Ageology: Dr. Paul Savage. July 1, 2013. Photo by Andrew Collings.I’m known for spending significant amounts of time with my patients at each and every one of their appointments. I don’t do this because it takes me a long time to conduct a physical exam, run a routine test or write a prescription.

What takes up most of the appointment time is simple, enjoyable conversation.

I talk with my patients about all kinds of things: work, marriage, passions, children, stress, hopes and fears.

Before you jump to conclusions and get irate that someone who is not a psychologist or psychiatrist is taking people’s hard-earned dollars in exchange for deep conversation, consider this:

Over the decades I’ve practiced medicine, I’ve learned that this part of the interaction between doctor and patient is more important than anything else. It isn’t just about building trust and rapport, although these are crucial components of a productive doctor-patient relationship.

A big part of any integrative metabolic medical (IMM) program is helping patients make health-promoting changes in the way they eat, exercise, and experience and manage stress. Stress, in particular, is a major cause of age-related disease and early death, and if we don’t talk about how to manage it, that patient is getting short-changed.

It’s during these discussions with my patients that we both come to recognize any self-sabotaging patterns in which the patient may be stuck. This doesn’t suggest that I’m any wiser or better read or worldly than they are. The truth is we often can’t see our own mistakes or destructive behaviors. We sometimes live in what you might call “blind spots” – places we can’t or are unwilling to see, at least not with the clarity required to make shifts to improve health and achieve optimal health.

For example, one of my patients knows she shouldn’t eat so much sugar, but she doesn’t see a way to stop. When we talk about her life, it’s revealed that she counts on that sweet reward to get her through day after day of a job she hates and the difficult parenting situation she is faced with when she arrives at home.

Another patient can’t get himself to exercise regularly and jokes that it’s just not his thing. Once he opens up to me, he reveals that although he wants to add exercise to his IMM regimen, he’s embarrassed to go to a gym. He was hoping to shed a few pounds before even trying to work out in front of other people.

Yet another knows bioidentical hormone therapy will help her get her sex drive back, but somehow, her heart just isn’t in it. We talk things over and I find that her marriage is in the tank and has been for years. She could restore her libido; she just doesn’t want to have sex with the man she married, and she likes having an excuse not to.

Only through these heart-to-heart conversations can I learn these details and help these patients work through their obstacles. I like to think I’ve accrued enough wisdom over the years to have a few ideas about how people can bust out of ruts, make the most of their lives, and be motivated to start and follow through with changes that will lengthen their lives and drastically improve their health and well-being.

I didn’t learn the rules of life at an early age. I had to go through plenty of ups, downs, twists, turns, near-misses, disappointments, victories and challenges to learn what I know now. I had to turn to every resource I could—great books (If Life’s a Game, These are the Rules; Desiderata; Everyone’s Free to Wear Sunscreen; the Bible; AA’s The Big Book, the Koran, The Four Agreements, The Four Noble Truths, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, and Way of the Peaceful Warrior are just a few), trusted mentors, and even everyday folks who had their own wisdom to share (even the ignorant and the dull have their stories). And I’m still learning. I hope to continue to do so until the day I draw my last breath.

In a coming series of weekly blog posts, I’ll share with you my “Rules to Live By.” I’ll explain why they should matter to you, whether you feel fine now or want to feel better. My hope is that even if I don’t get the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with you, these health-related rules will help you turn the mirror on yourself. They will guide you to see any blind spots that are in the way of your being as healthy, happy and vibrant as you can possibly be.

Make the changes today that will make a difference tomorrow. You can do it. Ageology can help.

A preview of my upcoming blog topics are listed below. In each, I’ll share with you my personal experiences, as well as those shared by patients, and how these rules have helped and continue to help me – and the patients I’ve come to love – on a daily basis guide my journey through life.

  • Be honest (with others and yourself)
  • Always do your best (put your heart into it, even when you don’t know exactly what “it” is)
  • Take nothing personally (nothing anyone else does has anything to do with you)
  • Don’t make assumptions (about anything, ever)
  • Be willing to try something new (instead of doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results)
  • Be humble (you are not the center of the universe)
  • Be in the now (it’s the only place you have any power)
  • Take action (even when you aren’t sure of your next right move)
  • Laugh (daily, and hard)
  • Faith and forgiveness (the cure for fear when sh*t happens)
  • Be good to your body (it’s your greatest gift and most amazing tool)
  • Acceptance is the key to happiness: life is exactly the way it’s supposed to be (arguing with reality is a waste of time and energy)