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COVID’s silver lining?
Dr. John Whyte: Chief Medical Officer, WebMD
BY PETER BOWES | WEDNESDAY MARCH 16, 2022
How many times have you turned to a search engine to diagnose your latest ache and pain? Perhaps you visit the doctor and leave the surgery confused and befuddled? Finding and implementing accurate health information – especially preventative measures – can be extremely challenging. It’s hard to know what to believe online and some medical professionals are not known for their communication skills. In this LLAMA podcast episode Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD, explains the business of sharing reliable advice. In a world where information travels fast, how do we navigate the myriad sources and figure out the best path forward. Dr. Whyte, author of Take Control of Your Cancer Risk, also discusses his growing appreciation of gratitude and the power of purpose, as tools to prevent disease and enjoy optimum health.
Read a transcript
“All I have is my health, if I want to see my grandchildren, I want to see my family members, not just for COVID, but I need to maximize my health. And that’s where I think we’re going to see one of the silver linings of the pandemic.”John Whyte
In this episode, topics we cover include:
- The 24 hour news cycle and filtering accurate health information
- Dr. Whyte’s career, interacting with patients and working with WebMD
- Why “better information” will lead to “better health”
- Why scientists and doctors often fail clearly to communicate clearly with the average person
- Transparency in medicine
- Understanding and believing in science
- When Covid becomes endemic rather than a pandemic
- When health information is power, not knowledge
- Early detection through access to rigorously reviewed information.
- The key health questions on the minds of people around the world – the most searched topics on WebMD .
- How thinking about health status changes through the generations
- Cancer, lifestyle risk and public perceptions of how to prevent it
- Thinking about food as medicine and the perils of consuming too much processed food
- There’s no magic pill but herbs, spices and water can help
- The role of mental health and the brain body connection
- The power of gratitude and the science behind it
- The role and power of purpose
DoNotAge.org is offering listeners to LLAMA a 10% discount on its range of products – NAD boosters, Sirtuin activators, senolytics and more.Use the code LLAMA at checkout. Any health queries can be answered by emailing the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Affiliation disclosure: This podcast receives a small commission when you use the code LLAMA for purchases at DoNotAge.org – it helps to cover production costs and ensures that our interviews remain free for all to listen.
This interview with Dr. John Whyte was recorded on December 6, 2021 and transcribed using Sonix AI. Please check against audio recording for absolute accuracy.
Peter Bowes: [00:00:20] Hello and a very warm welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast. My name is Peter Bowes. This is where we explore the science and stories behind human longevity. Now, the quest to find accurate, honest information about medical issues, ailments, diseases and yes, of course, the pandemic is something that we have all struggled with, especially in recent months. One website that many of us turn to is WebMD, which is a hugely popular source of information about human health and well-being. But to what extent should we trust information that we find on the internet, and how do we navigate the increasingly complex maze of advice that is very easy to find, but not always easy to decipher? Our guest today is the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. Dr. John Whyte, M.D., is a board certified internist. And I think it’s fair to say a professional communicator when it comes to explaining medical issues that are quite difficult to grasp for most of us. Dr. Whyte welcome to the Live Long and Master Aging podcast.
John Whyte: [00:01:28] Peter, thanks for having me. It truly is a pleasure to be with you. We have a 24 hour news cycle and we have the abundance of social media, so it really can make your head spin at times. And sometimes we get overwhelmed as well. with the amount of information out there.
Peter Bowes: [00:01:48] Is the 24 hour news cycle sometimes a hindrance rather than a help, especially in terms of maybe just trying to ease the minds of people and reassure people.
John Whyte: [00:01:59] I think it can be a hindrance at times, and part of it is because they have to have content and sometimes they create content and unfortunately, the most provocative voices get the most attention. So if I want to get big ratings, I’m going to say things that are controversial. If I want to get many more followers on social media, you know, I don’t want to talk about things that aren’t going to get people’s attention. You know, I want to get people riled up because even negative comments promote engagement and then that just promotes misinformation. So it is a concern this 24 hour news cycle, this 24 hour always on type of approach.
Peter Bowes: [00:02:48] Well, I want to delve a little deeper into COVID and how it’s affecting all of us. But maybe first, let’s just talk about you and and your background, your education and your journey to the point that you’re out now. And I describe you as a professional communicator because you really have I mean, we’re talking about the 24 hour news cycle you’ve been involved in the at least in the nonfiction television business, as well as working as a practicing doctor.
