Shared from the 9/26/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

TRANSFORAMTION

Exercise is medicine

Baylor doctor and dedicated runner practices what he preaches by staying active

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Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photographer

Dr. Theodore Shybut, 41, runs and bikes tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle as an orthopedic surgeon.

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Dr. Theodore Shybut

What if you had a medicine that could make your heart stronger, while improving your blood sugar and cholesterol, with no side effects except a better mood and smaller gut?

“You’d call it a wonder drug,” Dr. Theodore Shybut said. “Really, it’s just staying active.”

He serves as associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and a surgeon operating at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. He’s also head team physician for the SaberCats, a professional rugby union team.

Shybut sees the benefits of exercise in his own life as well as his patients’. Coupling his experience with his practice makes it easy to be a proponent of cardio and strength training.

“People who stay active really do hold up better,” he said. “Exercise is medicine.”

Shybut has also found a connection in his two passions.

“Surgery is a lot like sports,” he said.

Before he heads to the operating room, he envisions what he will do during the procedure, much as he would mentally walk through a marathon before acompetition.

“You spend hours drilling and training for it,” Shybut said. “You have to have a certain energy level; there’s an intensity preparing for it.”

And athletes and surgeons are always trying to improve themselves, he added.

“You do something as well as you possibly can, but there’s always an opportunity to do it better, more efficiently,” Shybut said. “That’s part of what keeps if fun and keeps you motivated.”

His interest in sports and in medicine developed concurrently — and naturally. Shybut’s father was also an orthopedic surgeon.

“I was convinced it wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Shybut said. “I didn’t want to do just what he did. It was a little too obvious.”

With time, however, it simply made sense.

Shybut played sports as a kid. In high school, he competed in soccer and track. When he headed to Harvard for his undergraduate degree, he took up crew.

“I went out, having no experience,” he said. “I thought it would be a fun thing to try.”

He got hooked and ended up rowing six days a week, competing and making friends on the team.

“I learned a lot about pushing my limits,” he said.

When Shybut wasn’t on the water, he trained — running and climbing stadium stairs.

“I was good enough to make the team, but I wasn’t the star quarterback,” he said. “I enjoyed this, but it was a major commitment.”

Instead of signing up for the varsity crew team, he decided to train for and compete in the Boston Marathon.

Then Shybut headed to medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“I tried to train, but it was all stops and starts,” he said.

He still competed in marathons — but without the proper preparation, which left him with his first sports injuries. He learned about the recovery process firsthand.

These experiences now help him better sympathize with patients, especially when an active individual has to stop working out for months to heal.

“I can relate to patients a lot,” he said. “Having been there helps.”

Shybut completed his orthopedic surgery residency at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases.

“I quickly realized things were going to change alot,” he said.

His schedule was too tight for training to run, and exercise took a back burner to shifts at the hospital.

“I was mostly trying to eat and sleep when I could,” he said. “When I got into rotations, I didn’t really have time to run. “

He learned to sneak in a run when he could. And by his third year, he was back into racing.

Shybut moved to Houston in 2009 for his fellowship in orthopedic sports medicine and surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, where he was recruited to join the faculty.

Since then, he has served as head team physician for Texas Southern University and provided care for multiple high school teams. He has assisted with sports medicine care for the Texans, Rockets, Dynamo, Astros, University of Houston, New York University, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, the PGA tour and USA Rugby.

He and his wife, Dr. Paulina Sergot, have three children.

“It was tough trying to work, take care of kids,” he said. “I’d get out and try to find time to run, but it was hard juggling things. When your kids are little, you just give it up a bit.”

Shybut ran shorter runs, whenever possible, on the trails in his neighborhood in the Heights. He adheres to the seven-minute workout philosophy, an intense — but quick — cross-training method.

“You just find it where you can,” he said.

Now, Shybut runs his kids to soccer practice and hikes with his family. When he goes away for a conference, he packs his sneakers. He also has a Peloton Bike, the indoor cycle that can stream live classes.

He’s learned that finding time to exercise pays off — and he recommends others to do the same.

“Just try to find little windows,” he said. “Even when you feel lousy or run down, try to exercise. You’ll feel better.”

Because Shybut has seen all sides of exercise — the benefits and the injuries — he cautions others to pace themselves and find what works for them.

“I’ve really pushed and took the intensity of training well beyond what I’d ever considered,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve pushed too hard, too fast and too far and ended up injured. I had to adjust my expectations.”

His friend Matthew Humbaugh, also a runner, has watched Shybut through it all. “I’ve known Theo for 20-something years,” he said. The two met in college. Even then, Humbaugh was surprised by his friend’s commitment to training.

Now, Humbaugh works in finance in New York. Every year, the two visit and catch up. “We go running together, and Theo will also dust me,” Humbaugh said with a laugh.

“He always understood that being disciplined was going to make him a better doctor,” Humbaugh said. “He’s definitely quite the athlete. I don’t know how he does it.”

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