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Dr. David R. Sacco

Dr. David R. SaccoDr. David R. Sacco Says There’s No Time like the Present to Improve Your Health
By Nancy Kennedy

New Years resolutions are not everybody’s cup of tea, but the start of a new year is traditionally viewed as a time to make changes to improve one’s health and quality of life. This may work for some people – after all, the chaos and calories of the holidays are behind us, and a new year is symbolic of a new beginning. But Mount Lebanon physician David R. Sacco, MD, has a different perspective for his patients – one that is both pragmatic and proven. “People have the best of intentions when they make New Year’s resolutions, but I believe that many use this holiday as a tactic to delay making essential changes. If you need to lose weight, stop smoking or exercise, don’t wait, do it now, in the present, rather than the future. January is actually not the best time to launch a major lifestyle change; the weather is usually terrible and the cold and gloom can have a negative impact on your energy and motivation. I encourage my patients to start making changes immediately, even small changes, rather than take on a New Year’s “resolution” that is likely to fail.”

Sacco, who earned his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and completed his internship at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital, says that in his experience, smoking cessation is the number one lifestyle change that people attempt, and he acknowledges that it’s not easy. “There are many ways that people try to quit smoking. The use of medications, especially Chantix or Welbutrin, is popular, but neither has even a 50% success rate. The good news is that, difficult as it is, many people have quit, and smoking is decreasing. Restrictions in public places have been a factor because they make it harder to smoke.”

Losing weight is a close second to quitting smoking, and is a similarly difficult lifestyle modification. Sacco, who is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, says that studies clearly demonstrate that those who have lost weight and, most importantly, maintained the loss, did so by decreasing portion sizes and exercising. “Fad diets are a waste of time. The way to lose weight is to eat the same food you have always eaten, but less. You won’t sustain a diet that forbids pasta or bread. Eat what you like but in smaller amounts, and eat mindfully. We tend to eat distractedly – while watching TV, or working at our desks – and we aren’t paying attention to the amount or to how we feel. Hurried eating doesn’t shut off the hunger signal, so slow down.

“All successful weight loss maintenance includes some form of exercise, and this can be achieved without going to a gym or buying expensive equipment. You can incorporate exercise into daily activities. Make it a habit to take the stairs, to park farther from the door at the mall, or to go for walks.”

Weight loss plateaus can be discouraging but Sacco tells his patients to anticipate them. “Plateaus are normal and you will hit them as you lose. It’s essential that you don’t give up because of a plateau. Keep doing what you’re doing because it’s obviously working, and eventually your body will re-set itself and you’ll keep losing.”

Sacco advises people to invest in one piece of weight loss equipment: a scale. “Many patients are shocked when they come in and get on the scale. You should have one at home and weigh yourself once a week. Not every day; there are too many variables. Weight creeps up and a scale is the only way to keep track.”

Motivation, whether you need to quit smoking or lose weight, comes from within, says Sacco. “You need a support system but you can’t do this for others. No matter how much your family wants you to succeed, you have to do it for YOU. You should tell others that you’re making this change, though, to create peer pressure, a powerful motivator.”

Stress management is a challenge for most people and leads to “self-medicating” with nicotine or overeating. “Everybody struggles with stress,” says Sacco. “It helps to acknowledge this to my patients and to encourage them to find other outlets. We all need creative expression; that can be an effective strategy to cope with stress.”

In his personal life, Sacco is a musician and photographer, so he has plenty of opportunity for creative expression. But his best stress relief strategy is simply family time at home in Mount Lebanon, with wife Aimee and daughters Madelyn, 4, and Katerina, 2. “They are the light of my life,” he says, “and I have a lot of fun with them. My girls are just 19 months apart and they are best friends.”

He also loves his patients and his work with Mount Lebanon Internal Medicine, a division of St. Clair Medical Services. “My patients range in age from 18 to 102, and I have four over the age of 100 who lead full, active lives. People are so interesting to me, and in my work I get to know them well. I like being in this practice because there are six of us and if a patient needs to be seen, they will be seen that day. We have a great, convenient location, right in the heart of the community on Cedar Boulevard, a short walk from Washington Road, and we are accepting new patients.”

To make an appointment or contact Dr. Sacco, call (412) 561-1484.

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