John Whyte: [00:03:13] You know, Peter, I see myself, my identity is actually a physician and a policy person, and you might be surprised to hear that. So as you pointed out, I still see patients. I only do it one day a week, but I’ve always have seen patients throughout my career because fundamentally I do see that as my identity. I want to have that interaction and it’s great in terms of it grounds you. Right? So so I can be, you know, one day at WebMD, filming certain things, being on news shows and the next day I’m seeing patients in clinic and they don’t care about any of that. They want to know about their lab tests and how am I going to make them feel better? And I have also seen myself as a policy person, so my career is I went to medical school, did a residency, did a fellowship and then came to Washington because I wanted to impact how health care is delivered. In part of that is through communication and there is a science of communication, and that’s the role that I took. And it’s interesting because whenever I’ve looked onto new careers, people will be like, Oh, you should be like the, you know, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs or this or that. People that don’t know me that just look at, you know, the resume because there are media roles, but it’s really Peter the power of communication. How do we give people good information because better information is going to lead to better health? And that’s what I’ve tried to focus my time at WebMD on and even my individual day to day actions with patients.
Peter Bowes: [00:04:54] It’s interesting to me because oftentimes I feel that there’s too much complicated information which really doesn’t serve a great purpose if you’re trying to explain these very difficult issues and again relating it to COVID, something that has – we have lived with now for for two years – and clearly we’re going to live with for a very long time, but actually explaining the detail and how we should respond. There’s a lot of nuances there that can scare people and frighten people if they don’t fully understand. And there’s a real onus on the medical profession to explain things as easily and as simply as possible.
John Whyte: [00:05:31] Physician scientists, government policymakers, they’re not good communicators. They think they are. But what we’ve learned is they’re not, you know, and part of it is we developed our own parlance, our own particular words. The other day, I said to my wife about the refrigerator was there was something malodorous and she’s like, What? What is that? I’m like, You know.
Peter Bowes: [00:05:56] Exactly.
John Whyte: [00:05:56] Poor odors. It’s like, people don’t use that word. I’m like, Yes, they do. She’s like, No, they don’t. And that’s what happens in medicine when we talk to patients or we talk it more to population health, public health level. We’re not making it easy for people to understand. And at the end of the day, we also have to give them actionable steps. That’s what they care about. How do I decrease my risk of diabetes? What do I need to do in terms of screening for cancer? It’s great to talk about the science, but tell me what I need to do to protect myself, to live a quality life. And we’re not good at that, you know, on the government side and I saw it firsthand, and I think we’re seeing this as part of the pandemic. There’s like 20 people that touch a press release, 20 people that touch some type of communication, and it doesn’t become better at the end of those 40 eyeballs, it becomes worse. And and that’s part of the problem. We have to think about how does the average person hear what we’re saying? How do they comprehend what we’re talking about? It’s not about talking down to people, Peter. It’s not about making them feel, oh, they’re not as smart. It’s about helping them understand what we’re talking about and what they need to do and why we made those recommendations. And sadly, I haven’t seen it during the, you know, the 20 months of this pandemic.
Peter Bowes: [00:07:21] And one factor that I think has become increasingly apparent during this pandemic is potential conflicts of interest and especially talking about vaccines, talking about treatments. I think everyone is well aware that there are big pharmaceutical companies making these vaccines and also in terms of medical research that has to be paid for. And scientists are well aware that part of their audience when they’re talking about their work is the body that’s providing funding for the research. And that can sometimes stifle conversation, can’t it? It can sometimes inhibit a full openness as far as sharing information.
John Whyte: [00:08:01] You know, absolutely. There needs to be transparency. Transparency of how things are funded. The transparency in terms of any financial or other ethical issues relating to the communicators. We need to put that out there. But Peter, I would also argue that this story should be one of successful innovation in terms of what we’ve been able to do to bring vaccines to development, to bring new therapeutics, to do rapid antigen testing at home. I mean, we have made tremendous success, but that’s not the story. The story is it’s too fast. I can’t trust it. You know, people used to say, I don’t understand science. Now they say, I don’t believe in science or, you know, anyone is an armchair epidemiologist or researcher. I taught a communication class for many years at college here in Washington, D.C., and you know, I would ask people, how do they know that this is a credible source? And I’m not joking. You know, when you’re young, you think you know everything anyway, but they’ll say they have a blog. I feel like it’s not that hard to create a blog so that’s, you know, the challenges that we face in many ways.
