Let’s review our basic premise from the last issue of SUCCESS: Your body is amazing. You get a do-over. It doesn’t take that long and it’s not that hard, if you know what to do. You get to control your genes. In this issue, we are going to address one of the many questions we received: If you could do only one thing for your health, what’s the most important thing?
Our response isn’t about some miracle food, powerful pill or impossible workout. It’s something virtually everyone can do: Walk 30 minutes and call a buddy. Every day, no excuses. Calling the buddy is just as important as—and maybe even more important than—the walking itself. Why? Because calling a buddy is the key to managing stress and consistently choosing healthy behaviors.
Often, we use our spouse as the buddy, and that makes sense: You have to care (generously) about your buddy and find things you share with each other. That bond results in instant intimacy (not necessarily involving satin sheets). The people you surround yourself with for health, especially your buddy, define your health and who you are. Your buddy helps you identify what you’re most passionate about, as long as you have absolute candor. If you try to make choices about health, whether it’s walking 30 minutes a day, cutting back on your portion sizes or anything else, and do it alone, there’s a much higher risk you’ll end up lips first in a tub of (headed-for-the-hips) ice cream.
Perhaps the biggest health choice of all is making a commitment to find your YOU partner, be it a spouse, a friend or a colleague. Your buddy is someone whom you can talk to about your goals, food choices, plans, aspirations for your health and how you’re doing day by day. Make a plan to talk or e-mail for at least five minutes every day. It’s much better if you can actually walk and talk with your buddy daily for 30 minutes. If you prefer a cyber friend, log on to RealAge.com and match up with a partner there.
"You can make a YOU-Turn and get back on a healthy track."
Now, you don’t want any ol’ buddy, but you want someone you can trust absolutely. Choosing a buddy (and a mate) wisely is important because your buddy will help you keep your blood pressure lower and the pounds off. (If you choose a buddy who’s overweight, you’ll tend to adopt habits that make you overweight, too.) You want to have a buddy with similar goals. You and your buddy can lose weight together, but if your buddy has no interest in losing, you will probably end up with a gut that beats you into rooms by a full three seconds.
And if you’re the buddy, it’s a position where you generously help someone. Your generosity allows you to be accountable and transparent to each other. Your physician can even be the coach for you and your buddy. You can call on your physician or coach periodically to get expert advice. You also can include nutritionists, exercise physiologists, trainers and a whole team of experts to help support you.
Buddies are important in another way, too. A best friend at work helps you stay healthy and productive. The Gallup Organization has found that we’re more productive at work and don’t miss as much time when we have a buddy or best friend there. We feel an obligation or accountability to our buddy. Most important, we enjoy work better, and that’s good for our health. To enjoy and be passionate about your job keeps you younger, financially more secure (since you’re more productive) and, of course, it makes you have more fun. So find and nurture a buddy at work.
I often joke that women are better at this than men because women naturally listen. A buddy isn’t there to judge, and a buddy isn’t there to give solutions (unless you ask for one). A buddy is there to support and generously care about you no matter what. So, now, pick your buddy carefully and work with them. Share the passions.
We want to suggest one more thing the buddy often helps with: making YOU-Turns. What do we mean by that? You talk daily to your buddy. If you’re someone else’s buddy, don’t be judgmental if your buddy told you they ate seven of Mrs. Field’s chocolate-chip cookies yesterday. Being a buddy isn’t saying “tsk, tsk” for eating those seven cookies last night. You need to find out how your buddy is and what you can do to encourage them and help them make YOU-Turns in life. Remember, it isn’t the first cookie or even the fi rst seven cookies that are a problem—it’s thinking the rest of the box of cookies looks good. If you can correct your mistakes early enough, you can make a YOU-Turn and stay on a healthy track.
What do we mean by YOU-Turn? If you’ve ever ridden in a car with a GPS navigation system, you know how it works: Plug in your destination, and the system—using satellites to plot your current and final points—tells you exactly what to do and when. Turn left after 400 feet. Stay straight. Get in the right lane. Let’s say you make a mistake, and miss a turn or turn onto the wrong street. The GPS doesn’t berate you, doesn’t scold you, doesn’t tell you that you might as well drive off a cliff since you made a mistake and missed First Avenue. Instead, all it says, very politely, is this: “At the next available moment, make an authorized U-turn.” YOU-reka! The GPS recognizes the mistake matter-of-factly, and it simply guides you back onto the right road. The GPS allows you to make mistakes and tries to help you correct them.
That’s the kind of mentality we want you, and especially your buddy, to have. You are both going to make wrong turns. You’re going to turn left at the cookies, a right at the blueberry pie, and occasionally merge onto the interstate at banana-nut pancakes with a side order of sausage patties. Does that mean you should steer off the cliff and onto destructive behaviors? Of course not. Your job as a buddy is to help your partner make that YOU-Turn. Get back on the right road, and get healthy together. Enjoy your passions longer. The most important tips are: Understand that you get a do-over and it’s not that hard and it doesn’t take that long, if you know what to do. Start with walking and a buddy. Learn how to make YOU-Turns. And read this column religiously.
Dr. Michael F. Roizen is a professor of internal medicine and anesthesiology, and chief wellness offi cer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Mehmet C. Oz is a professor and vice chairman of surgery, as well as director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Integrated Medical Center at New York’s Presbyterian-Columbia University. Roizen and Oz are the authors of the New York Times best-selling YOU series, including their recent release, YOU Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty (Free Press).