Q&A with Dr. Vonda Wright, the Mobility Doctor
Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at UPMC, is a star in the medical world with appearances on The Doctors and Dr. Oz and other national shows where she's known as the Mobility Doctor. A marathoner, she is as fit as she is smart and those who know her call her extraordinary, energizing and super cool. On September 12, she is kicking off her first conference here in Pittsburgh on "Women's Health Conversations: Prioritizing your Body, Brains and Bliss." We at Pop City connected with her over caffeine recently--and then we went straight to the gym.
Why are you called the Mobility Doctor?
My calling is more than putting the screw in the right place in the bone. It’s about harnessing the 70 percent of aging and health that we actually control.
As a sports doctor, it’s logical that we use mobility. It’s the one method that controls 33
chronic diseases—from diabetes to heart disease. A diabetes pill won’t control our heart. But invest an hour into anything from fidgeting to gut wrenching exercise and we control our health.
You say that you want to change the paradigm on aging. How are you doing that?
My vision is to change the way we age in the country. Hallmark will tell us that 40 is the black birthday. My husband (note: Peter Taglianetti who used to play for the Penguins) just turned 50. I don’t think there’s anything more natural than aging but we don’t have to age in a miserable way. Our 30s aren’t the peak of our lives.
I think there’s nothing better than aging well.
As fast, as strong, as powerful as we were in our 20s, when does our performance decline dramatically? At 75. Between ages 50 and 75 we can make up for it.
While your focus is on women in your upcoming conference, wouldn’t men benefit from the same advice?
Yes. But if I want to focus on one group that’s going to have the biggest impact it’s women. We make more than 80 percent of the health decisions for everyone we affect – like children and parents.
Men only come to the doctor when they can’t sleep, they can’t play golf and they can’t have sex.
Where do women go for their answers more than 50 percent of the time? Fifty percent of the time they look it up online. How do you trust what you see on the internet?
I have a program online called How far can you go? F is for fortify; A is achieve and R is for revive for people who want to be athletes, maximize performance and minimize injury. We can be amazing athletic performers in our 40s and 50s. But it’s women who will make the most change.
Is it better to make small-step changes or wholesale changes?
I don't believe in deprivation as a way to gain great health or lose weight! These are 5 simple changes we can make that go a long way towards your best health and believe it or not, your body will adapt quickly and you will start to crave the great new foods you are eating:
1. Eat protein with every meal, even breakfast. Not only is protein the building blocks of healthy muscle but it digests more slowly than carbs and will not leave you feeling hungry by 10 am.
2. No salad dressing! Nothing turns a gorgeous, healthy, colorful salad into a mush of fat faster than salad dressing. On average salad dressing has 100 calories of fat per tablespoon. And when was the last time anyone stopped at one! Don't drown your salad.
3. Drink a simple cup of Joe! I love souped up, double-pumped coffee drinks but without realizing it you can down 500 calories in one cup. Stick to a simple cup of coffee.
4. No fried foods. Period.
5. Follow the 3 bite rule for dessert! I love dessert--we deserve yummy food--but only 3 bites: by the third bite your taste buds are saturated and that is enough.
In my second book, Dr. Vonda Wright's Guide to THRIVE: 4 steps to Body, Brains and Bliss
, I focus on strategically planning our health. We plan everything in our lives but often leave the most important thing, our health, to chance and time.
And if time is a problem?
If you’re trying to affect physiology and have no time—the biggest excuse is time—then burn it out and you’re done for the day. Go 20 to 30 minutes on the treadmill. I suggest 10 exercise circuits and in 20 minutes people are gassed.
What about taking a brisk walk on our hilly terrain?
30 minutes of brisk exercise is fine but you can’t have a conversation while doing it. And it’s important to change things up every day: one day it can be circuit training or running or biking. Thirty minutes is what the FDA reports.
Tell me more about this fertilizer for the brain—BDNF--which we all could use more of.
I’ve never met anyone who said I want to die confused. A huge body of literature draws the connection between mobility –exercise, high intensity exercise--and the brain-preserving effect. It works in two ways: it preserves neurofunction and promotes BDNF, a brain-derived neurotropin which acts as a fertilizer for our brains.
So even one intense workout will produce BDNF which produces new brain cells.
Yes. The complex nature of exercise promotes learning during activity. It helps us better embed information in our brain. Example: reading while on the treadmill. It is not only building a better brain but better pathways. That high-intensity burn can that sustain that for 12 hours.
There are a gazillion excellent reasons to exercise. So why don’t more people do it?
People have a hard time drawing the connection between this minute and the future. Knowing what you have to do to live long and prosper—there’s a total disconnect. It's the same in banking. That’s why PNC is sponsoring my conference.
That’s one reason. Number two: We got a lotta stuff going on and women tend to do their other stuff before taking care of ourselves.
So it’s good to think of exercise as investment in ourselves.
Yes! This is an investment and you are worth making this investment. And when you invest in yourself you can better take care of others.
I ask people: Do you realize how powerful you are? This is the only thing you can control in your whole life--what you can do with your body. Only 30% is genetically determined. People are more apt to get a tune up than take care of their own body.
Why are you doing your conference on women’s conversations on health?
I’m usually one of the only health speakers at these big conferences I go to and I’ve asked, where’s the conference for the consumer on women’s health?
So I brought together clinicians at the top of their field. I want women to have a day of edutainment—the best info in a very entertaining way by amazing presenters, from breakout sessions like What does Obama Care mean to me?
to risk-taking in life. The goal is to take it to Chicago and then the west coast. (For info, click here.)
I took your balance test and while I lasted a full 22 seconds standing on one foot, I gotta tell you that the older I get the klutzier I feel. Why is that?
Klutzy is more about being brilliant. You’re thinking of other things.
I love that. While we're on a positive note, tell us some good things about aging.
We get wisdom from knowing ourselves. We’ve progressed somewhere in our career—we’re not in the mailroom—and we have deep relationships. Isn’t it amazing to know people for 30 years? I have a group of seven girlfriends from every period in my life.
There is such a negative attitude about aging that pervades this country. It’s such a last generation attitude. It doesn’t have to be this thing you don’t looking forward to.
You can be healthy, vital, active and joyful. But it takes an investment in yourself.
Tracy Certo is publisher and editor of Pop City.
Photograph with lab coat courtesy Dr. Wright
All other photographs copyright Brian Cohen