Keeping fit in a high-stress environment

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The first doctor I ever knew had his jet-black hair slicked back in a way that made him look like Dracula. For many years my younger sister and I went to him for checkups. His hair aside, what I remember most was that he always had a cigarette in his hand; he was a two-pack and maybe even a three-pack-a-day smoker. Another doctor of more recent vintage was in charge of the emergency department at a hospital when we had a crisis with my grandmother. In my business as a personal trainer, I can tell a person’s height and weight immediately; he was five-nine and a good 300 pounds, and judging from his sense of discomfiture and constant state of sweat, he looked like a heart attack waiting to happen.

Put such a person in a high-stress environment and not only is that individual asking for trouble, so are the organization and the people it serves.

Today employers are learning that a fit workforce is healthier and more productive. People perform better on the job and have fewer sick days, and for the employer that means reduced absenteeism in terms of short-term and long-term disability. In short, it’s a win-win. The first step is to recognize the need, and then install a program.

Many employers, such as hospitals, now have wellness/fitness programs for their employees, and that of course includes doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals. Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga has a 1,700-square-foot fitness facility that never closes, and the University Health Network in Toronto has its own Wellness Centre. The UHN Wellness Centre spells out its goals and two of them are:
•    To reduce the impact of absenteeism and disability costs
•    To decrease disease risk factors, and promote and encourage healthy behaviours.

An effective hospital fitness program will address the following: building muscle and strength, weight loss and fat loss, cardiovascular training, and nutrition and diet. No matter what kind of program you have, it should begin with a fitness assessment of the individual and identification of the goals the person wants to reach.

Working in a hospital is stressful with long hours, midnight shifts, and sometimes last-minute changes to schedules. It’s an environment where split-second decision-making is the norm, and where precise concentration and focus are vital. And let’s not forget that, unlike most places of work, life-and-death situations are a regular occurrence.

Fitness and exercise are a fabulous way to relieve stress and improve quality of life. It can be as simple as designating 30 minutes a day to a calorie-burning workout using nothing but your own bodyweight or perhaps a brisk walk or jog on a treadmill.

Since anyone can benefit from a daily 30-minute workout, it makes sense for hospitals to implement a program, and if space is an issue, safe and effective individual and group/class workouts can be carried out in very little space if the sessions are properly planned and organized. Of course, having a designated fitness facility with equipment is a plus, but much can be accomplished with little or even no equipment, and a minimal budget. Experienced fitness professionals can offer a wide array of services, from 1-on-1 personal training and small group personal training to fitness classes, boot camps, running clubs, Yoga and Pilates, Specific Sports Training, Martial Arts, and meditation.

Windsor Regional Hospital started its program with Lunch Bunch Fitness classes taught by a trained staff instructor over noon hour, and then it grew to a Healthy Lifestyles Program designed to encourage and support employees to make healthy life choices. Soon other activities such as Yoga classes, Jazzercise Dance, and Strength Training followed. There was a dedicated page about the program on the hospital intranet, along with Lunch and Learn sessions that involved presentations by the hospital’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) provider. What’s more, the program had the buy-in of HR and senior management. In fact, the President and CEO himself lost over 80 pounds.

Having worked with many health care professionals, I am constantly reminded of the benefits of fitness and exercise. Beyond offering the obvious improved physical strength, better cardiovascular condition, and decreased body fat, a well-planned fitness program also relieves stress and gives your body a noticeable jolt of energy that carries through the rest of the busy day. That means improved mental capacity for better concentration, being more alert, and more productivity in what can be a high-stress environment.