We tend to compartmentalize our work and our play. Work is about service, responsibility, professionalism, and generating income. Play is about personal fulfillment. In our busy lives, work often overshadows play. Yet our successes as professionals depend on maintaining our peak mental and physical abilities, which is impossible with continuous work.
The personal cost of failing to respect the work-life balance can be enormous. Relentless work inevitably results in stress. The adverse effects of long-term stress include poor sleep, mood changes, drug abuse, and depression. These problems, if left unchecked, can lead to physician burnout, marital breakdowns, and even suicide. Unfortunately, we are all familiar with this downward spiral, either through personal experience or from witnessing the downfall of a close friend or colleague.
Several steps can be taken to improve your work-life balance and to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, both of which go a long way in reducing stress.
Recognition. The first step in dealing with this ongoing and ever-present challenge is to recognize it. This is not easy. Our medical training does not prepare us to take care of ourselves; we are trained to care for others. Our society rewards our accomplishments with income, awards, and titles. There should be an award for the best combined ophthalmologist, spouse, parent, and friend, but we all know that this official award does not exist.
Prevention. Once the problem is recognized, the next step is to prevent it from advancing further. This can be achieved through personal fitness. Most people think of fitness as exercising a few times a week. That is a start, but it touches only the surface of the toxic effects of a stressful workweek. To truly maintain peak performance—to survive and succeed through all of the trials and tribulations of our lives—we must strive for a higher goal. To paraphrase the legendary triathlete and Ironman competitor Mark Allan: Our goal should be a fit mind and a fit body.
• Five-time USA Triathlon All-American
• Represented Team USA at the 2015 World Triathlon Championships
• Set four Michigan Masters swimming records
• Ironman finisher
Consistency and moderation. Physical fitness can be achieved through an array of activities. My personal interests include triathlon, cycling, and swimming, but there are plenty of other choices. Once recognition and prevention are mastered, the next key concepts that must be considered by middle-aged athletes, regardless of the activity chosen, are consistency and moderation. It is far better to exercise every day than to be a so-called weekend warrior, as the focused exertion inevitably will result in injury. Moderation is required to allow the body to repair and grow stronger. Although intensity is stimulating, efficient, and required to maintain performance, it also greatly increases the risk of injury. An injury will often result in an abrupt end to one’s exercise program.
The right diet. Undertaking a physical fitness program is almost pointless without the right fuel or diet. This is like studying for an exam with the wrong material. The Western diet has changed dramatically over the past 50 years as a result of the fast food industry, processed foods, factory farms, and poor meal portion control. Many people are not receptive to changes to their diets; however, this is certainly another step in implementing a healthy work-life balance. For those who seek a higher level of fitness or even just wish to lose a few extra pounds, I recommend reading the book “The China Study”1 or watching the movies “Forks Over Knives” and “Food, Inc.” They are both intriguing and disturbing.
THE FIT MIND
Mental fitness is probably the most neglected area for most of us, yet it is crucial in combatting stress. We tend to push through busy days with insufficient sleep without providing ourselves time to rest and recover.
Whether through meditation, religion, or connecting with nature, we need time to appreciate that we are blessed to be as talented as we are. We need to put the problems of the moment into the proper perspective and process intelligent solutions. We need to develop relationships with our families, spouses, children, and friends because their support makes us stronger. Our overall fitness will allow us to enjoy practicing ophthalmology for many years.
1. Campbell TC, Campbell II TM. The China Study. Dallas, Texas: BenBella Books; 2005.
Louis E. Probst, MD
• National Medical Director, TLC Laser Eye Centers, Chicago; Madison, Wisconsin; and Greenville, South Carolina
• +1 708 562 2020
• Financial interest: None acknowledged