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Lance Armstrong: A Reasoned and Rational Personal Reflection

Note: As this commentary unfolds it will not be from a “…cast the first stone” perspective. I am far from an archetype of virtue. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve wished for Do-Overs, and, I would guess, so have you. This is not a judgment crusade.  After all — ultimately — who am I, who are we, to judge? I don’t know about you, but Final Judgment, when ALL is said and done, is way above my pay grade.

The Faces

Let’s just see where this takes me. Seriously, there is such a confluence of emotion that I need to simply put fingers to the keyboard and let it flow.

Disappointment, anger, concern, empathy, outrage, sympathy, confusion, and back again to disappointment. And, that’s just nicking the surface.

The accompanying photo is of a poster presented to me by The Lance Armstrong Foundation (now known as The LIVESTRONG Foundation), in 2001. Two years earlier, following a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, I had a modified radical mastectomy and my perspective on many things, all things, was forever changed. Since sharing the dais that afternoon in Austin with Lance and Lisa Bashore, I’ve delivered dozens of cancer survivorship talks throughout the nation including additional presentations at the request of LAF. I also participated in a Tour of Hope cycling event, a 50-mile ride into Washington, DC — led by Armstrong — to raise cancer awareness and funds for survivor support.  It was always my honor to contribute to this cause anytime, anywhere, anyway I could. Whenever LAF asked, whenever any cancer organization asked, the answer was/is always, without hesitation, yes.

Say it ain’t so…

For over ten years this poster has hung proudly and prominently in our home in Michigan, in the boardroom of the Health and Wellness Institute in Rhode Island, and, after retiring from HWI in 2010, once again in our home in Michigan. Following Lance’s chat with Oprah, my initial reaction was to remove the poster while dressing down the screened image of Armstrong with venom-sprayed expletives.  The lies, the arrogance, the vindictive trampling of good people whose only crime was telling the truth at the risk of clenched-jawed Armstrong wrath, sycophant lawyers serving papers, and mercurial public scorn.

Perhaps, most of all, the flood of emotion was because he pulled out an egotistical and hubris-coated needle and popped the balloon of trust. He also vaporized the poetic illusion that the fictitious Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, born in Radioland, USA on July 31, 1933, a star athlete at Hudson High School, international super star, and universal role model was — in our world — Lance Armstrong, the Olympian, Cancer Survivor, and Tour de France Champion, born in Plano, Texas on September 18, 1971, a star athlete at Plano East Senior High School, international super star, and universal role model.

Yes! Yes! Yes! We want and need our heroes. Take a bow, Lance Armstrong, take a bow!

But, wait a minute, what’s that you say? This “mythic, perfect story” was “one big lie;” that you cheated during every one of your seven Tour de France victories; that you bullied, threatened, and intimidated those with the courage to speak the truth; that you simply didn’t believe that, in spite of all your admissions, you were cheating! Ah, say it ain’t so, Lance…please, say it ain’t so.

If it seems too good to be true…

No matter how much it served our personal yearning for real-world, honest-to-goodness caped crusaders, the Lance Armstrong story was simply too good to be true.  And, deep down, we knew it. As with the creeping credibility collapse of Three Cups of Tea author, Greg Mortenson (too good to be true), the heroic level of the cancer survivor turned seven-time Tour De France Conqueror defied reason. But favoring the comforting gauze of wished for miracles and Wheaties’ fanfare, the facts, logic, and preponderance of evidence were screened, pushed aside, and hushed by the desire, hope, and, yes, naiveté, of millions.  We were duped, but willingly so. Lance was not the only beneficiary of these self-serving actions.  Hubris cannot live without an adoring audience anxious to elevate those who defy the outer limitations decreed by the gods. Shame on you, Lance Armstrong, and, to a lesser, cautionary degree, shame on us, as well.  Together we created a parasitic symbiosis that only the bravest among us had the courage to acknowledge, separate, and expose for the toxic relationship it became.

Yes, Virginia, real heroes do exist…

Actually, maybe now is a good time to stop bestowing the rank of “Hero” on anyone who simply does the right thing; you know, the stuff our moms told us to do when we were little.  Precious few deserve the “Hero” badge, and even fewer can bear the burden and temptations that come with the label. That said, how about we just periodically stop spinning, recognize, and celebrate REALLY GOOD PEOPLE.

