Dr. Michael Roizen sits at a small round table in the corner of his office with a headset planted firmly on his ears, looking and sounding more like an old-time radio pitchman than a Cleveland Clinic physician.
“This is Dr. Mike,” he says enthusiastically into the microphone. “You are listening to ‘YOU: The Owner’s Manual Radio Show,’ the show that helps you take control of your health. Your body is amazing! You get a do-over. It doesn’t take that long, and it isn’t that hard if you know what to do.”
For two hours every Saturday night, the Clinic’s chief wellness officer hosts his live radio show, carried by 37 stations around the country (including 1420 WHK-AM), from a makeshift studio that consists of a “broadcast box” and three computers. Streaming video of show regular Dr. Arthur Perry, a New Jersey plastic surgeon, appears on one computer screen, making the conversation as tight as a surgical glove. The other computers are logged into e-mail accounts filled with listener questions.
“I like e-mail questions better than the call-in ones,” he divulges during a commercial break. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
But Roizen works without a script, moving easily from banter with sidekick Jim Graham in Syracuse, N.Y., to phone interviews with two authors of recently published self-help health books, discussing everything from honey (it has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties) to floating stools (most are caused by gas).
The man, in fact, looks and acts much younger than his 62 years. His body is trim, his face is relatively unlined, and his jaw is strong, unmarred by jowls or sagging skin under the chin — all the result, he says, of very clean living. (The only cosmetic procedure he owns up to is a Botox injection in the furrow between his brows for demonstration purposes.)
Perry, the New Jersey plastic surgeon, comments on his appearance during a conversation on wrinkle-fillers such as Juvederm Ultra. “For some reason, you’re not aging,” he says with a tinge of suspicion. “I guess it’s the books that you write.”
That well-preserved image, of course, is Roizen’s most compelling advertisement for the “do-over” he promotes so passionately on his radio show. Millions have snatched up the four New York Times best-sellers he’s co-authored with Dr. Mehmet Oz (the most recent, “YOU: Staying Young,” was published in October) and taken the RealAge health-evaluation test that elevated him to celebrity-doctor status almost a decade ago.
Roizen also co-hosts Oz’s show on XM satellite radio’s Oprah & Friends channel and pens a monthly column with Oz for
Colleagues attribute the productivity that has made him a medical star to a keen intelligence and high energy level. But there’s more at work for Roizen than what Real-Age CEO Charlie Silver describes as downright hyperactivity. “I’ve always had this dream of being able to transform the world by motivating people to make healthier choices,” Roizen says.
Michael Roizen decided to become a doctor when he was 9 years old, after a physician made a house call while he was sick with the flu. “To me, it was a wonderful thing, that you could help people and get paid for it,” the Buffalo, N.Y., native says.
The son of a department-store marketing executive and his substitute-teacher wife, Roizen graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., in 1967 and enrolled at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine. There he volunteered at the Haight-Ashbury free clinic and studied with friends at Golden Gate Park on Sunday afternoons while listening to free concerts by the Grateful Dead and Loving Spoonful — an activity that resulted in what he calls “a reverse Bill Clinton.”
“We inhaled but we didn’t smoke,” Roizen says with a grin. “There literally would be a yellow haze over the park.”
After an internship and residency at Harvard’s Beth Israel Hospital and a stint at the National Institutes of Health, Roizen returned to UCSF to complete a second residency in anesthesiology. After nine years on the UCSF faculty, he left to chair the University of Chicago’s department of anesthesia and critical care in 1985.
It was in Chicago that RealAge was born, after Roizen convinced a 47-year-old entrepreneur to take his blood-pressure medication by explaining that he was living with the body of a 52-year-old by not doing so. The patient wrote Roizen a check for $25,000, then another check for $50,000, to assemble a five-person research team and come up with similar numbers for other controllable factors that affect length and/or quality of life.
Roizen and his colleagues developed a battery of questions to compute biological age based on how one takes care of his or her body. Exercising regularly, for example, can reduce Real-Age up to nine years, while something as simple as daily flossing can slash up to 6.4 years off the figure. (Studies show gum disease increases the risk for developing coronary artery disease.)
The test, which debuted on the company’s Web site in December 1998, was followed by “Real-Age: Are You as Young as You Can Be?” and three subsequent books.
But it was the customized “action steps” for lowering biological age offered on the RealAge Web site that spawned the partnership with Oz, health expert for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and a professor and vice chairman of surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University.
The two met for lunch in March 2003 after a Discovery Channel advertiser suggested Oz contact Roizen for help adding similar tips to a pilot he was shooting. “He was smart as anything, maybe the smartest doctor I’ve ever met,” Oz says.
They published their first book, “YOU: The Owner’s Manual,” in 2005 and have been putting in 30- to 40-hour workweeks together ever since. Friday mornings are spent taping a week’s worth of shows for XM radio’s Oprah & Friends channel; Sunday mornings are devoted to working on their next book via conference call.
“There are very few people who can change my mind about something that I’ve already decided on,” Oz says. “He’s one of them.” The ability, he adds, lies in Roizen’s encyclopedic memory and his knack for “poking holes in ideas that aren’t that ripe.”
Despite the books sold, the radio shows and appearances on “Good Morning America” and “Oprah,” Roizen maintains that he never really thought of himself as famous until last year, when someone told him $25 tickets to a speech he was giving were selling for $950 on eBay.
These days it’s rare for him to walk a block in New York or go through an airport without being recognized. Fans stop by his box seats at Quicken Loans Arena to ask medical questions during Cavs games and inquire about such indelicate topics as anal sex at book-signings.
“We set it up — we say the body should be a no-embarrassment zone,” Roizen acknowledges. “They sense that we’re not going to be judgmental.”
