Dr. Mehmet Oz graduated from Harvard University in 1982. He went on to receive joint medical and M.B.A. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. He then took a position at Columbia and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, where, as a surgeon specializing in heart transplants, he has served as vice-chairman and professor in the department of surgery for more than twenty years. He still sees patients and performs operations there every Thursday.  In 1994, he established the Columbia Cardiovascular Institute and Integrative Medicine Program. He has published scores of medical articles and best-selling books, and is founding editor of Dr. Oz The Good Life, a monthly magazine published by Hearst.

Oprah Winfrey discovered Mehmet Oz in 2004, referring to him as “America’s doctor” during one of his earliest appearances on her television show. The label stuck.  Fast-forward eleven years: He is a familiar and beloved figure to the nearly four million daily viewers of the Emmy-winning Dr. Oz Show, and the go-to guy for all things health.

It’s not hard to understand what makes Dr. Oz so popular. Keenly intelligent, charismatic, open, and willing to discuss even the most cringeworthy bodily functions, syndicated talk show host Mehmet Oz speaks in a way anyone can understand. Medicine may be complex, but Dr. Oz breaks it down for his viewers, employing his accessible personality and compassionate authority to instantly connect with his viewers on even the toughest topics. Dr. Oz helps millions of people become more educated and inspired to take charge and care of their own health.

What is your well-being aha moment?

My doctor found a pre-cancerous colon polyp on a routine screening that I had intended to skip, which reminded me that healthy living alone is not enough. You have to check on yourself once in a while as well.

Describe your perfect day of being well.

I exercise at least 90 minutes twice per week and 30 minutes at least one other time. I do a seven-minute yoga routine every morning. I eat a very healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, with a little meat and almost no processed foods. Not surprisingly, I don’t smoke, but I have a drink from time to time. Most importantly, I keep myself mentally and emotionally young by preserving time in my busy schedule to de-stress and spend time with my family. Frankly, most of my free time is spent with my family.  We all have such busy lives during the week, that on the weekends we come together.  I’m a real homebody, but still love to be active, so we often play basketball or tennis or create other games to keep things fun and active.

What’s in your fridge?

Blueberries with Greek Yogurt (2% since it’s a lower percentage of simple carbs and it tastes better). In the winter, steel-cut oatmeal with flaxseed oil and walnuts.

What’s your favorite workout?

I do a seven-minute yoga routine every morning, and try to meditate for a few minutes each day.

The mission of your Emmy-winning show is to empower individuals to take control of their own health. Can you tell us why you are so passionate about this?

I love doing The Dr. Oz Show.  We are reaching people. We had almost 5 million people sign up for our Total Ten program to transform their health by losing weight, so we are reaching people who want to take action.  It’s challenging, but the amount of mail we get and personal testimonials from people who have learned something that made a difference in them getting well makes it all worthwhile. I feel a deep sense of mission.

You have been able to straddle both the medical and holistic health worlds in a way that hasn’t been done before. Can you explain the importance of using both as complementary practices?

We are so advanced that the next great leap forward won’t be in operating room technology, it will be in people’s widespread conscious adoption of lifestyle factors that create healthier hearts, bodies, and minds.  Patients needed new lives because things they were doing—things easily changed such as diet, lack of exercise, not leaving time for meditation—were working against their hearts reaching optimum health.

My initial fascination with heart transplantation led me to a bigger vision. These patients were desperately clinging to life by their fingertips and were open to trying all sorts of integrative approaches. Our offering was very well received and helped me create an integrative medicine center at Columbia University. Part of the reason for our success was the broader appreciation that we doctors typically interrupt our patients on an average of 23 seconds into the interview. This disrupts our trust in each other.  Patients need to come to the office better prepared with their story and an understanding of their bodies; doctors need to design office experiences that educate and motivate their patients.

You have seen incredible success in reaching out and educating your viewers in a way that is easy to understand. Why do you think you have had so much success and been able to connect in this way?

I have the help of a strong medical unit evaluation of the medical data. The research guides my efforts to give advice that I share with my own family.

What do you believe are the biggest health issues facing us today?

Most people don’t die of disease, they die from frailty.  It’s important to engage in daily, rigorous activity that maintains muscle mass, increases flexibility, and stimulates heart rate.

Why do you think that despite being one of the richest nations, we have such a high rate of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease?

