To your health

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Woman With Rolled Up Exercise Mat In GymIt’s often the case in medicine that the practitioner takes care of everyone’s health but their own, which can have dire repercussions. Introducing exercise into the weekly routine could be just what the doctor ordered—as well as needed, discovers John Burfitt

He may have been a veterinarian for over 30 years and worked at the Baulkham Hill Veterinary Hospital in Sydney for 29 of those years, but there is another achievement that Dr Lindsay Hay is also proud of.

When it comes to competitive racing on indoor rowing machines, Dr Hay is ranked among the top competitors in the world for his over-sixties age range. He took up the activity only a matter of years ago.

Exercise is nothing new to Dr Hay’s schedule. It has been an essential in his routine for the best part of three decades, and one of the best methods, he claims, for coping with the rigours of life as a vet.

“My own habits and strategies are built around exercise, in particular regular trips to the gym,” he says. “I have been at it for 30 years and on average, do up to four sessions every week.”

Promoting the inclusion of an exercise and fitness regime into the work schedule of vets has been a mission Dr Hay has been on for a long time, having lectured extensively on the topic.

He believes exercise is non-negotiable for general wellbeing for those in the veterinary industry, which is well known to take an emotional and physical toll on those who work in it.

“Veterinarians are very vulnerable to stress-related conditions, compassion fatigue and the like,” explains Dr Hay. “There is much evidence now linking moderate exercise to a longer, healthier life with less stress, better sleep and better weight management.”

Former Australian Veterinary Association president Helen Jones shed new light on the cost of depression in our industry in 2011 with her study that revealed veterinarians were four times more likely to take their lives compared to non-veterinarians.

While exercise has anecdotally been referred to as one of the best treatments for depression, it was 2007’s breakthrough study by US neuroscientist James Blumenthal of Duke University that proved physical activity can be as effective as antidepressant medications in treating stress.

It was a point echoed by Harvard University’s Dr Nancy Rappaport in her online Patient article titled ‘Doctors need to take care of themselves’.

“Giving of ourselves is essential to a doctor’s work,” she wrote, “but in many ways realising our limitations and recognising our exhaustion is most important if we are to effectively take care of our patients and sustain our passion. It is when we neglect ourselves that potentially fatal errors can occur.”

Working in a practice in the remote Red Centre has its own challenges, but Dr Deborah Osborne of the Alice Springs Veterinary Hospital says striking the right work-life balance has been a work in progress in her career since she started at the clinic in 1984. These days, however, it is her body that gives her the best indication of all that she needs to get out and start exercising.

“As I have got older, I have realised I do need to take more time out, and that includes getting regular exercise,” she says. “The secret is that you have to find something that works for you, rather than something that is imposed on you.

“There is much evidence now linking moderate exercise to a longer, healthier life with less stress, better sleep and better weight management.” Dr Lindsay Hay, Baulkham Hills Veterinary Hospital

“For me, it is often the decision to walk into work rather than driving. A good 30-minute walk into work in the morning might end up being the best thing you do all day, or taking a break later after you have had one patient after the other might be all you need to face the rest of the afternoon in an efficient manner. It is a matter of being aware of what it is you need to balance your day out.”

Pearce Scammell, a Sydney-based executive trainer with Fitness Connected, says finding a way to include fitness into a work schedule is an ongoing dilemma for many in small business.

“Most people in small business tend to put their business first, and their own wellbeing too often falls into place much further down the line,” he says.

“The thing to remember is that if you want to stay on top of your game, you have to be in your best possible shape and that takes work. So, exercise might be something you have to factor into the weekly running of the business along with every other commitment.”

As so many vets run their weeks from the bookings in their appointment schedule, Pearce suggests scheduling exercise into the routine as a priority at least three times every week.

“It has to be about being active in some way—doing something to get you moving,” he says. “It could be walking to and from work, or ensuring you take 30 minutes each lunchtime to pull on your walk shoes and get out and get moving.

“It might be a few sessions at the gym, doing laps of the pool or even working with a personal trainer who can help you find ways to accommodate your fitness needs into a schedule. Maybe join a sporting team so you know for those few times a week, you have to turn up and are getting  a workout as you do so.

“Just know that regular exercise will not only do your entire system good, but it will help clear your head and help form some resilience towards the stress you deal with every day.”

Constantly striving to strike that work-life balance is, adds Dr Lindsay Hay, a critical part of not only how we live in the changing landscape of the vet business, but also into the future—both at and away from work.

“This has to be a critical part of how we live and at the core of our success,” Dr Hay says. “We must keep our balance under review and change our plans and activities in response to changes in our stages of life. They key is to have fun, be happy and the outcome is a longer, more productive and satisfying life.”

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