In a world of situational ethics (morality of convenience), it’s refreshing and reassuring to know that there are people — lots and lots of good folks — out there who are willing to take great risks, forego riches, and commit themselves to causes bigger than themselves. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO, Travis Tygart, under threat of personal harm, is one of the good guys. His mission is to protect clean athletes by exposing those, like Armstrong, who cheat.  Jeff Fager, Chairman, CBS News, also joins the club. He, admittedly, helped create the Armstrong myth, however, he and his producer, Michael Raduzky, also relentlessly stayed with the story and reported the myth as it began to unravel. As with Tygart, Raduzky reported on 60 Minutes that the Armstrong camp personally threatened him.  Another person who was threatened, disparaged, as well as economically harmed by Armstrong is Betsy Andreu, wife of Frankie, Lance Armstrong’s former cycling teammate. Her crime: She testified in a lawsuit that she and her husband heard Armstrong tell a doctor in the mid-1990s that he had used an array of performance enhancers. Frankie, she reports, was pushed off the Armstrong team, essentially ending his professional cycling career, for failing to fully step up to the recommended doping program.

Yes! Yes! Yes! We want and need REALLY GOOD PEOPLE. Take a bow Travis Tygart, take a bow Jeff Fager, take a bow Michael Raduzky, take a bow Betsy Andreu!  You’ve all earned it.

It’s Not About the Bike…

There is another good guy, really good guy, and dear friend for over ten years, that I would ask to step forward, be recognized, and take a bow. He is Doug Ulman, President and CEO of LIVESTRONG. But, asking Doug to take a bow would be a useless request. Doug would — nicely, politely, self-deprecatingly — smile, look away, shrug his shoulders, defer to the entire organization, and scoff at the suggestion.  I know he would. That’s who he is.

Since their inception in 1997, the LIVESTRONG Foundation has raised more than $470 million to support their mission to inspire and empower people affected by cancer. They have provided financial resources to more than 550 organizations that conduct cancer survivorship research or offer services to people affected by cancer, and 81 cents of every dollar raised has gone directly to support their programs and services for survivors. Remarkable. Please consider making a contribution.

So, as I look closely at the poster on the wall in our recreation room I am reminded of that day long ago in Austin, and I think about what this all means, today.  That day was a dynamic celebration of hope, determination, inspiration, and common cause. IT was about surviving and thriving with, during, and beyond your cancer diagnosis, or the diagnosis of a loved one. It was about collective caring, unity of spirit, and the power of the possible. It was about tears, laughter, hugs, and goodwill. It was about the visceral knowledge that life is lived in moments…not years.

Yes, Lance and his journey symbolized the theme and galvanized the crowd, but it wasn’t and isn’t about the bike.  On that score, he got it right, he told the truth.

The poster stays…

My Life: Breast Cancer and Children

The very important and ubiquitous pink ribbon (with a touch of blue for my fellow male breast cancer survivors/thrivors) triumphs in October, however, it hushes and casts an elegant but huge shadow on the equally important fact that October is, also, Children’s Health Month.

Both of the above logos touch my world very personally.

In June 1999, I heard the words, “Michael, you have invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer. You need a modified radical mastectomy.” What!?  Yes, breast cancer; thirteen years of wonder, amazement, empathy, reflection, and gratitude for each sunrise. Men have breasts…we can/do get breast cancer. Who knew? I didn’t, but I do now. I am also a father, grandfather, and the lead in a major initiative to improve the health and wellness of children. Little babies right through to 19 year-old young men and women. I’m talking about your children, my children, our children. Some of who will, undoubtedly, have breast cancer when they grow up.

The wearing of the logo on the right was not my choosing. I am the reluctant and accidental beneficiary of this strangely wrapped gift. I didn’t ask for it; at least, I don’t think so. It’s so confusing.  As for the second logo, the health of our children, I humbly and with respect, asked for it and wear it proudly.

In the past, I have written extensively on the topic of breast cancer, so this posting is focused on kids.

