Serving Up Wellness: Physician Strikes Balance in Practice and Life
Aug 25, 2021 Nicole Levine, photo by Ted Catanzaro
In a game of singles tennis, there’s nowhere to hide. The players step onto the court, grip their rackets and, with a bounce of the ball, the match begins.
That’s one of the things Mehul Thakkar, MD, loves most about the game.
“It’s just you and your opponent,” he says. “It’s a very physical and mental game.”
He finds he plays best when he brings confidence to his swing and his strategy. If a serve doesn’t go his way, he sets his mind to adjusting his game without dwelling on mistakes.
“You learn from each match and you move on,” he says. “It teaches patience and endurance.”
He carries these lessons into the rest of his life, shares them with his family and imparts them to the patients he sees at Cedars-Sinai’s Tarzana medical offices, where he’s been practicing for three years.
Previously, Thakkar worked as a hospitalist—an internist focused on inpatients—in Michigan. When Cedars-Sinai approached him with an opportunity to move to primary care work, he was excited for the change both personally and professionally.
"As primary care physicians, we see to all of our patients’ needs," he says. "We get to build close relationships with patients that weren’t possible when I was only seeing people in the hospital."
Thakkar also values the deep network of Cedars-Sinai specialty care providers throughout the Valley.
“I can provide my local patients with access to a variety of specialists, so they rarely have to go over the hill for care,” Thakkar says.
Life is fluid. Some changes you plan, and others you just have to go with.”
- Mehul Thakkar, MD
As he was making the shift to outpatient practice, he, his wife, Olivia—a clinical psychologist—and their two children, Lucas, 11, and Marina, 8, were settling into California life in their Westlake Village home.
“We love the diversity of the area,” he says. “Everything and anything you want is here. Every kind of food. Every kind of people. The urban and the suburban. It all flows together.”
As clinicians and parents, the Thakkars tout the importance of a healthy mind-body connection and balanced lifestyle.
Sports are an ideal way to share their philosophy with their children. Lucas has shown an interest in tennis, following in his dad’s footsteps onto the court. Thakkar has loved the game since he was 17—and still has his favorite racket from his days of competitive high school play, an “ancient” Wilson Pro. Daughter Marina is more drawn to soccer.
As a family, they love the outdoors. They’re regular visitors to the nearby beaches and hiking trails winding throughout Southern California, while Joshua Tree National Park and Santa Barbara are common weekend destinations.
These trips combine some of Thakkar’s favorite ways to maintain balance: getting out of the usual routine and into a new environment, connecting with nature and enjoying plenty of physical activity. Not every day has space for a hike through a scenic canyon, but a walk through his neighborhood with his rescue pup, Sandy—a Border and Wheaten terrier mix—trotting at his side provides many of the same benefits.
Preserving a healthy balance has been especially important for Thakkar in the last few years. Shortly after moving here, he and his family had an up-close look at one of the tougher realities of California living. The 2018 Woolsey Fire started near the family’s new hometown, then raged through 96,949 acres of Los Angeles and Ventura counties over the course of two weeks—one of the deadliest and most destructive fire seasons on record in the state.
A little over a year later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Like many families, they shifted to doing more of their work remotely while the kids logged on to laptops for school. The pandemic was an important lesson in flexibility, Thakkar says.
ACING ANXIETY MANAGEMENT
Busy professionals juggling kids, careers and commutes are common among Thakkar’s patients. Helping them find balance and keep anxiety at bay are frequently part of his prescription for a happy, healthy life.
Game playing is an excellent way to approach exercise. Picking up a racket or ball and connecting with a friend or loved one can be good for your heart, health and mind.
Set aside at least 15 minutes for yourself every day for activities like walking or meditating. “If you don’t take time for yourself, it eventually catches up to you,” Thakkar says. “Not just mentally and emotionally, but also physically in lots of ways, like high blood pressure, gut problems and fatigue.”
Match up schedules and connect with people you care about. Meaningful time with family and friends—whether on an adventure to a national park or just catching up over coffee—is important to a balanced and fulfilling life.