As we live in a more complex, dynamic world, which is constantly changing with technological innovations, we are increasingly more interconnected. While technology continues to advance our society with better communication, efficiency and productivity we need to step back and reassess what is happening to the state of our health and wellness in this new world. Work is increasingly more sedentary as we sit in front of computer screens all day. Food is readily available. We are facing an obesity epidemic, and as a result a rise in chronic disease including diabetes and heart disease, which is shortening and decreasing the quality of many lives.
Why do we allow this to happen? Why is it so difficult to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices into the way we live? Although many of us know what the right choices are with regards to diet and exercise, many people find it challenging to adhere to healthier behaviors.
As an internist at NYU Medical Center, I am on the forefront of treating chronic disease and prevention. In most cases it is easy to determine what is wrong with a patient, but behavior modification is a huge challenge. I counsel patients daily on weight loss, exercise, better sleep practice and diet modification, but despite patients being well aware of what needs to be done, successful behavior change is the exception rather than the rule.
Patients offer many reasons for why it is difficult to exercise and maintain better eating habits including: "I don't have time," "I work too hard," "My kids keep me busy," or "l'll work on this after I finish my next project or my next deadline." I often discuss with my patients, that if they were to prioritize their health as much as they prioritize their success at work or their success as a parent, then likely they would find the time and motivation to make a healthy lifestyle change. Unfortunately, many people do not see their health as an equal priority to their other life obligations, which I think is a fundamental problem in our fight on obesity, prevention of chronic disease, and a universal outlook that needs to be changed.
How do we make this change? Where do we start? I recently attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, where I was surrounded by world leaders and CEOs. I was inspired not only by their leadership, but also by their dialogue about how we can mobilize our society to make more sustainable healthy changes. We need a grassroots effort involving multiple areas of society that will make healthy living accessible and attainable. One area, where I see a major opportunity to make a change is in the workplace. I believe that employers, including small and large companies, have the potential to influence behavior change, especially as many people spend the majority of their waking hours at work.
As a society we could benefit from a movement that would enable employers to be more engaged in creating opportunities and incentives at the work place for people to get more activity, to eat better, and to provide escapes for mental relaxation (such as napping or meditation rooms). Competition also drives behavior, and creating reward for those who meet certain health criteria at work, would likely drive healthier behaviors. I already see signs of this happening, as I have had patients working at some larger corporations who were given financial rewards for meeting health parameters.
If we do not make a major change in the way our society approaches and values health and wellness, people will suffer increasingly from chronic illness and shorter lives. Creating a healthier community requires work and focus from each individual, and this requires motivation and desire for change. With the help of employers, we could start to make a large step in the right direction. Other groups that can also help influence change include school educators, the food industry, religious groups, government policy makers, and peer influences. Let's get started today and take a step in right direction to incorporate wellness and healthy living into our complex world.