Vision Quest

By Mary Grauerholz

Chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Michael Roizen is a champion of good health practices.


Whether he is writing a best-selling book, creating an Emmy award-winning project, or developing a new patent, Dr. Michael Roizen projects his unique vision of wellness with a ferocious, forward-driving energy. In a world bursting with diet and exercise books, the former anesthesiologist, with his rational, uplifting philosophy, is winning over a worldwide audience hungry for guidance on health and well-being.

But much of Roizen’s most influential work is done in a quieter arena, as the chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic and the clinic’s chief wellness officer, teaching companies and other communities how to establish and sustain health.

For individuals, the heart of Roizen’s optimistic message is not just in adopting healthy habits—it is also developing a new way of thinking. “The key is to have a purpose and passion in life, so that everything is fun,” Roizen

Dr. Michael Roizen is transforming the way Cleveland Clinic employees think about wellness.

says. “You have to make change happen.” This passion, he says, creates the motivation to stay around on earth to enjoy more of life.

For industry and other communities, success is rooted in changing the organizational culture: opening minds to create an environment that promotes physical and emotional well-being, to safeguard people and the earth itself. Or as Roizen says, “Change the environment, change the person.”

The first testing ground for Roizen’s philosophy is Cleveland Clinic and its 40,000 employees. “As the largest employer in northeast Ohio, we have a responsibility to take a leadership role in making the community more vibrant,” he says, “then to take what we learn with our employee base to other corporations.”

Creating vibrant communities, he says, means conserving and reinvigorating both its human and nonhuman resources. That means assuring that Cleveland Clinic’s building environment is sustainability based. “The clinic has been a leader in recycling, energy conservation, and water conservation,” Roizen says. “Any human could literally eat any part of the building materials.” Every building material and practice, he says, should be sustainable and efficient in its use of energy and water, leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible. “It can be something as routine or small as turning off computer screens at night,” he notes.


Far left: Dr. Roizen is a proponent of walking 10,000 steps a day and believes everything about the work environment must facilitate health. Left/below: Cleveland Clinic’s built environment is sustainable and promotes wellness.

When he takes his message on the road, Roizen’s destination may be a 20-person business or a 680,000-person corporation, such as Delos, the pioneer of Wellness Real Estate and founder of the WELL Building Standard. To jumpstart the crucial culture change, Roizen says, the first step is always with the top-floor leaders. “The first thing is to educate leadership on why it’s important for the company to take the role, from an economic standpoint and corporate citizenship,” he says. “That leads to greater productivity and decreased absenteeism.”

Everything about the environment, he says, must facilitate health: buying sustainable office environments; moving smoking totally off-campus, changing food offerings, and easing accessibility to physical activity. “You need programs to stay healthy and get healthy; and you need an incentive program based on outcomes,” Roizen says.

When Roizen begins working with individuals to achieve and sustain health, he presents a simple formula that he calls the “5 Normals”: reaching a normal range in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, weight, and level of cotinine, the end product of cigarettes. “If you get people to reach the ‘5 Normals,’ it decreases chronic disease by 75 percent and decreases medical costs by 50 percent,” he says.

In real life, achieving the “5 Normals” is rare. By the time people leave the workforce, Roizen says, perhaps 4 percent of them have achieved all five. “That is the most astounding to me,” he says. “It’s not rocket science. It’s meditating, walking 10,000 steps a day, eating better, avoiding tobacco. Doing this would allow us literally to thrive as a society. This is what we need more than any drug.”

In his new book, This is Your Do-Over (due Feb. 24 from Simon & Schuster), Roizen explains the steps to achieve the “5 Normals.” One of the biggest points in the book is the importance of having a friend who will help you change. “The most important thing you can do is have a buddy who can make sustaining the change fun, who has enough information to coax you, and to smack you down, when it’s important,” he says.

At this bright nexus of health, wellness, community, and responsibility is another winner, nature itself. “We need to make sure we don’t have toxins in the water or soil; that we shepherd the land; that we have safe ways to extract energy; that we move toward more sustainability,” Roizen says.

This, in turn, has a positive economic impact. “Economic viability can only be as healthy as the community,” he says. “My guess is that we as a society were doing well while the economy was doing well. We sacrificed some of what we would call a healthy environment to improve the economy.”

With Roizen at the helm of its health and wellness ship, Cleveland Clinic continues to push toward reaching these standards of health. As he says, “It’s good for the environment, good for people, and good for economic viability.”

 A new pilot project takes wellness to a whole new level.


While Dr. Michael Roizen spreads his message of health and wellness, his colleagues at Cleveland Clinic are building a commitment to green construction. Jon E. Utech, senior director of Cleveland Clinic’s Office for a Healthy Environment, sees a natural connection. “Green construction and human and environmental health are intimately linked,” Utech says. “When we reduce pollution, our patients are healthier. Roizen is a champion of this.”

Cleveland Clinic has found a proponent and partner in the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), on whose Advisory Council Roizen sits. The IWBI’s WELL Building Standard® is the world’s first standard to focus on enhancing people’s health and well-being through the built environment.

After a two-year pilot program and peer review, the IWBI launched version 1 (v1.0) of its WELL Building Standard in October, says Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Building Institute in New York City. The standard, Scialla says, lays out a blueprint for how buildings can create a healthy environment through seven key categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL v1.0 comes after seven years of research and collaboration with leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals, and a three-phase expert peer review process.

These scrupulous peer reviews and an alignment with other standards, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), have made the WELL Building Standard the go-to document for affecting human health through environmental sustainability in construction methods. “Our partnership with the Green Building Certification Institute, and the WELL Building Standard’s alignment with LEED, demonstrate that sustainability, health, and wellness go hand in hand,” Scialla says.

So far, approximately 5 million square feet of commercial, institutional, and multifamily real estate has been registered for certification through WELL. Projects include CBRE Group’s Global Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, the world’s first commercial office building to be both Gold LEED and WELL certified. The William Jefferson Clinton Children’s Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is a current WELL pilot project. The children’s center and orphanage will be LEED Platinum and WELL certified.

The WELL Building Standard’s v1.0 is a game-changer for environmentalism. As Utech says, “This is an emerging approach to thinking about healthy buildings that directly links to creating healthy working environments for its occupants.”

WELL is third-party certified through the Green Building Certification Institute, which administers the LEED Green Building Rating System. The WELL Building Standard applies to commercial, residential, and institutional projects. Potential pilot projects are encouraged to contact IWBI through