…Drinking lots of water — where do I start with all of the benefits of keeping properly hydrated. It flushes toxins, boosts metabolism, aids digestion, and enhances clarity and focus. The target goal is to take your body weight and divide in half, and that’s how many ounces of water you should drink daily. Add to that amount if you’re exercising or sweating heavily.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Seema Bonney.
Seema Bonney, MD is the founder and medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia. She is dual board certified in both Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine and Emergency Medicine and has completed a fellowship in regenerative medicine. Dr. Bonney is a holistic doctor who is passionate about changing the way medicine is practiced. Her emphasis at her practice is based on prevention and wellness, and diagnosis/treatment of root causes of common symptoms such as weight gain, low energy, hormonal imbalances, insomnia, and anxiety/depression. She is focused on helping her patients achieve optimum physical and mental wellness by helping them change their habits and form new healthy ones through her work with them. She is dual board certified in both Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine and Emergency Medicine and has completed a fellowship in regenerative medicine. Dr. Bonney earned her undergraduate and MD degrees through the prestigious six-year accelerated medical program at Jefferson Medical College in conjunction with The Pennsylvania State University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey as a first generation Indian American. My dad came to the United States in the ’60s to complete his masters and PhD and ended up settling down here. I grew up around ayurvedic medicine and holistic living. My parents stressed eating organic foods and balanced meals. We exercised and meditated daily and did yoga on the weekends. I felt that I was raised on the foundations of sound health habits that I now try to instill in my patients.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to become a physician. I’m a nurturing person at heart, and there was nothing that appealed to me more than using my own hands and intellect to heal people. Since I knew early on that I wanted to be a physician, I applied to accelerated combined premed/med programs, and was thrilled when I got into several. I eventually decided to enroll at the coveted Penn State Jefferson 6-year med program.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My parents always taught me that I can achieve anything I want to. My dad’s story was pretty inspirational, growing up in a very poor village in India and realizing early on that education was the ticket to a better life. As I transition from being a physician to a physician entrepreneur, I am fully confident that with hard work and persistence, as well as surrounding myself with the right people that keep me focused, I will stay inspired to reach my goals.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Looking back at those years in medical school, I remember saying enthusiastically many times, “I want to save lives!” Naturally, it seemed like the most obvious path to becoming an emergency medicine physician. When I reflect on this, I realize that the path I chose to become an ER doctor was a bit of a mistake, although I really love taking care of people. I wanted to save lives, but in a lot of ways I was destroying my own life. A decade or two went by, and the effects of working these hours took its toll. Add in the stresses of of getting older, having young children, bad sleep habits, a changing circadian rhythm, constant high stress environment both at work and at home, and poor diet choices with lots of processed foods — all of which was triggered by the circadian rhythm disruption and constant high cortisol state, was the perfect storm for inflammation.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Keep your eye on the prize and don’t lose your focus. When you’re truly dedicated and passionate while pursuing a goal, you will be successful. It’s critical to learn from your failures, and to celebrate the small successes on the way. Last but not least, I think it’s critical to surround yourself with smart, resourceful, like minded people who will support you and be there for you. As a physician entrepreneur, not every day will be a great day — there are ups and downs as is par for the course. Being an entrepreneur is not for the weak of heart! However, with the right mindset and the right team, you’ll stay focused.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama has been a game changer for me. It helped me change my perspective and start looking at certain aspects of my life in a different way. The Art of Happiness shows us easy ways to live our lives in a way that will effectively bring about happiness. Reading this book make me realize that it was through life’s day-to-day obstacles and the way in which we approach these obstacles, is how we achieve happiness. We all have the capability of finding happiness and remaining happy, but this requires practice and effort.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I’m not sure if I have one, but I like quotes that remind me that life’s all about good habits. One of my favorites is from 2300 years ago. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
My passion is functional medicine and helping people get to the root causes of symptoms. During these interesting times of Covid-19, we are working on how to maximize our patients’ immune resilience. We want our patients to be empowered if and when they are exposed to the novel coronavirus. I’m focused on looking at the glass half full, always. We’ve known that we as a society are too reliant on medications and quick fixes. We need to return to the basics, examining our diet and lifestyle factors, like how we manage stress and the duration and quality of our sleep. These are the types of factors that over days, months and years, influence whether certain genes are turned on or are not turned on. We do a deep dive in our patients’ bio-chemistries, looking at thyroid and adrenal function as well as gut function and hormone balance. We look at all the different sources of inflammation in the body, and create a strategy to help reduce this.
