Home All A Healthy and Fit Nation: Spotlight on Dr. Regina Benjamin

A Healthy and Fit Nation: Spotlight on Dr. Regina Benjamin

written by Elaine O'Brien 30 July 2010

Elaine O'Brien, PhD, MAPP '08, is a positive psychology, fitness leadership, positive health promotion, movement science, aging, and well-being speaker, author, trainer, thought leader, people/project manager, educator, and consultant. Elaine creates programs promoting proactive positive health/fitness, and optimal performance. Elaine presents internationally and online. She advances health, fitness, and flourishing by inspiring people to move more and to find both enjoyment and meaning in motion via PEP: Positive Exercise Practices. Elaine's website.  Full bio. Elaine's articles are here.

Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles (second article is here) about the Exercise is Medicine™ World Congress that took place in Baltimore, Maryland, June 1-5, 2010. This article focuses on the keynote speaker, Dr. Regina Benjamin. The second article discusses the congress as a whole.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin gave a keynote speech at the Exercise is Medicine™ World Conference, starting out by reciting the proverb of the Starfish Flinger:

The Starfish Flinger
As the old man walked along the beach at dawn, he noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into to the sea.

Finally catching up with the youth, he asked why he was doing this.

The answer was that stranded, the starfish would die if left in the morning sun.

“But the beach goes on for miles and there are millions of starfish,” countered the other. “How can your effort make any difference?“

The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves.

“It makes a difference to this one,” he said.

Dr. Pam Peeke, Elaine O'Brien, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin

  Dr. Pam Peeke, Elaine O'Brien,
and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin

Dr. Benjamin, “America’s Doctor,” encouraged the audience to “be a positive model for someone.” She reminded us, “One person can make a difference,” just as lots of drops of water can make up an ocean. She talked about working in concert, “When you work together you can get so much more done than when you work by yourself.”


In charge of 6500 uniformed health officers, Dr. Benjamin is an advocate for prevention in health care, and told the audience “People need our help!”

Founder of health clinics serving those who need it most, Dr. Benjamin leads with passion and compassion. Converting her Alabama medical office into a small rural clinic dedicated to serving the large indigent population in her community, the clinic was destroyed by Hurricane George, and later by Hurricane Katrina. She reconstructed it both times. She founded another clinic in Louisiana, also destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, rebuilt it, and then it was destroyed by a fire, and then she rebuilt again! In 1995, she became the first African-American woman, and first person under 40, to be elected to the AMA Board of Trustees.

Fitness, Not Surgery

Discussing prevention and a focus on wellness, she said, “Get fitness, not surgery.” She added, “Obesity has doubled in adults and tripled in children, and this leads to chronic illnesses.” She has seen obese children as young as age 3 with heart disease!


She believes, “A healthy and fit nation engages families and communities, as well as private sectors.” She said, “We spend so much money on lots of diet things that don’t work.” We need to start “talking to people in a positive way…play Double Dutch, play outside, disco dance all night.” She believes exercise should be “FUN and a part of our everyday life.”

Walk and Talk

Dr. Benjamin led a short fitness community walk around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in 89°F heat. With the group chanting, “Exercise is Medicine!” Dr. Benjamin and the walkers created a lot of positive attention for Harbor visitors of all ages, shapes, and sizes to witness.

With Exercise is Medicine™’s spokesperson, Dr. Pamela Peeke, the Surgeon General also led the signing of a giant “Exercise is Medicine” prescription pad urging all people to:

  1. Stay as Active as Possible.
  2. Eat Fruits and Vegetables Daily.
  3. Get the Whole Family Involved.
  4. Be Creative and have more FUN

We need to give people hope for now and for the future. Actions speak louder than words.


Elaine O’Brien: What is your prescription for exercise and for getting more physical activity in our lives?

Dr. Benjamin: Have fun and more joy into your life. Get with people, walking, moving more. Enjoy being with people, even when you are sweating. Make holidays celebrations to move and be active.

Get outside and go for a walk, enjoy nature. Feel good and get some positive energy, develop your stamina, be more joyful.

People are full of stress, so try to add more joy to your life. These are tough times, but try to keep in mind the positive things that are around us. Smile at others. This gives out positive energy and then you will get more positive energy.

Tie in to the environment. We need to develop positive communities and more green/outdoor exercise options. As a personal responsibility, we need to eat more nutritionally and exercise every day.
Now in 90+ countries in the world, Exercise is the new medicine and part of global health and well-being. We need to develop a more positive leadership approach in our vision around physical activity. ”

Elaine: What is the most important health problem that you see today?

Dr. Benjamin: The major public health problem of our time is physical inactivity! Make exercise fun and a part of our everyday life!

Elaine: I see that you put a positive focus on prevention and wellness in your approach to health and greater well-being. Can you please talk a little more about that?

Dr. Benjamin: A healthy and fit nation engages families and communities, as well as private sectors. We need safe places to encourage people to be more active, such as playgrounds and parks. Workplaces and schools need to follow suit. Vending machines in schools should be filled with healthy things. It’s also important to eat more nutritionally and exercise every day. Individuals are likely to change their behavior if they have a meaningful reward-something they can feel and embrace-like optimal health.

Elaine: As a multi-national, multi-organizational initiative, Exercise is Medicine™ strives to work with medical doctors, practitioners, and the public. As “America’s doctor” what are your thoughts?

Dr. Benjamin: Exercise is THE new medicine and part of global health and well-being. We need policies to help make positive changes, as well as develop a more positive approach in our vision and our leadership. We have an opportunity to make a difference.

Thank you, Dr. Benjamin!




The Exercise Time Finder from the American College of Sports Medicine

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.. New York: Harper Perennial.

Elkind, D. (2007). The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally. Da Capo Press.

McGill, J. S. (1980). The joy of effort: A biography of R. Tait McKenzie. Clay Publishing Company.

Mutrie, N. & Faulkner, G. (2004). Physical activity: Positive psychology in motion. In In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.). Positive Psychology in Practice. pp. 146-164. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (1999). Physical activity promotion
and school physical education. Physical Activity and Fitness Research Digest.

Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (2002). From social structure to biology: Integrative science in pursuit of human health and well-being. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology. (pp. 541-555). New York: Oxford University Press.

Image credits
Elaine with the Surgeon General courtesy of Elaine O’Brien
Baltimore Harbor courtesy of Daquella manera
Harbor walkers courtesy of bjornmeansbear

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Elaine O'Brien 2 August 2010 - 3:05 pm

Thanks to the United States Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin for the mini-interview. She is a picture of positive energy: with a vision around kindness, compassion, wit, wisdom and leadership in domains of living that mean the most. I salute Dr, Benjamin, “America’s Dr.”and will aim to walk the walk with you. Elaine O’Brien

Uncle Lou 21 August 2010 - 11:37 am

Hi Elaine,
Exercise makes a lot of good sense, but I will admit to taking a nap almost every day (after all I’m close to 80), and like ny Vodka Martini.
Hope you had a great time in China. We would love to hear all about it. We leave for our Mediterranean cruise on Set 2, back on the 17th.


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