Consider a common mindset: the church and state of medicine and wellness. You walk into a room as a patient, wearing a standard-issue gown, feeling rather cold, and dreading what comes next. On the opposite end of the spectrum is a treatment room you enter as a client. It looks lovely, with strategic lighting and sleek interior design. Dressed comfortably, you’ve paid the menu price plus tip and feel at ease. Both scenarios ensure we live better, but there exists a common, unhealthy disconnect between our doctors and our healers. The risk is missing some simple, evidence-based keys to long-term well-being.
In America, we identify and treat disease in doctor’s offices and hospitals. When there’s nothing serious to report, the doctor’s advice is often too soon forgotten. It’s easy to nod in agreement upon hearing tips to work out or limit alcohol consumption, but when the happy hour invitation goes out the next day, even those with the best intentions tend to stray.
Medical centers across the country are adding and enhancing wellness offerings, providing effective treatments, some of which can be covered by insurance or paid for using health savings accounts. The lifestyle planning that they specialize in is built on the foundation of what physicians understand about their patients’ whole health, taking into account underlying risk factors and genetic makeup, and achieving results that can be truly optimal, even life-saving.
“Medical centers evolved as a disease treatment model,” says Dr. Donald Hensrud, director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “Yet a lot of the medical conditions that people have are related to lifestyle. It sounds so simple [to] eat less and exercise more, but that’s not what’s happening out in the community, with the obesity rate at 70 percent and rampant heart disease, which is estimated to be 70 to 95 percent preventable.”
Accessing evidence-based resources at top medical centers need not preclude the indulgence of a spa day or a beauty treatment—but when health and well-being are what’s at stake, it’s effective to take a comprehensive approach and keep in mind big-picture goals.
Mayo Clinic Healthy Living ProgramRochester, Minnesota
Developed to show patients how to do what their doctors recommend, this 8-year-old program anchors its success in one-on-one attention and accountability. When people work with a nutritionist, they leave with a customized eating plan, and a connection to a coach who will be checking in monthly. Programs targeted to those with specific diagnoses include one for fibromyalgia, which can thread the needle to pinpoint just how much or too little exercise can prevent someone from having painful flare-ups and maximize the number of days they feel good.
“Individualization, just like in clinical medicine, makes the difference,” Hensrud says. “When people undertake lifestyle changes, the underlying issue is the challenge of making a behavior change. It sounds easy, but it’s pretty difficult. It takes resources, information, strategies, and a plan, and knowing and being shown what to do. Lifestyle changes can be and should be practical and enjoyable, so that they lead to a new, sustainable way to live.” healthyliving.mayoclinic.org
Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative MedicineLos Angeles
Focused on changing the way cancer is treated, this four-story facility physically blurs boundaries between cancer research, cancer patients, and wellness clientele. And it does so with the spit, polish, and glamour you would imagine in West LA. Visitors to the institute’s clinic for oncology services as well as wellness treatments and cancer screenings meet with doctors and nurses in private rooms finished in natural woods and soft lighting like a Four Seasons spa. Whether someone has a cancer diagnosis or not, they can make an appointment to establish a baseline health profile with the center and schedule screenings and genetic testing based on risk factors.
Stepping off the elevator through the institute’s main entrance feels like walking into a museum more than it does a medical center. Hanging across from the reception desk is an 8-foot Sea Lily fossil, estimated to be 174–182 million years old, on loan from billionaire Ellison’s private art collection. As young as you might feel gazing up at the ancient flowerlike creature, standing there you have the capacity to grasp how long this game of life has been playing out. As it says in the History of Medicine Gallery around the corner, “The story of cancer is still being written. It has been with us for most of human history, challenging the brightest minds for thousands of years.”
Cancer is a common enemy, and the Ellison Institute is built to inspire on a deeper level everyone’s role in the fight, whether it’s for the life of a loved one, for humanity, or for yourself. Cutting-edge imaging technology and labs stocked with diverse tissue samples arm experts and outsiders for battle, as the institute has engaged a united front of economists, biologists, mathematicians, statisticians, and policy makers. The open floor plan encourages interaction, as visitors can wander among laboratories built with large interior viewing windows and take in artworks from Ellison’s and other significant collections. In every sight line is a muse, whether Robert Indiana’s Hope (2009) sculpture cast in Corten steel or a mirrored pink elephant by Jeff Koons providing a pop of color on an outdoor patio. eitm.org
Bendheim Integrative Medicine CenterNew York
Part of New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center, the Bendheim center grants cancer patients and the public access to expert integrative medicine practitioners. Unlike alternative medicine, integrative medicine focuses on using research to inform the evidence-based practice of complementary therapies. Established in 1999 by Barrie Cassileth, a pioneer of using integrative medicine in cancer treatment, with support from the Rockefeller family, the center offers massage, mind-body, and music therapies, as well as acupuncture, nutrition programs, and exercise classes.
Acupuncture, for example, modulates the nervous system by stimulating parasympathetic nerves to calm down the sympathetic nerves, as has been confirmed in thousands of clinical trials. Evidence-based studies confirm that massage reduces chemo-induced nausea and vomiting. And studies on meditation tell us that the practice decreases pain, anxiety, insomnia, and stress. The center also specializes in complementary therapies, including the use of herbs and dietary supplements to help cancer patients deal with symptoms and side effects of their treatments. Pharmacists and integrative medicine physicians collaborate to give clear guidance on the traditional and proven uses of various plants, and guide patients away from herbs that might have negative interactions with their cancer treatment. mskcc.org