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Two-day Rochester symposium spotlights self-care, lifestyle medicine

The Community of Wellness Symposium and Gala on April 21 and 22 will bring in speakers from across the state and country to talk about different aspects of lifestyle medicine.

People walk through a buffet line of food.
Attendees of the 2022 Community of Wellness Symposium partake in a buffet.
Contributed / Vicki Blazing

ROCHESTER — Next weekend, the Lotus Health Foundation will host its fifth annual Community of Wellness Symposium and Gala, a two-day event centered around lifestyle medicine.

This year's theme for the event, which is open to the public, is self-care, said Mei Liu, founder and president of the Lotus Health Foundation.

"We want to introduce the concept of comprehensive self-care based on the lifestyle medicine approach, as in nutrition, movement, stress management, social connection, passion, sleep," Liu said.

Liu and her husband, Rochester Clinic podiatrist Dr. Jengyu Lai, have been promoting lifestyle medicine in Rochester since 2010, and the symposium is an extension of their work. Lifestyle medicine, Lai said, focuses on factors like diet, movement, sleep and other lifestyle conditions to improve patients' health and treat or prevent chronic medical conditions.

"We have a lot of health care costs in medical care, in medication, but then most importantly is productivity," Lai said. "About 80% of chronic conditions are lifestyle-related, so in order to reduce health care (costs), we really need to look at our lifestyle."


Starting at 4 p.m. Friday, April 21 at St. Mary's University, Rochester, Liu and Mayor Kim Norton will welcome symposium attendees and kick off the afternoon Walk With A Doc, where people can walk around the campus's wetlands and chat with Lai. A reception with food, the symposium's guest speakers and sponsors will follow.

"We'll have a brief introduction about who they are and what they do," Liu said of the guest speakers. "And so that will help the rest of the attendees and the organizations, the vendors to continue to connect until the next day, the whole-day symposium."

The schedule for Saturday, April 22 includes several guest speakers, such as Dr. Dawn Mussallem, a diagnostic breast specialist at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus who survived stage 4 cancer and received a heart transplant in 2021.

"Her focus is not to tell us about breast cancer; her focus is to share her personal journey and inspire people and ignite their passion, what really drives them to be healthy, to be well," Liu said. "When we (are) all able to look at that for our ourselves, we define our purpose of our everyday living, then we determine, 'Yes I want to be well,' and how we do that."

A group of four people pose with a proclamation paper.
Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, center left, poses with Lotus Health Foundation founder and president Mei Liu, center right, and Dr. Jengyu Lai of the Rochester Clinic, right, at the 2022 Community of Wellness Symposium in Rochester.
Contributed / Vicki Blazing

Saturday's speaker lineup also includes Lai, registered dietitian and author Brenda Davis, Mayo Clinic hand surgeon Dr. Brian Carlsen, HealthPartners medical director for well-being Dr. Thomas Kottke and CentraCare OB-GYN Dr. David Kroska.

A gala wraps up the symposium on Saturday evening. Liu said the gala will honor Dr. Harry Blackburn, a retired director of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota who was the project officer of the Seven Countries Study , a long-term research project that studies diet in relation to cardiovascular disease. Liu called Blackburn "a living legend" in the realm of lifestyle medicine and said the gala will include a 10-minute screening of an interview with Blackburn.

"We feel like Minnesotans should feel very proud to have this history," Liu said.

The gala will also include a live jazz performance and a panel discussion involving the day's guest speakers on how to promote well-being in the workplace and in the community.


This year's symposium is the fifth iteration of Liu and Lai's public-focused event inspired by a lifestyle medicine conference they attended in San Diego in 2015. Liu said that conference was attended mostly by medical practitioners who were already working in lifestyle medicine.

"What if we bring that to Rochester and allow the general public to be able to access this information?" Liu said. "Because a lot of times, this information (is) only kept at the professional, academic level, and you hardly have the general public there — there's no reason for them to pay $1,000 to travel there ... just to hear those national speakers."

Though the symposium is tailored toward educating the general public about lifestyle medicine, Liu said health care providers — who make up a sizable chunk of the local general public, anyhow — can also find takeaways from the sessions.

"It's more hands-on, more practical," Liu said. "We want people to take away something, even one or two things, out of the conference that you can do immediately."

Registration is required for each day of the symposium and the gala. Friday's events are free, and it costs $69 for a Saturday symposium ticket and $75 for a gala ticket. Liu said registration is due by April 19.

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's health care reporter. She previously covered the Southeast Minnesota region for the Post Bulletin. Dené's a graduate of Kansas State University, where she cut her teeth working for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and the student radio station, Wildcat 91.9. Readers can reach Dené at 507-281-7488 and ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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