Alex Rodriguez Opens Up About His Recent Health Diagnosis: ‘Make Sure You’re Playing Defense’

A-Rod is starting a conversation about the "misunderstood" disease that affects an estimated 65 million Americans—"and is even more prevalent in my community," Alex Rodriguez says.

Alex Rodriguez could talk about plenty as a World Series Champion, CEO, and co-owner of two professional basketball teams (Minnesota’s Timberwolves in the NBA, and the WNBA’s Lynx). Instead, seven years after retiring from Major League Baseball, there’s a personal topic A-Rod’s getting candid about that he says surprised him as much as it’s likely to surprise many fans. “You wish you could be talking about really great stuff all the time,” Rodriguez says, “but I think the platform gives me an opportunity to reach the masses.”

He’s stepping up to the plate. This week in New York City, The Healthy @Reader’s Digest sat down with Alex Rodriguez about the health issue that he says recently caught him off guard when in a routine checkup, his dentist identified gum disease. “It was definitely scary,” Rodriguez says. “I was shocked to know that over 65 million Americans have this gum disease and it’s even more prevalent in my community, in black and brown communities.”

Rodriguez’s interest in raising awareness about gum disease in partnership with the antibiotic gum disease treatment Arestin goes beyond the symptoms of swelling or bleeding that might come to mind—in fact, he experienced no signs and says this is one reason gum disease is “misunderstood, and underdiagnosed.” Rodriguez’s dentist explained that several recent studies have shown links between gum disease and often serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. (A good deal of existing research suggests not a cause-and-effect connection, but instead that gum disease and these other conditions may share inflammation as the common denominator.)

Here, A-Rod talks about the connection between success and self-care and shares an up-close glimpse into his own wellness routine: Sure he’s all business, but fans will find a soft spot for this Bronx Bomber’s favorite way to spend time at the end of a long day.

Alex at the dentist in a dentist chaircourtesy OraPharma

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The Healthy @Reader’s DigestAlex, thanks for talking about this. It’s timely, as we officially come out of the pandemic. A lot of us are still catching up on those routine checkups we put off.

Alex Rodriguez: They’re never fun, I don’t think you can sugarcoat it. But at the same time, if you go in there for a purpose—obviously you want to look good and you want to have a pretty smile—but you know, the misconception is that if you have a pretty smile, you’re safe. That if you don’t chew tobacco, you’re safe. If you don’t dip, you’re safe. [In press materials, Rodriguez says that tobacco use was “a habit I never really started.”]

All of that is wrong. Everybody is a target, and it could happen to anyone. And again, specifying that black and brown communities [experience] even more opportunity [for gum disease to develop], and as you get older, [there’s] more opportunity. So the biggest thing you can do is get there as early as possible. No one’s exempt from this. Go and see your dentist.

The Healthy: How have you tweaked your own dental practice?

Alex Rodriguez: It’s just being a little bit more aware. If you floss five days a week, make sure you do it seven days a week. Obviously brushing, all that stuff, two or three times a day, not just once.

The Healthy: We appreciate when guys talk about self-care. But for someone who’s working with a family, it can be tough to find even those couple of extra minutes in the day to invest in yourself.

Alex Rodriguez: I think the greatest investment as human beings, as Americans, that we can make is in ourselves—right? Whether that’s educating your mind, or I always think about health: Think about offense and defense. On the offense side, you want to get your eight hours of sleep, you want to stay hydrated, you want to have your multivitamins, you want to do a little cardio, whatever exercise floats your boat.

And then on the defensive side, this is the kind of stuff that OraPharma’s really passionate about: To go to the dentist; if you’re a male, you get into prostate cancer [screening] stuff and just making sure that you’re playing defense there. I think the balance is really important.

Then you have to enjoy life—have a good life and smile and have fun and celebrate life a little bit. ‘Cause so many times we’re in the rat race of like, What’s next? Like How many likes, and who? I think just stay in the moment. Those are things that at this stage of my life that I’m really emphasizing and prioritizing.

A Rod with a microphoneMegan Briggs/getty images

The Healthy: Do you think there’s a connection between self-care and success?

Alex Rodriguez: I call it “slow down to speed up.” From the time I wake up, say eight in the morning to noon, that’s my time. Whether that means going to workout, meditating, yoga, sauna, meditate—that’s my time. My office knows they have me exclusively from 12 to six, and then I go home and spend time with my daughters.

If you are not intentional about what’s important to you, then obviously your day’s gonna run all over and your schedule’s going to add up. Having discipline there—I go back to over-emphasizing: What are you doing for offense, and what are you doing for defense? You can’t win championships in sports without defense. I think the same way about life. I mean, going to your dentist is not something that you’re going to be super excited about, but if you know that it can avoid potential issues in the future, whatever those are, your doctor will tell you about that. But when we talk about [being] associated with, you know, diabetes and cardiovascular disease is something that is definitely should be front of mind, not back of mind.

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Kristine Gasbarre
Krissy is the senior editor leading content for The Healthy @Reader's Digest. For two decades she has worked in digital media, books, and magazines and is a #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling ghostwriter. Her work has been featured in Reader’s Digest, People, the New York Times, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), Sirius/XM Oprah Radio, and more. With degrees in psychology and cultural media studies, she assisted with a clinical research project at the Cleveland Clinic and is a certified group fitness instructor, the owner of two irresistible rescued dogs, and the partner of a physician leader in healthcare quality who is also a stage IV lymphoma survivor.