My first experience of snowsports was on a family ski trip to Europe when I was about 13 years old. After a long absence I was lucky enough to rediscover the joy on a snowboarding trip to Japan in 2009 and have been hooked ever since. Despite my home town of Perth being a long long way from anything even resembling snow, I have managed to get my snowboarding fix every year or so, most recently last weekend in Courmayeur, Italy. It was while cruising down a red run feeling on top of the world that I was able to reflect on all of the good that it was doing me. Here are my thoughts on why all doctors* should get out of the office or hospital and hit the slopes:**
- A lot of our work is very intellectually and emotionally taxing, leaving us mentally exhausted. But it is extremely refreshing to do something physically very challenging and feel satisfyingly knackered at the end of the day. I find that a hard day on the slopes in the fresh air helps me to reconnect to my physical self and the world outside my own head.
- We constantly preach to our patients the importance of exercise for not only physical but also mental well-being. Here is a great opportunity to lead by example and avoid getting burnt out. I challenge anyone not to feel amazing while making first tracks in last nights fresh snowfall. For me, snowboarding also requires just enough concentration so that there is no room to worry about work, the never-ending to-do list, things I should have done but didn’t, or anything more stressful than which piste to try next and where to stop for lunch.
- Enjoy the freedom of technology disconnectedness. Phone and internet reception is often limited at the top of a mountain so there really is no place for checking results, following-up patients, responding to emails or attending teleconferences. Plus, trying to retrieve a ringing phone from deep in your back pocket while wearing quilted mittens and riding a ski lift is really quite difficult (and hilarious for those watching from the lift behind).
- Many doctors tend towards type A personalities and feel the need to be in control of their environment. As a snowboarder, I have discovered the importance of “letting go” in that split second during a steep turn when you are neither toe edge nor heel edge and feel momentarily that you are going to hurtle uncontrollably down the mountain. Embrace the feeling of uncertainty with confidence and you will soon come smoothly around the corner with elegance and style. Panic and you will undoubtedly catch an edge and end up face first in the snow. I think this is a good lesson for life in general.
- For those of us getting caught up in our own self-importance, the slopes have a way of bringing you back to earth. There is nothing more humbling than crashing spectacularly on a beginner slope, only to be overtaken by half a dozen tiny 3-year-olds on skis zooming past at breakneck speed. It is also impossible to take yourself too seriously when caught in a deep pocket of powder and needing to flop around like a beached whale in order to extract yourself.
- The mountain is a very social place. After all, what’s the point in executing the perfect black run if there is no one there to witness it? Go with a group of friends and reflect on the days adventures by a warm fire and a glass of vin chaud. Or, go alone and chat to random people you meet on the chairlift, or on the snow after falling over them (after apologising profusely, of course).
- It is a great opportunity to refresh your anatomy, as the next day you discover muscles that you forgot you had.
- The burning pain of overtightened snowboard boots will help you empathise with your patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy. Another indication for Lyrica, perhaps?
- It is a great way to re-discover the simple pleasures in life; delicious hearty food, a hot bath, the best sleep you’ve ever had. Everything tastes, sounds, smells and feels so much better when you’ve been out in the elements and feel that you’ve earned it.
- The world outside the consulting room really is beautiful. Being immersed in nature’s grandeur below towering mountains helps to keep things in perspective and remind us of how small we really are, and watching each tiny perfect snowflake as it lands on you brings a sense of wonder and delight in the world.
* Note: Also applies to other health professionals, other non-health professionals and in fact most people in general.
** Note: Also applies to non-snowsport outdoor activities such as surfing, fishing, hiking, camping, rockclimbing, mountain-biking, competing in triathlons, paddling, white water rafting, horse riding, team sports etc etc.
The take home message here is; get outside, get into nature and get out of your office. Your mental and physical wellbeing will benefit, your family and friends will appreciate a decreased level of grumpiness and your patients will be better cared for when you return refreshed and re-energized. See you on the mountain! I’ll be the one flopping around in the powder drift who can’t get the smile off my face.