Doctors may have the inside track on knowledge about what makes a healthy life — but they’re also challenged daily by long hours, frequent emergencies, regular stress, and a stream of life-or-death decisions.
Interestingly, when asked about their No. 1 health habit, almost all the doctors we spoke with agreed good nutrition is important — yet considered it a given. For that reason only, it didn’t make their list (or ours) of great habits.
But here's what did.
Exercise Wins, Hands Down
The most cited health tip among doctors interviewed for this article was regular exercise — for creating stamina, feeling positive, reducing health risks and stress, and even connecting with patients.
"I work out Monday to Friday at 5:30 a.m.," Dr. Vik Tarugu, a gastroenterologist in Okeechobee, Florida, told LifeZette. "This helps me have plenty of energy for the day. It gets my endorphins pumping and provides mental focus. My morning workout routine keeps me sane. If I did not have that, I would most likely stop eating healthier and everything would slowly decline."
"A healthy mind allows me to think clearly, work efficiently, and participate mindfully in the lives of my family and friends," said one physician.
On the other hand, Dr. Samuel Hetz, medical director of Concept Medical, in Ottawa, Ontario, gets his exercise at the end of the day, to burn off stress. "From my medical training, I also know that regular exercise decreases my risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancers. I personally try to get in at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week," he said.
Dr. Michele Reed, of MS Family Medicine Health Care, on Long Island, New York, actually exercises with her patients and staff. Her practice offers free exercise classes in Zumba, belly dancing, and PX90. In the past few years, over 200 of her patients and staff have participated in the JFK Runway on the Runway, a 5K run/walk at JFK Airport in New York City.
Good Sleep Is Significant
The impact of a lack of sleep is noticeable for Dr. Jack Dybis, a general/trauma surgeon in Chicago, Illinois. It affects his immune system, especially when he's on trauma calls or is operating for long stretches of time.
"Lack of sleep also negatively impacts your mood, memory, and ability to think quickly," he noted. "Chronic poor sleep habits can lead to weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, among others."
Though many people deride this concept, family medicine specialist Dr. Faisal Tawwab of Lake Mary, Florida, mentioned the importance of taking a "mindful break" in the middle of every busy day.
"It might sound trite, but having my lunch in peace is something I would not give up for the world," Tawwab told LifeZette. "I need at least 25 to 30 minutes a day to be free of tasks and to sit down and enjoy a balanced, nutritious meal. There's a lot of mindfulness and reflection I gain from a short lunch break that keeps me focused and calm throughout the day. It gives my body and mind a chance to reset. It is good for my blood pressure, pulse rate and wards off anxiety as well."
Mental Clarity Counts
Dr. Bruce Ruben, medical director of Encompass HealthCare and Wound Medicine in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan, exercises every day when possible but also believes in taking care of his mental health.
"I keep track of my personal issues and work on them to improve my relationships with my wife, kids, employees, friends, and self," he told LifeZette. "A healthy mind allows me to think clearly, work efficiently, and participate mindfully in the lives of my family and friends."
For Dr. April Patterson, a cosmetic dentist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, yoga keeps her mind calm and centered. "I would not be able to give up yoga for any amount of money," Patterson told LifeZette. "I wouldn't do that to myself and I certainly wouldn't do that to my patients."
A Spiritual Focus Is Key
Dr. Dina Strachan, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice in New York City, pays attention to the spiritual side of life.
"The health habit I find most important is spending some quiet time alone with myself," she said. "It's my spiritual care. How we feel impacts our health. Yes, I eat kale. But I also think it's important not to get into a panic over whether the kale is organic."
Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.