A funny thing happened on my way to retirement…

In November 2010, after a very fulfilling and successful — defined as happy, meaningful, and satisfying — 30+year career in the field of health promotion and disease prevention, I retired. Well, okay, I didn’t “retire,” but I pulled myself out of the day-to-day world of what some would call, “work.” I took the following year to write, climb over a mountain pass in the Peruvian Andes, trek to Machu Pichu, walk down the isle with my daughter, celebrate the birth of our first grand child, and give talks to the wellness and cancer communities. Nice, very nice, indeed. And, then, Peter called.

Peter Roberts is a friend and colleague that I have known for a number of years. He is a veteran of the health insurance industry, a “C-Suite” hospital administrator, and a long-time proponent of community health promotion and disease prevention.  In January 2012, he accepted the position as Executive Vice President, Population Health & Network Development, for Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, one of the top ten leading pediatric centers in the country. On Day One, Peter rolled up his sleeves and — under the direction of CEO Chris Durovich — set out to expand Childrens’ mission beyond outstanding treatment to include the whole child, the total health and wellness of the children of North Texas.

Peter asked if I would help.

Cue: Ringing of my phone, pinging of my e-mail, stirring of my conscience, shaking of my bones, lifting of my spirit, and yanking on my heartstrings. Would I consider providing some guidance and support to this initiative? Well, yes, yes, of course. Working with children, promoting health, preventing disease, impacting the social determinants of health, helping to form community action groups? Well, yes, yes, of course!

I was asked to be — and I humbly accepted — the role of Interim Executive Director, The Health & Wellness Alliance for Children, sponsored by Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. I now live in Dallas three days each week and will do so until we hire a permanent director. My responsibility is to help rally the North Texas community stewards around a transformational initiative to improve the health of all kids living in this area of the country. Mind you, I’m not talking about another politically correct “tweak,” I’m talking about disruptive innovation, ruffling feathers, sacrificing sacred cows; I’m talking stand-on-your-head change. And, this time, going about it by looking through the lens of the community we serve; the kids and their families. I’m talking about their views, their voice, their passion, their lives, and their future … and, by the way, all of that impacts the future of all of us.

It’s no secret that despite excellent medical facilities and isolated pockets of exemplary social accomplishment, the health of our kids isn’t good; it’s bad, and it’s getting worse. In Dallas County, almost 30% live in poverty…enough children to more than fill Cowboy Stadium TWICE! And, here’s a shocking fact: In this day and age, you could completely fill the stadium with the number of kids in this community who go to bed each night malnourished and hungry. More than a quarter of a million of these kids are on Medicaid, and 18% have no health insurance at all. Also, of growing concern and economic burden is the fact that, in the absence of having a primary care physician, unnecessary emergency room visits are on the rise; Children’s Medical Center of Dallas alone, had over 135,000 ED visits last year; many of those, unnecessary. Your community isn’t much different; just look around.

It’s about the kids; yours, mine, ours…

There is a frequently repeated sentiment whispered with a slow headshake, lips pursed, eyes focused downward, and shoulders somewhat slumped in resignation.

“There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”

Yes, that’s the phrase. We’ve all said it—or, thought it—sometimes making a mental note to do something about it. But, for most of us, we simply count our blessings and go on about the business of the day.

“I’m really busy right now. Besides, I’m sure someone is doing something about it. And, maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is.”

Feeling a little more righteous for at least taking notice, we move on about our business echoing the mantra that begins…and ends with:


First of all, the at-risk children of our community haven’t fallen from God’s Grace; they have fallen between society’s cracks. They are victims of a failed system. Remove the notion that these children are without grace and the phrase becomes “There…I go.” That means you, me, all of us; our entire community. Communities collapse the moment we sever the connective tissue — humanity — that joins us as a collective unit. Second, the conditions are as bad as we think they are, even worse. And, third, the “Village of Someday“ is very crowded. It is lined with streets, boulevards and avenues with names like,  “Not Now” “Maybe Soon” and “Next Year.”

Another often quoted sentiment …

“If not now, when? If not us, who?”

– John F. Kennedy

Follow this blog as I update our progress in North Texas. And, please let me know what’s happening in your community. What steps are being taken to improve the health and wellness of the children; all of the children, yours, mine, ours?

The Human PRIMARY Operating System is Not Rational

The Human Primary Operating System is Not Rational

We are not rational beings who emote; we are emotional beings with the capacity to think rationally. Big difference. Emotion trumps reason. Absent primordial prevention, sickness trumps wellness and survival trumps thrival.