Peter Bowes: [00:09:22] Well, let’s try to share some simple information, and let’s go back to COVID. I don’t want to concentrate fully on COVID because I also want to talk to your book about cancer and some broader issues as well. And this is a podcast about human longevity. It is looking at those interventions that could help us live longer and better, not necessarily forever, but just a long healthspan, maximizing the years that were alive. And clearly, the shadow over all of that at the moment is COVID. And we look to the long term with an extra factor that before COVID hadn’t entered into our minds as we think about our own longevity, so I suppose the question is, do you think for most of us, our remaining lifespans that COVID will be part of it?
John Whyte: [00:10:07] I think it’s going to be at this what we call endemic, and that’s the thing. These terms that people you know, don’t understand basically means this baseline level of infectiousness for many years. What we’re hoping to get to is like the flu or better yet, less than the flu, but we’re not going to eradicate it as we once hoped we would. We’re not going to completely eliminate it from the world. There’s just too many areas of the world where we’re not going to reach a high vaccination rates and the virus is going to continue to mutate. And when viruses mutate, they become stronger, not weaker. But the reason why it’s so relevant as we get older. And to your point about longevity, the greatest number of deaths have been in people over the age of 65. Those are the folks at greatest risk. So if you want to live longer, you want to have a higher quality of life. You want to avoid getting COVID. You want to avoid those long term complications of what we’re calling long haulers. That’s why it’s so important. Now the encouraging news here in the United States and also in Canada, 99 percent of people over the age of 65 have received at least one dose. Nationally, we’re about 70 percent Canada a little better. So that’s progress because we know we have decreased immunity as we get older. But I think for many of us, we’re going to be talking about COVID. It’s going to be around here with us for some period of time. The key is not to be having 100000 cases a day, but to maybe be having hopefully less than 10000.
Peter Bowes: [00:11:44] That point reminds me of another issue regarding communication and the 24 hour news cycle. Part of that 24 hour news cycle is giving us exactly the numbers that you just talked about the number of new cases daily, the number of of deaths daily in a particular region or country. Again. Do you think that’s necessarily helpful to have those details? Or do they confuse people about the bigger picture?
John Whyte: [00:12:09] You know, personally, I would phrase it differently to people because what I have talked to people, it’s about what’s happening in your community, your state, your city, your county. That’s what matters, not the national level, because it’s about outbreaks in your community. So in terms of that, I would say it’s so easy to find online with just a couple of search terms the number of new cases of COVID in your zip code, you can look at it like that and adjacent zip codes. And I would say, look at that information. A couple of times a week and look at the trend, if cases are going up in your area, then you may change your behavior somewhat based on that or if you’re traveling, you’re going to look to see what’s happening in that community. But that Peter is where we could use science and use data so you don’t need to monitor it every day. In terms of the number of cases, but will you want to look at is where are those trends? I actually do that. I have young children, they’re getting vaccinated. They’re in the five to 12 range. But I was very curious as to what’s happening in my county, to be honest, in my school district, because that can also help me guide my actions. That’s how people should use it. But that goes to your point. We didn’t explain it well. We didn’t show how to use it. Well, what do you do with this information? And again, I could argue what the total number of cases isn’t what really matters. It really matters what’s happening in your area, particularly particularly with hospitalizations and deaths. And that should really be a jolt to some people and those areas of the country that their hospitals are being overwhelmed.
Peter Bowes: [00:13:52] Still, do you think that the medical profession is explaining, well, the lessons that we could learn from COVID as far as our everyday health care is concerned? In other words, maintaining our health and well-being to boost our immune system just during normal times, which is something perhaps that maybe most people just didn’t think about. But I think the evidence has shown and you’ve suggested it by talking about the most number of people dying are the very old and those with underlying conditions. I suppose the lesson is, and we’ve talked about this on on the podcast before, the lesson is to try to live a life that prevents those underlying conditions and puts us in an optimized state to fight off either this virus or a future virus.
