Lots of doctors tell their patients to exercise, and well they should, given all the physical and mental benefits of regular activity. But it is not every day that I hear from a physician who leads her patients in Zumba classes three times a week.
So the other night I drove over to Dr. Kasia Ostrzenska's office in St. Petersburg to see her in action.
Next to her standard-looking medical office she has a large fitness room with wood floor, mirrors, dumbbells and a booming sound system. As the music started, she had more than 20 people dancing, shimmying and jumping around at a pace that had them all dripping with sweat in minutes. Heck, I was getting a little damp, and I was standing safely in the back of the room moving nothing more than my pen across the pages of a reporter's notebook.
Through it all, the doctor herself looked radiantly fit and ready to keep up the pace for hours.
Before the class, we talked about how different her approach to medicine is since she lost 45 pounds five years ago. Back when she weighed 170 pounds, her practice "was based more on writing prescriptions than prevention.''
Now her priorities have shifted, but she told me not everyone is ready for her brand of medicine. One day, she saw a patient who was at least 100 pounds overweight and clearly had trouble just getting out of her chair in the waiting room. She had a litany of aches and ailments, and also an instruction for the doctor: Do not tell me that my weight is to blame for any of my problems.
Which got me wondering: How many of us expect our doctors to heal us, without our participation?
I think I understand where that patient was coming from. When you feel lousy and go to the doctor wanting antibiotics and maybe an industrial-strength cough suppressant, it's truly annoying to hear, "You know, you really ought to drop a few pounds.''
Years ago, I was constantly getting bronchitis and sinus infections, and I had a nice doctor who kept me well-supplied with antibiotics. Best part, I'd joke with my friends, was that he was a heavy smoker, so I never had to worry about him correcting any of my bad habits.
This was not so funny after he died of lung disease.
Eventually I discovered that my own problems were based in allergies and asthma. Once I had those under control with monthly shots, occasional medication and a healthier lifestyle (including dropping a few pounds), the infections were a thing of the past.
I now see an allergist who is also a runner and never fails to check my weight and ask how much I'm exercising. My family doctor has lost 100 pounds and has me doing half-marathons with her. So I can't get away with anything.
Which, for me, turned out to be the right medicine.