When we think about doctors, we are convinced they are hard as rocks when it comes to their health – after all, they are doctors, aren’t they? Staying healthy and achieving an overall state of wellbeing are a challenge for all of us. Some may think that it is easier for doctors to accomplish such goals because they have the knowledge, experience, and means to check all the “stay healthy” boxes with no problems.
While doctors may have all the tools necessary to contribute to their state of health and wellbeing, most of them confront themselves with a more insidious health problem that affects them on a personal, professional, and societal level: burnout. While not so obvious as the flu, burnout seems to be an epidemic among physicians.
In fact, a Medscape Physician Lifestyle study in 2015 found that over 46% of all physicians showed symptoms of burnout, including exhaustion, depression, and anxiety, lack of energy, physical illnesses, depersonalization, and lack of efficiency in providing medical care for the patients. Specialists consider burnout as a psychological problem, but the physical consequences represent a direct consequence: insomnia, lack of appetite, drug abuse, and so on.
One may argue that all professionals are at risk of burnout no matter the field they work in. However, such matters should be easier for doctors because they make a lot of money and therefore they can afford therapy and counseling, vacations, and excellent medical care. If you consider what the average US gynecologist earns, for instance, you may tend to ignore the fact that burnout in gynecologists is extremely high (40% to 75%) and that the entire United States of America is at risk of a tremendous Ob/Gyn shortage by 2020 because of burnout.
What Do Doctors Do to Stay Healthy both Physically and Psychologically?
At a superficial glance, when we think about doctors staying healthy, we think about the general prescriptions we should all follow: excellent hygiene, proper diet, exercise, proper sleep, preventative health measures. However, doctors need more than general lifestyle rules so they can perform their job and offer us the healthcare we need.
1. Physical Exercise as a Lifestyle
All doctors know physical exercise is important for their (and their patients’) health. What they know more is that the World Health Organization emphasizes on the importance of physical exercise as a preventative method for depression. The lesson we should all learn from here is that there is a powerful body-mind connection. Squeezing in a few minutes of workout and fitness in our busy schedules does not only keep our entire body in shape, but our brain as well.
This is why healthy doctors strive to engage in at least 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic training each day. According to the WHO, a proper fitness routine should include a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic a week. If a doctor cannot follow such schedule, the alternative includes at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic training a week.
2. Mindful Meditation
Stress lowers the immune system – this is something modern medicine cannot deny. Doctors, as we saw above, are among the most stressed professionals and the most vulnerable to illnesses and psychological issues. According to Martin Seligman PhD., a pioneer in psychology, mindful meditation is one method to alleviate stress and improve the overall state of wellbeing.
Studies have shown that a daily mindful meditation session – as short as 10 minutes a day – can significantly lower stress, mood lifts, lower depression symptoms, lower fatigue, and boost confidence, positivity, and energy levels.
According to Ronald M. Epstein, M.D. – a professor of medicine at the University of Rochester in New York – mindful meditation does not necessarily mean stopping your thoughts, but paying attention to them. Moreover, taking a time-out of a few minutes to focus on one’s breath, feelings, thoughts, and inner turmoil significantly reduces stress and increases efficiency.
3. Proper Nutrition
As we said, proper nutrition is a general rule we should all follow, no matter if we are doctors or patients. A Harvard paper from 2017 tells us that, in fact, doctors need to know more about proper nutrition not only for themselves, but for their patients as well. Since it seems a good doctor’s career begins in the kitchen, we cannot dismiss the fact that a good diet is the foundation of a healthy body and a sharp mind.
According to Rachel Goldman, Ph.D. – Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry NYU School of Medicine – doctors should focus on introducing more eggs, fish, fruit, green leaves and vegetables, seafood, nuts, and seeds into their diet.
4. Brain Boosters
Successful doctors seem to be good at many other things besides their profession. Having a hobby or getting good at a game keeps one’s brain sharp and alleviates stress. When we do something that makes us happy – like a fierce game of chess or Scrabble or cycling, drawing etc. – our brains get a boost of endorphins.
In turn, endorphins reduce pain and stress, improve sleep, stabilize blood pressure, and enhance the functioning of the immune system.
Brain boosters, besides keeping doctors entertained, can also prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.
No matter how much they earn or how good they are at their job, doctors are not safe from illnesses, stress-induced problems, burnout, and psychological issues. Therapy and counseling do help, together with support networks and vacations, but on an everyday basis, they do employ some methods to stay healthy and achieve wellbeing. We should all learn from their examples and make some welcomed changes in our lives, as well.