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Prominent Bostonians share secrets on staying healthy

Prominent Bostonians share secrets on staying healthy

We all know that sleeping well, exercising regularly, eating a sensible diet, limiting stress, and not smoking are good for our health - but nearly all of us struggle to keep up the balancing act. The Globe asked prominent Bostonians to reveal a few of their personal health tricks. Their answers range from dog-walking to breakfasting on cucumbers. None admitted to smoking. Governor Deval Patrick’s secret is healthy cooking. “I’m a foodie. I love to cook,’’ he said via e-mail. “We try to use fresh, local ingredients and lots of fruits and vegetables.’’ Here is a range of suggestions from health officials, politicians, arts leaders, scientists, and others.

On exercising

Robert Langer, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and well-known inventor, exercises two to three hours a day, working while he rides a recumbent bike, or uses an elliptical trainer or treadmill (at a low speed and very high incline). “I also get on the scale each day and if my weight goes up, I try to eat less that day.’’

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Ross Lilley, head of AccesSportAmerica, a nonprofit that provides athletic challenges for people with disabilities, exercises in the morning - “I don’t like a workout hanging over me all day’’ - but he splits it up. “I do side planks, back extensions, and then resistance exercises each morning. Because it’s every day, it doesn’t take more than a half hour, doing upper body and lower on alternate days. After that I can squeeze in a half hour of conditioning later and it’s not such a daunting prospect. The deal is to mix it up, and even in the conditioning/running, to challenge the heart with intervals.’’

Dr. Edward J. Benz Jr., president and chief executive of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, walks 6 miles a day in the summer to train for the annual Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. The rest of the year he walks to the T and sometimes gets off a stop early. “Don’t sweat the small stuff’’ is his favorite motto. “Living that saying helps keep stress in balance.’’

Daniel Lieberman, a Harvard evolutionary biologist, is known as the “barefoot scientist’’ for his research into the physiological benefits of running barefoot - which he does regularly. (He wears minimalist shoes this time of year so his feet don’t freeze.) “When I feel disinclined to exercise, I remind myself . . . I have never gone for a run and then felt afterward that it wasn’t worth it.’’

Andrew Dreyfus, president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, focuses on daily walking - 10,000 steps on weekdays, 15,000 on weekends. “If I’m having an especially busy work day, I’ll find simple ways to increase my steps, such as asking people I’m meeting with to take a walk with me or parking in a spot far away from an appointment.’’ He and his 13-year-old-daughter check each other’s pedometers every day to see who has the most steps.

Drew Faust, the president of Harvard, once a jogger, now walks. “One of my favorite routines is walking around Fresh Pond where I get not just air and scenery and exercise but an always changing display of wonderful dogs of all types, large and small, jaunty or laggard or exuberant, promenading with their human companions. It lifts my heart as well as my heart rate.’’

Martha Coakley, Massachusetts attorney general, walks her two large dogs for 30 minutes many mornings; 45 on weekends. And she takes the stairs in her One Ashburton Place office building - no, not all the way to the 20th floor. But she’ll get off at the 12th or 16th and walk briskly the rest of the way. At least as fast as she can in heels and dress clothes, and often talking. “Even though it’s a small thing, it adds up. I can easily do four [flights] without getting too out of breath or needing to take a shower.’’

José Mateo, artistic director of the José Mateo Ballet Theatre, has two secrets: Eat properly, which to him means staying away from trendy diets, and - of course - dance as much as possible. “Ballet certainly will bring many other rewards.’’

Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is a long-time Pilates fan. “My Pilates instructor recorded 10 different sessions for me which I keep on my iPad. So when I travel or have just a few minutes at the end of the day, I can roll out my mat and do a few exercises.’’

Bill Walczak, president of Caritas Carney Hospital, walks his dog Molly every morning at 6:30 in Savin Hill Park. It’s not the kind of thing he “would EVER do otherwise, especially in the cold weather,’’ he says. “Molly lets me think I’m walking her, but as any Corgi owner knows, it’s Molly who is walking me - ensuring that I get my exercise in the colder months.’’

Bob Caret, president of the University of Massachusetts, does some exercise every day: stretching, spinning, walking, jogging, riding a bike, or using a treadmill or NordicTrack. “I firmly believe that regular exercise is the key to good health and is key to being more effective and successful in one’s life and career. And while burning those calories and shedding those toxins, you reflect on the major issues before you.’’

Jerry York, Boston College men’s ice hockey coach, maintains a combination of healthy habits, including going to bed and rising early, working with a stretch band every morning, and packing lunch and snacks - with protein - to bring to work to keep his energy level up. He skates with the team, lifts weights three times a week, and jogs or bikes at least three times, too. “My assistant coaches recently took me to a spin class on campus and I’m now hooked! I believe that consistently performing these little acts of good health, even when I travel, has allowed me to keep up with my young players all these years!’’

