Take care of yourself

Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.

“Mens sana in corpore sano.” As sharp and active Latin scholars, most lawyers will know the meaning and value of the old saying. However, many of us don’t have the healthy bodies needed to nourish healthy minds. We often hear statistics about high rates of depression among lawyers in addition to other serious health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and drug/alcohol addiction. These can be avoided with less effort than many of us think.

And getting more exercise is one of the best ways of doing it. One study I saw last year found that an unhealthy lifestyle has the biggest bearing on a person’s likelihood of suffering from cardiovascular disease; even when compared with family history. People with a very low genetic risk for cardiovascular disease can easily become highly at-risk, from a lack of exercise.

Many of us eat generally well but a lack of exercise is a feature of the lives of many lawyers. So why don’t we? There are lots of reasons why many lawyers don’t live completely healthy lifestyles. A lot of us are busy. We get out of the office late. We don’t have time to and from travel to the gym, let alone actually work out while we’re there.

But, to some extent, these can be just excuses. There are simple, small changes that nearly all of us can all do to get some more exercise. And if you haven’t really been active since law school or before, then small changes are safer because a sudden leap back into intensive training could end up getting you seriously hurt.

Just 30 minutes a day, for example, can make a huge difference. You could buy an exercise bike and do fifteen minutes when you get up in the morning and 15 minutes when you get home.

Other simple things that we’ve heard before like taking the stairs in work instead of the elevator (although I work on the 37th floor of my building so I have a ready-made excuse here) and walking to the store instead of driving are small changes that can make a big difference. And once you get into the habit of exercising, you’ll find it much easier to do more.

Some people find it very beneficial to hire a personal trainer. Obviously this option would give you the advantage of an individual and reliable long-term plan, tailored to your needs and abilities. But another important advantage of having a personal trainer can be the elimination of excuses; a good trainer will be watching over you, making sure you stick to your plan.

And it really can sharpen our minds as well. At the end of a tedious stressful day, tension can build up and leave us ready to explode. Physical exercise channels all this energy in a healthy way and can help shake that feeling of sluggishness that many of us wake up with and improve concentration levels. And, the release of endorphins acts as a natural stress-reliever.

So there is some science behind the old saying. And a little more exercise, in addition to all the other benefits it brings, can lead to an improved performance at work.

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