Preventive medicine is an area of medicine that aims to prevent illnesses before they occur. It encompasses a range of measures, from lifestyle changes to vaccinations, that help people stay healthy. Dr. Jiří Dvořák, Professor of Neurology, Executive Advisor, Musculoskeletal and Rehabilitation Clinic at BDMS Wellness Clinic, who has been interested in preventive medicine for many decades, has shared five essential keys to a healthy lifestyle.
He highlights the significance of physical activity, diet, sleep, mindfulness and avoiding risky substances for achieving optimal health.
“Physical activity is the key to good health, as it reduces the risk of chronic diseases and maintains an optimal healthy weight. Most people spend 23 hours a day sitting and lying down, and this lack of movement has negative consequences on their health.”
He encourages people to do at least 20 minutes of moderate activity daily, which can be divided into convenient time slots. He himself starts the day early in the morning with a 15-minute workout, which can be a combination of weights, biking, or running. He then goes for a 15-minute swim, and later in the day, he goes for a brisk walk of about three kilometres. He tries to achieve 10,000 steps a day and keeps track of it using his smart watch.
“Everybody is aware that smoking is bad. We don’t need to explain. If you do not do any physical activity a day, it has the same related healthcare cost to three cigarettes a day. So, if you don’t do anything the whole week, it’s like you are smoking a package of cigarettes,” he adds.
The well-known sports medicine and spine specialist stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, which can be measured using the body mass index (BMI). He recommends keeping the BMI below 24 and controlling body weight by watching what one eats. While he prefers a primarily vegetarian diet, he also consumes meat, fish, and chicken in moderation. He emphasises the importance of consuming organic food and avoiding red and processed meat. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and he usually has a good meal in the cafeteria during lunchtime. In the evening, he prefers light meals While he enjoys good food and wine, he emphasises the importance of moderation. He also has a cheat day but compensates for it the next day. Additionally, he prefers his coffee without sugar, avoid fizzy drinks full of sugar and advises against consuming excessive amounts of salt, suggesting no more than five grams per day, equivalent to a small teaspoon.
“I allow at least 12-14 hours of no food overnight so that the body can relax,” he says. “Good sleep can maintain optimal health. I go to bed around 10 PM and get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night. This is the best time to fall asleep to have 7-8 hours of good sleep. Don’t consume alcohol and other substances that can disrupt sleep as sleep is extremely important. He believes that the quality of sleep is crucial and advises against watching action or horror movies in the evening. As a physician, I rarely prescribe sleeping pills as they can be addictive and interfere with the natural sleep cycle.”
Dr. Dvořák, a former FIFA Chief Medical Office, also recommends taking a midday power nap if possible, which he has been doing throughout his career. He typically takes a 7-minute nap after lunch and lies down to sleep, sometimes even dreams. When asked about how to practice power naps, he suggests finding a personal technique, such as meditation or quiet contemplation.
Next to good sleep is mindfulness. Dr. Dvořák describes it as having a peaceful mind, where worries and sorrows are pushed away to truly exercise. Dr. Dvořák mentions how much he enjoys visiting Thailand where people seem to have a naturally peaceful disposition. He suggests taking the time to practice mindfulness in a similar way to exercising, referring to it as taking "mindful pills." This can involve activities such as yoga, arts, or meditation, which help individuals find peace within themselves and cultivate thankfulness for their health and life. If negative experiences arise, he advises working to correct them.
The fifth tip for optimal health, according to Dr. Dvořák, a physician with 45 years of experience, is to steer clear of risky substances. “Let's begin with medications. There are very few drugs or medications that don't have side effects, and taking them regularly can also have an impact on your health. Unfortunately, many physicians find it easier to prescribe medications than to take the time to explain to their patients what to do. So remember, medication is number one on the list of risky substances to reduce or even avoid.”
Dr. Dvořák 's interest in preventive medicine began during his medical studies in the early 1970s. He noticed that medical school was focused on treating diseases, but not on preventing them. This realisation led him to embark on a journey of self-education, during which he studied extensively on the causes of diseases and how to prevent them.
"I realised that there was not much from medical school telling me about how to prevent diseases," he says. "So I decided to search for ways to prevent diseases and started looking into applicable traditional Chinese medicines. Physical activity was not in at that time. We grew up with physical activities. I started all these so-called paramedical approaches, which very much focus on prevention."
