How healthy living keeps me sharp

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Being a pediatrician is very rewarding for me on many levels, and indeed, keeps me on my toes. I have the privilege of caring for children of all ages, sharing their journey from squalling infants to nervous university first-year students. Healthy living keeps me youthful and maintains my rapport with the kids.

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Connecting with families

I get tremendous pleasure and amusement from helping first-time parents navigate the basics of caring for a newborn. Time flies, and soon I’m gently scolding the same parents for allowing the now 2 or 3-year-old, to run amok and rule the household. The elementary school years are great. The children and I start having interesting conversations, and our relationship takes off. Kids say and do the funniest things! They make every day in the office an adventure.

The teen years are particularly interesting because I take on dual roles. Cheerleader and hand-holder for parents convinced neither they nor the child would survive the teen years without bloodshed. Confidante and advocate for the teen convinced that his parents are the worst ever and completely clueless.

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Walking the talk

One of the more gratifying aspects of being a children’s doctor is that parents and children see me as a role model. I dispense tons of advice to families about so many things – in person at my practice and through my blog. I’d be a complete fraud if I encourage you to take the advice that I’m not following myself! I also find that advice often carries more weight when I use my experiences as examples.

I’m talking to children and adults several times a day now about making healthy eating choices and staying physically active. The obesity epidemic is the giant elephant in the room that you can’t  ignore. I have compelling reasons personally for deciding to exercise daily and eat nutritious foods. I share my story freely with my patients. “Whatever helps” is my mantra.

As a doctor, my goal is to practice good evidence-based medicine, so I’m looking at research all the time.  I adopt for myself, and my family, sensible health practices that are backed by solid research. There wasn’t an “aha” moment for me. I’m in the health business after all, and healthy living has always been important to me.

Benefits of healthy living

Life is a catalog of unexpected twists and turns – I’m sure that we all have our share. As a physician though, avoidable personal health problems shouldn’t be on the list. I have a family history of hypertension, stroke, and cancer, so preventing them is crucial to me. Research shows that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the most efficient way to avoid chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

My work is very demanding, and I have a variety of other interests and responsibilities that require me to be at the top of my game. My clinical skills and medical acumen have to be sharp because lives are at stake. I find that exercise improves my mental acuity and helps me think more clearly. It allows me to be physically and emotionally available to my patients, my family, and friends.

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Making it happen

My personal goal is to make every meal as healthy as possible and exercise every day.  I end up exercising an average of 5 – 6 days a week. I have homemade healthy meals because studies show that home cooking makes for healthier eating. I do enjoy eating “healthy” foods – whole grains, fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, and beans. It’s probably just me, but knowing it’s good for me makes it taste better.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wake up every morning excited at the thought of exercising. I know however that the benefits are enormous and so I push myself. Cakes and cookies are my guilty pleasure, but I make sure that I never have them in my home, so I’m not tempted to indulge. The best thing about that is being able to enjoy a sweet dessert without feeling guilty when I eat out.

How has healthy living helped you? Are you unsure about taking the plunge? Let me know.

Toju Chike-Obi, MD

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