Physician scientist, exercise physiologist, nutritionist and coach.
Dr Andres Digenio is a physician scientist, born in Montevideo, Uruguay. He holds a MD degree from the “Universidad de la República” (Montevideo), a BSc (Hon) in Sports Medicine and a PhD in exercise physiology, both from the University of Cape Town (South Africa), and he is Board certified in Preventive Medicine in the United States. He devoted his clinical career in South Africa and in the US to improve the lifestyle of patients, and to manage obesity to prevent diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
He started his academic career in Uruguay, as Assistant Professor in the Critical Care Unit of the “Hospital de Clínicas”, Montevideo’s main teaching hospital. Early in his career, doing physicals at a fitness center in Montevideo, he observed the profound differences in biological age among members, simply based on their diet and exercise habits.
By the mid-80s he moved with his family to Johannesburg, South Africa where he occupied the position of Medical Director and Head of the Johannesburg Cardiac Rehabilitation Center, the largest center of its kind in the country. The center’s mission was to rehabilitate patients after a cardiac event—heart attack, coronary bypass surgery, or angioplasty procedure—mainly through lifestyle management. Patients were expected to come to the center three times a week for supervised exercise sessions and to attend educational sessions on coronary risk factor modification delivered by a multidisciplinary team of physicians, exercise physiologists, nurse practitioners, dietitians, and psychologists. The team educated patients on how to change their lifestyles to quit smoking, reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, improve glucose control, and maintain a healthy weight. In addition, he had the opportunity of establishing the first hospital-based private wellness and rehabilitation center in South Africa, located in a private hospital in Johannesburg (Milpark Hospital). The center had three satellites at South African largest fitness chain.
He found his call. He established the South African Association of Cardiovascular Rehabilitation, becoming its first President and was invited to chair the Development Committee of the World Council whose mission was to promote cardiopulmonary rehabilitation in developing countries. He was invited to speak at local and international conferences to present the results from his center, data that led to several publications in scientific journals. In recognition for his work in cardiovascular medicine he was awarded a fellowship to the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR).
After 10 years of running the center, he moved with his family to the United States. He joined Vanderbilt University as Assistant Professor in the Department of Cardiology and became the Medical Director of the Vanderbilt Dayani Center for Health and Wellness, where he continued taking care of patients postcardiac events with a multidisciplinary team. He also held the position of Clinical Director of the newly created obesity clinic, where he managed morbidly obese patients. This was a turning point for him. His perspective on the impact of obesity on health changed considerably. Obesity went from being just one risk factor for heart disease to becoming the central problem. He decided he wanted to help more people lose weight.
While face to face counseling is what he had been doing, he realized it is limited in that one can only help one patient at a time. It is also costly and inconvenient because it involves travelling to and back. That prompted him to develop the web-based PulseStep Lifestyle Program (www.pulsestep.com), that provides a lifestyle delivery model that is scalable to large number of individuals because of its low cost and convenience. Accountability is provided by the program structure that guides the user week by week and access to a health coach by either telephone, Skype, WhatsApp or email. The program underwent several iterations and is now in its final version in both English and Spanish.
After academia, he occupied positions of increasing responsibility in the pharmaceutical industry, providing strategic advice and overseeing clinical research studies in the areas of obesity, diabetes, and preventive cardiology. One of his achievements was to convince a large pharma company to develop a lifestyle program as a companion to the development of a weight loss agent. He left his last position in the industry as VP of Clinical Development at a biotech company to work full-time on PulseStep and to write a book. The book provides scientifically based strategies to inspire the reader modify unhealthy behaviors, eat less using a Mediterranean diet and move more by increasing activities of daily living and walking using a pedometer. The information is conveyed with a fresh spin through the parallel journey of the book’s protagonist, Brenda -a fictional character- who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes; her discussions with her husband; the strategies offered by a web-based program -The PulseStep Lifestyle Program-; and her interactions with a lifestyle coach, another fictional character.
He is a member of several organizations including The Obesity Society, the Obesity Action Coalition and the American Diabetes Association.
On a personal note, he does what he preaches. He recognizes that as a young adult his diet was not a healthy one, consisting mainly of red meat and pasta, which he owes to his Italian ancestors. Although he cannot say he was sedentary, he didn’t exercise in a consistent manner. Just one year after joining the Johannesburg cardiac rehabilitation program, he was eating more fish and vegetables and exercising regularly. The improvement in his lifestyle and that of his family was all steady from there. In terms of hobbies, he enjoys traveling -lived on three continents-, summited Mt. Kilimanjaro, is an advanced certified diver, enjoys reading, playing chess online and playing ping pong with his sons.