During the past 10 years, I went from being a doctor to being a doctor/Oprah guest/book author/TV host, and in the process, I've learned a lot about my viewers, my patients, and myself:
1. The latest thing isn't always the greatest thing. I work at a cutting-edge hospital, but I also put stock in ancient remedies like treating burns with silver (long known as an antibiotic) or healing surgical wounds using leeches (yes, hospitals continue to do this). If it's still used today, the practice likely has some merit or it would have died off long ago.
2. Change is possible—but only if you believe it. The more we learn about genetics and disease, the more we realize that DNA isn't nearly as important as lifestyle. People think that if their parents had heart disease or were overweight, they're doomed to the same fate. But you can change your health—if you commit yourself to making good choices.
3. We regret the actions we don't take more than the ones we do. A few years ago, I appeared on Oprah with Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor dying of pancreatic cancer. He told me that he had recently taken his family on a trip to Discovery Cove to swim with dolphins. It was something that he'd always wanted to do, but it wasn't until he was dying that he made it happen. The next day, I booked the same trip with my family. If there's something on your wish list for life, make plans today to do it.
4. Hosting a TV show is not that different from doing open-heart surgery. In both the TV studio and the operating room, you depend on highly skilled professionals doing their jobs correctly so you can excel at yours. As a team leader, I recognize that each player—from the anesthesiologist to the camera operator—is better at what they do than I would ever be, and I appreciate their ability to make me look better.
5. To achieve your goals, make the right thing to do the easy thing to do. I recently replaced the couch in front of my TV with a stationary bike. Now I can pedal while viewing my favorite shows (like House). Since the average American watches more than 30 hours of TV per week, it could mean a lot of activity for your body, with little inconvenience.
The bedtime habit that will change your life—and the rest of Dr. Oz's best-ever advice6. Knowledge does not lead to change—understanding does. If I tell you, "There were a million heart attacks last year"—unless you're one of those million, you don't care. But if I can show you a picture of an artery, and you can see the plaque rupturing—now the heart attack isn't abstract, it's a real story. And you're much more likely to take care of your own heart, because you don't want that same story to affect you.
7. Going to bed 30 minutes earlier will change your life. I spent years surviving long hospital rotations on little sleep, and I learned that if I don't get seven hours of shut-eye a night, I won't perform well the next day. Less than half of Americans over age 50 get enough sleep, but if you make it a priority, I guarantee that you'll have more energy, less stress, and (most important for a doctor) a clear head.
8. If you want a healthier community, fight for it. I used to ride my bike across the bridge from New Jersey to Manhattan every morning. I noticed that many bikers stopped riding during the winter, in part because you had to haul your bicycle up and down a flight of 50 stairs on each side of the bridge. So we petitioned for a new bike path that didn't involve stairs—and got it. We all have the power to improve the health of our community, whether it's getting better bike lanes, more sidewalks, or a farmers' market that sells fresh produce.
9. Better patients make better doctors. People are often hesitant to challenge their doctor, but a good patient is someone who raises her hand and says, "I don't understand this" or "This isn't working for me." Your physician will be able to take the knowledge she gains from your open, honest dialogue and pass it on to the next person she treats.
10. It's not about living longer—it's about living better. I once had a patient who was in danger of having a heart attack if he didn't change his habits. So he changed them. At his next checkup I congratulated him on adding years to his life, but he said, "That's not why I did it. I just wanted to feel better." The idea of living into your 80s or 90s is nice, but what really motivates people to make a change is having a healthy body today.