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On Balance

A couple of months ago, a book was published called, Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. In it, author Nikil Saval takes a tour of a Google workplace. His guide shows him the juice bar and notes that it is a favorite spot for employees, not so much due to the fresh juices but for the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the sunlit California landscape. Even at Google, the workplace of open floor plans, casual dress codes, and welcomed creativity, it turns out that people want something more. We have a biological need to see natural habitat and engage our whole bodies.

Spending time in nature can lower our blood pressure, reduce our stress, and help us cope better by providing a sense of awe and gratitude that puts other problems in perspective. In our culture of vaguely dissatisfying "workspaces," bringing in a few (or many!) plants can be a strong vote for your own self care. When I worked at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon, I was infamous for decking my shared offices with as many potted plants as I could haul in (although I occasionally suspected that my fellow doctors were quietly annoyed with the crowding and especially the plant gnats...). These days I am fortunate enough to have large windows in my office and my exam rooms, from which, if you squint a bit, you can get a glimpse of the ocean. Believe me, I chose it that way.

This does raise the question though: how does one balance the benefits of outdoor exposure with ultraviolet radiation and the increased risk for skin cancer, particularly the dreaded melanoma? It seems as though during skin cancer checks, half my patients are always apologizing to me for sun damage on their skin, as though they are embarrassed to have done something wrong. And I'm always telling them that the aging process is inevitable, that you have to enjoy your life, and that some radiation damage is a trade off for living on our Planet Earth and particularly in this beautiful state. The point is that we want to avoid intentional exposure (tanning on purpose) and minimize the incidental exposure as much as we can.

How can you do that? Well, for example, I run outside but it's at sunrise and sunset. This summer I am (gulp) learning to surf, and my teacher-friend has not too ungracefully agreed that he will be getting up very early on weekend mornings. I've taken this supplement or this one every day for years, and Lululemon makes sun protective clothing that's sometimes a bit more flattering that what you can find at CostCo. A big hat (for which my friends and family tease me incessantly) is always a good idea, and some nice pasty zinc oxide sunscreen from one of the surf shops on the 101 gets the job done, too. I even have dreams of paragliding one day, and I'm told that many of the pilots wear this apparatus to protect their noses.

Yes, that last one is a joke...well, partially.


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