Food & Fitness After 50: The Power of Having a Plan A and Plan B for a Healthy Life

As a 10-year-old, Samantha loved animals. She had 5 cats and her favorite Walt Disney movies were the ones featuring animals, not princesses. And, she faithfully watched the television show, Wild Kingdom. Her love of animals made her question what she was eating, and she told her mother she was going to be a vegetarian. By the age of 18, she made a deeper commitment and became a strict vegetarian. Today, many years later Samantha remains a strict vegetarian who is mostly vegan.

In her early 20s, she moved to New York City to pursue her dream of singing and acting; a Broadway star-to-be! Like many aspiring entertainers, she needed a Plan B and that led her become a licensed massage therapist, fitness instructor and ultimately to going back to school and getting master of science degrees in exercise physiology and nutrition.

S Heller photoToday, in her 50s, she may not be winning Tony Awards, but she is an entertainer of the educational kind. She hosts a weekly radio program on Sirius XM Doctor Radio and is a frequent health expert on TV. A sought after speaker, Samantha blends her musical talent with her passion for science and medicine by infusing many of her keynote presentations with music and song. “These presentations are not musicals” she says “But the science is accented with popular music and humor which adds a whole other dimension, facilitates learning and retention and is fun.” (For example, see her at work in the fusion of science and song.)

Let’s back up a bit…after Samantha completed school and became a registered dietitian nutritionist, she started counseling patients with medical conditions at NYU Langone Health. Though Samantha is a vegetarian, the nutrition advice and medical nutrition therapy she provides her patients is always evidence based. She understands the importance of meeting people where they are and working with them to optimize their health. She learned to listen to her patient’s needs and gently nudge them to a healthier life. If that means eating meat, then she teaches them the healthiest choices and how to moderate portions, while increasing nutrient-rich plants and whole grains.

While working as a clinical dietitian at the medical center, the public relations department tapped her to do local television appearances and her acting chops and her knowledge of health made her a natural. In 2008, Doctor Radio came along, and she has been hosting the show every Friday for the past nine years. “The radio show, which is conducted live every week, has provided an amazing opportunity to work with a variety of health professional from medical doctors to nurses to registered dietitians who otherwise would have no reason to talk to me!” Her goals are simple: provide science-based health information, showcase her guests so they do a great job, and have fun. As a guest on her show several times, I can attest that she meets all of those goals with a 5-star rating.

There are many keys to her success, certainly her performance skills shine through her radio voice, but she doesn’t just talk the talk, she lives it. Samantha exercises most days of the week. She loves running, hiking and walking when the weather cooperates, but in the cold NYC winters, she hits the gym. Just as with her career, she always has a Plan A and Plan B for exercise. “Aim high when it comes to activity; we are not always going to meet the goal, but that just makes you want try harder.” As mentioned earlier, she eats a plant-centered diet for health and enjoyment. “In 2017 it easier to be more plant based than ever before. There are tons of recipes online and many restaurants now have vegetarian and vegan options.”

She also promotes being well by managing stress. “I promote a positive approach to daily life by rewriting the script when bad news intervenes. We can’t avoid stress, but we can manage it by redirecting negative thoughts into proactive, positive responses.” She also encourages her patients and her listeners to “be kind and respectful” to their bodies. “Our body’s job is to keep us alive so use your brain…your mental muscle…to move yourself to good health.”

She knows it isn’t always easy, especially as we age. She sees many of her friends struggling with finances as they age, working 2-3 part-time jobs and worrying about who will care for them when they are old. Many are caretakers for aging parents or loved ones, creating another layer of stress. However, she encourages a proactive approach to good health and optimal aging to be the best we can be at any age.

Samantha may not have ended up on Broadway (but, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a Plan C up her sleeve!), but she has positively impacted the lives of her patients and Doctor Radio listeners. For that I give her the 2017 Food & Fitness After 50 Award!

For more tips on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out my new book (with co-author, Dr. Bob Murray). Available in paperback or Kindle edition at Amazon.