John Whyte: [00:14:36] I don’t think the medical profession has done a good job in communicating that, but I think the public has become aware of it when they think about, you know what? It’s about self care. At the end of the day, my job doesn’t matter. All I have is my health. And if I want to see my grandchildren, I want to see my family members, not just for COVID, but I need to maximize my health. And that’s where I think we’re going to see one of the silver linings of the pandemic. We have a greater focus on self care. We’re all using more apps. I’ve been using a Fitbit because like everyone else, I’ve gained weight and I look at the data and I’m not joking. You know, after a couple of weeks, I was like, Maybe this isn’t working. How can I only have three thousand steps a day? And I’m not joking. I switched it onto my other arm because I thought, maybe, maybe it’s not right. You’re supposed to use it when your diving arm. And it didn’t change. But you know what? It helped guide me in terms of I get out more often. I’ve been using lots of different food apps and other things to help with nutritional information, and I wrote a book years ago dieting, but now I’m more focused on it. And I think we’re seeing that with a lot of other people that are saying, You know what? It’s time now I focus on my health. And we’ve seen a lot of new digital apps, other digital tools that I can take better care of myself at home. Huge improvement in remote patient monitoring for conditions such as heart failure, diabetes. I think that’s going to help people live a better quality of life and a longer life. And as I said, that’s a silver lining of the pandemic.
Peter Bowes: [00:16:22] I absolutely agree. Let’s leave COVID there and move on to more general issues. WebMD, which is where you work right now, and I mentioned the popularity of the site for people looking for information, whether it’s about COVID or indeed any other medical issue. And the question in my mind, and this is more broadly obviously to do with the internet and you often hear it in doctors surgeries don’t rely too much on your Google search to diagnose the aches and pains that you might have. The question at the back of people’s minds is always: How can I trust what I’m reading online?
John Whyte: [00:16:54] Sure. Well, one is it’s always about empowering people with information. Information is power. Information is not knowledge, though, and it’s it’s somewhat nuanced. But we want to help people get to the right point of where they are. So what I’m very proud of is I’ve heard from many people over the years who said they went to WebMD with their symptoms and based on what WebMD told them, they went to see their doctor so early cancer, early other health conditions. And I’m very proud of the work of our colleagues in doing that. But you raise a good point. How do you know that what you read is accurate? At WebMD. You may not notice it, but every piece of content, every piece of content that you look at has a date at the bottom of it. And who is was reviewed by and you can click on that link to find out about that reviewer. That’s the transparency issue, and we have a strict editorial policy that is separate from advertising and marketing, and we have a robust group of advisers and reviewers. So we work hard and we have an opportunity for you to comment if you feel that something that we said is inaccurate. Most sites don’t have that. So we have a very rigorous process to make sure that the information we provide at the time that we provided is the most up to date information that’s available that’s going to help guide you. We’re not. I’m not. We’re not trying to be Dr. Google. I’m not trying to diagnose it online. But I’m trying to say is, consider this if you’re having these symptoms, consider this if this is what you need in terms of screening or treatment
Peter Bowes: [00:18:34] And living COVID aside. Does the nature of the questions that you receive from people on en masse give you an insight into what’s on the minds of people and perhaps the issues and the problems that most concern people and perhaps therefore help us understand where maybe doctors surgeries or hospitals could be doing a little bit better in communicating with people?
John Whyte: [00:18:58] You know, absolutely every couple of days, I don’t do it. Every day I look at what are the most commonly searched topics on on WebMD, and you’re right, it provides a window into what’s on the public’s mind. So for a long period of time during COVID, we did see that about infectiousness. Right now, we’re seeing a lot about mental health, how to deal with stress that that makes sense as well. You know, we’re starting to see more about cancer screening because people are starting to go back into the doctor’s office, but it does provide a insight into what’s on people’s minds. I’ll tell you, there’s always questions about bowel movements and urine, and that makes sense to because those are some of the things that sometimes patients feel a little embarrassed about asking their doctor. But there’s always a lot of questions on constipation. The color of certain things that come out of their body and and they’re good questions because sometimes the color does give you important information. You know, a lot of times, Peter, they want to know what’s normal. Is it normal to get up at night and pee? Is it normal, you know, to to have a headache in the morning? And that’s very helpful, too, because again, often people are fearful when they have symptoms and they want to make sure that they’re OK and utilizing what people look at for search helps us to create better content.
Peter Bowes: [00:20:25] And do you get a sense? And again, this really comes from my position of presenting a podcast that talks about longevity and looks to the future. To what extent are people thinking about their future, or is it still the here and now and how I feel today? And let’s get through today and approach tomorrow, and maybe forget about next week or next month, because I think for a lot of people, when they’re facing other serious concerns in their lives that might not be medical, it could be financial, it could be family. Their long term health isn’t the first thing that they’re thinking about.
John Whyte: [00:20:58] I couldn’t agree with you more, but I think this is generational. When you’re young, you’re in your 20s and your 30s, you’re not thinking about your health at all. You’re thinking about how to create a career. How do you start a family? How do you amass wealth? Right? That’s what’s important. And then later, when you have that family and you have that wealth, then you start thinking about your health, your 50s or 60s or 70s. And we have that wrong and we’re learning this during this pandemic that without your health, you have nothing. And in some ways, Peter, you know, we see that in how people search on WebMD. We have a big peak in the 20s and the 30s that primarily skews towards women. You know what? They’re searching or searching issues of pregnancy. They’re searching issues of fitness. And then where do we see another peak 50, 60 70? What are they searching? Heart attacks, high cholesterol, diabetes, strokes and that middle space? They’re not. But the problem is that’s where we often develop bad habits, right? Substance abuse. Too much processed foods. We’re not exercising. I’m like everyone else. I find an excuse all the time not to do it, but we have to realize that not every health condition we can reverse by any means as we get older and many, many health conditions are caused by lifestyle. And sometimes people don’t want to believe that I patients with type two diabetes, and I’ll tell them, you know, if you stop drinking soda, you know, if you change to these habits, you could probably come off your medicines. And I have a patient at least a couple, every couple of months, they’ll say I’ve been overweight for such and such time, you know, for 10 years, I’ve only had diabetes for two. It’s not related. And people don’t always see those associations. I saw a person the other day, a long time smoker has a cough. You know, he wanted to think it was everything else, it’s COVID, it’s allergies, you know, it’s like and I did say to him, Do you think it could be your smoking? And he’s like, No, because I’ve been smoking for 30 years and I’ve only had this cough for a week. So that’s part of the challenge, too. Peter, it’s not on your mind, you’re not thinking about it. And then later on, you’re not making that association that it’s been your daily choices over time that are accounting for some of your health issues. Not all, but for many of them.
Peter Bowes: [00:23:34] Well, I think that nicely brings us on to your new book, which is Take Control of your Cancer Risk. And I think on the similar theme, a lot of people might think, Well, there’s not much I can do about cancer. I might be genetically predisposed to get cancer, but in terms of my daily life shrug shoulders, what can I do? Which, of course, as you well know, is not the case?
John Whyte: [00:23:55] Absolutely. You know, the majority of people think it’s either related to your genes or it’s simply bad luck. Now, about 30 percent of cancer is due to genetics, what we call inherited mutations typically from your parents that result in cancer. Usually, those cancers occur at an early age, 20s or 30s. We see that with colon cancer or early, you know, breast cancer in her 20s and 30s, most of them are caused by these variants, genetic variants, these mutations. But about 70 percent of cancer is caused by lifestyle. What we eat, how active we are, how well our sleep is, how stressed we are and you know, we don’t treat it like that. You know, even as a physician, I talk to you about how can I prevent you from getting diabetes? How do I prevent you from having a heart attack? How do I prevent you from having a second heart attack, Peter? If you had one, but I never say to a patient, how do I help you prevent cancer? And that’s what I wanted to change,
Peter Bowes: [00:24:55] And let’s get into the ways that you can change that, and some are quite simple, and I often say to people they’ll ask me about the secrets to living a long, healthy life, and I say, Well, you know, we should actually probably end all of the science now and just apply what we know and understand about diet and exercise. And we could make a huge difference to people and a huge difference to people’s healthspan.
John Whyte: [00:25:17] Absolutely. The biggest change I tell people is to start thinking about food as medicine. And it’s it’s true. It’s as powerful as a prescription drug. So do you eat a bunch of potato chips or do you eat an orange? And it’s not as if you can never have a steak. You can never have wine, but too many of us eat processed food every day, drink alcohol several days of the week, and the long term implications in terms of cancer and other diseases is significant. So I talk to people about and we’ve seen this with data that it is as important what you include is what you exclude. So you want to include, you know, fish. Only about 20 percent of people have fish one day a week, one day a week. You know, that could be one of the biggest changes that you start having it twice a week that you have fruits and vegetables at almost every meal. Americans are not very good about consumption of fruit and vegetables. It’s about drinking more water. And then I tell people, because everybody, to your point, Peter, is like, What about a supplement? Should I be taking? Should I be taking that? I have to. There is no magic pill. There isn’t. I mean, if anything, I’d argue you’d be better off using herbs and spices that have been around for centuries, if not millennia. But people want to say, Hey, I want to eat that hamburger and then I’ll take a multivitamin that said it doesn’t work that way. And that’s, I think, is a big mindset change for people.