After becoming interested in traditional Chinese medicine, Dr. Dvořák began to investigate the impact of diet on disease prevention. He and his family adopted a vegetarian lifestyle and incorporated the principles of traditional Chinese medicine into their daily routine. Dr. Dvořák was amazed by the results. This newfound interest in preventive medicine inspired him to establish his own medical practice, with a focus on prevention rather than solely treating illnesses. Unfortunately, at that time, he encountered resistance from the medical community, who were sceptical of his qualifications and the efficacy of his methods.
"I was in the process of creating that kind of clinic for people. That was in the year between 1976-1979. Young doctor. Nobody. But the medical colleagues in Switzerland questioned my ability, whether I was really a doctor. Even the media were questioning. So I'm ok. We were ahead of time. People were not ready for organically grown vegetables and food with organic farming in the seventies."
Undeterred by this scepticism, he continued to pursue his interest in preventive medicine. He began to publish scientific papers in his field, sports medicine and books on the subject, and his work gained recognition in the international medical community.
Today, Dr. Dvořák continues to promote preventive medicine through his work in the wellness industry. He aims to strengthen the credibility of the wellness and fitness scene. He believes that a preventive approach to medicine is crucial for the health and well-being of individuals and communities and highly cost effective.
“The healthcare industry plays a key role in promoting wellness and preventing illness. Healthcare providers should focus on motivating patients with incentives such as compensation for prescriptions in fitness clubs and subsidies for supervised physical activities under the guidance of physicians. This investment in maintaining health is more important than just selling drugs and vaccines.”
According to Dr. Dvořák, healthcare politicians should find ways to create incentives that encourage people to prioritise prevention. He does not only speak about preventive medicine but also lives it, serving as role models for others to follow. As more people become interested in maintaining their health, Dr. Dvořák hopes that the healthcare industry will shift its focus to prevention and wellness.
“Maintaining muscle mass is crucial for physical health, especially as people age. However, many people are unaware that they lose about 10% of their muscle mass every decade after the age of 40 if they don’t compensate. This is a significant issue because it can lead to an increased risk of falls, slower walking speed, and various other problems.”
Dr. Dvořák explains that there are very few inflammatory muscle diseases; therefore, most people who experience muscle pain or weakness are likely suffering from the ongoing loss of muscle fibre. This condition can be prevented by strength training, which not only improves physical appearance but also helps maintain muscle mass. It is particularly important for older people to keep their muscle mass as they are more prone to injury and other health issues when their muscles deteriorate.
“You should seek the advice of a personal trainer to develop a program that works for you. The trainer can help design an exercise program that strengthens all of the body’s muscle groups rather than just targeting specific areas.”
Along with exercise, nutrition is essential in maintaining muscle mass. He emphasises that a healthy diet with adequate protein is crucial for muscle growth and maintenance. Individuals should aim for approximately one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, and organic protein from sources such as chicken, nuts, and plants are preferable to supplements, which may contain animal products and be difficult to absorb.
Although building muscle takes time, he notes that it is never too late to start an exercise program. While it may take several months or even a year to see significant results, consistency is key. Once muscle pain is alleviated, he encourages people to use the pain-free period to begin their exercise program.
“Maintaining muscle mass is essential for people of all ages, but especially for those in their silver years. Strength training, balanced nutrition and incorporating daily exercise are key to preventing muscle loss, improving physical health, and reducing the risk of falls and injuries. Starting an exercise program can be daunting, but it is never too late to begin, and seeking help from a personal trainer can make a significant difference in achieving long-term health and well-being.”
Motivated to help people understand what they can do to avoid falling ill, Dr. Dvořák and his three co-authors of the book, ‘Health Brings Wealth,’ explain what individuals can do to maintain good health and prevent disease.
The book, which is based on scientific evidence but written in layman's language, emphasises the importance of a healthy lifestyle in preventing not only Covid-19 but also a number of other diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, and dementia. "If you read this book, you will change the way of life," Dr. Dvořák says.
"Everything written there is evidence-based," he says. "What differentiates this book from many other books about health, which many of them are personal opinions, is that the book is science translated into layman language because we are scientists."
The book is also being translated into Thai, which Dr. Dvořák hopes will make it more accessible to people in Thailand. "We are currently translating into Thai language and will soon be published."
His message is straightforward: prevention is the foundation of good health and disease prevention. By adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, mindfulness, and avoiding risky substances, one can significantly reduce the risk of chronic diseases and achieve optimal health.
“Make a decision to change to a healthy lifestyle. Start as early as possible,” he adds.