Meet a Health Hero: Dr. Raina Merchant

Dr. Raina Merchant

Dr. Raina Merchant

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Name: Dr. Raina Merchant

Occupation: Assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, director of the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, and founder of the MyHeartMap Challenge, a crowdsourcing initiative to locate defibrillators in Philadelphia

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
My patients, family members and friends motivate me to be healthy. If I want to inspire the people around me to live a healthy lifestyle, I know I need to lead by example.

Describe a health or fitness related turning point in your life.
A few years ago, I downloaded a mobile app to track my daily steps and realized that some days I was too sedentary and not getting enough exercise. Tracking helped me determine when I needed to increase my mobility and activity level and enabled me to make healthy changes to my daily routine.

Mobile devices have changed the way information about our health is delivered and consumed, and this experience helped me to understand how new tools can empower patients to take a more active role in managing their health. Today, at the Penn Social Media and Health Innovation Lab, we are busy researching how new communication channels can enhance our ability to understand and improve the health care of patients and populations locally and nationally.

What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
I would institute a policy that requires mandatory CPR and AED training in schools. Improving education and awareness about heart disease greatly increases the likelihood of a cardiac-arrest victim receiving lifesaving treatment during a crisis. Cardiac arrest affects almost 500,000 people every year and most do not survive. If someone collapses and stops breathing, an available bystander should call 911, push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest and send someone to get a nearby AED. If every person followed these steps in the event of a cardiac arrest emergency, hundreds of lives could be saved in Philadelphia each year.

What is the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
I try to focus on three things: a balanced diet low in salt and sugar, getting a good night’s sleep and exercising regularly. I believe the key to living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be complicated or involve excess resources, it is best to keep it simple.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice?
Finding time to maintain a balanced diet and exercise is very challenging, but slow incremental changes over time can make a big difference in how you feel today and in the future. It is never too late to start.

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