Importance of Exercise For Medical Professionals by Dr. Riyaz

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Importance of Exercise For Medical Professionals by Dr. Riyaz

January 03
18:06 2023

Being a medical professional is a high-stress job. Even if you’re in a field that doesn’t have long, unexpected working hours, the delicate job of working in a profession where you regularly handle people’s health and lives takes a physical and mental toll. Physician burnout is at an all-time high. Research from the American Medical Association, Mayo Clinic, and Stanford Medicine has shown that the prevalence of burnout among US physicians was a staggering 62.8% in 2021 compared with 38.2% in 2020. 

It’s evident that the healthcare system needs restructuring to alleviate the stress on medical practitioners. However, some things are still under your control, including one of the most common pieces of advice you must have doled out throughout your career: exercise. Exercise doesn’t just improve patients’ health; it also improves the practice of medical professionals. Physically fit physicians are more capable of better decision-making, providing optimized healthcare, alleviating the burden on health systems, as well as reducing personal risks of physical and mental illness. 

Studies have also found that patients are more likely to adopt healthy lifestyles if their physicians practice healthy habits. At the end of the day, healthy doctors make for healthy patients. 

Exercise improves mental well-being

Exercise has long been associated with benefits in physical health, but it has an equally important role in improving mental health. 

Exercise releases the neurochemicals endorphins and endocannabinoids in the body, which boost mood and combat stress. Science has demonstrated that a phenomenon known as the “runners’ high” (a sense of euphoria and reduced sensitivity to pain) is experienced after a sustained period of physical activity due to biochemical changes in the body. This is caused by increased blood plasma levels of β-endorphin (an opioid) and anandamide (an endocannabinoid). 

Running, in particular, is associated with improvements in a range of mental health outcomes. Several studies have shown that increased frequency and intensity of running leads to improvements in depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, eating disorders, and self-esteem. 

Virginia based board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Farhaad Riyaz says,“Healthcare practitioners can greatly benefit by incorporating running into their lifestyles.” 

He is a huge proponent of running and last year he participated in the annual Chicago Marathon to set a personal record and raise awareness about the importance of physical activity for medical professionals. 

Not just running, but any form of exercise is important to lessen anxiety from the many stressors in the medical profession while also leaving one with a heightened sense of mental well-being, adds Dr. Riyaz. 

There is evidence to show that people who exercise are likely to have 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health in a month than those who do not exercise. All types of exercise are associated with a lower mental health burden than not exercising. 

Physical activity boosts productivity

Maintaining a regular exercise routine leads to more stable mood regulation, better concentration, and higher energy levels. The overall positive effects on cognition are good predictors of increased productivity. 

Physicians who are able to focus better are less likely to make mistakes that might compromise the health of their patients and result in expensive, time-consuming lawsuits. Physically active doctors are also motivated to work, reducing their risks of burnout and quitting. 

Regular physical activity over several months boosts executive functions and many forms of memory by improving attentional control, information processing speed, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, working memory updating and capacity, declarative memory, and spatial memory. This includes all types of exercise, ranging from brisk walking to yoga and intense aerobics. 

Regular exercise reduces the burden of disease

Around 3.2 million deaths each year are directly linked to inadequate levels of physical activity. The majority of deaths are attributable to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (e.g. heart attacks and stroke), cancer, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma), and diabetes. Physical activity strengthens cardiac muscles, regulates weight, and prevents artery damage from high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure levels. 

Exercising also boosts the immune system, making one more resilient to diseases. It does so by regulating the circulation of white blood cells, red blood cells, and cytokines—all of which are crucial to reducing inflammation. Physical activity is also thought to increase the clearance of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi) from the body which can prevent infection or speed up the recovery process. 

What types of exercise should you be doing regularly?

According to international guidelines, 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week is recommended for adults to gain the maximum health benefits from exercise. 

Cardio or aerobic activity

  • Brisk walking
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Yardwork
  • Yoga 

Muscle strengthening exercise

  • Lifting weights
  • Crunches
  • Elastic bands 
  • Squats
  • Wall push-ups
  • Arm curls

Flexibility exercises

  • The back stretch exercise
  • The inner thigh stretch
  • The ankle stretch
  • The back of leg stretch

Balancing exercises

  • The heel-to-toe walk
  • The balance walk

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