Obesity is a major health problem in America and many countries around the world; sedentary lifestyles and the overabundance of packaged food have created major obstacles that the modern man and woman must overcome in order to maintain optimum health. It is also a barometer for stress, since chronic stress was historically caused by famine. Our citizens face chronic stress frequently in their lives.

How do we keep people out of hospitals?  How do you envision our healthcare in the future? What should it look like?

I agree with the experts that say we don’t actually have a ”healthcare“ system right now; we have a ”sickcare“ system.  Most of our efforts are focused on treating diseases rather than preventing them and promoting health.  In order to keep people out of the hospital, we need to invest more time and money in prevention.  That means we are going to have to change the way we finance health care so that we pay doctors to spend more time with their patients.

We need to utilize all of the members of the healthcare team to do this, including primary care doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.  I’m also excited about all of the technology that we have now and think telehealth will play a bigger and bigger role in the future of healthcare, both for doctors and patients. Patients will be able to more easily access the support they need, and clinicians will be able to keep closer tabs on their patients through apps or email check-ins.

What would you suggest to an individual reading this, who wants to take charge of their own health:  Where do they start, what questions should they be asking themselves and their doctors?

Pay attention to the way your body feels after eating nutrient-rich foods.  Most of us don’t realize how lethargic carb-rich, processed foods make us feel because we eat them too often.  I always encourage people to eat a plant-based diet and to get plenty of physical activity.

Let’s talk about GMOs.  There is tremendous confusion on this topic. What’s your view?

This is a topic that we talk about a lot on the show.  I think consumers are getting a lot of mixed messages about GMOs.  Here is my bottom line.  People have a right to know everything about the food they put in their bodies. That includes where it came from, how it was grown, and if contains GMOs. And polls show that consumers want this information.  So I’m in favor of labeling genetically engineered foods, not because it’s necessarily a safety issue, but because we all have this fundamental right to know.

You talk a lot about sex and the fact that in America we aren’t having enough, and it’s very important to our health. Should we think of sex as exercise?

There are a number of health benefits to having sex, all of which can contribute to a longer, healthier life. It can boost your immunity, relieve stress and keep you fit, to name a few things.

Who or what inspires you?

My wife Lisa.  She opened up the world of alternative health, eastern medicine, and mindful eating, and taught me to be a better listener. She also was the brains behind me going into television.  She conceived and produced my first program on Discovery, Second Opinion, and showed me how to use television to teach.

What’s the one vice you’ll never give up?

I have a weakness for dark chocolate-covered nuts.

How do you live your Vie (life/passion)?

As a heart surgeon, the majority of surgeries I perform are the result of bad habits, not genetics, so I’m passionate about health education.  By the time you are age 50, 70% of your health is determined by lifestyle.  Most of us have the ability to prevent ailments like heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes, just not everyone is aware of it.  I hope to encourage people to show up in their own lives and take control of their health.

What do you want to be remembered for?

Teaching people to be happy and healthy so they can live the good life.

What charity or cause is close to your heart?

HealthCorps. My wife Lisa and I set out to follow the guidelines of “Healthy People 2010,” a federal government initiative from the Department of Health and Human Services to advance a nationwide health promotion and disease prevention agenda which included a program fighting childhood obesity. HealthCorps’ in-school program aims to empower America’s youth and their families to eat smart and stay active. Based on the Peace Corps model, the organization recruits and trains recent college graduates to serve as health mentors at high schools from coast to coast. These mentors make a two-year commitment to teaching teens that by eating differently, moving a little more, and developing mental resilience, they can change their entire health destiny. And if they can control their bodies, they can change the world outside them.  Instead of seeing unhealthy teens as a weak link in our fight against obesity, I saw them as activists to reverse these trends. Kids rapidly turn knowledge into action, which is why advertisers hound them. We want to use that trait for good. The results are exciting. To date, the program has reached more than 550,000 teens. Students who participate are both increasing physical activity (by 36%, according to research published in Childhood Obesity Journal), and feeling happier (in one study, 69% reported better self-esteem).

What words of wisdom to you have to offer?

I think people should pursue their passions.  Our time on the Earth is finite, and you’ll succeed the most if you are passionate about what you are doing.  Also, if you love what you do, the challenging parts won’t feel like work.  There is no greater achievement than to be doing what you love doing.  You will be more useful to your loved ones and overall a very happy person.