Note to Journalists: More Than an Apple a Day Needed to Keep the Doctor Away

Article excerpt

WHEN IT COMES to their health, a common failing of journalists is hurting them: They don't read their own paper.

"We write about health. We report on it. But we understand much more about national health policy than our own health. The problem with journalists is they write these great stories - but they don't necessarily read them," said Kenn Venit, vice president of Primo Newservice Inc. - and a survivor of two heart attacks.

Before his heart attacks prompted a complete change in his lifestyle, Venit, a television news consultant, was like a lot of journalists. He was working too much, sleeping too little, traveling frequently and centering his health around. the profession's four favorite substances: Aspirin, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.

So at a convention session of the Society of Professional Journalists, filled with reporters and editors who had their notebooks poised, Venit urged journalists not only to report the advice of neurologist Dr. William Hammesfahr - but to heed it, too.

The first thing Hammesfahr did was administer a quick stress test to the 200 or so journalists. More than half showed a telltale sign of repetitive stress syndrome - a condition in which medical stress has repeatedly narrowed a person's blood vessels below 30% of their original size and the vessels have lost their ability to open back up.

More than half, in other words, were on their way to experience emotional problems, mood swings, memory loss, changes in sleep patterns - and, with no change in their lifestyles, possible early death through stroke or heart attack.

Along the way, Hammesfahr said, these people will also gradually become worse journalists.

"Stress affects your ability to set up an interview. It affects your ability to do that interview well. It affects your understanding of what that person is telling you," Hammesfahr said.

"Your people will not get the story right unless they can handle stress," Hammesfahr said.

Hammesfahr, who is married to a journalist, treats many print and television journalists in his Clearwater, Fla., practice. In an interview, he said narrowed blood vessels and the attendant emotional and intellectual problems are so common among journalists as to be "endemic."

For journalists, Hammesfahr said, the problem is not really the adrenalinfilled moments of covering a big story - but the grinding workday routine of the newsroom. …