Meet a Health Hero: Beth DuPree

Read more about breast surgeon Beth DuPree, a semi-finalist in our 2012 Health Hero Challenge!

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Name: Beth DuPree

Occupation: Breast surgeon and medical director, Holy Redeemer Breast Health Program

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?

Seventy-five percent of all breast cancers occur in women who do not have a family history of breast cancer. Therefore, these cancers are potentially preventable by adopting a healthy lifestyle. I cannot ask my patients to make positive lifestyle choices if I am unwilling to adopt them myself. Creating balance between my body, mind and spirit is essential. Being physically, emotionally and spiritually “buff” has become a way of life.

My motivation to be the healthiest I can be comes from within, but it is my breast cancer patients that are my constant source of inspiration. I consider myself to be a constant work in progress.

Describe a health- or fitness-related turning point in your life.

I was a varsity athlete through high school and college. Daily exercise and healthy eating was part of my routine until the demands of medical school set in. My time was limited and my fitness level and dietary choices took a plunge. Although I had periods of improving my personal habits, I would slip back into less than stellar wellness behavior at times of stress.

Five and a half years ago, I found a mass in my breast; as a breast-cancer surgeon, it was a wake-up call. I have always made lifestyle improvements as part of my care plan for my patients but was failing to care for the most important in my life: me. Thankfully my mass was benign, not cancer, but I have permanently changed what I eat, how I exercise and how I de-stress.

I decided that I needed to lead my patients by example. I am fitter at 51 than I was at 31. In order to inspire and educate my patients through my foundation, the Healing Consciousness Foundation, we have created lifestyle enhancement programs. These include VMS Thrivers fitness classes (with Vaughn Hebron), Healthy Cooking for Life series of education, yoga, Zumba, Thrivers retreats and meditation.

What “policy” would you institute to make Philadelphia a healthier city?

Policy is a term often used to describe political agendas. I prefer to use the word policy to mean “course of action” to create a society of wellness.

Positive lifestyle choices need to be rewarded individually and collectively at the corporate and community level. Individuals who make health and wellness a priority should receive a discount on their medical insurance or a rebate annually when they have not required medical intervention as a result of their wellness programs.

Corporate tax breaks could incentivize companies to provide wellness programs encouraging regular exercise, access to healthy food choices and stress-management programs. (These tax breaks could be used to fund the programs.) Healthy employees are less likely to call in sick and require extended leave.

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?

Maintaining physical, spiritual and emotional balance. When I am out of balance, I cannot function at my peak performance in every aspect of life. The surgery that I perform is very physically and emotionally demanding and requires continual physical training.

My body needs to be fueled with healthy food and I need to take time to quiet my mind in practice of meditation. My physical exercise includes three to five hours per week of a combination of cardiovascular and strength training in a class format with Vaughn Hebron pushing me beyond where I can go on my own. The workout is designed so that I can continue to remain fit while I travel. I try to incorporate hiking, swimming and any other activity that keeps me moving when I vacation with my family.

What is your No. 1 piece of health-related advice or encouragement?

We are each personally responsible for the aspects of our health that are under our control: what and how much we eat, how and when we exercise and what we do to “de-stress” and “turn off.”

We cannot change the genes we are given but we can control how those genes are expressed. Many of our health issues—diabetes, high cholesterol, and many cancers—are directly related to our lifestyle choices and each of us needs to be personally accountable.

Motivation is an external force but inspiration comes from within. Each individual has to create their own program to fit their needs to achieve and then maintain their health and wellness. This begins by loving yourself at this moment, exactly as you are; then, and only then, can you begin the process. We all have opportunities for improvement, so love who you are at this moment and work to improve those aspects of your life that require improving.