I have been a practicing physician for over 30 years and for most of that time I did not put my health first. In fact, it was the last thing on my mind. While I did exercise, I was sleep-deprived and my diet was severely lacking.
As a practicing physician, I believe that poor health will negatively impact your day-to-day life, your productivity and your overall happiness. Not to mention, if you are unhealthy and constantly tired, your patients will notice. And this could also be affecting how you interact with them.
Being physically and mentally healthy is important as a physician because you need to be healthy to provide quality care for your patients. Sick patients expect their medical professionals to “be on” and to have their full attention. If you are tired or do not feel your best, you will not be focused on your patients, which could lead to problems. In order to properly diagnose or care for a patient, a physician must have their own health in check.
You should follow the advice you give to your patients – something I still struggle to do!
A couple of years ago, I realized it was time to make a change. For years, I had put my health on the back burner, I wasn’t following a healthy diet, I drank too much caffeine and I was not getting enough sleep. So I changed my outlook on my own health and put it first. I completely cut out caffeine, got a sleep study and changed my diet. And it has helped me immensely, in work and in everyday life.
How To Change Your Attitudes Towards Food
My relationship with food was the first hurdle on my health journey. It became obvious to me that my current plan, which was no plan, was not working. I was 6’4’’ and weighed 234 pounds. While I was not overly unhealthy, I was certainly not svelte. I physically did not feel good or fit.
I made a deliberate decision to remove as many carbohydrates from my diet as possible and replace those calories with protein and fat, a moderate keto diet. Following the diet was a short term goal so I could lose some weight and change my relationship with food. For me, it was not a long term eating plan, but it has helped me find a balance.
The main challenge I faced was that everything I ate was loaded with carbohydrates and I don’t particularly like vegetables. But I was able to do it and within three days my totals carb consumption dropped from more than 200 grams to 15 grams or less. The results were dramatic. I lost 30 pounds in three months and felt substantially better.
If the keto diet isn’t for you, that’s okay. There are plenty of healthy eating habits you can try. Your options are endless.
Everyone treats food differently and my methods may not work for you. However, what matters is that you make a conscious decision to change your attitude about food. If you struggle with sugar, then you may need to remove sugar from your diet for a few weeks so you can get through the sugar cravings and find balance.
If you are an emotional eater, then you may need to meet with a counselor to help you recognize and deal with the issues in your life that are affecting your food consumption.
The important thing is that you make the choice today to begin incorporating healthy eating habits into your life.
Tips to Change Your Diet
- Eat your vegetables
- Drink water
- Avoid processed foods
- Eat mindfully and in moderation
- Avoid drinks with added sugar
- Cook at home
- Meal prep
Why You Need To Review Your Sleep Patterns
For most people in residency, sleep deprivation is a common occurrence. A full night’s rest is important so you can make good decisions while you are working. If you are sleep deprived while you are driving, it is considered a DUI. Why should practicing medicine be any different?
The cliché “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” was my mantra for years. My residency in emergency medicine, with its rotating day and night shifts, did not help. Nor did the days of 36 to 40 consecutive hours of work and wakefulness during those three years.
This evolved into years of entrepreneurial, professional and school-induced sleep deprivation.
While living through it, I really had no idea that four to five hours of sleep per night had such a harmful and insidious effect. And I didn’t believe I was sleep deprived.
Not sleeping enough will shorten your lifespan. Luckily, I learned how to correct my sleep habits and am now sleeping up to 8 hours every night.
A good night’s sleep is something that has no substitute. It’s essential for your health, focus and wellness. In fact, if you work to get a more restful sleep, then you might notice that you’re more efficient than you ever were working into the late hours of the night. Sure, an all-nighter might be necessary here and there, but you should make a priority of sleeping enough each night and recognizing the quality of the sleep you’re getting.
Tips to Sleep Better
- Create a nighttime routine
- Ban technology at night
- Go to bed earlier
- Read a paper book
- Take a bath
- Wake up at the same time everyday
- Keep your bedroom cold
- Limit caffeine
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Use a white noise machine like this one
Why Physical Exercise Matters
Physical exercise has always been important to me. I grew up playing sports. I started boxing when I was five, followed soon after by baseball, basketball and tackle football. I pole vaulted for a year, ran the mile (once) and played basketball and threw discus all through high school. I threw discuss for a year in college and did karate and Krav Maga as I got older. I have competed in half marathons, a marathon,10Ks, Olympic distance triathlons and even a half Ironman.
Over the years I have found new ways to stay in shape and get some movement in every day. My current routine is running and lifting weights. I love daily exercise because it improves my entire day. I am more alert, calm and engaged after exercising. The endorphins released during and after exercise help improve my mood for hours.
While my days are busy, I make it a priority to get up early and exercise for 60 to 90 minutes at least five days a week.
Even if you aren’t constantly pushing yourself, moving your body is important.
Humans have evolved from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary one. In today’s society, people are conditioned to sit. This has been linked to a number of health issues, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes and depression. A 2017 study found that sitting for long periods is a risk factor for early death and can also lead to muscle degeneration, weight gain and back and neck pain.
Regardless of what you do, if it’s an intense workout class or a long walk, just make sure to move your body.
Tips to Start Exercising
- Go for long walks
- Take a beginners class
- Find something that looks fun – Zumba, Crossfit, HIIT, running
- Get a gym membership
- Take a yoga class
- Get a workout buddy
- Got for a hike with friends
- Make it a part of your daily routine
Mental Exercise Will Help Keep Your Brain Sharp
When it comes to brain health, experts agree that the old adage “use it or lose it” is applicable. Mental exercise, like physical exercise, is very important. This is especially true as you age.
Exercise for mental health will help with memory skills and keep you sharp and focused, which is especially important for a practicing physician. Depending on the types of exercises you do, they are also important for learning empathy, compassion and tolerance.
As a life-long learner, I am an avid believer in cognitive training and continuing your education (formal or informal). A couple of years after finishing medical school and my emergency room residency, I started looking for new business ventures. Only to realize that I knew nothing about business. So I went back to school and got my MBA, and then my Law Degree.
After going back to school, I realized how important it is to continually challenge yourself and your mind.
Other than school, to help keep my mind sharp, I am an avid reader and I meditate. In the past, I’ve taken guitar lessons, cooking classes and started a book club.
By constantly learning new information through formal and informal schooling, I developed new pathways and allowed my brain to develop and grow.
Tips to Keep Your Mind Sharp
- Learn to play an instrument
- Learn a foreign language
- Join a group
- Start a new hobby
- Take a cooking class
- Go back to school
Putting It All Together
Now you may be thinking, “We get in John. We are doctors, we know our health is important.”
But do you? Because I didn’t.
I knew what the patient needed to do to feel better, but I did not apply that to myself. I pushed through without focusing on how I truly felt. My lack of sleep and poor eating habits were negatively affecting my personal and professional life.
And not putting your own health first can lead to some pretty bad outcomes for both you and your patients.
Are you interested in exploring more ways to get back in control of your health and improve your overall quality of life? Check out my upcoming book, The Real Man Plan. It can help you embrace a healthy lifestyle, enjoy better energy and focus, and live longer.