It’s time for a new social health contract.

Let’s be very clear, society (government, healthcare providers, employers) must take the lead role when it comes to responsibility and accountability. This is a partnership, a social contract whereby—we, the people—voluntarily relinquish the freedom of action we have under the natural state (a state of existence that is not contingent upon man-made laws or beliefs) in order to obtain the benefits provided by the formation of social structures. Building on the philosophy of John Locke, who said, “…no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Thomas Jefferson et al, framed government responsibility under the umbrella of securing inalienable—natural—rights including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” By obeying man-made laws and complying with accepted standards and mores, we implicitly agree to our part of the social contract. In turn, we have the legal, moral and ethical ground to demand that the custodians and protectors of our natural rights—our elected officials, medical providers and employers—be held accountable.  This speaks directly to the issue of healthcare access and affordability.

In its simplest form, our implied social health contract requires that society provide:

  • Awareness of the consequence and benefits of lifestyle choices
  • Education needed to initiate and sustain healthy living
  • Access to affordable primary, secondary, and tertiary healthcare
  • Evidence-based medicine and prevention measures
  • Supportive infrastructure (parks, healthy worksites, recreation, green, etc.)

And, when provided with all of the above, individuals representing themselves and their minor dependents are responsible for:

  • Making healthy choices
  • Self-exams (paying attention to changes in personal health)
  • Keeping up with recommended age and gender clinical screenings
  • Seeking timely and appropriate medical attention
  • Complying with evidence-based recommendations and directives involving lifestyle habits, medications, lab work and rehabilitation protocols

Evaluate your contribution to this social health contract.  Are we, as a society,  providing awareness, education, full access to treatment, evidence-based medicine and prevention and a supportive culture for ALL of our citizens?  If not, why not?  And, as an individual, are you keeping up your end of the bargain?  If not, why not?

Caution: Grandma & Grandpa are Killing Our Children!

Caution: Grandma & Grandpa are Killing Our Children!

Fat Kids Grow Up to Be Fat Adults

 Updated from Earlier Posting…

Before you go off on the title of this reflection, take a deep breath and read on. If childhood obesity doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you’re choosing to sleep through a crisis. Shame on you…

I hear you say that protecting and advancing the good health of our children is a moral, ethical and economic imperative. I hear you say that you are concerned about the research that shows that fat kids become fat adults. By the way, I’m sorry if you’re offended by the word “fat” but that’s the right word to use, “fat.” It—FAT—causes much more of a visceral reaction than does “heavy,” “large,” “overweight” or “metabolically-challenged.” Fat is the word.  And, if unchecked, fat kids face a lifetime of health risks and social pain that come with diabetes, heart disease, poor self-esteem, ridicule and discrimination. Don’t agree? Just check with an adult who is currently fat or was a fat kid. Ask them if they bear any scars or carry painful memories from growing up fat. There’s no more time for political correctness. I’ve been in the health and wellness field for over thirty-five years and, when it comes to creating healthy cultures, I hear considerably more than I see. Just look around you, there’s way more saying than doing.

When it comes to health and health advocacy most of us are living a life of contradiction. What we do and what we allow—our actions and acceptance—are contrary to what we say. Just look at the data. No, on second thought, scratch that. We don’t need any more data, just look at our kids. Look at what we feed them. Look at what we allow in our school cafeterias and vending machines. Look at the empty playgrounds. Look at the commercial messages our children see and hear hour after hour, day after day and year after year. And, while we’re at it, look in the mirror. Like what you see? Look at what you eat. Look at what we allow in our workplace vending machines and cafeterias. Also, how’s that exercise program of yours working out?

Now, tell me, are we making progress with obesity? Are we taking any meaningful action to help our children avoid the physical, psychological and social pain that comes with being a fat kid who morphs into a fat adult? No? Why do you suppose that’s the case?

No judgment here, no finger wagging, just honest observation. I’m not here to moralize. Judgment and finger wagging just sends us off in the wrong direction. Time to face and accept facts. When it comes to health, we care more about talking than we do about doing. We would rather not offend someone than help someone. We’d rather blame someone else than accept responsibility. We’d rather deny than accept. It’s easier. No pain. Okay, I get it.

Of course, perhaps I have it wrong. Maybe you do care. Maybe you are ready to take action to remove unhealthy snacks from your homes and schools. Maybe you’ll encourage and support fitness education and activities. Maybe you are angry enough to demand that your elected officials watch over our kids by passing protective legislation. Maybe you truly get the fact that you have a responsibility to be a positive role model for children and that behavior is reflective.

Then again, perhaps you just like the sound of it.

And, finally, maybe, just maybe, Grandma and Grandpa, in all of their various guises, can find ways to say, “I love you” that don’t include pies, cakes, ice cream, sugar sodas, candy and cookies. Hey, I’m just saying.

– Grandpa Sam

We Need to Talk About Our Children…

In the United States of America:

  • ~ 25% of kids ages 0–18 are underinsured[1]
  • ~ 35% of kids ages 2–17 are not receiving needed mental health treatment[2]
  • ~ 40% of kids ages 0-18 do not have a medical home[3]
  • ~ 30% of kids ages 10-17 are overweight or obese[4]
  • ~ 55% of kids in high school do not meet minimum physical activity levels[5]
  • ~ 22% of kids under 18 (or 16 million) live at or below the poverty line[6]
  • ~ 25% of kids under 18 (or 17 million) go to bed hungry every night[7]
  • ~ 10% of kids under 18 (or 7 million) have asthma[8]
  • ~ 26% of kids under 18 (or 19 million) are raised in single-family homes[9]


 “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

– The Once-ler from The Lorax by Dr. Suess

There is an often repeated sentiment whispered with a slow headshake, lips taut, eyes focused downward and shoulders slightly slumped in resignation, “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”

Yes, that’s the phrase. We’ve all said it—or, thought it—sometimes making a mental note to do something about it. But, for most of us, we simply count our blessings and move on about the business of the day. “I’m really busy right now. Besides, I’m sure someone is doing something about it. And, maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is.” Feeling a little more righteous for at least taking notice, we move on about our business echoing the mantra that begins and ends with, “Someday.”

First of all, the at-risk children of our community haven’t fallen from God’s Grace; they have fallen between society’s cracks. They are victims of a failed system. Remove the notion that these children are without Grace and the phrase becomes, “There…I go.” That means you, me, all of us; our entire community. Communities collapse the moment we sever the connective tissue—humanity—that joins us as a collective unit. Second, the conditions are as bad as we think they are, even worse. And, third, the village of “Someday“ is extremely crowded. It is lined with streets, boulevards and avenues with names like, “Not Now,” “Maybe Soon” and “Next Year.”

Another often quoted query …

“If not now, when? If not us, who?”

– John F. Kennedy

Current State

Overall, throughout our country, despite extensive and excellent cutting edge medical facilities, the current state of our children’s health and wellness is not acceptable. This is not meant to be just a moral judgment; it is a fact.

To be clear, this is not a call for—nor a time for—blame, condemnation or pillory. This is a request for collective action leading to collective positive impact. We are all equally culpable for the eyes-half-shut-indifference that has led to this crisis. Certainly there are pockets of compassion, dedication and accomplishment, but, for the most part, these efforts are isolated, fragmented and, in many cases, redundant. In any case, they are simply not enough. The challenge is too broad, the cost of continued failure too devastating.

So, what’s the good news? Oh, there’s plenty of good news. Informed, aroused, harnessed, coordinated and given a call to action, there isn’t anything this country can’t accomplish. We have talent, passion, energy and — with collective focus — we can save our kids and put them on a path to optimal health and wellness.

“It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”

– The Once-ler from The Lorax by Dr. Suess

A Moral Imperative…An Economic Urgency

Every child is entitled to an equal opportunity for life-long optimal health and wellbeing.

The Economic ROI:

  • A Reduction in Unnecessary and Expensive Hospital Services
  • Improved Student Graduation Rates
  • Reduced Need for Special Student Services
  • Fewer Incarcerations
  • A Rise in Business Development Opportunities
  • Fewer Unwanted Pregnancies
  • A Reduction in Premature Births (“Million Dollar Babies”)
  • Improved Employment Outlook
  • Reduced Chronic Disease and Associated Costs

A Call to Action

Despite the best efforts of the healthcare system, we are losing the battle to attain and sustain adequate levels of health for all of our children.

