Health care professionals always seem to have a lot to say to their patients about proper eating and exercise.
But some, like Dr. Jennifer Hsieh, would rather say it and show it. As in saying how she’s achieved a nearly ideal body weight and showing off mementos from the many road races, including marathons, she’s completed.
“I’m trying different methods and everything I can to motivate and encourage my patients,” says Dr. Hsieh, a physician who specializes in clinical endocrinology at her Monarch HealthCare practice in Long Beach. “I’m thinking, look, I’m almost 50 years old – if I can do it, you can do it.”
So what’s her weight and which races has she run? How about 110 pounds? (Which she describes as just about right for her petite 5-foot-4 frame.)
How about the Los Angeles Marathon, which took place recently, and next month’s Boston Marathon? (It will be her third time running the Boston event.)
Dr. Hsieh, a resident of Huntington Beach, works with a lot of patients who are overweight or obese, and may have complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
She has learned that weight is a very touchy subject and patients often feel like they’re “stuck” and nobody’s there to help them. They’ve failed at diets and are embarrassed about exercising or going to the gym. They don’t know where to start and, she notes, their joints may hurt or it may otherwise be hard for them to movie because of their weight.
Dr. Hsieh, who is board certified in obesity medicine, works slowly and carefully to get her patients to open up. She discusses lab tests and explain indicators such as body mass index, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, an calorie counts. At the same time, she’ll start looking for ways to help build from within a patient’s desire to change and the motivation to work at it.
A key part of that motivation is Dr. Hsieh talking about her own strong passion for running, which includes regular 5:00 a.m. jogs in the dark with friends along with the group fun and camaraderie of road races.
I don’t think running is for everyone,” she says, noting that stationary cycling and swimming can be good cardiovascular exercise options for burning calories. “But it’s a great way to stay in shape. And it’s a sense of accomplishment. I’ve been running probably now for the past five or six years.”
And then there is the “wall” moment. That’s when patients take a close look at a wall in her office that’s decorated with the framed and colorful runner’s bib numbers from the races she’s been in, including many of the local 5-kilometer runs.
“So I just tell my patients they’ve got to pick something, somewhere to start, whether it’s just walking around their neighborhood,” she says. “You’ve got to start slow. I use myself as an example. I mean, I’m a runner, but I was never a runner before. You know, not everything’s going to come that easy; you’ve got to stick with it and be patient.”
Dr. Hsieh at times will even invite her patients, not to mention her office staff, to sign up for one of the 5K races in the area that she’ll also be participating in. Sometimes the invitees will have to go easy in the race and take a walk-don’t-run approach.
But that’s okay, says Dr. Hsieh. The idea is that the whole experience is fun and invigorating. And it can be a simple way to jump start a lasting exercise program.
“I think the races are a good way to get people off the couch,” says Dr. Hsieh. “Just start slow and eventually step up the training. And running is just an example. I tell my patients— ‘you’ve got to find whatever it is that you enjoy.’ Because nobody’s going to exercise unless they enjoy what they’re doing.”
That certainly seems like the proper way of talking about and showing how there can be a long but rewarding road to healthier living.
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