Pleasanton Weekly

- January 28, 2011

Wellness: caring for more than just the body

Good health is all about balance in our lives

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pick up a pen and draw a triangle. Along one side, write the word physical; on the other two sides, write mental and spiritual.

What you've just drawn is a wellness triangle, and according to Dr. Neil Okamura of the San Ramon Regional Medical Center, all three sides are equally important.

"All three of those things have to be in balance for you to have wellness or health," Okamura explained, drawing on weight loss as a New Year's resolution for his example.

"Weight is only a small portion of health, because it is only a part of physical," he explained. "Everything on the physical side is measurable. The mental part is things that include your understanding, your emotional stress, your understanding of diet and exercise."

Spiritual or social health makes up the third leg of the triangle, "the thing you can't measure," Okamura continued. That includes one's relationship with nature, friends and the community.

"They're all kind of interconnected," but, he added, "I'd say stress is the biggest factor."

That fits with findings from the Mayo Clinic, which indicates that things like gratitude, optimism and devoting time to family and friends are key stress reducers, and even laughter can cut stress and help balance all three sides of the wellness triangle.

When it comes to weight, Okamura said sometimes people can actually gain weight and get healthier.

"I've seen so many patients who come in and are so stressed because of their weight," he said. Many are tired, or starving or just upset that they can't lose the pounds. "People just focus on weight loss."

So, if a person is overweight and the other sides of the triangle are in balance, he said he's less concerned than he would be with another person who wants a fast fix for some extra pounds, especially given studies that show a person is likely to gain those pounds back and even add more weight over the span of a few years.

Okamura said the wellness triangle can be applied to other situations, like quitting smoking or beginning an exercise program.

"You can almost put anything in there because we as humans get so focused on one aspect in general," he said.

For Okamura, getting people to balance that wellness triangle means getting them to look at their habits, what he called the "single biggest detriment to wellness."

"There can be good habits and bad, but we mostly succumb to bad habits, things we do unconsciously that have a negative impact," he said. "That's just not things like smoking or drinking -- you can look at any habit."

He said one of his biggest challenges as a doctor is getting people to "understand on a conscious level, to understand what they've doing."

Similarly, Okamura said if a patient smokes because she or he truly enjoys it, he's less concerned than he would be if the patient is stuck in a habit or using smoking as stress relief.

ValleyCare offers classes in new mom wellness, yoga, Tai Chi Chuan, nutrition programs and exercise classes at its LifeStyleRx facility at 1119 E. Stanley Blvd. in Livermore, according to spokeswoman Madonna D'Angelo, who said in an email that wellness programs are offered once a month.

"Some of the education seminars we've presented include: Having A Baby, Osteoporosis, Advance Directives, Diabetes, Breast Cancer, Colon Cancer, Snoring and Sleep Apnea, Teen Eating Disorders, Hip and Knee Pain, Cervical Cancer, and Prostate Cancer," D'Angelo said. Those seminars are usually presented by a ValleyCare doctor and are typically held evenings in ValleyCare's medical plaza at 5725 W. Las Positas, Pleasanton.

San Ramon Regional offers tips for everything from stress to nutrition and even suggestions for exercise on its website.

The medical center has been offering educational programs and wellness services for more than 10 years, said Marketing Manager Sandra Ryan, who organizes them.

Although she admits it might seem counterintuitive for a medical center to help people stay out of the hospital, Ryan says it comes down to being responsible for one's own health as opposed to the traditional model of getting sick and making a doctor responsible. She said that's especially important as the Baby Boomers get older.

"There's going to be a lot of us out there; if we don't take responsibility for our own health now, there may not be a lot of resources in the future," Ryan said.

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