We also have executive wellness programs we are developing, in hopes of bringing wellness to corporate employees. These include apps that help people eat better, exercise, sleep better, and reduce stress more effectively.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
As I shared with my favorite Aristotle quote, I have learned through decades of practicing medicine that real change in health cannot and will not happen with magic pills or one-time acts. Instead, it will happen when a patient genuinely commits to good habits and lifestyle changes.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Whether it is ER medicine or raising my children, I’ve learned that it all starts with instilling good habits. For example, in the ER, you learn that following protocols ensures the best outcomes for patients. The same thing applies for all of us each and every day when it comes to healthy habits, such as trying to go to sleep at the same time every night, drinking optimal amounts of water every day, and allowing down time for relaxation and for meditation/mindfulness practice. Good habits are everything.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
I subscribe to the 21/90 rule. After 21 days, you can develop a healthy habit. After 90 days, it becomes a lifestyle change. Put a different way, forming a new habit can take as little as 250–350 repetitions. However, stopping bad habits can take ten-fold amount, as high as 2,500–3,500 repetitions.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
In many ways, the three areas all overlap. Wellness is foundational for performance and focus is a byproduct of wellness (and perhaps even performance as well). For example, a good habit with wellness is reducing gluten and sugar in your diet, which enhances and impacts performance and in turn improves focus by reducing brain fog. Gut health is universal with these three areas. On a personal note, I have struggled with knee and joint pain in recent years, which has impacted my performance and focus all caused by wellness habits with diet, sleep, etc., which trigger inflammation — the root cause of the knee and joint pain.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
All healthy habits start with awareness and then a genuine commitment to change — it really is that simple. Many people are just not aware of healthy habits so they don’t know where to start. Once they’re aware, they have to commit to real change and the adoption of those healthy habits.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
Being persistent, consistent, and intentional would have to be my top choices here. I clearly schedule my workouts — it’s not something that happens randomly. I think about the day or days before, I know what I’m going to do, and where I’m going to do it, and I find that when I don’t do this, it doesn’t happen. This is what leads to consistency and persistence.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Persistence is such a crucial habit for health and wellness. We know that so many people have wonderful New Year’s intentions, often around eating healthy and working out. But within a month most have either abandoned their commitment or significantly modified it. Three practices that can help people achieve those resolutions and become more persistent in their lives are 1) sign-up 2) enroll an accountability partner and 3) reward milestone achievements. Sign up means if you have a goal of running a 5k, don’t wait to sign up until you are ‘in shape’. Sign up for the 5k and don’t let any excuse (short of an injury) stop you. Then, find a partner, group or friends and ask them to help you achieve the goal, ideally by training with you. Lastly, reward success — you deserve it and it helps reinforce persistent behavior. Consistency and intentionality follow persistent behavior. I frequently focus first on helping my clients build a persistent mindset around their health and wellness goals.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
The first good habit that leads to optimal focus has to be mindfulness and meditation. I find that on the days that I meditate, I’m calmer and can think clearly. I start the day off in a quiet place in my house and turn on the calm app or listen to a Deepak Chopra 10 minute guided meditation. I find him to be quite soothing.
Sleeping optimally is essential for focus too. I make sure to get 7–8 hours of sleep, and go to bed about the same time each night. I have a bedtime routine where I take a shower, turn off all electronics about an hour before bedtime, and read for a little while until I drift off to sleep. The days I don’t sleep well, my focus is definitely off.
Drinking lots of water — where do I start with all of the benefits of keeping properly hydrated. It flushes toxins, boosts metabolism, aids digestion, and enhances clarity and focus. The target goal is to take your body weight and divide in half, and that’s how many ounces of water you should drink daily. Add to that amount if you’re exercising or sweating heavily.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
I really love the following quotes from the book Triggers: “The more simple the structure, the more likely we will stick with it,” and “Structure eliminates the need for discipline.” Essentially, habits and structure allow us to rely less on our self discipline to stick with healthy lifestyle ambitions.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is \meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I’m always in a state of Flow. It’s easy for me to think about because I do what I love, and I’m very passionate about it. My advice is to choose an important enough a task that you think you want to accomplish, make sure it challenges you but at the same time, make sure it’s not too hard. Find your quiet peak time to accomplish these tasks. Make sure you’ve cleared away any distractions. While you’re at it, enjoy yourself!
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I believe that people need to integrate better health outcomes into their daily lives and treat themselves as a whole, as opposed to parts of a whole. I find that with my functional medicine approach, I’m able to reach out to my patients through social media and webinars and deliver the message to a larger audience.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I have a few people that I’d love to meet. Jeff Bezos, for one. It’s fascinating how an online book seller has become one of the most dominant business of our time. While not a VC investor, Warren Buffet has built one of the most successful financial investment company with Berkshire Hathaway. In the sports world, this is a little tricky as I was born and raised in the Philly area and we bleed green for the Eagles here. However, I find Tom Brady, quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, extremely inspirational. He is 43 years old and totally committed to health and longevity. I even bought his book for my then 10 year old son last year. Tom’s discipline and dedication to health and wellness is exactly what my practice is all about.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can follow me on Instagram at seemabonneymd and on facebook at DrSeemaBonney.