The core mission of every healthcare provider has always been to improve the health of the patient. Unfortunately, medical care provides only one point of contact with children and their families and, unfortunately, the context tends to create a relationship of dependency.

To advance quality of life, prevent avoidable illness and compress morbidity, community leadership must embrace and advance a health model that goes beyond reactive care. In addition to treatment, providers need to focus on effectively engaging children and their families in self-management and lifestyle behaviors that enhance health. In addition to medical treatment, a comprehensive, preconception-to-adult model must include attention to the social determinants of population health, primary prevention, and wellness. The goal is to keep all children healthy, purposeful and out of the hospital and emergency rooms.

A “Whole-Child” model requires that today’s healthcare providers identify and mobilize community-based coalitions with a focus on advancing new and bold initiatives to transform (not tweak) how we protect and serve the health and wellness needs of our kids. This transformation from a reactive, paternalistic model to a proactive model driven by shared responsibility (and accountability) requires a different skill set than the direct provision of acute medical care.

The challenge is immense but, collectively, we are more than up to the task. We can, and we will, save and facilitate the wellbeing of our children.

“I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

Yertle the Turtle and Gertrude Mc Fuzz by Dr. Suess

[1] Commonwealth Fund, 2012

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] US Bureau of the Census, 2010

[7] USA Today Kindness Blog

[8] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FastStats, Asthma

[9] The Oregonian, April, 2011

Open Your Eyes … Or, Don’t: It’s Your Choice

First, You Must Decide to Wake Up!

Because we are human, we do not always do what our mothers taught us to do. We make mistakes. We slip. Sometimes we feel guilty, sad and remorseful. This is followed by a strong commitment to change; to get back on the right path, to do all those things that mom, our first-grade teacher, Captain Kangaroo, Bert & Ernie, Mr. Rogers and Oprah told us to do. Unfortunately, just like when on a bike path — once we slip off we tend to make deeper and deeper grooves in the soft grass and mud. If we stay too long the grooves just get deeper until we find ourselves in someone else’s tracks; someone who slipped off the path long before we came along. Without fast action, we quickly adapt to this new trail. It seems so much easier to continue along in the mud. The problem is that we know we are in the mud and that we would be much safer if we could break through the rut and get back on the stable road. However, when we try to leave the sloppy and increasingly dangerous trail we are intimidated by the bumps as we smack up against the groove’s edge. So, we settle back into the rut (we’ll try again, later). We lack the courage, strength or will to risk the initial jar so we stay where we are.

Such is life both on and off a bike path. The difference between life and a bike path is that, on the life path, there are plenty of people happy and eager to tell you what’s good for you — what you need to do to live a healthy, happy, and prosperous life — to get back on the right path. Parents, teachers, priests, rabbis, monks, mullahs, your Aunt Betty, Dr. Phil and the next-door-neighbor stand ready to give (push) advice your way. Mostly, this advice is well intentioned, but it is often general in scope with little or no personal relevance.

Any newsstand magazine, professional website or internet blog can give you a broad wellness formula made up of good sense tips (mom told you these things a long time ago) like eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep, stay away from tobacco, drink alcohol moderately or not at all, exercise regularly, spend time with family and friends, read a terrific book, see your doctor and dentist annually, wear your seat belt, believe in a higher power and stay away from a steady diet of cable news.

The Science of Life and the Art of Living

The science of life is general and objective. Evidence indicates that, foregoing defective genes and catastrophic events, a life accented by a healthy blend of proper nutrition, physical activity, rest & recovery, intellectual stimulation, emotional support, spiritual engagement and social interaction tends to be long and relatively free from illness and disability.

Science can show you how to build a strong skeleton, but YOU have to lay down the muscle and tease out the connective tissue that makes your unique system work, for you.

What do YOU want?

There are countless “How To…” books outlining the objective science of life complete with full-color templates. But, only YOU can explore, discover, design and nurture the unique, subjective, deeply personal art of living your life.

So, again, the questions are: What do YOU want? Where do YOU want to go? What predictably triggers and sustains those moments when you feel truly happy and satisfied with the life you’re living? Is it yoga or deep breathing exercises? How about “The Secret,” The Bible, The Koran, The Torah, or “The Four Noble Truths?” Is it truly better in the Bahamas … and does it simply take a trip to Jamaica to feel alright?

