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Prioritizing Your Health Over Your Work

Oct 16, 2023

As physicians, many of us put our patients first. You take pride in serving others to the best of your ability yet you put your well-being in the back burner. Or you believe that your health is not important. It gets to the point that you have two standards of health – one  for your patients, which you use to give the best advice to optimize their health; and one for yourself, which you tell yourself that your own health is not that important.

As a result of thinking that your health is an optional thing, you eat whenever you “have time” to, you eat whatever is convenient for you to grab. During work hours, you try not to drink a lot of fluid to minimize bathroom breaks. You believe that exercise is a luxurious thing to do. As for sleep, you think that it is a waste of time because you could have used those extra few hours to do more work. You end up sleeping no more than 5-6 hours a night.

If some of those things describe where you are now, you are not alone. I am describing me. The old me. I was operating on the premise that I was young and invincible, and that I would function properly. Thinking that I did not have any so-called unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcohol or drugs was good enough.

I was exhausted. All the time. Sure, I worked long hours. I was irritable. I was probably not as sharp as I could be. I was just not my best self.

Mental health no doubt is a very important aspect of our overall being. Right now, I would like to keep my focus on the physical health in this blog. This aspect of health many of us take for granted – until you are acutely ill, or have a chronic disease, or cancer. Too many of my patients have worked hard most of their lives, planned to enjoy life after retirement, only to find out they have some kind of cancer.

One of my most important “discoveries” is that we are human beings, not machines. We need our health to function properly, and to achieve things we want to achieve. Without health, we cannot take great care of our patients. We cannot provide for our family. We cannot go on a day without suffering with pain or discomfort. We cannot give what we do not have.

“I have no time” seems to be such a legitimate excuse. You are busy. You are busy taking care of your patients, coordinating care in your family. You are too busy to have time to think about anything else. Everyone has the same 24 hours a day. It is a matter of how you prioritize your health. If you put it as your top priority, you will have time for it.

Make your well-being be your top priority every day. Without health, you cannot function properly. You cannot complete your tasks optimally. You cannot serve others the way you want to serve. You cannot set a good example for your patients.

The top three things to focus on for your physical well-being is nutrition, exercise and sleep.

Adopt a diet that is balanced and sustainable. Make sure you have adequate vitamins and minerals. Consume the amount of food that is adequate for your daily function. This is an over-simplified recommendation. There are many references available out there to describe what a balanced and nutritious diet is.

If you make time, you will have time for it. Exercise regularly. I believe that adopting a balanced diet and exercising is the answer to many health problems and disease prevention. Incorporate exercise as your daily routine. It is not necessary to train for a marathon, unless you want to; just set aside 20-30 minutes a day to exercise, to keep your heart rate up during that time. Exercise can also help decrease your stress level by releasing endorphins.

Many physicians do not pay attention to their sleep. Trading sleep to work an extra hour or two seems to be an efficient way to use your time. Yet, if you have inadequate sleep, your mood will be adversely affected. You tend to have more stress, anxiety and depression.  Lack of sleep also impairs your brain and decision making. You may actually take longer to complete a task. Chronic sleep deprivation may increase the risk of hypertension, stroke, obesity and heart disease. Aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. This is something I am working on myself. I do experience it first hand – when I sleep more than 7 hours over the weekend, I feel more refreshed and energized than when I only sleep 6 hours a night.

Having physical well-being, along with mental well-being are essential to good health, achieving your goals and your success. Prioritize your physical health by focusing on having a balanced diet, exercise regularly and having adequate and good quality sleep. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. You are priming yourself to do the best you can to function and to serve others.

Are you ready to stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Are you ready to have more time to do what you want?


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