We all trust our doctors to dish out good advice and we try to follow it: but, battling stressful jobs and long hours themselves, how do the health professionals stay fit and healthy?
We asked 18 of them to tell us what they personally do to improve their body, mind or sense of wellbeing.
This is what they said...
Take up a hobby
There is mounting evidence that learning something new as an adult can be extremely beneficial for your brain and well-being. Plus, you get to meet new people and have a cool new skill to wow everyone with.
“The thing that most helps my wellbeing is my monthly craft group with some close female friends. Good conversation and being absorbed in a new skill are very therapeutic, even though my sewing skills are still not up to much (there’s a reason I became a neurologist rather than a surgeon...)” - Biba, Consultant Neurologist
“I find learning new things, often entirely unrelated to my work, helps with relaxation and taking my mind off everyday life for an hour or two. I’ve already done a flower arranging course, and one in lino and screen printing, and am about to start a mindfulness course that I’m hoping will give me some much-needed relaxation techniques.” - Gayle, Consultant Rheumatologist
“I regularly take myself off fishing – I like to go on my own as it’s such a calm, quiet environment to be in. It helps me take my mind off life’s general stresses, and if I’m lucky there’s healthy fish to eat at the end of it too.” - Stuart, Dentist
Keen to start your own vegetable patch but live in an urban jungle? Where there’s a will there’s a way.
“Watching endless reruns of River Cottage with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall helps inspires me to cook new and healthy dishes, while also imagining a future life where I live in the countryside growing my own produce and picking blackberries.” - Linda, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist in Hands
As an all-body cardiovascular activity, running has obvious health benefits. It may be getting colder, but exercising outdoors is still-do-able (see here for further advice).
“This year, having seen countless friends doing it before, I ran the Great North Run (GNR). Exercise had never featured in a big way in my life before and I hated running (or so I thought). But I’ve found I’ve kept the exercise up since the GNR because I’ve come to realise I feel energised from running and am quite proud of my current fitness levels. I don’t want to be in a position where I have to start from scratch again, struggling to getting fit.” - Riem, Orthopaedic Surgeon
“I don't run huge distances but I do follow the same route each time: I find it lets me switch off my brain and clear my head. I find it particularly good after night shifts, which I do a lot of, as I feel like it helps my body clock return to normal.” - Paul, Charge Nurse, Cardiology
“I need to get the endorphins from exercise to help me feel like myself and remain level-headed, so I tend to work out or surf around five times a week. Although a gym is fine, I personally find exercising outdoors makes me feel better, more invigorated and, ultimately, more relaxed.” - Jonathan, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine
Plus, don’t forget we live on an island and it’s not that big: once in a while, try to get your fill of coastal air and feel the improved wellbeing wash over you.
“Beach walks really help me to feel grounded and maintain my sanity. I try to be near the sea at least once a week, or even more if I can manage it.” - Charlotte, Speciality Doctor in Orthogeriatrics
Listen to music
Just getting your heart rate up and moving around to your favourite hits can be surprisingly effective in terms of exercise, while there is evidence that singing – particularly in a group – is excellent for improving mental health. So much so that Canterbury Christ Church University have published a guide to setting up your own group.
“With work and two small children I find it hard to fit formal exercise into my days. So I have started having “dance parties” with the kids – just us, not an actual party. We crank up the music and dance away. It’s a great mood-booster and a surprisingly good form of exercise too.” - Wendy, Physiotherapist
“When I’ve had a stressful day, I sing REALLY loudly to cheesy radio in the car on the way home.” - Ruth, GP
Watch TV crime dramas
It turns out TV crime dramas are good for the brain - so pop on your pjs and settle down to a nice relaxing Scandi boxset.
“Although some may say it’s a bit like work, I find reading and watching crime drama helps me relax and actually takes my mind of the stresses of my job.” - Kimberlie, Forensic Psychiatrist
Be sun aware
LISTEN to the cancer doctor, people.
“You’ll probably have heard it before but it’s worth heeding – I would never go on a sun bed and I avoid sun exposure without SPF20 or more at all costs.” - Rachel, Oncologist
You only need to listen to the Neighbours theme tune to know friends are worth having. And there are even health benefits to having a small number of really good mates, rather than dozens of passing acquaintances.
Plus, they may sometimes drive you mad but your family may be better for your health than you realise.
“On a Friday evening, I watch a film with my kids and husband. It really helps me wind down and I feel rested and ready to start the weekend without my “work head” on. I look forward to it all week.” - Jessica, Clinical Psychologist
“I have to have an excellent avenue for escapism, such as an un-put-down-able page-turner, or to surround myself with a healthy balance of totally-not-interested-in-anything-medical friends, and mates who do the same job and understand its responsibilities and complexities.” - Linda, Consultant Anaethetist
There is more about mindfulness and how it may help you available on the NHS website.
“It’s sometimes hard to practise what you preach, but one thing I do that I also tell patients is to try not to let worries about the future stop me noticing and enjoying everyday moments. It can be difficult – but you won’t get those moments back and the things you worry about might never materialise. I also try to face what’s worrying me. Evidence suggests that people who cope through avoidance experience prolonged distress as the problem never gets solved.” - Tim, Clinical Psychologist
“There is increasing evidence in psychiatry literature about the benefits of building some mindfulness activities into your day, particularly if you are anxious or tend to feel overwhelmed. It’s something I’ve been trying to do but as I am not very good at just sitting still, I work these activities into other times, such as when I’m riding my bike home from the hospital. We have recently been developing online mindfulness training for people in workplaces, which is likely to be helpful to others too.” - Sam, General Hospital Psychiatrist
Have a better commute
Reduce commuter-hell stress - while also working your leg muscles and hopefully raising your heart rate a touch – the easy way.
“I use the advice I would give to my voice clients, which is to view any commute as an opportunity to relax my facial muscles and breathe. It makes you look a bit gormless but people often look a bit tuned-out in their cars early in the morning anyway, so that’s when I focus on doing it. Letting your lower jaw drop down and relax (the gormless look) has a beneficial effect on tension that you can hold in your jaw, tongue, cheeks and even down into the throat.” - Helen, speech and language therapist
“I didn’t buy a pedometer but, about a year ago, I realised my phone had one built-in. When I checked, I was already doing a fair number of steps a day but now I’m aware of it I have started challenging myself and making sure I average 15,000 daily. Walking – particularly in a big city like the one I live in – is far less hassle and stress than sitting in traffic or being squashed into an over-full bus.” - Richard, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist