Taking healthy habits to heart: 7 spine surgeons discuss their health & fitness practices


Here, seven spine surgeons lay out how they make health and fitness a priority.

Ask Spine Surgeons is a weekly series of questions posed to spine surgeons around the country about clinical, business and policy issues affecting spine care. We invite all spine surgeon and specialist responses.


Next week's question: How can spine surgeons maintain positive relationships with referral sources?


Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya at avaidya@beckershealthcare.com by Wednesday, June 15, at 5 p.m. CST.


Question: How do you maintain your health while still running a successful practice?


Andrew Cordover, MD, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, Birmingham, Ala.: I enjoy being active and make it a priority to go mountain climbing biannually. I also enjoy mountain biking. In 2014, I hiked Mt. Lincoln in Pike National Forest at a 14,286-foot elevation. I also make an effort to exercise three to four times a week by swimming.


Brian R. Gantwerker, MD, The Craniospinal Center of Los Angeles: I hit the health club two to three times per week. I will also be walking up the hill near my house more now that it's lighter earlier in the mornings. Getting out with my son to the beach and walking on the boardwalk is fantastic exercise, as I am running after him most of the time.


Richard Kube, MD, Founder, CEO, Prairie Spine & Pain Institute, Peoria, Ill.: You have to make health a priority. I purchased a refrigerator and put it in my office. At any given time it is stocked with nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as lean meat from my smoker. We are all busy and it is hard to eat well when trying to cram lunch into a few minutes. Bad choices are often made. You also need to adhere to an exercise regime. I hit the gym for more than an hour at the start of each day, except Sunday. I do it first thing in the morning before anything has a chance to derail me. That allows me to be with family in the evenings and cart three kids to their activities. There is typically wasted time with television or some other activity that can be substituted with exercise. If you can't trim any fat from your schedule then I say sleep a little less. You can run fine with a good six hours of sleep instead of eight, and there is your time to exercise. Anyone still creating excuses should go back to the couch with their bag of Cheetos.


Kern Singh, MD, Minimally Invasive Spine Institute, Chicago: You just have to carve out some time for yourself. For me that means heading to the gym at 4:30 a.m. before my family gets up. If I don't go to the gym in the morning, then it just isn't going to happen when I come home from work. Two young kids occupy my time after work and it's hard to leave them for an hour. So exercising comes at the expense of sleep!


Hooman Melamed, MD, DISC Sports & Spine Center, Marina Del Rey, Calif.: It's important to have a balanced life. One should always make time for exercise and proper eating, and not be consumed by one's work. Meditation, yoga and Pilates are extremely successful tactics for keeping a balanced, healthy lifestyle.   


Amir Vokshoor, Neurological Spine Surgeon, DISC Sports & Spine Center, Marina del Rey, Calif.: As surgeons, I think we all suffer when we get so busy that we do not take care of ourselves. As the saying goes, "doctors make the worst patients." From weekend warrior injuries to not following medical advice, or even failing to take a break during work hours, I think we are at great risk of burnout, which can be catastrophic to our own health and the well-being of our families.  

I have been injured before and continued to work, leading to more injury and longer recovery than necessary. Since then, I have begun a practice of mindfulness training/meditation, as well as regular cardiovascular exercise at least two or three times per week to maintain a healthy brain and body! I highly recommend both, and am happy to discuss any further inquiries.


Plas T. James, MD, Atlanta Spine Institute: Balancing your health and career is very important, and I think it is a top priority in life. You have to stay physically fit, especially in my line of work. You may not think it, but being a spine surgeon is a very physical profession with surgeries lasting from an hour to seven hours.


I actually have a home gym. I think by having a home gym, you're able to work out whenever you would like, morning or afternoon. Another benefit of having a home gym is the ability to watch sports, news or even listen to a book on tape from the comfort of your own home while improving your health and fitness levels.


I think it's important to work out at least three or four times a week. I also participate in a spin class on Saturdays. Stamina is so important in my profession. Exercise and good health keeps you young and alert, mentally and physically. However, health isn't just about exercise.


How and what you eat impacts your health dramatically. I grew up in New Orleans, which is a place for good food, but not necessarily good-for-you food. Traditionally, food in New Orleans is delicious and fun, but it isn't really known for being healthy. Since I've moved to Atlanta, my eating habits have changed, and I don't eat fried foods like I did in Louisiana, because everything is fried there.


Now, I eat more grains, and I eat a lot of nuts and protein, because it's necessary to change your diet to healthier alternatives if you're going to stay in good health. It's important to remember that just because you grew up eating a certain kind of food doesn't mean you can't let it go. Being willing to change your eating habits is a crucial part of changing your diet and health for the long haul.

More articles on spine:
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Dr. Kaixuan Liu discusses outpatient spine surgery advantages — 7 key points

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