Success Stories

Center For Orthopedics Wellness Champion: Robert Berkowitz, MD

Dr. Berkowitz is a firm believer that exercise has amazing health benefits, but you can’t exercise your way out of bad eating.

by Evelyn Jameson

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Dr. Robert Berkowitz was once a teenage ‘jock’ – a talented one. He was an all-state baseball player in high school and played soccer in college.

For decades after, he continued playing pick-up soccer. “But I hung up my shoes about five or six years ago after coming home limping too many times,” he says.

But this is not the story of someone who let his fitness level lapse. While being a busy orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Berkowitz incorporates wellness habits throughout his day. Staying fit, he knows, doesn’t require a huge amount of exercise, but an artful way of approaching food and activity and some other habits.

“I am a believer that exercise has amazing health benefits, from physical to psychological, to longevity and mental clarity,” he says. “But I also believe we can exercise too much. We don’t have to be crazy and work out seven days a week.”

“For me, doing something four or five days a week is fine. I might run once or twice, but I’ll also count going on a 3-4 mile walk with the dog or playing soccer in the backyard with my kids.”

Another habit is to take the stairs whenever possible – and taking a break mid-day to eat a plant-based, whole-food lunch he’s brought with him from home. (He does the same for breakfast.) Some days, he might even meditate for a bit, perhaps in an empty exam room. But taking that short lunch break is an important and regenerative daily practice for him. So is following a stretching routine to stay limber.

One of the things Dr. Berkowitz feels most strongly about is this: “You cannot exercise your way out of bad eating, and if you need exercise to obtain or maintain an optimum weight, I’d question if you are eating right,” he says. “I’m also a firm believer that it’s the quality of food you eat that matters more than the quantity.

“The most intimate thing we do as humans is put food in our mouths. And every cell in our body is made up of what we eat. I believe the most important thing people can focus on is what they put into their body – ideally, it’s clean whole foods that come from the earth.”

When Dr. Berkowitz meets with patients who have neck or back problems and pain, he doesn’t stop at addressing those on a clinical level. He asks them about their habits, their exercise, and lets them know that if they have any questions about how to create a healthier lifestyle, he can help them with answers. “I tell them, ‘I’m more than happy to sit down with you on my time, during lunch or some other time, to talk about it.’”

“Not one person has ever taken me up on it.”

If they did, he might share stories from his and his family’s life about making a shift to a higher quality diet. At first, his wife and daughters considered him a bit of a zealot about healthy eating. But it grew on them when they saw the fresh whole foods he ate. “Now my wife and my daughters, who are 11 and 12, are as rigorous about it as I am,” he says.

The family now does a lot of its shopping at farmer’s markets. “We do eat meat, but we have interviewed and met the farmers from whom we buy our eggs, chicken, lamb and beef,” says Dr. Berkowitz. “The animals are grass-fed and the chickens are so ‘free range’ that they peck for their own food in the fields, except in winter. The only fish we eat is wild-caught salmon and small fish, such as anchovies or sardines.”

His philosophy is the one espoused by author Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

It’s a gentler approach to wellness, and a simple one too.