As a leader in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil has mastered the secrets of living a good life.
By following his own five pillars of optimal health: eating right, exercising, neutralizing stress, maintaining social and intellectual connectivity and attending to spiritual well-being, at age 78 he is proof that healthy aging is possible.
To help others embrace healthier lives, Dr. Weil shares his philosophy on his website, drweil.com, which is the leading online resource for healthy living based on the principles of integrative medicine, and through his 15 bestselling health and wellness books.
On his website, Dr. Weil notes how he learned his family has some genetic factors that put him at an increased risk of heart disease. His father had a mild heart attack at the age of 49, and later two coronary bypass surgeries. He lived to the age of 81. Dr. Weil’s paternal grandfather died of a heart attack at 50, and his paternal grandmother also had coronary artery disease and angina.
Knowing he couldn’t counteract his genetics, Dr. Weil chose to address the cardiac risk factors he could control, such as adopting a pesco-vegetarian diet (eating fish, along with a vegetarian diet), exercising daily, working to reduce stress, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. He says that implementing these changes have resulted in good heart health.
And while Dr. Weil, who has graced the cover of Time magazine twice, endorses making healthy resolutions, he also cautions against setting unrealistic goals.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make with New Year’s resolutions is trying to do everything all at once,” says Dr. Weil. “Rather than setting too many expectations, I encourage pursuing smaller, realistic goals.”
Embracing Healthy Eating
While conventional medicine treats chronic conditions with prescription medications, Dr. Weil, who trained at Harvard Medical School in Boston, explains that integrative medicine combines conventional medicine with natural and less invasive treatments, and looks at the whole person while emphasizing nutrition, lifestyle, naturopathic therapies (including herbs, massage and acupuncture), spirituality, and the mind-body connection.
According to Dr. Weil, good nutrition plays an important role in integrative medicine. Since processed and manufactured foods can lead to chronic inflammation, a contributor to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer and other health conditions, Dr. Weil recommends following an anti-inflammatory diet consisting of lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins, fatty fish and fresh herbs and spices.
“An anti-inflammatory diet, based on the Mediterranean diet, can help us all age gracefully and delay the onset of age-related disease and discomfort,” Dr. Weil says.
For those who want to eat healthier in the new year, Dr. Weil recommends making one change at a time.
“My top recommendation is to give up sweetened drinks of all kinds – soda, sweetened teas and coffees, energy drinks and fruit juices,” he advises. “Consuming these sugary drinks can lead to weight gain, and an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.”
In place of sugary coffee or tea drinks Dr. Weil is a fan of traditional matcha, a powdered green tea known to have many health benefits that he discovered while on a trip to Japan. He went on to launch a company, MatchaKari with André Fasciola, selling high-quality matcha.
“Matcha is a good anti-inflammatory coffee alternative and an important part of my morning ritual,” Dr. Weil says, adding that it has been shown to help with anxiety, reduce cholesterol levels, and stabilize blood sugar.
In his book, “8 Weeks to Optimum Health: A Proven Program for Taking Full Advantage of Your Body’s Natural Healing Power,” he offers specific and detailed information on other ways that diet, supplements, vitamins, herbs and other integrative medicine practices can lead to better overall health.
“Small dietary changes can have a big impact and result in lasting change,” Dr. Weil says. “The basic principles of following an anti-inflammatory eating plan aren’t hard, but they do require shopping and preparing your own foods.”
In his cookbook, “Fast Food, Good Food: More Than 150 Quick and Easy Ways to Put Healthy, Delicious Food on the Table,” he shares recipes that incorporate anti-inflammatory foods and are also easy to prepare, healthy, and delicious.
“Some of the unhealthiest foods are the cheapest and the most readily available,” Dr. Weil says. “I work to show people that healthy meals can taste good and be easy to prepare.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Weil’s True Food Kitchen restaurants, where the seasonal menus are guided by his anti-inflammatory food pyramid. True Food Kitchen currently has more than 30 restaurants nationwide, including their Town Center at Boca Raton location.
“Eating healthy doesn’t mean giving up the foods you like,” Dr. Weil says, citing his restaurants’ healthy pizza entrees, family meals and decadent desserts as evidence. “It means reducing the percentage of animal foods in your diet and incorporating more fresh produce and healthy dietary fats, such as olive oil, into your meals.”
Integrative Wellness During The Pandemic
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be challenging even during the best of times, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Weil says the uncertainty of the virus has added a layer of anxiety for many.
“When people are feeling stressed or anxious, I recommend practicing the 4-7-8 breath,” he explains. “Taking these five simple steps will put you in a more relaxed state.”
Dr. Weil starts his own morning with meditation, followed by this 4-7-8 breathing exercise:
- Start by exhaling completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose as you count to four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound to a count of eight. This step marks the end of one breath.
- Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
In addition, Dr. Weil says regular exercise is also an important part of emotional wellness and can help prevent and ease depression. One of his favorite integrative exercises is walking. He also enjoys swimming and working in the garden at his Tucson home.
“I recommend 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week,” he notes on his website. “In addition, I also recommend a strength or resistance training program using free weights or weight machines to strengthen and tone your muscles and increase the density of your bones.”
He also offers additional free tools to help people maintain their health and wellness, boost immunity, and manage anxiety and stress during the pandemic on his website for the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
The center, which opened in 1994, trains healthcare professionals in evidence-based, integrative medicine practices. Dr. Weil says his goal is to one day see integrative medicine taught as part of the standard curriculum at medical schools across the country.
“We’ve instructed over 2,000 physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners in a wide variety of specialty areas and currently have a waiting list for our medical fellowship program,” says Dr. Weil who serves as the center’s director. “Our website, awcim.arizona.edu, allows consumers to search our alumni directory to locate an integrative medicine practitioner in their area.”
The center is currently in the process of constructing a new, 34,000-square-foot building that is expected to be completed by 2022.
Over the past 30 years, Dr. Weil has seen the practice of integrative medicine, which promotes prevention and the body’s natural ability to heal itself, evolve. Today, the practice has become more mainstream and continues to grow in popularity among both consumers and practitioners. He says he believes integrative medicine is the future of healthcare.
“More people are taking prescription medications than ever before and this is cause for concern,” Dr. Weil says. “Americans now take 10 times as many prescription medications as they did in the 1950s and many are overused and misused.”
All too often, Dr. Weil says, prescription medications simply reduce symptoms without addressing the root cause of disease.
“Many other interventions exist that don’t involve prescription drugs, but sadly, they aren’t taught in medical school,” Dr. Weil notes on his website. “When I write a treatment plan for a patient, my first recommendations always include food, what not to eat, what to eat more of, and what dietary changes to make to improve health.”
According to Dr. Weil, an anti-inflammatory diet can improve health conditions such as allergies, asthma and other health conditions to the point where medication can often be reduced and in some cases, eliminated. In his book, “Mind Over Meds: Know When Drugs Are Necessary, When Alternatives Are Better – and When to Let Your Body Heal on Its Own,” he takes a deep dive into the problems of overmedication and integrative medicine approaches to treat health conditions such as high blood pressure, allergies, depression and more.
“With integrative medicine, patients and practitioners are partners in their health and healing,” Dr. Weil says. “By working with a practitioner trained in integrated medicine, patients can develop a lifelong wellness practice.”