Meet a Health Hero: Dr. Laura Offutt

Dr. Laura Offutt

Dr. Laura Offutt

» You can vote for Dr. Offutt here October 6th through 12th. Mark your calendar! 

Name: Dr. Laura Offutt

Role: Founder of Real Talk with Dr. Offutt, an interactive, web-based health resource for teens.

Who or what motivates you to be healthy?
To live life to the fullest. Life is short and full of good things, and I don’t want to miss a second of it! Feeling and being well allows me to enjoy my family, my work, my friends and the world around me. I know my mind and body work better when I eat well, sleep and exercise.

Describe a health or fitness related turning point in your life.
When I was a medical intern during my ICU rotation, I had a terribly mean pulmonary fellow leading our team of interns, residents and students. In retrospect, she was a bully, really. Interacting with her on a daily basis, combined with the severity of the patient illnesses surrounding me and grueling hours, was extremely stressful. That stress played out in many ways beyond simply feeling stressed — I had a hard time controlling my emotions; my gastrointestinal tract was rebelling; and I was jittery and unhappy. One day, I decided the one thing I could do that might help was to exercise before heading to the hospital. I woke up a half-hour earlier every day and worked out right in my apartment. Nothing major, but when I did that, I found I felt better and could get through the day. It was at that moment that I fully appreciated the power of exercise as a stress management tool, as a mood booster, and as a way to keep me physically well. Since then I have never stopped exercising. Even now, if I get a bit snippy with my kids, one of them usually asks if I have worked out lately — because they can tell when I need it!

What “policy” would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
There are so many positive changes that can be made to improve the health of Greater Philadelphia, that it is hard to pick only one. Since my passion is encouraging and protecting the health of teens, I reached out to them for their thoughts regarding a beneficial “policy.” The nearly unanimous response might surprise many, but is quite simple: there should be a requirement for a longer break (recess) in the middle of the school day that includes unstructured free time with the opportunity to go outside for fresh air and/or exercise. Simply put (paraphrased in their own words), the school day as it is structured contains very long stretches of academic time with little if any real break. Most would even accept a longer school day to allow for recess to be included. Recess is not the same as P.E. (although that is important as well). Unstructured (but safe and supervised) time bolsters creativity, and also provides numerous health and academic benefits. There has been much attention paid to the struggles with mental health and obesity that many of our youth face. There is significant evidence that a recess during the day may decrease depression and anxiety, and helps manage stress. Outdoor exposure improves moods. A recess would help students get closer to obtaining the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day (that less than one third of high school students currently achieve). Recess before eating actually may increase healthy food consumption (if available) at lunch. And a benefit separate from the mental and physical health benefits exists: recess can improve academic performance.

What’s the most important part of your health or fitness regimen?
Variety. I avoid the all-or-nothing mentality with regards to food and exercise. I do not think there are “good” foods and “bad” foods. I like to do a variety of physical activities ranging from a long walk with my dog to a heart-pumping spinning or Zumba class to a yoga class to playing tennis or frisbee with my family. I try to move more days than not, and some days more vigorously than others. The variety makes getting regular exercise easier and keeps it from getting boring. As for food, I like to apply the 80/20 rule. Food should be 80 percent fuel and 20 percent fun. If I stick to that, treats can have their place (every day even!), but I make sure that the bulk of my diet includes foods that will fuel my body and mind well and keep them healthy and humming along smoothly.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice
Speak kindly to yourself. So often we berate ourselves for “pigging out” or “blowing a diet”. Or we get angry at ourselves for not being as thin/attractive/in shape as we wish to be. Negative energy is counterproductive. Think about it – why would you be motivated to do something good for yourself if you don’t like yourself? All the negative self-talk leads to an “I don’t care – it doesn’t matter any way – I am going to eat/drink that because nothing works anyway” attitude. When you are kind to yourself, you will exercise to be kind to your body; you will fill your stomach with healthier foods; you will allow yourself time to relax and refresh. All of this leads to a healthier mind and body.

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