Taking the edge off the stress

Diane Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, runs a few miles a couple of times a week to “get the blood flowing and unlock problems she is trying to solve, like how to stage a scene. But her best stress-reliever is hanging out with her children, ages 7 and 4. “I love to cuddle and laugh with my two daughters. That takes all the stress away, and helps keep things in perspective.’’

Dr. Harris Berman, dean of the Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, says when he gets into a stressful situation, “I remind those around me that ‘this too shall pass,’ and it usually does!’’

Malcolm Rogers, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has been reading “Younger Next Year,’’ which advocates exercise and diet. “But I love the authors’ emphasis on friendship and volunteering. My other recommendations for staying young: a personal trainer who is also a certified psychiatrist . . . and, of course, frequent visits to a world-class museum.’’

Ioannis N. Miaoulis, president and director of the Museum of Science, Boston, says cooking at home helps counter the stress of frequent travel. “While I cook, I am able to collect my thoughts, alleviate stress, and rejuvenate myself after a long day. . . . I have found that cooking gives me something to look forward to during business hours, and provides a satisfying sense of closure to a busy day.’’

Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit, does a combination of activities to stay healthy and avoid Alzheimer’s - the focus of his research. “The best way to prevent Alzheimer’s is exercise, bar none! Followed by intellectual stimulation and social engagement. . . . I tend to get a lot of all of that!’’ He plays basketball four to six hours a week for most of his exercise. To boost his mental, physical, and spiritual health, he maintains a vegetarian diet, tries to meditate daily, and takes a multivitamin, flaxseed oil, and a baby aspirin every day. “It is important to remain mindful of your feelings (emotions) and thoughts (internal dialogue) at every moment, to stay creative, original, and energetic.’’

Eating carefully and well

John Auerbach, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, says the key for him is no desserts. “Three years ago as a New Year’s resolution I gave up desserts (to which I had developed an uncontrolled addiction) and I haven’t had one since.’’ He doesn’t miss them much, except around the holidays. “To compensate, I have relied on the expertise of my food writer spouse who has shown me that it is possible to prepare healthful foods in the most delicious ways.’’

Phillip A. Sharp, a Nobel Prize-winning institute professor at MIT, takes an engineering approach to maintaining a healthy weight. “The first step in control is to measure. Years ago, I decided that I needed to lose 30 pounds for health reasons. I bought a large platform scale and weighed myself every morning. As long as the weight decreased as I passed on seconds and desserts, inserting lots of fruit and some exercise, I was happy. Twenty years later, the 30 are still gone and I am still measuring.’’

Mary-Catherine Deibel, owner of UpStairs on the Square restaurant in Cambridge, goes to aqua aerobics and swims laps three times a week. She allows herself one treat a day: “A cookie from Lakota Bakery before I go to bed is my favorite treat lately. But escaping in late afternoon for a treat trip up to Hi-Rise Bakery, or a quick trip to Flour always does the trick, and gives me time to think about the day, and gain perspective before we go into evening service.’’

Ana Sortun, the chef/owner of Oleana and Sofra restaurants, exercises or does yoga five mornings a week. She uses spices instead of fat when she’s cooking for herself. For breakfast, she has a smoothie - pear, pineapple, and banana, thickened with a date - or sometimes just a few Lebanese cucumbers, peeled, with a tiny bit of salt. “I try to fill up on the fruit and vegetables before the need for any dairy.’’ Starting with vegetables and fruit ensures she gets enough for the day, and helps counter the tasting she does while cooking at night.

Words to live by

Leonard Guarente, an MIT biologist who studies the biology of aging, says, “The lesson of life is to enjoy all its key ingredients in moderation - food, exercise, recreation, and the amount of stress we undertake.’’ He weighs himself every day.

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, a professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of a new book, “Live Better, Live Longer,’’ practices four basic health activities, and recommends them to his patients:

1. The most powerful thing you can do is to meditate. There is a wonderful ancient saying, “Meditate once a day and if you don’t have time to do that you need to meditate twice a day!’’

2. Express gratitude - doing so is one of the most fulfilling things you can do and recent studies confirm that it actually has health benefits.

3. Seize every opportunity to celebrate all the good things in life with your friends. The happiest people on this planet have lots of friends.

4. Practice generosity. Saint Francis of Assisi was known as the joyful beggar. He taught us so eloquently: “For it is in the giving that we receive.’’

Sylvia Crawley, head women’s basketball coach at Boston College, tries to lift weights and play basketball at least twice a week during the season. “I have also committed to doing something once a week that makes me happy,’’ such as getting a facial or a pedicure, or going out to eat with a friend. “This week I went to McDonald’s and paid for the person behind me and then it went on for nine [people]. That made me happy. I love giving ‘just because!’ ’’

Karen Weintraub can be reached at Karen@KarenWeintraub.com.
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