maximizing potential

Monday, January 29, 2018

It was an event filled weekend in sports, with the NFL Pro Bowl, the NHL All Star Game, the Australian Open, and more. Roger Federer defies the calendar and continues to win an age when many of his contemporaries have been retired for years. Tom Brady didn’t play in the Pro Bowl only because at age 40, he is leading his Patriots to another Super Bowl appearance and James Neal at 38, is an All Star again with the Vegas Golden Knights. The ability to perform at the highest level as one ages is a combination of persistent effort, some opportunity and a dollop of good genetics. In elite competition, with age comes wisdom and the knowledge that there is a 20-year-old who possesses almost the same skills and wants your job.

We all are athletes in our own ways. Once upon a time, when manufacturing was king, workers’ bodies were considered tools, things to be used until they wore out. While safety in the workplace continues to be addressed, the concept of spending time and effort on improving the workers’ bodies is less widely stressed. We forget that building a widget in the factory, cleaning a home, or shoveling a driveway, requires power and movement. The ability to maintain the body’s machine-like work depends upon preventive maintenance that too often is neglected.

Most athletes spend the majority of their time in preparation and not competition. An NFL player will spend hours every day in the training room, studying film and pursuing a healthy diet, just for the opportunity to participate in a total of only 50 or 60 plays on a Sunday afternoon. An NHL player plays more games in a season but may be on the ice for only 15 minutes per game. In the real world, there must be a concerted effort to look after the only body given to you. If it wears out or breaks down, replacement parts are hard to come by.

Unfortunately, the rules for looking after your body are complicated and experts keep changing their minds. Whether it is blood pressure recommendations, foods that are good and bad, or alcohol use, it seems that a new study is making the headlines every week, touting the positive or negative effects of some intervention. Add that to the information overload of direct to consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies and those who promote dietary supplements to cure almost everything and the ability to decide what really matters can be tough.

The best coaches seem to maximize athlete performance. The best primary care providers need to have the people skills to motivate their patients to continue lifelong positive behaviors. Those providers need to be well read and up-to-date to help their patients navigate the confusing and ever changing medical information overload. The toolbox for disease prevention and management has gotten bigger, but it’s useless if the patient (and family) choose not to seek routine care. People spend more time researching a plumber, or a restaurant review than their care provider.

Brady, Neal and Federer compete and perform because of the effort invested to maximize their potential. That effort includes finding the coaches, trainers, physical therapist and nutritionists that meet their needs both from a physical standpoint but also from an emotional one. It’s easier to follow the message if you trust and believe in the messenger.

The decision to find a good provider should happen early in life. Becoming independent involves getting a job, renting an apartment and developing a social life. Finding a good primary care provider rarely is on that checklist, but it should be. It’s easier to keep a body healthy rather than fix one that is beat up, especially for chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes.

As opposed to that first new car, you’re only given one body and it needs to last a lifetime. For the elite athlete, when good genes meet good training, magic happens. For the rest of us, when healthy lifestyle meets prevention and disease maintenance, a good life happens.




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