Perhaps, for you, wellbeing — life satisfaction — improves when you read a good book, spend time with your kids, go the movies, buy gifts for your grandchildren, drink a cold beer on a hot summer day, watch television or work till dawn on a project that comes to life and tickles you each time you give it your undivided attention? For me, every few years, it’s a quiet far-far-away mountaintop, exhausted, sleeping alone in a tent surrounded by strangers who quickly become forever-memory friends. For my wife, it was once the thrill of climbing out of a perfectly good airplane, hanging from the wing strut, letting go, and floating through the sky (YIKES!).

How about you? Of course, you WANT to increase and sustain your life satisfaction, but first you must WAKE UP! You must become AWARE and take inventory of what brings meaning to your life, today. You must open all of your senses and pay attention.

Peaceful Reflections on Aging…

Peaceful Reflections on Aging…

“…The sixth age shifts 
into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
 his youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
 for his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
 turning again toward childish treble, pipes
 and whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history,
 is second childishness and mere oblivion;
 sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

As You Like It, Jacques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)

Yes, for most of us, Shakespeare’s later ages will bring physical decline, but it can also be a stretch of immense joy and happiness; a period of calm and peaceful meditation on a life well lived. Life’s Act III should be a time where Walter Mitty isn’t restless from the angst that comes from living a would-be life of fantasy and vicarious joy, but, instead, enjoys the serene rest that comes from inhaling a life of active living.

Or, perhaps a better way of looking at it is to consider the quality of the dash (-) that separates the date of your birth from the date of your death. The date of your birth is fixed and beyond your control. You are here, so open your eyes to all of it, the good, the bad and the truly ugly. The other date, your death, is inevitable and is simply a matter for the stonemason.

As they did about so many things, Joseph Campbell and Viktor Frankel spoke eloquently and passionately about the art of living — the dash. When asked, “What is the meaning of life?” Campbell would say, “There is no meaning of life. We bring the meaning to life.” He agreed with Viktor Frankel’s philosophy that sustained wellbeing (success, happiness) ensues from the honorable and enjoyable pursuit of meaningful goals.

Beyond the physical, the anxiety of aging often spews from a gunnysack of wouldas, couldas and shouldas—a life of regrets. To those who have danced until their feet throb with joy, the quiet of old age is paradise. As Carl Jung once said:

“An old man who cannot bear farewell to life appears as feeble and sickly as a young man who is unable to embrace it.”

And, again, from Joseph Campbell:

“Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere.”

– Joseph Campbell

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Health and Wellness Industry FAQ: Samuelson

Be Well,


The Health and Wellness FAQ: Advice to Practitioners

Wellness Exists at the intersection of Contentment and Aspiration.

To live  there, You Must First Choose to Move Out of the Village of Someday…


Over the years I’ve been asked a number of questions about the health and wellness industry. This is question #10 of the top 10 most frequently asked questions. The responses are, of course, neither right nor wrong. They are simply my impressions from over 35 years of field experience.

QUESTION #10: After spending so many years as an executive, educator and practitioner in the field of health promotion and disease prevention, what advice do you have for the next generation?

RESPONSE: Before giving advice, let me express my absolute joy in having spent my entire career as an educator in the area of health promotion and disease prevention. It has been, and continues to be, a wonderful adventure; one that has allowed me—for the most part—the luxury of following my passion, defining and pursuing a purposeful life and avoiding anything close to what we think of when we use the term, “work.” I am humbled and grateful for the opportunities that continue to come my way.

As for advice, I urge teachers, students and practitioners to recognize that we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to having an impact on the overall health and wellness of this, or any other, country. Remember that the process of change goes from intellectual (information stage) to emotional (engagement stage) to visceral (action stage) and, finally, to cellular (sustained engagement stage). We have done a reasonably good job with education and awareness; however, for the most part, this has not translated to sustained actions resulting in improved health and wellbeing.

This is not for a lack of effort and, certainly, there are isolated pockets of impact; however, the overall investment of blood, sweat and tears has failed to produce an adequate return. Why is this the case? What should we be doing that we haven’t done? What should we do differently? What, perhaps, have we done that we should not have done?

