This post is written by Leslie Lam, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Albert Einstein School of Medicine and Interim Division Chief of Pediatric Endocrine and Diabetes at The Children’s Hospital At Montefiore.
Early this past Wednesday morning, in the confines of my local park, with no one else around, I ran a 10K solo time trial in 37:36, and broke my previous best at the distance by 25 seconds. I was thrilled and am still flabbergasted by what I had done…but that isn’t the point of this post.
On Friday, I met with a few young doctors working at the front-lines of the Covid epidemic as part of a mentoring program I am involved in. Last month, when we met and went around talking about the importance of taking care of your emotional and mental health even as you are doing your best to care for patients, I casually mentioned that I get up at 5am nearly every morning for an hour run, as what I personally do for self-care. Besides a couple of “Wow, that’s great!”, there wasn’t much else said about it. Well, on Friday when we all met up again, we all noticed that a couple of the doctors were excited, energetic and just happier than they had been in all our previous meetings. When they got around to giving us an update on their lives over the past month, they individually came forward and said they had taken my advice and have woken up an hour earlier everyday for their physical health and exercise. One, a cardiologist, says she runs on the treadmill for 30 minutes and does a post run stretching routine which she has grown to love. The other said she has started to walk on her treadmill for 15mins every other morning (she’s pregnant BTW) and do yoga/meditation the rest of the time. Both have said that they have noticed less overall stress and improvements in mood and energy so much so that their families and colleagues have noticed and commented. They thanked me profusely for sharing my advice with them and say they think of me daily when they lack motivation to get up in the morning. “If Dr. Lam can run outdoors in the dark and the cold for an hour, I can walk/run for 30 minutes on the treadmill in the comfort of my own home/apartment gym. I was barely able to hold myself together for the 10 mins it took for the meeting to conclude and had a good cry in my office before I went back to work.
Why am I sharing this story/post? Is this some sort of humble brag story or a self-congratulatory post? Nah, if you know me at all, you’d know that’s never been my style. What I want to impress upon you, friends and family, boils down to five main points:
- While some would consider running to be a selfish act, an activity one engages for purely personal gain, accolades or satisfaction, I would have to vehemently disagree. As shown by the example above, by engaging in an activity that improves your mental, physical and emotional health, you are indirectly benefitting everyone that you interact with, including your family, your work colleagues, your friends and the community you work with.
- It’s been reported that because of stresses caused by the current pandemic, 25-40% of healthcare workers and other providers in the service industry have self-reported symptoms of burnout, anxiety and other mental health problems that significant impacts their daily life. It is now more important than ever for people to take time out of their busy lives to engage in exercise and/or other self-care or wellness activities. I am always asked how do I find time out of my busy live to run everyday, with full time demanding hospital work and a 1 year old at home. My response is always the same…I run to take care of myself so I can take care of others. The more people need me, the more important running is in my daily routine. Case in point, last year I ran an excess of 2200+ miles (my highest mileage total in my 16+ years of running). During the height of Covid, I never missed an unscheduled work day or “worked from home” when things got bad at the hospital.
- I am running and training better than ever at age 45+. Although I lack the pure speed I used to have in my younger days, my running experience has taught me to be an expert in my own body. I can honestly say I am training smarter, eating healthier, recovering better, and most importantly, avoiding injury while running all these miles outside nearly everyday. That’s why I set overall PRs in the 5K last year and the 10K this week. I no longer care to compare myself to those training younger than me (or my younger self). I know my own limits and what I need in order to take care of myself and maximize my time out there.
- You’re never too old to workout or go after goals and dreams. Age is just an excuse to not try. As I’m watching Drew Brees and Tom Brady (two 40+ year old quarterbacks duking it out in the NFL Divisional Playoffs (the first time in history that’s ever happened), what more evidence do you need that 40+ is not the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. So put down that audacious goal you’ve been putting off because of your age or lack of time or other similar excuse and take a little step everyday toward it. Now is as good a time as ever.
- If you’ve made it this far. You should know this post is really not about running. It’s about how to live and survive and maybe even thrive in the age of Covid. It’s just a little reminder of how to take care of yourself and maximize your life. You can replace running with any form of physical activity or self-improvement goal that you like and that works for you.
- Seek Beauty
- Work Hard
- Love Each Other