda
growing out from there. – That’s a really good paradigm shift. – Yeah. My practice is called SourceMD, ’cause I think primarily we are the source of our own well-being. So I see it as kind of a journey from the inside out. – [Lisa] That’s a great name. – Thank you, yeah. – How are you cultivating joy in your life right now? – Setting time and space
for play, fun, adventure. In my career, there’s so
many hours spent learning, and time becomes such a precious resource that we can fall into this pattern of only spending time
on productive things. And that can have a big
impact on my own well-being. – Right. – Physical activity’s a
big part of that for me, so surfing, yoga, running with my dog. Time both with, like
date night with my wife but also time just with
men, and community time, so connection, real, having
quality connection experiences with friends and community
is another big part of that. – Yeah. Well, Dave, thank you so much
for sharing with us today. – Yeah, it’s been a
pleasure to be on this. Thanks for inviting me. – That was Doctor Dave Larson of SourceMD. And the link to Dave’s website
is in the description box right below this video. So be sure to check that out. While you’re there, in
the comments section, let me know, of the lifestyle
domains he talked about, which one do you have
room for improvement in? Before you go, subscribe
for a new video each week, and I look forward to seeing you soon for our next Happiness Adventure. (bright music)


  1. Kristen Carlson
    Kristen Carlson August 29, 2019

    Thank you for the empowering thoughts to help us pursue wellness.

  2. Happiness Adventure
    Happiness Adventure August 29, 2019

    Let us know…which of the lifestyle domains that Dr. Dave mentions do you want to see improvement in?

  3. Ruth Larson
    Ruth Larson August 30, 2019

    It is empowering to hear we are in charge of our well being and have specific practices we can do mentally and physically. As a skin cancer physician, life style (wearing sun screen and protective clothing) can decrease skin cancer by as much as 70% or more . Thank you for reminding us of optimal health.

  4. doctorlarson
    doctorlarson August 31, 2019

    Dr Dave …as a Gastroenterologist dealing with patients with chronic intestinal complaints for 45 years, I totally agree with your mindful emphasis on stress reduction and becoming self aware of our own unhealthy dietary choices which together explain and account for most gastrointestinal complaints. Your easy to learn meditation approach is very useful and highly recommended in my practice as is your overall focus on comprehensive and individual wellness rather than disease.. Our challenges as healthcare providers is first empathizing and understanding the distress of our patients and then inspiring and motivating them to craft their own journey towards optimal health. Your wellness first approach is very doable for nearly everyone as well as being strongly evidence-based. Thank you. Alan Larson M.D.

  5. Sue Liguori
    Sue Liguori September 6, 2019

    I loved this interview. Dr Larson is such a wonderful doctor. I found the part about depression very interesting. I so appreciate the time and effort to share such helpful things to do with health and well being.

  6. leland larson
    leland larson September 6, 2019

    I love the health hacks (my words) that I heard in this talk, wrote some down, especially found helpful the ideas of just repetition and choice, and should mention, doing a short meditation for a month +! I sent this to my doctor and he send me a great email back, saying it was one of the best talks ever….(to that effect).

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