Physical health and mental wellbeing are inextricably related. Physical injuries can lead to mental health issues, and vice versa. Physical activity can bring health benefits including elevated mood and reduced stress; and healthy eating also can improve mental health. Good physical health leaves a personal feeling better in the long term. As the American Heart Association puts it, “Physical activity boosts mental wellness. Regular physical activity can relieve tension, anxiety, depression and anger.”
Veterinarians face challenges in this arena because of the physical challenges of our work. If anything, this may make it even more important that we pay attention to our physical health. In the workplace, we need to be mindful of ergonomics and take proper precautions to guard against occupational hazards. In our personal lives, too, we owe it to ourselves to pay attention to our physical fitness.
If you haven't already discussed your self-care planning with your doctor, you might want to do so. Your physician can be an important partner. If it has been a while since you saw your doctor, consider making that appointment right now. You deserve the same high-quality preventive care that we all recommend for our own patients.
Practical steps to improve physical fitness and wellbeing
Physical wellbeing has several components, including nutrition, strength, flexibility, aerobic conditioning, balance, weight, and sleep. As with any part of your self-care plan, you might want to start by assessing your current state of physical wellbeing; this can help you identify areas where you might want to focus your efforts for improvement.
There also are several online assessment tools that can help:
National Wellness Institute: Holistic Lifestyle Assessment
Stanford University: Test Your Physical Wellness (A similar assessment is available as a printable PDF from Illinois State University.)
Mayo Clinic: How Fit Are You?
Body Mass Index Calculators (CDC)
Once you have identified areas in which you would like to focus, consider making a pledge to yourself to work on improvements in at least one of the following areas: nutrition, strength, flexibility, aerobic conditioning, balance, weight, and sleep.
Tools to help improve your physical health
There are a wide range of technology tools available that can help with tracking and improving physical fitness. There are even some that you can use without buying a fancy gadget – in fact, without buying anything. These sites all have tools or information that can help you improve physical wellness:
Physical fitness tracking
USDA SuperTracker – Interactive tools to track your exercise and food consumption, manage your weight, look up nutrition and calorie information, set goals, and save recipes.
MyPlate (USDA) – Food plans, videos, information about healthy eating on a budget, recipes and more.
Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight (CDC): - Dietary guidelines, meal planning on the go and at home, recipes and more.
My Food Advisor (American Diabetes Association) – Set goals, track food consumption, get nutrition information, find and save recipes, and make shopping lists online.
UC-Riverside Wellness Webinars – Topics range from the dos and don'ts of eating at your desk, to healthy eating and exercise on a budget.
Physical activity, strength training, flexibility
How Much Physical Activity Do You Need? (CDC) – Activity guidelines for people in different age groups, as well as pregnant women and new mothers.
Strength Training for Older Adults (CDC) – Includes exercises, activity logs, motivational tips and Frequently Asked Questions.
Exercises and Workouts (American Council on Exercise) – Workout ideas, specific exercises to work different body parts, and fitness articles.
Small Steps to Increase Physical Activity (PDF, American Council on Exercise) – 35 practical tips for incorporating more exercise into your daily activity.
Healthy Sleep Tips (National Sleep Foundation) – From setting a consistent sleep time and bedtime ritual, to avoiding electronic devices before going to bed, to making sure you have a comfortable mattress.
Build a Strong Foundation for Peak Performance
Ernie Ward's 7-Day Real Food Challenge for Veterinarians
Nutrition and Mental Health (American Academy of Family Physicians)
The Connection Between Mental and Physical Health