Roizen conducts his life much like he did before he was a household name. He still sees a handful of patients — 20, to be exact. With most of them, he’s working to reverse conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and arthritis. They check in with him by phone or e-mail every day to report the number of steps on their pedometers, the amount of time they spent on treadmills, and what they eat. (The waiting list for his services, as one might expect, is very long.)
He insists that the Cavs box seats are his sole luxury. Roizen drives a 2001 Honda Accord. He works out in a spare bedroom of the East Side home he shares with his wife, Nancy, a developmental pediatrician at University Hospitals.
He remains remarkably accessible, graciously giving his e-mail address to folks who want to chat and rattling off his two cell phone numbers to reporters who might have a follow-up question.
“If fame gets people to understand and take charge of their health, that’s great,” Roizen says. “If fame is just for fame, it’s of no value.”
Roizen pads around his office in stocking feet after he finishes his radio show, winding up electrical cords and slipping laptops into cases. As he packs the equipment in a suitcase for a trip to California, I notice a bundle of fake foam dynamite sticks near a wall of built-in bookcases.
He explains with a straight face that he used to hand the prop to surgeons who complained about conditions in the operating rooms, one of his responsibilities as past chairman of the Clinic’s division of anesthesiology, critical care medicine and comprehensive pain management.
“Humor is a very good weapon,” he says. “When you literally hand them the thing, all of the sudden, it changes the dynamic.”
Roizen’s name appeared at the top of a list of candidates to head the division after a nationwide search in 2004. “He was an innovative individual who had led new initiatives in multiple places,” says Clinic president and chief executive officer Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove. Over the years, Roizen had racked up 15 U.S. patents for everything from a four-button device that queries patients on their health histories to a soon-to-be released painkiller developed for end-stage cancer patients that also blocks replication of the HIV virus. Roizen, then CEO of Biotechnology Research Corp. of Upstate New York, accepted the job and started work in late June 2005.
“The Cleveland Clinic makes it obvious that patient care is more important than everything else,” Roizen explains. “A lot of institutions look at quality by the process of care — do they give the antibiotic at the right time, etc. The Cleveland Clinic is the only place that really monitors quality in every patient by looking at the outcomes of everything it does.”
Obviously, Roizen’s interest in wellness (which is evident in the “healthy candy bar” he concocted), fits well with the Clinic’s future. In November 2007, after “a philosophical talk about his career,” Cosgrove appointed Roizen chief wellness officer and chairman designate of a Wellness Institute to be created later this year, an entire division devoted to disease prevention/reversal and coaching lifestyle changes. His job: Improve the health of the Clinic’s 37,000 employees as well as the health of the city, the state, even the nation.
“There are lots of anesthesiologists around, but very few people who have realized the potential for a major push around wellness,” Cosgrove says. “I thought that he had an opportunity to influence the health of a nation a lot more by doing wellness than he did by organizing for people to go to sleep.”
Roizen points out that 40 percent of all medical costs result from physical inactivity, tobacco use and food choices. “We can take our spending of 16.2 percent of gross domestic product on health care down to 10 percent if people just did the right thing,” he stresses. He staunchly defends a controversial Clinic policy on not hiring smokers that went into effect Sept. 1. The policy, enforced by testing applicants for a chemical end-product of smoking that remains in the body, also provides free smoking-cessation services to candidates and allows them to reapply once they kick the habit.
When presented with the “what-smokers-do-on-their-own-time-to-their-own-bodies-is-their-own-business” argument, he replies, “It would be their own business if they paid the cost of it in health care. But, in fact, it is society’s business because a lot of the cost of what they do is borne by others.”
Bad lifestyle choices, he adds, affect the economic health of an entire community. An out-of-shape workforce is more expensive to insure and keep healthy — a fact that puts off employers looking to locate a business here. Roizen’s argument was so persuasive that he recently convinced executives at Medical Mutual of Ohio and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield to become the first insurance companies to cover smoking-cessation programs.
“The essence of making Northeast Ohio competitive,” he declares, “is to bring down health care costs.”
The new appointment, of course, comes at a time in life when many doctors are thinking of trading in the stethoscope for golf clubs. Roizen, who gives his RealAge of 43, says retirement isn’t in his future. His idea of a perfect day includes at least eight hours of work. And he and Oz have at least another three “YOU” books planned.
“For a doc,” he says, “it doesn’t get any better than someone saying, ‘Thank you. You transformed my life.’ ”
THE ROIZEN LIFESTYLE
So you want to be like Dr. Mike? The first step — literally — is to start racking up 10,000 paces a day on a pedometer. Roizen actually conducts one-on-one “walking meetings” on the Clinic skyways to increase his count. Walking 30 minutes a day, then adding a weightlifting regimen (his is very similar to that detailed in “YOU: The Owner’s Manual”), is the safest and easiest way for couch potatoes to start getting in shape.
“Only after you’ve mastered those —probably 60 days later — should you add cardiovascular activity,” he advises. His own cardiovascular workout includes 48 minutes on the treadmill, stationary bicycle or elliptical cross-trainer three times a week. He never looks at the miles he puts on his equipment; instead, he focuses on keeping his heart rate up.
You’ll also have to ditch the morning doughnuts and drive-through burgers. Roizen’s breakfast consists of Cheerios, steel-cut oatmeal or an egg-white-and-vegetable omelet. Lunch is a 12-inch veggie sub with mustard (no cheese, mayo or oil) from Subway. At night, he usually dines on a fish- or vegetable-based main course.
Roizen does have one vice: a massive intake of diet soda.
“Mehmet has been working to get me off them,” Roizen says. “I’m probably down from 10 cans of Diet Dr. Pepper, Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi a day to maybe one or two cans a day.”