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Dr Aki Hintsa Interview

The McKay Interview // Politics // Nov. 14, 2015

McLaren team doctor and F1 human performance coach, Geneva-based Dr Aki Hintsa works with the champions of the track. Michael McKay asked him what drives the need to succeed...

Dr Aki Hintsa Interview

My guest is Dr Aki Hintsa, and together we are going to examine a very particular aspect of our modern society – ultra-high performance and the impact and consequences this has on the human condition. Dr Hintsa, who is based at Clinique La Colline in Geneva, has worked with more than 100 Olympic and world championship athletes and nine Formula 1 World Champions, as well as contributing to the success of many top level business executives...


McKay

Dr Hintsa, your clients include such high-profile names as Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, and – from your home country of Finland – Kimi Räikkönen and Mika Häkkinen. But it’s not only about high-performance people from the race-track, you also counsel high achieving business people from all over the world. What enables these individuals to succeed and to maintain such a high level of performance? In your experience - what drives these people?


Hintsa

That’s a very good question; and it’s a tough question for my clients too. I always ask them why do you want this? Why do you want something so extraordinary? Why do you want to be the best in the world?

In my experience what these really top people have in common is an internal fire. A fire to push forward - to achieve more. And that is something that can never come from external factors. That fire has to come from inside.


McKay

And are these high-performance people happy and contented? And as a medical practitioner how would you define happiness?


Hintsa

I think that happiness is a balance of the body and mind; very much in a holistic way. Happiness is also about balance in different areas of life, not only in training and physical fitness but in wellbeing and social wellbeing. This refers to the wellbeing not only inside that person but also in their closest environment, such as the family.


McKay

There’s been a lot of talk and research recently on the Happiness Index? Happy countries by some measures include Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and even Finland. Should we take this seriously and how important is happiness to our health?


Hintsa

How we see this in our methodology - or our philosophy if you prefer - is that firstly wellbeing brings the balance of body and mind, and together these are the foundations for high performance. And when we talk about our concept we also pay a lot of attention to individual energy management, because this is also a cornerstone. If we have energy then we feel well and we have quality of life. Health, happiness, energy management and high performance are all interconnected, all highly integrated.


McKay

But how would you answer the sceptics who would say that some top sports people are not on the edge of a pathological burn-out – they’re just superannuated prima donnas?


Hintsa

Yes, I know what you mean. I have met some of those ... But I have to say that it’s not easy to be a superstar – you start to lose your own ID. Then this is replaced by the ID of a role model and it very easily slips too far ... But what is very interesting is that with people who are really successful - and consistently successful - rarely do we find this pattern of behaviour. It’s a question of motivation and commitment, and for a prima donna this motivation is not on a solid foundation.


McKay

Could you describe to us your journey from when you first qualified as a medical doctor to where you are now?


Hintsa

It’s a long story but I graduated from medical school in Finland. Before that my dream was to be a professional hockey player! After medical school I targeted my career towards orthopaedic and trauma surgery and did my specialist training in Helsinki. Then for three years I worked as a missionary doctor in Uganda and Ethiopia. This was the university for me and a turning point in my life.

It was in Africa that I developed this high performance philosophy and had the chance to work with fantastic athletes – Ethiopian runners like Haile Gabreselassie. He is one of the most gifted athletes I have ever worked with and a fantastic human being.

After that I was a Chief Medical officer for Finnish Olympic teams for four years before going on to run a private hospital in Finland. Then from 2005 onwards, I was head of Mercedes and McLaren human high performance and since 2008 I have been based in Switzerland.


McKay

Let’s talk about the other more difficult end of the spectrum – what are the symptoms of burnout and are they fairly standard? Can clients heal themselves or is it more a question of a tailor-made process, individual by individual?


Hintsa

Symptoms of burnout are certainly not standard. They vary a lot but we can always see one constant and that’s the total loss of energy, that the batteries are empty. How the body reacts to this can be physical or mental. The cure is to charge the batteries - but again this is very individual. What is important is to help people to balance their lives and have a new beginning.


McKay

Leading on from that, how blurred are the lines between the physical and the psychosomatic? For example, when the physiological impinges on or overtakes the physical?


Hintsa

It is interesting because there are medical theories that burnout symptoms are completely in the mind, that it’s psychological. But I disagree completely. The physical and mental symptoms of burnout are both very real and must be taken seriously. I have also seen that they are almost always mixed – not only physical or only mental.


McKay

Referring to the world of track and field - in world class sprinting there’s talk of fast- twitch muscles. Is the reaction time of a Formula 1 racing driver a similar reflex? And is it innate or a skill that can be learnt?


Hintsa

We have done a lot of research in that regard and it is definitely a combination – you can improve your reactions but you also have to have the right DNA.


THE MCKAY INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MCKAY

Michael McKay, based in Founex, Switzerland, is an international communications, public affairs and management strategies consultant with over 40 years experience. He is also an experienced master of ceremonies, event moderator and broadcaster. For more information, visit his website. Listen to past episodes of The McKay Interview online


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