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A Spine Surgeon’s New Year’s Resolutions That Stick

Authored by Dr. Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS. January 20, 2022

To sum up my 2022 resolution, simplicity and sustainability.  I have been in the field of healthcare for 40 years and I have been a practicing clinician for 30 years.  During this time, I have learned varied approaches to healthy lifestyles, weight loss, fitness and overall focus on how to live a better life; many are medical and many are personal and spiritual.  For the 10 years of medical education after college, I learned hard science, biology, chemistry and human physiology, but the 30 years since as a practicing clinician has been focused not only on the medical and surgical management of patients but much more the intellectual and mental assistance that my patients require to achieve the overall result in obtaining an optimum health and lifestyle.

I believe that in many varied diets and exercise programs and lifestyle changes – most of them are near impossible for busy person to continue long term, due to the significant stresses of life and various social factors that constantly drag us back to our old ways.  That is why simplicity is essential in any lifestyle change so that one can focus on that specific goal and make it possible to attain; then sustainability is critical because if it does not change the sustainable, then the benefits will be short lived if at all and consequently we end up at the resultant yoyo effect of weight loss or improved fitness followed by worsening weight gain or unhealthy lifestyle.  I think that is the key for most people as they entered new year’s resolution and a strong desire to improve their health is that they define an approach that is reasonably sustainable.

Exercise programs are often hard to stick with when one gets very busy.  I think having a goal of exercising 30 minutes to 45 minutes a day is appropriate, beneficial, and desirable, but some days just do not afford us the time to do that, and that is why it is essential that a 10-minute home routine that one can do on the days when time is not available.  I myself find that a 10-minute routine I can do with body weight activities or on a stationary bike or elliptical that will stimulate my heart, get my pulse rate up, wake me up, and get me going helps my day tremendously.  When possible, I prefer a longer time commitment, but it is essential to have this 10-minute program so that we at least do something every day.  This makes it sustainable.  Simplicity comes by doing that which we know we can do.  Getting to a gym is not always possible, so having a routine to do at home or while at the office is essential.  There are many great body weight exercises, both static and dynamic, that do wonders for mobilizing your tissue, strengthening your core, and protecting you from injury.  Using these developed proper ergonomic motions in maintaining flexibility are the key to short- and long-term success. 

A varied routine is also important – whether it is swimming, walking, running, bicycling, playing tennis or golf.  It is important to make sure that we do not just do the same exercise routine every day.  Variety improves our mobility, our fitness, our psyche, and overall result.  As we get older, playing a sport alone or performing our work is not enough to keep us healthy.  We have to actually exercise so that we can continue to do our job requirements, our family requirements, and our sport desires.  The purpose of conditioning and training is to allow you to optimally perform activities.  Too many times people believe that their physical job or going for a walk constitutes adequate exercise.  To optimize the function and health of our heart, our spine, our joints and our body, we must work on something which elevates our heart rate and raises our body temperature.  This helps mobilize tissues and then we work on a dynamic flexibility program while optimizing strengthening. 

That sounds like a lot, which takes away from simplicity aspect, but learning some key exercises that one can do allows us to maintain an easy opportunity to maintain our optimal function.  One of my partners likes to climb stairs at the hospital when he has time in between cases and will do 60 flights of stairs in a day, filling in a brief void maintaining some cardiac conditioning and strength training while working. I always take the stairs a minimum of once a day of eight flights as a requirement for me to continue my day.  The simplicity of this kind of activity, combined with a brief exercise routine can make a huge difference in maintaining a healthy spine, a healthy body, and overall better quality of life.

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Dr. Thomas Schuler, MD, FACS, FAAOS

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