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WELL unites project organizers at a wellness summit

Last week, I joined more than 100 others for a one-day Wellness Living Laboratory Summit, sponsored by the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

WELL is a clinical research project for studying overall wellness and the connections between a sense of wellbeing and physical health. This year, WELL began the process of enrolling thousands of people in three sites: California, China and Taiwan.

The summit was the first of two summits whose purpose is to advance research on wellbeing and coordinate the work. Attendees represented each of the three sites and the event also included researchers from Singapore, which may join the program soon.

To begin, Stanford researcher Catherine Heaney, PhD, discussed some preliminary results from the Bay Area branch of the program, which has identified 10 contributors to a sense of wellbeing.

Two of those contributors are lifestyle behaviors (such as diet and exercise) and social connectedness. Summit organizers incorporated these wellness factors into the breaks between sessions. “We think it’s important to walk our walk and talk our talk,” noted WELL’s director Sandra Winter, PhD.

In the morning, Robert Horowitz, MD, a Stanford consulting professor of medicine, led participants in a few minutes of meditation. We closed our eyes and thought about our breathing. If our thoughts wandered away from breathing, Horowitz gently admonished, we should practice self compassion and smoothly return to thinking about breathing without self reproach.

At the mid-morning break, participants could choose between socializing in the lobby over coffee or gathering around tables to color either a giant, table-sized mandala or a similar-sized elephant. I stood by the elephant table, where everyone was smiling. One or two people at a time colored, but most ended up chatting and networking, sometimes holding colorful markers while they talked.

For two hours, researchers from China, Taiwan, the U.S. and Singapore talked about their work, after which came an excellent vegetarian lunch that included a butternut squash salad with beets and goat cheese.

During afternoon breakout discussion groups, attendees focused their attention on topics such as how to recruit and retain study participants.

At one small table devoted to a discussion of “Sustainability, New Directions, and Dissemination,” Marcia Stefanick, PhD, a Stanford professor of professor of medicine and of obstetrics and gynecology, proposed finding out more about what volunteers who enroll in WELL want to know. “If you want to keep people, explore what they care about,” she said.

Audra Davies, vice president of health, beauty & home product development at Amway, which provided funding for WELL, seemed to agree, noting, “China has a really different orientation towards health and wellness. U.S. participants should hear what Chinese participants think of wellness.”

At the next break, the wellness experts and I did tai chi, raising and lowering our arms, struggling to reach down and backwards to touch our heels, even hanging onto our right ears with our left hands while trying to look toward our left elbows. John Ioannidis, MD, DSc, director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who is shown in the photo above, joined in.

After the tai chi break, I listened to Ioannidis discuss how to make volunteering in WELL attractive, enjoyable and informative so that participants want to continue. San Francisco Bay Area residents are welcome to enroll.

Previously: “It’s an effort to change the world of medicine and health”: WELL for Life launches todayPlumbing the well of wellnessStrive, thrive and take five: Stanford Medicine magazine on the science of well-being and Well check: Rethinking what it means to be “well”
Photo by Shuli Chen