Tuesdays and Fridays are tough. Not so much because of clinic, but rather because of the 32 minutes before clinic that I’m on the Peloton bike. They are the mornings I dedicate to training VO2max.
Training VO2max, or maximal oxygen consumption, is simple. Spin for a leisurely, easy-breathing, 4 minutes, then for 4 minutes push yourself until you see the light of heaven and wish for death to come. Then relax for 4 minutes again. Repeat this cycle four to six times. Done justly, you will dread Tuesdays and Fridays too. The punishing cycle of a 4-minute push, then 4-minute recovery is, however, an excellent way to improve cardiovascular fitness. And no, I’m not training for the Boston Marathon, so why am I working so hard? Because I’m training for marathon clinic days for the next 20 years.
Now more than ever, I feel we have to be physically fit to deal with a physicians’ day’s work.It’s exhausting. The root cause is too much work, yes, but I believe being physically fit could help.
I was talking to an 86-year-old patient about this very topic recently. He was short, with a well-manicured goatee and shiny head. He stuck his arm out to shake my hand. “Glad we’re back to handshakes again, doc.” His grip was that of a 30-year-old. “Buff” you’d likely describe him: He is noticeably muscular, not a skinny old man. He’s an old Navy Master Chief who started a business in wholesale flowers, which distributes all over the United States. And he’s still working full time. Impressed, I asked his secret for such vigor. PT, he replied.
PT, or physical training, is a foundational element of the Navy. Every sailor starts his or her day with morning PT before carrying out their duties. Some 30 years later, this guy is still getting after it. He does push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups nearly every morning. Morning PT is what he attributes to his success not only in health, but also business. As he sees it, he has the business savvy and experience of an old guy and the energy and stamina of a college kid. A good combination for a successful life.
I’ve always been pretty fit. Lately, I’ve been trying to take it to the next level, to not just be “physically active,” but rather “high-performance fit.” There are plenty of sources for instruction; how to stay young and healthy isn’t a new idea after all. I mean, Herodotus wrote of finding the Fountain of Youth in the 5th century BCE. A couple thousand years later, it’s still on trend. One of my favorite sages giving health span advice is Peter Attia, MD. I’ve been a fan since I met him at TEDMED in 2013 and I marvel at the astounding body of work he has created since. A Johns Hopkins–trained surgeon, he has spent his career reviewing the scientific literature about longevity and sharing it as actionable content. His book, “Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity” (New York: Penguin Random House, 2023) is a nice summary of his work. I recommend it.
Right now I’m switching between type 2 muscle fiber work (lots of jumping like my 2-year-old) and cardiovascular training including the aforementioned VO2max work. I cannot say that my patient inbox is any cleaner, or that I’m faster in the office, but I’m not flagging by the end of the day anymore. Master Chief challenged me to match his 10 pull-ups before he returns for his follow up visit. I’ll gladly give up Peloton sprints to work on that.
Dr. Benabio is director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.