People may have a tough time pronouncing his name, but Dr. Uche Odiatu takes that in stride-his passion is to speak to hundreds of men and women at a time at conferences worldwide in order to ignite their passion for their own health.
When I settled into another session at the 2016 Professional Convention Management Association's (PCMA) "Convening Leaders" annual conference in Vancouver, and listened to Dr. Odiatu speak, I was riveted.
Like the others around me, I was fascinated by Dr. Odiatu's willingness to share a bit of his personal story, about growing up with an Irish mother and his Nigerian father. They were a huge influence in his life and the lives of his siblings. His sister, Nkechi, and his two brothers, Chiedu, Goziem have exotic names-but his parents are named Peter and Mary.
Dr. Odiatu is the author of The Miracle of Health: Simple Solutions, Extraordinary Results, and spoke with me about his background, his passion for wellness and other ways individuals can embrace science to achieve better health.
CWM: What are the biggest trends that you face in the world of fitness and wellness right now?
A: It's funny. You see in the financial world how they are saying the top five percent of people are getting wealthier at an exponential rate and the rest of the population is simply just treading water. In comparison, in the fitness world there are so many new things that small percentages of people are taking advantage of, and they are getting very healthy.
However, the average person either does not know this information or does not realize how important it is. They do not see the value and they are just simply treading water. Just listen to some of the stats on diabetes, a chronic disease which some would say is more of a lifestyle disease.
Ninety-five percent of all cases of diabetes are Type 2 diabetes. The growth in the numbers are staggering, from 30 million worldwide in 1985, to 150 million worldwide in the year 2000, to 300 million in 2010. Now they're predicting by the year 2040 there's going to be 500 million, or half a billion, people with Type 2 diabetes.
So unfortunately, the trend we see is a small number of people getting more fit because they're incorporating organic foods, and exercise such as interval training, weight training and yoga. The average person is basically either treading water or just slowly sinking.
CWM:What is the most important thing that you hope people walk away with when they hear you present?
A: I do not like to consider myself a motivational speaker because that is not my goal, but I think blending the science, psychology, business and financial reasons to get in shape motivates people to take the first step. When you include this blend in your presentation, you find the human emotional attachment to the information.
We talk to psychologists who tell us that almost 100 percent of our decisions are made emotionally. If someone does something to improve one thing about their health within 24 hours, my job has been done.
CWM: Speaking to the science of it, you correlated building lean muscle to BDNF, called miracle grow for the brain. Can you please share the science behind this?
A: A clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. John J. Ratay, MD and author of the book, SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, wrote extensively on how exercise relates to higher levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotropic factor, or BDNF, which is known to promote the health of nerve cells.
I have poured through medical studies surrounding BDNF, and the general consensus of scientists is that they believe BDNF helps to explain the correlation for mental function improving with exercise. Dr. Ratay explains how BDNF can be compared to miracle grow for plants as miracle grow for the brain.
Studies show that brief, high intensity aerobic exercise and lean muscle building exercises raise BDNF, increasing memory. Exercise influences hippocampal plasticity by balancing neurotrophic factor processing.
We know that miracle grow for plants can make them grow bushier, larger and more fruitful. In the same way, BDNF acts to grow our brains bushier and stronger. Neuroscientists have realized that the brain can actually adapt and change. You don't just have these 100 billion neurons and once they're gone, they're gone.
They've shown how the brain can adapt, change, heal itself and adjust to situations. A lot of people are motivated to start exercising because they want to look better, look leaner, have a flatter stomach, and improve their physical conditioning and overall health. But the purists, when it comes to exercise, say the real benefits of exercise is above the shoulders.
Many people go into exercise because they want to look better cosmetically. And that is fine, that is a great starting point. But as you incorporate exercise into your routine, you find that your brain functions better and your reaction time is improved. This quite possibly could be the best news yet.
