Dr. Melissa Sundermann Practices What She Preaches

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Today’s guest is an internal medicine and lifestyle medicine doctor who is a big believer in the benefits of spending time outdoors.

She’s an experienced athlete, having done 3 Ironman races, 10 Bostons, and many more races.

I look forward to going a few easy miles with Dr. Melissa Sundermann.

Dr. Melissa Sundermann

Foundation as a Dancer

Dr. Melissa Sundermann was a ballet dancer for as long as she can remember.

Ballet dancers are true athletes which provided Dr. Melissa a solid foundation to build upon in later years.

While in college, she chose pre-med as her major but still took ballet classes whenever she could.

It was during undergrad that Dr. Melissa first took up running.

Running was a way for her to stay fit and it was easy to fit in around her busy schedule.

Along with running and dancing, Dr. Melissa also got into off-road duathlons through her then-boyfriend.

Dr. Melissa has always been driven by goals.

A Qualifying Goal

Dr. Melissa remained consistent with running even as life got more hectic.

She ran the Chicago Marathon in 1992 which was her first race of that distance.

Dr. Melissa had no idea how to train, but she managed to successfully finish the race.

Medical school became more time-consuming, but she continued to run for exercise.

Three years after her first marathon, Dr. Melissa heard about the Boston Marathon.

Being a goal-oriented person, she was immediately intrigued by the prospect of having to qualify for the race.

Upon learning that 1996 was the 100th anniversary of the Boston Marathon, Dr. Melissa knew she had to run it.

A Race to Remember

When Dr. Melissa began training to qualify for Boston, she was in her second year of medical school.

She ran the Columbus Marathon and got her Boston Qualifying time by running under 3:30.

The experience was incredible and hooked her from that moment on.

Dr. Melissa has since completed 10 Boston Marathons and is set to do her 11th in April 2024.

It has taken her a few years to learn how to run the course.

To prepare, she trains on downhills along with ample volume, and cross-training.

All of her training led her to run her PR at the Boston Marathon at the age of 41.

Dr. Melissa Sundermann

Spirit of the Marathon

The Fall of 2021 was the only time that the Boston Marathon was held during that time of year.

It was an abnormally hot day and leading up to the race Dr. Melissa struggled with a chronic injury.

During mile 7 of the race, her hamstring seized causing her to fall.

She briefly considered quitting, but then a friend encouraged her to continue moving forward.

Dr. Melissa had to check her ego and recognize that it is a privilege to be able to run the race.

She channeled the spirit of the marathon by not giving up and continuing to move forward.

Dr. Outdoors

Dr. Melissa did her residency in internal medicine and has been a practicing physician for 25 years.

She is a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) and has an interest in learning more about healing/wellness.

In 2018, Dr. Melissa came across the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Lifestyle medicine acknowledges that 80%-90% of chronic conditions are highly related to lifestyle behavior.

Evidence has shown that optimizing lifestyle behavior can prevent, treat, and sometimes even reverse chronic disease.

There are six official pillars of Lifestyle Medicine which are:

  • Food/Dietary Pattern – Plant forward is beneficial.
  • Movement or exercise
  • Sleep – Aim for 7 hours per night.
  • Avoiding risky substances
  • Stress management
  • Social connection

The 7th unofficial pillar according to Dr. Melissa is daily exposure to nature and outdoors.

Nature Heals

Dr. Melissa is a strong believer that physicians treat, but nature heals.

Humans are genetically programmed to be connected to nature and the outdoors.

She is an advocate for physicians prescribing the nature and outdoors.

The average physician is not trained in the pillars of lifestyle medicine and is often forced to adhere to a broken medical system.

Lifestyle medicine is all about true prevention.

A board-certified lifestyle physician will have the letters DIP ABLM (Diplomat American Board of Lifestyle Medicine) after their name.

All the pillars are equally important and play off each other.


Mentioned In This Episode:

Stay connected to Dr. Melissa Sundermann by following her on Instagram at Motivator Melissa and/or The Doctor Outdoors.


Dr. Melissa Sundermann is a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine. As a multi-time Boston qualifier, it's safe to say she practices what she preaches. Share on X


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