Preventive medicine expert suggests lifestyle changes for resilient leaders

By Lt. Col. Lindan A. Moya, Ph.D.September 11, 2014

Dr. Dean Ornish at Army War College
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

A leading expert on lifestyle and nutrition spoke to the Army War College Class here Sept. 9 as a component of the Senior Leader Development & Resiliency Program. "… Eat well, stress less, move more and love more," was the overarching message that cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish presented to the class. He emphasized that looking at underlying causes is key to good health and healing, rather than treating the symptoms which often return.

Learn what the Army War College officers and civilian leaders learned about healthy lifestyles for those with significant leadership responsibilities. See the video at

"Today the context for this is as an extension of the Senior Leader Development and Resiliency Day we had in early August," said Dr. Tom Williams, director of the USAWC Senior Leader Development and Resiliency Program.

Can lifestyle changes reverse disease?

Studies show that it is possible to reverse or stop the progression of heart disease and improve blood flow to the heart with lifestyle changes, said Ornish. His own study with men diagnosed with prostate cancer showed that healthy choices could slow, stop or even reverse tumor growth.

"The more people changed, the more they improved," said Ornish.

This prompted Ornish to take the next step and study the mechanisms that might explain these results.

"We looked at their gene expression," said Ornish. "What we found was that 501 genes were changed. When you change your lifestyle it actually changes your genes." A healthier lifestyle turns on the genes that protect you and turns off the genes that cause prostate or breast cancer, he explained. Even meditation can positively affect gene expression. Elite athletes meditate to gain a competitive advantage, and meditation also calms your mind, said Ornish.

"When you can focus your awareness, you gain power. You can perform better on the battlefield, in the [school room] and the boardroom," said Ornish.

Dr. Ornish is the founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.