Public Health in Action – Intentionally Healthy

A quick Google search of the word “patriotic” gave me what one would expect: definitions and images.  The first few images displayed, symbols of America – the red, white and blue flag; the Statue of Liberty; and the bald eagle – are a few things that each of us would consider patriotic.

Patriotic (adjective): having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for one’s own country.

I moved to Washington, D.C. in May of 2009 shortly after finishing my coursework in graduate school.  I remember that first summer vividly because it marked a new chapter in my life.  I left all the comforts of my native southern California – sunny weather year-round, non-existent winters and dry air – for something completely opposite in DC.  The city was built on a swamp and boy did your body feel like it was one in those hot and humid summer months.  One of my favorite memories in my time in Washington was celebrating America’s Independence Day on the National Mall.  If I did a quick Google search of patriotism in my own mind, that memory would be the first hit.

The second hit, however, may surprise you.  It’s a combination of images and words from then Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak (here’s an example).  In several speeches or remarks, Dr. Lushniak suggests that true patriotism lies within each of us and a result of taking care of our own health and well-being.  Highlighting the financial burden of our healthcare system as well as the rising rates of chronic disease, he emphasizes that our country’s future is at stake.  And the true leader that he is, he ended each speech or talk by asking us to join him in physical activity.  Leaders that walk (or bike) the talk.  Literally.

I’ve never met Samantha Attard in person.  I have, however, seen and read many of her blog posts and regularly read her email newsletters.  Samantha embodies Dr. Lushniak’s vision of patriotism.  And she also takes it a step further by sharing and infecting her passion for health and well-being with anyone who crosses her path.  It’s a privilege to feature her on my own blog today.

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Samantha Attard, PhD, Wellness Coach and Yoga Instructor
Website: behappyhealthyhuman.com
Twitter/Instagram/Periscope: happyhealthysam

View More: http://hannahbjorndalphotography.pass.us/samanthaattard

Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?

Samantha Attard: I became interested in nutrition and yoga on a personal level in high school, but it wasn’t until I was in the midst of my undergraduate education that I thought about applying my personal passions to a career. I was studying Chemical Engineering at Cooper Union, and noticed that the eating and work habits of a lot of people weren’t conducive to feeling good or working at their best. Through yoga, I learned about Ayurveda, which is the ancient Indian system of medicine. I fell in love with their view of health. The Ayurvedic perspective is that prevention is the key to the best health. They also emphasize continuity in your life: they believe that what you do at work affects your personal life, and vice versa. It was a completely new way to view health and lifestyle for me – that all of the tiny decisions you make throughout the day add up to a greater whole that hopefully supports your overall health and well-being.

It was at that time that I became more interested in pursuing a degree in nutrition or health. I considered medical school, but realized that 24-hour shifts in the hospital wasn’t going to be personally healthy for me. I then learned about public health, and I fell in love. I had experienced first hand how our communities affect our lifestyle decisions and wellness, and I wanted to help build more health-focused communities.

That led me to pursue a PhD in nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In my research, I used large data sets to examine how changing community environments in China contributed to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. I truly enjoyed my research, but I noticed two different things that convinced me to pursue an alternative career outside academia.

First, I noticed that after decades of research and dedication to preventing and curing obesity, we weren’t making great strides. I remembered back to my background in Ayurveda and began to realize that some of our trouble was a focus on single, blanket solutions, rather than addressing individual needs, barriers and motivations.

At the same time, I realized that making a direct impact on a person’s wellness was very satisfying to me personally. I realized that there is a great opportunity to influence and help when you are working directly with people, either individually or in small groups.

Meanwhile, I decided to complete my yoga teacher training, a personal goal of mine for many years. But once I started teaching, I was hooked. I realized once again how much I loved working directly with people and helping them to feel their best, so I started to teaching.

I always knew that my approach to nutrition and wellness was unorthodox – I combine a stringent scientific criteria to everything I share, but I’m also open and welcoming to complementary medical therapies and practices. That’s why I decided to start my own blog and practice. I take the best practices from Eastern and Western nutrition, psychology, economics, and behavior change to help my clients feel and be their best.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

SA: I think that feeling inspired is a conscious choice. So, first, I purposefully surround myself with beautiful spaces, great books, and take yoga classes as often as I can. Taking long walks through Washington, D.C. and listening to great podcasts with smart thinkers is one of my favorite activities and helps me recharge my batteries.

Reading emails from members of the Happy Healthy Human community are huge for boosting my inspiration. When I hear how readers and clients are implementing changes and are feeling good, I can’t help but feel happy and grateful. It inspires and energizes me to create more.

Periscope (smartphone app) is probably the best way for me to re-energize. The community has such great conversations and asks fabulous questions in response to my live videos. It’s fun to engage, share and help right there on the fly, and I truly love it!

Me: What does health and wellness look like to you? Specifically, what would a person with perfect health and well-being look like and do (eat, activities, etc)?

SA: To me, perfect health and well-being starts with confidence. It starts with that strength of knowing yourself and being willing to assert your position in the world.

Once you have that confidence and strength of yourself, it becomes a lot easier to turn down another offer or project and instead do yoga or meditate, or spend time doing something you need to do for yourself. It becomes easier to slow down and ask yourself if you really need a second slice of cake. You want to exercise because it’s a reminder that you are alive and strong.

With that being said, I truly believe and know that “perfect” health looks different for everyone. Some common features would be taking time for quiet (whether that’s meditation, reading a book, knitting, or taking a walk), getting active/exercise, and connecting with friends or family that you love. You put those three things into your everyday, and you are much closer to perfect health.

Me: What changes, either as a society or as a system (healthcare, government, or others) do you consider necessary for more people to progress towards the perfect picture of health and well-being that you described above?

SA: I think the biggest change that needs to happen as a society is to drop the judgment. This judgment comes out of a lack of self-confidence that is so rampant. But it’s when we fear judgement that we don’t follow our true desires. I think our fear of judgment holds back so many people from achieving true happiness and health in their lives.

Me: What are the current needs in Washington, D.C. as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

SA: I see the need for smarter gentrification. There are a lot of changing neighborhoods in DC. Some have done a great job of incorporating the current community (I’m thinking of Columbia Heights/Petworth), and some have done less well.

I’m proud of yoga studios like Yoga Heights (who I work for). They do everything they can to make yoga accessible, affordable, and welcoming for everyone in the community.  I love the mission of With Love DC – they put on events that are inspiring, low-cost, and welcoming to everyone.

I hope the metro/subway system decides to subsidize fares for service workers and the people who need it most, rather than strictly government employees.

I think that as DC continues to grow and evolve, smart integration and providing services to people of lower SES will determine if it becomes a welcoming, more equitable community, or go the route of some cities that are perpetually divided by race and SES.

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