Surgery is a skilled occupation that requires a number of abilities and attributes. Good surgical performance depends on the ability of the surgeon, their training and experience, and, in addition, their level of physical fitness. While there’s no doubt that maintaining a physical fitness programme takes time and dedication, surgeons who optimise their fitness levels will gain physical advantages that enable them to perform at their very best.

Why is physical fitness important for a surgeon?

Microsurgery may not be physically demanding in the same way as manual labour. However, while eye surgeons do not need to expend a lot of energy moving about or lifting heavy weights, the physical requirements of the job are not trivial. Surgical performance can be affected by the following physical attributes:

  • Accuracy: Eye surgery is bimanual surgery, meaning that the surgeon needs to use both hands to pinpoint the exact position to make incisions. So, ‘good hands’ are extremely important
  • Quick reactions: A surgeon needs to be continually alert and poised to react to anything that occurs during surgery
  • Stamina: An eye surgeon will typically be in theatre for a full day, working on operations that can last for 90 minutes or more. So, good physical stamina is required to ensure that their performance remains at its height throughout the day
  • Posture: Performing microsurgery for an extended length of time can lead to back pain and other issues if the surgeon’s posture is not optimal

Mental sharpness and its effect on surgical performanceMan with surfboard - improving surgical performance

Keeping physically fit not only improves muscle and strength; it also helps to cultivate a mind that is sharp, alert and quick to react – vital when performing surgery. In order to perform at our very best, it’s important to be prepared both physically and mentally. This can be achieved through both physical and mental preparation:

  • Hormone control: when we exercise, we are more able to maintain our hormones at the optimum levels. This helps our brains to function better
  • Psychological preparation: surgeons can use visualisation techniques similar to those employed by top athletes, in order to prepare mentally for the procedures they are about to undertake. This is especially effective, and important, before particularly complex procedures
  • Learning from past performance: again taking inspiration from athletes, a lot can be learnt from reviewing surgical performance by watching it back on video. It enables the surgeon to understand more about their technique and resolve to improve on any weak areas

Into the future: workouts for surgeons

Surgery is a demanding activity, and just like sport, it requires a high level of mental and physical fitness. Indeed, it has much in common with activities like Formula 1 racing and golf, both of which demand a high level of precision, stamina and agility from their practitioners. In recent years, it has become the norm for drivers and players to undergo onerous physical training in order to hone their performance. In future, the same may well apply to surgical practitioners – helping to improve surgical performance outcomes for patients.