How to be a healthy lawyer

The four ways your job is killing you

You might not work on an oil rig, but practising law can be pretty dangerous
You might not work on an oil rig, but practising law can be pretty dangerous

Between the food courts, long hours, all that sitting and the stress — practising law can be dangerous. But staying healthy doesn’t have to be hard. Here, some of the city’s top health experts reveal how to overcome the health hazards lawyers face every day.

HamburgerHazard #1: Eating out all the time

Make smarter choices at food courts
“I could eat out seven days a week — for breakfast, lunch and dinner — and never gain a pound,” proclaims Rose Reisman, a nutritionist and owner of Rose Reisman Catering. The first step, she says, is to stop ordering these common foods: cream-heavy Caesar salads (“a heart attack on a plate”), anything with crust (“the eggs in a quiche aren’t going to kill you, but the lard or shortening in the pastry will”), Thai dishes with mounds of white noodles and any menu item with the word “smothered” in the title. The next step is learning which foods you can order. For Reisman, open-faced sandwiches on whole-wheat bread are a good choice. So are salads with light dressing, a whole grain (brown rice or quinoa) and a lean protein (fish, chicken or tofu).

Boss your chefs around
At restaurants, always tell the chef to grill, rather than fry or sauté, any meat, advises Leslie Beck, a registered Toronto dietician. And always ask for sauce on the side.

Eat breakfast
Otherwise, your brain will release wave after wave of appetite-inducing hormones hours later, says Beck. “That sets the stage for cravings” — and overeating — “later on in the day.”

CellphoneHazard #2: A serious lack of sleep

Turn your gadgets off an hour before you want to sleep
To prepare your body for rest, you need to disconnect from the world, says Jaan Reitav, a Toronto psychologist certified in behavioural sleep medicine. So if you get home late, shut down all devices — phones, tablets and laptops — right away. If you read a stressful (i.e. work-related) email or answer a phone call, he explains, don’t expect to nod off minutes after.

No more late-night Netflix
“Think about it: the job of a television producer is to engage the audience with a captivating narrative,” says Reitav. Watching television at night is more likely to rile you up than calm you down. Instead, Reitav recommends reading a book or listening to music. “Putting on beautiful music and listening quietly while practising deep breathing is an incredible way to relax the mind.”

Listen to your body
“We all know people who can sleep for four hours, get up and have no trouble,” says Reitav. But those people are outliers — that is, genetic mutants to whom the normal rules of biology don’t apply. Most of us need about seven hours of sleep each night for our bodies and minds to properly recover.

ChairHazard #3: Not enough exercise

Stand up
Sitting at your desk for hours on end is truly terrible for you, says Meg Sharp, executive director of personal training at the Cambridge Group of Clubs. It causes your blood sugar levels to spike and triglycerides — better known as fat — to clog your arteries. Standing up to stretch or move around at least once an hour stimulates your blood flow and flushes out your arteries. As Sharp puts it, “It’s incredibly powerful.”

Work out in small doses
“Everyone says they’re short on time,” says Mark Hendricks, regional group fitness manager at Equinox Fitness Clubs. “I believe that is a bit lazy.” Especially, he adds, when a 20-minute workout — or jog, or squash game, or bike ride — three times a week can make a huge difference in overall health.

Get a gym buddy
“It’s incredibly easy to let ourselves down,” says Hendricks. “But it’s not so easy to let others down.” And so, if you want to make exercise a regular habit, make that commitment with a friend — or even a client. (How’s that for motivation?)

HourglassHazard #4: Maximum stress levels

Get a hobby
“It sounds kind of lame,” says Dr. James Aw, chief medical officer of the Medcan Clinic, a health centre in Toronto. “But it’s important to remember who you were before life got so serious as a lawyer. Otherwise you’ll start to lose connection with old friends and communities.” Whether it’s playing an instrument, joining a sports team or writing poetry, Aw says it’s important to give yourself “permission to have fun and to play.”

Work fewer hours
If you’re working more than 60 hours a week, and you know it’s hurting your health or relationships, then you need to work less, says Dr. David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You? Maybe that means working late three nights a week, rather than five. Or working Saturday, but not Sunday. And, as a bonus, Posen says you’ll likely be more productive when you are working. “In close to 30 years, I’ve never met an over-worked patient who couldn’t get the same amount of work done in less time once they took better care of themselves.”

Spend more time with family and close friends
Your social calendar should not be crammed full with cocktail parties and outings with colleagues, says Aw. Even if you enjoy work events, he notes, an agenda hovers over each social encounter. Over time, that leads to higher levels of stress. Hanging out with family, he insists, is actually good for you. Make it a priority to have dinner with your spouse or catch up with your friends a few times each week. Aw says that those interactions give your mind a break: “There’s no agenda except that you love each other.”

This story is part of The Precedent guide to getting it all done, from our Spring 2015 issue.



Illustrations by Naila Medjidova