In another study scientists look at first responders, like firefighters and police officers. What they saw was that firefighters and police officers who are fitter and exercise regularly, actually have less of a knee-jerk reaction when it comes time to emergency situations.
CWM:What drove you to this field? What was your inspiration?
A: It is my life's journey, I love that American-Indian quote, "In every seed, there is a promise of a thousand forests."
My mom believed in things like Cod Liver Oil, and she used brown sugar instead of white sugar. We know now that brown sugar is pretty much the same but back the late 60s, we would put brown sugar on our cereal rather than white sugar, which uncommon at that time. The interesting thing about her was that she was mindfully choosing was the family ate.
She fed us wheat germ and talked about black strap molasses having really high amounts of calcium. My mom had these little seeds and she would talk about how they grow and how planting the smallest mustard seed grows the biggest fields.
My dad would always say get outside and play. He believed you needed to get your body moving and get some oxygen for your brain. My dad was not a physical education teacher, he just intuitively knew that getting outside and playing would help us perform better in school and life.
My wife is my inspiration. After the birth of our eldest son with special needs, instead of giving into the emotional pain, she processed those emotions through her regular workouts. She astounded me with her ability to get back out and exercise.
We lost our eldest son in 2013 and I couldn't share the story in public without breaking down. Author Eckhart Tolle once said that when a person can tell a very emotionally charged story, without getting teary eyed and breaking down, that means you now have the wisdom.
Today, I can tell the story about our son, and people in the audience are emotionally touched. It is a way to share my vulnerable side, which makes me feel like my audience is more connected to me. Being able to share our story about our son makes me feel like my message is more valuable.
I generally follow that emotional story with asking my audience to stand and start to do a series of shadow boxing exercises. Usually my audience is touched, I see tears in some of their eyes, and then after bringing the boxing exercise into the mix they see first-hand how their emotional state can be elevated by movement. There is joy in the audience in just a few minutes.
This same concept can translate in the corporate world. If you're having a bad day, an argument with a coworker or a senior level employee, don't go back to your cubical or office and stew.
It would be a better idea to go down the exit down the stairs and maybe walk up and down the stairs a few times. This helps process the emotions and figure out how the problem should be addressed with a level head.
CWM: Who inspires you?
A: I love people who lived and worked their craft passionately. When you think about Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, and you look at lifespans of people back in the 15th and 16th centuries. Leonardo Da Vinci lived passionately with his commissioned painting works and lived until the age of 67. Michelangelo lived until he was 88, which was nearly two times longer than the average person lived at the time.
I look at history at some of the people who lived passionately and lived their dream in terms of using all of their potential to the fullest. They are inspiring to me.
CWM: What is the one thing someone could start doing today that would make a difference in their health?
A: I think the biggest thing is to start valuing the body more. When someone makes that shift, that's the first step. A lot of people just use the body as a tool, or as a means to an end. I think any time we use our body as a means to an end, it literally means you don't take care of it.
But people should start looking at their body like a high performance Formula 1 race car. Once you start looking at yourself as a high performance machine, you start treating the machine better. It's like the late 18th Century English Author Thomas Troward said, "The minute you change the way you look at something, the thing you look at changes."
So, there is a shift in perception that happens when one looks at the body as a high performance machine; the body starts performing better. In any journey back to health, to take their health to the next level, there is a shift in how they look at their body and it inspires a whole cascade of right-action.
CWM:Would you like to leave us with some words of wisdom?
A: It is never too late to get in shape. I think people sometimes believe if they are not 20 and don't have a six pack, they missed the boat. Numerous studies show that whether you are 20, 30, 40 or even 70 or 80, it's not too late to start an exercise regimen that will help your body and your brain! I created a 12-week weight training program, exercising three times a week.
Even people who've never lifted weights before doubled their strength in those 12 weeks. So if I could leave someone with a sense of hope again, that gives me inspiration for my journey. I want people to know how physical fitness and regular physical activity can elevate every part of your life, relationship, work, etc. Like President John F. Kennedy said, "Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity."