As an integrative physician practicing in Los Angeles, I often consult with celebrities. But I never dreamed I’d have the privilege of working with professional athletes—specifically, more than a dozen teams in the National Basketball Association! Every year, the NBA provides players with a health education service, and it turns out they were very eager to learn about how to be proactive with their health. Along with Russ Greenfield, MD, medical director of a regional health care system’s new Integrative Medicine initiative in Charlotte, NC, I was chosen to be a source of information and guidance. In an extensive interview with John Weeks of Integrative Practitioner, I spoke about my experience. Here are some highlights from that interview. 

 

Why Integrative Medicine?

“I hadn’t realized the extent to which pro athletes are hungry for the concepts we use that they don’t get from straight Western medicine. It’s amazing.”

“It’s a big shift from the Dennis Rodman generation when it was all about partying. I really credit [former NBA] player Steve Nash who started the “Our Bodies, Our Livelihood” way of thinking.” 

 

How It Works

“We typically fly to meet with the players on each team in their own city. I started with the Clippers and Lakers and just got back from Oklahoma and Philadelphia. I’ve done 11 [teams] so far. It’s a mandatory meeting. All of the players —around 15 — participate. We usually have about an hour of a 90-minute session. The other 30 minutes is a different person on substance abuse and repercussions that can come from abuse. Those who want to can have a one-on-one session on their own issues.” 

 

Topics Discussed

“Part of what we cover in our talks is basic things like STDs. But they have a lot of interest in subjects like stress and nutrition. They are a privileged group and at the same time they have huge stresses—their schedules, fans throwing themselves at them, family members wanting things. It’s not easy at all. And their schedule is much more challenging than the NFL, with 80 games.” 

 

Player Response

“I have found the players to be so into these sessions. There’s usually one who holds back, cracking jokes, but then his teammates turn him around. Most are very thoughtful. On average 2 out of the 15 already have a meditation app on their phone. They are into this. They hear all kinds of stuff about this diet or that pushed or promised by some quack doctor. We bring a more balanced view.” 

 

Biggest Surprise?

“How open they are! I thought there would be a small number who were interested with the rest young and impervious. They really are just nice guys—and so young. Some are 19, 20 years old. They are not high on themselves. They want to get off anti-inflammatory drugs. We talk about anti-inflammatory diets. We talk about stress and sleep. They are listening. The #1 injury is ankle sprain, and sleep and stress impact that. They are ready and open to talk about things.

Be sure to read the original interview for more on how I help NBA players reach peak performance.

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Myles Spar, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Officer of Vault Health, a national medical practice specializing in care for men, and Is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

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