How Tom Brady and Lebron James can change your patients’ health

As medical professionals, one of the most challenging things to do is to motivate a patient to make changes in their lives. We passionately want the best for our patients, and it is sometimes so difficult for us to be able to connect with and inspire them to take the next step on a path to disease prevention and longevity. The solution? Enter Lebron James and Tom Brady.

It is no secret that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. We can see this in numerous studies, on the school playgrounds, in clinics, in the OR and walking down the street. It is also no secret that this epidemic is contributing to the number one killer of men and women in the United States: heart disease, along with a host of other problems like metabolic syndrome and possibly, even cancer.

We also know that lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and a healthier, more wholesome diet can help mitigate these issues and even prevent such diseases. Sounds like a good deal right? A bit of exercise three to four times a week, cutting down on the burgers and fries, eating more vegetables — and we can ultimately prevent the diseases that are responsible for millions of lives.

Not. So. Fast. Often, our pleas and discussions fall on ears that are unwilling to listen. It’s not necessarily our patients’ faults. It is very difficult to convince someone, particularly someone who hasn’t spent 10–15 years since high school studying medicine, the importance of keeping their blood pressure regulated. Or convincing them that their elevated blood pressure today, which gives them no symptoms, will result in catastrophic complications in 10, 20, or 30 years if not addressed. There isn’t enough motivation to make a change when you can’t see the consequences.

We need to be more creative. We need to be able to relate with our patients and empower them. We need to do something else because what we are doing now is just not working.

This is where our friends Lebron James and Tom Brady come in. They need little introduction, as they are household names at this point. Respectively, they are responsible for 8 NBA/NFL champions and are both in the conversation for the greatest basketball/football player ever. But what do they share in common? Their commitment to their bodies and their health.

Although both are considered “older” in terms of the shelf-life of their respective sports, both are able to continue to perform at the top level because of their dedication to their own health. Both are known for being meticulous in strictly eating foods that are conducive to the optimization of performance and avoid those that are linked to detrimental outcomes. Both understand that in order to feel and perform their best they must take care of their bodies, an understanding that our patients and we medical providers sometimes forget.

I don’t expect my patients (or me) to spend the two million dollars a year that Lebron James does on his body, but his example serves as an important lesson.

The same can be said for Brady, who at 41 years of age is looking just as good as ever. Many have discussed the “Tom Brady diet,” a strict set of rules which he thinks will lead to better health and recovery. While I do not have data on how effective diet is, nor do I promote such a diet, the essence here is key. The fact that the top basketball and football players go out of their way to preserve their bodies in order to maximize their lives is key.

While most of our patients don’t have to lace up some sneakers or cleats to perform on national TV, they do have meaningful lives to live. Careers to pursue and families to attend to. Grandchildren to see. If our patients are to treat their bodies with the respect and dignity that they deserve, they will be able to enjoy their life and golden years while minimizing the debilitating burden of chronic disease. A simple conversation, invigorating our patients with the example of the health and career longevity of these athletes may be what is needed to make it “click”: If one is to treat their body the way Brady and Lebron do, maybe they too can get more out of life.

For example, one of my adolescent patients the other day did not want even to consider eating vegetables and avoiding processed junk, nor did they want to take their annual flu shot. The back and forth between myself, his mother and he was going nowhere. He didn’t want to change any habits. I noticed he was wearing a pair of Lebron 15s. Instead of trying to convince the kid to live a healthier lifestyle, I asked him: “Who’s your favorite basketball player?” Before I could even finish my question, he blurted “Lebron!” We talked a bit about Lebron’s off-season moves, and then I asked him, “Do you know how healthy Lebron eats? Did you know Lebron has to get a flu shot every season during training camp?” Suddenly, he was more receptive to our conversation about vegetables and avoiding junk food. He wanted to be great just like Lebron and was willing to try eating a better diet. He even was willing to get a flu shot, saying, “If Lebron has to get one, I guess I’ll get one as well.” That’s the power of connecting with a patient.

This way, we can connect with patients on a personal, human level, and we can transcend the status quo of the patient-provider relationship to create meaningful change in the healthcare landscape. Investing more in our patients’ health, just as these sports icons do, maybe the way forward. While our paychecks may not be as big, our lives are just as valuable. Let’s take a page from their playbook and focus on living a healthy lifestyle that enables us to maximize our lives.

Abdel Albakri is a medical student.

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