10 healthy ways doctors can mix wellness into their routine

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published January 16, 2020

Key Takeaways

Making small changes to your daily routine can have a big impact on how your day goes and—in the long run—how healthy you are. And because you’re so busy day-to-day--running from patient to patient, writing prescriptions, filling out electronic files, and doing the 101 doctors do every day--you need to make these changes into habits, so you don’t have to think too much about them. No change is too small to include if it can lead to a healthier you. With that in mind, here are 10 tips on good habits to include in your daily routine for a healthier you.

1.   Start with your morning routine.


Here are some tips to get a fresh start to your morning and set the tone for a great day:

  •  Leave your smartphone in another room before going to bed. Smartphones are distracting and emit blue light, neither of which have any place in your bedroom. Instead, use a light-emitting alarm clock to wake up in the morning. These types of alarm clocks use light to stimulate a sunrise to wake you up gradually.

  • Force yourself to wake up a few minutes before you absolutely must. Doing so will help prepare your mind for the day. Take these extra minutes (and it doesn’t have to be more than 5) to reflect, meditate, or pray—which have all been shown to support mental health.

  • Eat a nutritious breakfast to keep your mind and body properly fueled for the day.

  • Keep your cool in the face of traffic during your morning commute. Use the time to your advantage by listening to a medical podcast or perhaps a new audiobook. Doing so will take your mind off the traffic you’re stuck in.

2. Have a healthy, colorful meal—and don’t forget the coffee.

colorful meal
  • Doctor, it’s time to practice what you preach and focus on healthy eating. It is still January, after all. Take a hint from the residents of the world’s Blue Zones. People who live in these areas live longer than anyone else on earth. So, what’s their secret to longevity? Although there are several factors, a key component seems to be a healthy, balanced diet of plants, fish, and other proteins.

  • Go beyond the standard apples or oranges, and instead try an exotic, colorful fruit. Consider some healthy, new alternatives like jackfruit, durian, pitaya, lychee, mangosteen, Goji berries, or persimmons. They all have notable health benefits and may offer some wild new tastes that tickle your palate.

  • Don’t forget the coffee! Those who drink 2 to 4 cups of coffee a day can significantly reduce their risks of all-cause and cause-specific mortalities compared with those who don’t drink coffee.

3.   Avoid unhealthy food options and sugars throughout the day.

unhealthy food

We get it, medical schools don’t delve too deep into nutrition. So here’s a simple cheat sheet of foods you might want to limit or even abolish from your diet: white bread, cheese in a can, regular soft drinks, bacon, packaged muffins, veggie sticks, potato chips, sweetened cereal, and microwave and movie-theater popcorn. Many of these foods are chock-full of artificial ingredients and preservatives, and are largely devoid of the micronutrients our bodies actually need.

4.   Put down your phone.


All of the devices and electronic screens we are confronted with each day, all day, only serve to fragment our attention. To remedy this, some experts suggest a 30-day digital detox. The basic process involves eliminating all social media use and any mindless use of technology—binge-watchers take heed! Cut out these distractions can free up time for you to reconnect with friends, family, or nature—or do something else to further develop your medical career. Of course, for doctors, it’s just not possible to put down your phone altogether. But try to  limit its use to looking up medical information or communicating with your colleagues. The key here is to stop “mindless” use of your phone.  

5.   Socialize


Believe it or not, loneliness is the newest epidemic in America. It affects up to 47% of US adults and increases the risk for early mortality by 26%—a similar risk rate to obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day. But, loneliness can be prevented—and at little cost. Make time to socialize and spend time with others, especially those who are important to you. This can mean spending a little extra time with your patients, having lunch with your colleagues, or making smalltalk in the doctor’s lounge. Even a phone call to someone close to you can go a long way in mitigating the health effects of loneliness.

6.   Take a nap.


Napping isn’t just for kids and shouldn’t be equated with laziness or being unproductive. While you’re napping, your body is actually quite busy resetting. Science has only recently begun to take notice of the many health benefits that napping can offer, some of which include improved cognitive function, reaction time, vigilance, logical reasoning, and associative memory. So the next time you’re walking by that on-call room, pop in for a short snooze.

7.   Exercise your body.


You probably already know about the myriad of health benefits exercising can have on your physical well-being, but did you know that patients are more likely to listen to healthy doctors? Consider that exercise is not only good for your health but also good for your practice. Researchers have found that exercise can boost your productivity and improve your work and overall job performance.

8.   Take it outdoors.


Remember when Mom and Dad yelled, “Go outside and play!”? Turns out they were right. Researchers have confirmed what we all probably already knew intuitively—green spaces are good for your health. In one study, for instance, people who spent at least 2 hours/week outside, surrounded by green space, were more likely to report good physical and mental health. Taking your workout outdoors vs doing it in the gym is better for you, too! Researchers recently showed that exercising outdoors was more calming simply because we perceive the outdoors to be more calming.

9.   Exercise your mind.


Exercising your mind is just as important as exercising your body. What better way to get your brain in gear before your workday than listening to an intellectually stimulating podcast? Plus, listening to a podcast can help prepare your mind for a busy day of you practicing medicine. And, with some of the great choices you have, you can even catch up on some of the journals that are (probably) stacked up on your desk that you don’t have time to read. There are plenty of fantastic medical podcasts to choose from, including NEJM's This Week, NEJM's Perspective, and This Won’t Hurt a Bit

Reading a book is also a great way to relax and exercise your mind, and can even help boost your medical career! If you’re looking for reading options, consider something that could give you an added perspective into medicine. Two great selections include Meditations—the private journal of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius—and The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin.

10.   Set a strict bedtime.


Sleep is one of the cornerstones of good health. A vast number of researchers have already proven the importance of sleep for good physical and mental health—and more evidence supporting this association is emerging. In one survey of cardiovascular providers,  nearly one-half of respondents reported that sleep deprivation affected work performance. In addition, about 8.5% reported a complication and/or negative patient outcome related to lack of sleep. Sleep disorders such as insomnia can contribute to sleep deprivation as well, as can eating certain foods before bedtime. Give sleep priority status in your life. Take care of any sleep disorders you may have, and don’t snack before bedtime!

Remember that tweaking your day to include some (or all) of these small-but-significant healthy habits can help you to reap their physical and mental benefits in the long-run. Here’s to a healthy—and happier—you!

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