Peter Bowes: [00:26:48] I’m just going back to the encouragement of people to eat more fish. That’s a fish versus red meat. And that’s because the science shows actually quite strongly some degree of correlation between red meat and potentially getting cancer.
John Whyte: [00:27:02] It’s the strongest data there is in terms of the consumption of red meat and colon cancer. But we also have seen that we’ve seen this in the UK that has done terrific studies about the relationship of alcohol and breast cancer. You know, people don’t want to acknowledge that, but it’s important to be transparent about that information. We know that obesity is related to cancer, and that’s the types of cancers that are increasing. Yet we have overconsumption of processed food, ultra processed food, and that’s a real concern. I mean, we see this with physical activity. You know, all of us have been chained to our chairs on Zoom calls, but exercise in and of itself, separate from weight loss has benefits to preventing cancer. And part of that is improving our our vascular system, improving blood flow, right? We want to get cells to have that, that good blood flow and oxygen. It’s about preventing cancer cells from having a blood supply. There’s something called angiogenesis. It’s not a good word. It means a new blood supply. Cancer cells are smart in the sense that they develop a new blood supply to stay alive and replicate what exercise can prevent them from doing that. So that’s one of the reasons separate. It’s not just too always about losing weight. And then we’ve learned over the last few years that cancer is often a disease of inflammation, and inflammation is not good. Long term inflammation is bad, and stress plays a critical role that daily chronic stress that many people have those palpitations, that upset stomach, that depressed mood that is impacting their cancer risk. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to get cancer because they’re stressed, but it can put them at greater risk.
Peter Bowes: [00:28:55] And I actually just earlier today noticed a report talking about the average blood pressures of people, and I think this is related to COVID. This is a change that happened in recent months, but clearly that is intrinsically linked to people’s stress and how they feel about themselves every day.
John Whyte: [00:29:13] Absolutely. And the challenge, particularly with things like blood pressure, is, you know, most of us, despite we have new products and digital tools, we don’t check our blood pressure, you know, often enough, we don’t think about the relationship between blood pressure and strokes and heart attacks. But what I really want to get across to the audience and those that are focused on longevity is that there are things that you can do to improve the quality of your life and hopefully lengthen your life. Even, you know, at any age, you can continue to make some, you know, improvements that are going to help you live longer, hopefully, and want to live longer to say just you don’t just want length of years, you want quality of years.
Peter Bowes: [00:30:03] Yeah, which is why I often repeatedly ad nauseum talk about healthspan as opposed to lifespan and try to explain the difference between those two terms.
John Whyte: [00:30:11] I’m going to use that, Peter. I’m writing that down.
Peter Bowes: [00:30:14] Good. Well, with that in mind, with longevity in mind, I’m always curious people. I talk to you like yourself in terms of how you live your life and perhaps some of the lessons that you’ve learned through your own daily activities, but of course, your education as well. How do you live your life with your longevity, your healthspan in mind?
