Ken Jeong on walking or running every day: ‘It’s really more for my mental health’

Ken Jeong shares how he takes care of his physical and mental health. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Relax is Yahoo Life’s wellness series where experts, influencers and celebrities share their approach to wellness and mental healthfrom self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Formally, he’s traded medicine for Hollywood, but Ken Jeong still can’t shake his MD background completely. Although he no longer practices medicine, the doctor who has become funny spends his free time from… The masked singer — on which he served as a panelist for six seasons, in addition to starring in The masked dancer spin-off — educating the public about dry eye (DED) as part of a new collaboration with Novartis, the makers of Xiidra.

Speaking to Yahoo Life, in the form of a real-life doctor, Jeong urges people to talk to their own eye doctors before starting treatment, ratcheting up a list of possible side effects. But as someone who has suffered from DED for decades, he knows all too well the importance of protecting eye health. Moving on, the comedy star shares his experience with the condition and talks about his passion for contemplative walks and treadmill desks.

Dry eyes seem to be one of those nagging issues that people tend to brush away — even you, as a doctor. At what point did you realize you needed treatment?

I have been wearing contact lenses for over 35 years. When I was a medical professional doing night shifts in the hospital, I started getting dry eyes, redness, and the feeling that there was something in them. And when I became a full-time actor, I’m on dusty sound stages and I read a lot of teleprompter screens, and I live here in Los Angeles, where the weather is dry. All of these triggers seemed to be exacerbating my dry eyes, which is when I contacted my own doctor. And that’s why I’ve partnered with Novartis to encourage people to have annual eye exams and see if they have any signs and symptoms of dry eye. Because when I spoke to my ophthalmologist, I was diagnosed with inflammation and then I was prescribed Xiidra eye drops that relieved my symptoms. But talk to your eye doctor first to see if it’s right for you.

Do you have practices or routines that help you prioritize your mental health?

I actually try to go for a walk and run every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes a night. I used to run in college and I still do to this day, and my daughters are on the cross-country team at their school. I do it for my physical health, but it’s actually more for my mental health because sometimes I just don’t have to think [laughs] and really just try to stay present which is always hard in life especially in these times. So for me, walking or running every day, if I can, is very important to me. A lot of people don’t know that about me, but that’s very important.

Do you listen to music or podcasts, or is it just you and nature?

All of the above. We have a dog and of course my wife and I take the dog for a walk every day. But when I’m on a treadmill or alone, I listen to a podcast, music, all of the above. Sometimes when I’m at home and on my treadmill, I can even park my laptop and just watch the news or watch sports. I am a big NBA fan. It’s just something to take my mind off myself, really.

Tell me about this treadmill desk. Do you have a benchmark in terms of steps you’re trying to hit, or is it more organic?

I do have a benchmark. [On] days when I’m not working or filming, if I can get to three or four miles a day, I will – even if it’s just walking, just to get my steps. And I vary it: sometimes I go jogging or sometimes I just walk. But for me, it’s just to clear my head and get the endorphins going and be in a bit of a current frame of mind. I think it’s good to have goals. Whether you hit them or not, you definitely have a benchmark that you’re trying to hit.

You clearly have medical training and on-call duty as a doctor, all of which have been linked to lack of sleep. What did that teach you about the importance of sleep?

It was not as regulated as it is now, the opening hours. I think the medical community has done a much better job of evolving and making sure sleep is a priority for residents and medical students and doctors in general, and I think that’s really important. So that’s definitely evolved from when I was in school… My wife is very good at her sleep hygiene. She’s also a doctor so I kinda get my cue from [her]. Our family as a whole, we really try to sleep. Sleep hygiene is so important.

Do you have a mantra or advice to turn to when you need to make a decision or have a rough day?

I try to tell myself not to think too much and not to stand still… One of the reasons I like running and walking is that it slows me down a bit. I think working in entertainment, everything is so fast and furious, so to speak. And so you really need to slow down your engines a little bit and realize what’s most important, your health and your family. It’s something I try to remind myself of every day and I want to put into practice what I preach. It’s hard, but I think as I get older — and I’m so blessed to experience so many good things — you really just want to take care of your mental health. It’s so important.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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