10 Questions for Dr. Andrew Weil

For the past four decades, renowned physician Andrew Weil has been on a wellness mission.

Preaching the principles of integrative medicine — a philosophy encompassing body, mind and spirit — he’s recently partnered with orthotic producer Vasyli LLC of San Rafael, Calif., for a footwear line that encourages walking. Marketed under the Dr. Andrew Weil Integrative Footwear label, the licensed collection is built around a proprietary Aided Motion System, a combination of footbed technologies developed by Australian podiatrist and company founder Phillip Vasyli.

The series of men’s and women’s sandals and shoes, set for a fall ’10 soft launch, features technologies from Vasyli’s Orthaheel and Vasyli Medical divisions, including an Orthoheel footbed designed to control rear foot alignment to reduce conditions caused by overpronation and a rubber sole that aids in forefoot mobility and gait efficiency. Together, they are said to reduce fatigue and lower-limb injuries from stress.

“Seventy-eight million people tap into Weil’s message via his website, books, educational forums and products,” said Lisa Bazinet, Vasyli’s VP of marketing, about the shoes’ potential.

All after-tax profits will be donated to the Weil Lifestyle foundation, a not-for-profit organization that supports integrative medicine. Retailing from $90 to $125, the line will be available at Nordstrom, Dillard’s and comfort independents, as well as through health and comfort specialty websites and catalogs.

1. Your name is associated with a wide range of products. Why did you add footwear?
My criteria includes finding companies that produce best-in-class products. [Vasyli] also shares my philosophy of health and wellness and wants to partner in supporting my mission to advance integrative medicine. Products must be those I would, and do, use myself, and be relevant to the lifestyle I advocate.

2. How does your integrative medicine philosophy apply to foot health?
[My philosophy] aims to prevent disease and maintain optimum health and uses a broad range of therapies, such as nutritional and botanical medicine and mind/body therapies, as well as conventional approaches, such as testing, drugs and surgery when necessary. Because regular physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, protecting foot health is very important.

3. What has been your approach to wellness footwear?
Footwear that challenges stability to simulate a workout isn’t a replacement for exercise itself — like fads such as toning and rocker-bottom shoes. Footwear should assist balance, stability, alignment and good foot health so the body can move freely, unhindered and safely. People with foot and biomechanical problems shouldn’t wear footwear that makes it more difficult to walk, as this may worsen their problems and cause greater pain.

4. What attracted you to this footwear technology?
I’m a committed walker, and if done regularly, walking can satisfy one’s needs for aerobic exercise. A common problem keeping people from walking comfortably is improper footwear. Discomfort creates real obstacles. The Orthaheel technology is the best [way to] protect feet from the shock of walking on hard surfaces, and it keeps the foot and ankle properly aligned and supported, and mimics the effect of walking barefoot on natural surfaces.

5. Do you think your reputation will enhance the line’s credibility?
Many trust me to direct them to accurate and reliable information about health and medical concerns. I have a good track record regarding the types and quality of products I have helped develop to support and promote healthy lifestyles, and they understand that the proceeds from the products that bear my name go to the Weil Lifestyle foundation.

6. Health is a hot issue. Will Americans’ interest in the subject help generate sales for your footwear?
Most of the diseases [facing] our health care system are largely treatable — if not entirely preventable — by changes in lifestyle, especially exercise and diet. The promise of integrative medicine is that attention to lifestyle offers real prevention and health promotion, [and that] it can identify low-tech approaches that aren’t dependent on expensive technology.

7. As a newcomer to footwear, how involved are you in the design?
We’re involved from paper to product. Our group started with a thorough review of the scientific evidence to support the Orthaheel technology. Vasyli had either performed the clinical studies themselves, or incorporated parallel research in developing the technology. We met with the science team to discuss my requirements, which included the functional attributes of the products, that they include technology supported by medical evidence and deliver comfort that enables people to walk and move comfortably.

8. Who’s your target customer?
Young consumers, baby boomers and seniors. The shoes are stylish enough for younger consumers, as well as highly functional and comfortable for older ones. Anyone who wants to experience quality footwear can benefit from the shoes.

9. Will you promote the line?
I will personally promote the products in ads and at in-store events, as well as presenting it to the medical community.

10. Is a walking movement brewing?
Yes, [because] the human body is designed for walking. It’s a functional exercise and carries the least risk of injury of any form of exercise. You don’t need to take classes or hire a personal trainer. Everyone knows how to do it, and it costs nothing. You can walk just about anywhere, at any age. It requires no equipment other than good shoes.

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