John Whyte: [00:30:33] You know, and I’ve learned a lot over the past year and like. Others, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to focus more on my health, even in the setting of being a physician and writing books, so I’ve learned about the role of mental health and physical health and the brain body connection. And I’ll be honest, in medical school, we really didn’t learn about it. If you talked about, you know, how one feels or stress they think you’re not serious, but now we know the relationship. So for me, I have been learning more about the power of gratitude and being grateful and having a gratitude journal. And there’s science to support that in terms of looking at functional MRIs in terms of what areas of the brain light up. And we know that can reduce those areas of the brain associated with mood disorders. So for me, I’m doing a gratitude journal where I’m writing down something every day that I’m grateful for. Learning the power of forgiveness, I joke with people. I’m from an Italian family and people are still mad about something that happened 20 years ago at a wedding. And I brought that up the other day and someone was like, But what if you’re right? Okay? You still have to let it go. So I’m focused on the mental health aspects learning about meditation that I hadn’t done a year ago. But I also am more mindful on food is that we were just talking about I haven’t always been. And sometimes when you have young children, you have, you know, unhealthy eating habits. But what I say to myself, Peter, is I’m going to be healthy for my kids. I want to be healthy for my grandchildren. Hopefully at some point. So I’m going to make some of those changes now and I recognize. Food is an acquired taste. We’re not pre wired to like ice cream and french fries, you know, we can change that and gain satisfaction from other type of foods. And then I’m trying to be more physically active and and I know that’s an area where I want to make progress, but I also try to look at a longer term strategy. And I do the same with me, as I say to to patients, I want to know where you’re going to be a year from now, two years from now, not not a month from now. So don’t try to lose 20 pounds over the next month. Don’t try to say I’m going to compete, you know, in a 5K, you know, in three months. But rather, what healthy habits can you adopt that you’re going to continue to adapt over time that you’ll keep with? So it’s false starts. I’ll be honest, but it’s kind of this longer term strategy where I have a greater focus on my own health, mental and physical.
Peter Bowes: [00:33:24] Do you think having that future vision of looking forward just in itself, helps?
John Whyte: [00:33:30] You know? Absolutely. And I think that’s where it goes to on generational. When people are 30 and 40, they’re not thinking about, you know, the impact of health issues, but you do when you’re in your your fifties and sixties and seventies. Nobody wants to have a heart attack. Nobody wants to have a stroke. But the difference with that in cancer back to that point is, you know, fundamentally some of the things that you need to do to reduce that risk. Some people don’t do it for whatever reasons, and it can be hard, but they may not. But you’re still empowered to know. And I do it through that prism because I don’t want to, you know, have challenges later on.
Peter Bowes: [00:34:11] And I know you have a family, you have children who are around you because you’re working at home right now. And one of the things you just said is something that a lot of people said. And that is in terms of a reason for wanting to live long and be healthy and aspire to that healthspan is to be around for your children and for your grandchildren. It is a common theme that I find with almost everyone. I interview that it isn’t about you. It’s about you and your position in the world and those around you, and perhaps also sharing the wisdom of your education and your profession as you get to a great age.
John Whyte: [00:34:47] I agree completely. I also think we have we’d have a chance to talk about it, but it’s also about the role of purpose and the power of purpose. I feel like ever since a young age and probably because of my parents, I’ve always been purposeful. I wanted to have an impact on the world. I want to affect individual patients on a one to one level, but I want to impact populations and that’s the career path that I chose. You know, I joked to my wife, I’m going to be like a Supreme Court justice working, working to my 80s. But but that’s something that I enjoy. Maybe I won’t work 70 hours a week, but that’s something I enjoy. I want to have a purpose. I want to have an impact on those around me. And I think that gives people a reason to want to get healthier, a reason to live longer and a quality of life. Your healthspan, which I which I love that phrase and it is about being around. And I think that’s how our perspective changes as we get older first with our children and then with our grandchildren.
Peter Bowes: [00:35:59] John, I really enjoyed this conversation.
John Whyte: [00:36:01] I did as well.
Peter Bowes: [00:36:02] Fascinating subject. Thank you so much indeed.
John Whyte: [00:36:04] Yes. And you got to see my older one. So that’s nice.
Peter Bowes: [00:36:07] Yes. Recording this video connection, this is an audio podcast, but we’ve got to see each other and I’ve got to see you and your family together, which was great. So I appreciate your time. Thank you. Absolutely. And if you’d like to learn more about John and his work at WebMD, I’ll put some details into the show notes of this episode at the Live Long and Master Aging website. You’ll find us at LLAMApodcast.com That’s LLAMApodcast.com. The LLAMA podcast is a Healthspan Media production. In social media you’ll find us @LLAMA podcast, you can contact me @PeterBowes. We’re available on all of the major podcasting platforms in addition to the one that you’re already listening to us on. Spoiled for choice, really? Apple Podcasts, where you can rate and reviewers Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Audible, to name a few. Wherever you find us do take care. And thanks so much for listening.
The Live Long and Master Aging podcast, a HealthSpan Media LLC production, shares ideas but does not offer medical advice. If you have health concerns of any kind, or you are considering adopting a new diet or exercise regime, you should consult your doctor.