For over three decades. I have lectured and written on the importance of primary prevention, early detection and early intervention as the three keys to improved health. While these three areas are, indeed, important elements in the health equation, I’ve missed a fourth and, arguably, the most important ingredient. My advice, my urging, is that much, much more attention be given to:

Primary prevention is the identification and mitigation of risk factors, i.e., smoking leads to lung cancer, so don’t smoke; obesity leads to heart disease, so reduce your fat and sugar intake, exercise more and lose weight; hypertension kills so lower your blood pressure with a proper diet, exercise and stress management.

Primordial prevention looks to not only identify and mitigate risk factors but slices deeper to identify and mitigate the root cause of these risk factors. The emphasis changes from, “What are the risk factors?” to “What are the environmental, cultural, economic, social and behavioral conditions that allow these risk factors to emerge?”  With primordial prevention comes comprehensive and collective impact efforts targeting poverty, inequality, environmental toxins, hunger, malnutrition, child abuse, housing, education and other determinants of population health.

According to The Institute for Functional Medicine, “Functional medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a systems-oriented approach and engages both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It is an evolution in the practice of medicine that better addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century.

By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, functional medicine addresses the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.

Functional medicine practitioners spend time with their patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interactions among genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that can influence long-term health and complex, chronic disease. In this way, functional medicine supports the unique expression of health and vitality for each individual.”

From my perch, this blend of collective-impact sociology and patient-centered medicine holds great promise for the advancement of community as well as worksite health and wellbeing. I strongly encourage you to investigate the area of primordial prevention including the critically important pursuits of The Institute for Functional Medicine.

The Institute for Functional Medicine


I am indebted to Dr. Howard Schwartz, an Integrative Cardiologist located in New York City,  for providing me with an introduction to primordial prevention and functional medicine.

Dr. Schwartz has more than 23 years of field experience in the areas of preventive cardiology, general wellness and prevention, stress reduction and lifestyle modification. Dr. Schwartz specializes in assessing the healthy heart status of organizations, and custom designs education and intervention strategies to advance both personal and professional performance. 

The Health and Wellness Industry FAQ: Finding Your Cheese in a Field of Dreams…

Wellness Exists at the intersection of Contentment and Aspiration.

To live  there, You Must First Choose to Move Out of the Village of Someday…


Over the years I’ve been asked a number of questions about the health and wellness industry. This is question #9 of the top 10 most frequently asked questions. The responses are, of course, neither right nor wrong. They are simply my impressions from over 35 years of field experience.

QUESTION #9: What is the number one health and wellness misconception?

RESPONSE: Actually, it’s hard to narrow it down to one particular misconception. That said, IF I had to name one, and only one, it would be the delusion that, “If you build it they will come.”

The suggestion that if given awareness, access and affordability, adults will choose healthy living for themselves and for their children is false, dangerous and distracting. Research shows that in a fast-paced, stressful world where “Survival” tramples “Thrival,” the metaphoric choice of (a) a cookie (instant gratification) or (b) an apple (avoiding the possibility of heart disease, later) is no contest. The brain says, “Cookie, now…apple, later!”

You see, what parts the cornstalks and spurs action is not an objective analysis of “right” or “wrong,” “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Action is kicked into gear by an emotional drive to feel good; to do those things that bring SUBJECTIVE enjoyment, relief and/or respite. In the moment, the behavior is always perceived as advancing one’s self-interest (including neutralizing or slowing metastatic pain and discomfort). Morally, this is neither good nor bad; it simply is. Sometimes the actions are beneficial to one, some or all; sometimes they are harmful. However, most of the time, they have no impact, either way. We are social, emotional beings influenced by tribe expectation, stimulation and convenience.

Fact: Cost, group dynamics (behavioral clustering) and law influence personal choice more than the threat of downstream poor health.

In very simplistic terms, what this means is that city-planners, employers and wellness practitioners need to spend less time fine-tuning treatment models and more time on primordial prevention, protective infrastructures and ways to help individuals discover what shakes their bones and lifts their spirits. Once that is done, sit back, clear the trampled field, yell “Play Ball!” and enjoy the game!

Or, another way to put this—and please excuse me while I switch metaphors—the challenge isn’t to build a better mousetrap…the challenge is to provide more appealing cheese.

Think of it as:

 “Finding Your Cheese in a Field of Dreams!

Sorry about that… 😉