Ken Jeong on going for a walk or run 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)
Ken Jeong shares how he takes care of his physical and mental health. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

He's formally swapped medicine for Hollywood, but Ken Jeong still can't quite shake his MD background. Though he's no longer practicing medicine, the doctor-turned-funnyman is spending his time off from The Masked Singer — on which he's served as a panelist for six seasons, in addition to starring on The Masked Dancer spinoff — educating the public about dry eye disease (DED) as a part of a new partnership with Novartis, the makers of Xiidra.

Speaking to Yahoo Life, Jeong, in true doctor form, urges people to speak with their own eye doctors before starting treatment, rattling off a list of potential side effects. But as someone who suffered from DED for decades, he knows all too well the importance of protecting eye health. Ahead, the comedy star shares his experience with the condition and opens up about his passion for contemplative walks and treadmill desks.

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

I've been wearing contact lenses for over 35 years. When I was a medical professional and doing on-call overnight hospital shifts, I would get dry eyes, redness and the sensation that something was in them. And when I became a full-time actor, I'm on dusty sound stages and reading teleprompter screens a lot, and living out here in Los Angeles where there's dry weather. All these triggers seemed to exacerbate my dry eyes, and that's when I contacted my own doctor. And that's why I partnered up with Novartis to encourage people to get annual eye exams and to see if they have signs and symptoms of dry eye disease. Because when I talked to my eye doctor, I was diagnosed with inflammation and that's when I was prescribed Xiidra prescription eye drops that alleviated my symptoms. But talk to your eye doctor first to see if it's right for you.

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

I actually try to go for a walk and a run every day if possible, even if it's just for a few minutes a night. I used to do some running in college and it's something that I keep up to this day, and my daughters are on the cross-country team in their school. I'm doing it for my physical health, but it's really more for my mental health because I just need to not think sometimes [laughs] and really just try to stay present, which is always hard in life, especially in these times. So for me, going out for a walk or run every day, if I can, is really 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 my wife and I will walk the dog every day, of course. But if I'm on a treadmill or if I'm by myself, I listen to a podcast, music, all of the above. Sometimes if I'm at home and stationed on my treadmill, I can even park my laptop and just kind of watch the news or watch sports. I'm a big NBA fan. It's just something to get my mind off of myself, really.

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

I do have a benchmark. [On] days where I'm not working or filming, if I can get up to three or four miles a day, I will — even if it's just walking, just to get my steps in. And I vary it up: Sometimes I'll jog or sometimes I'll just walk. But for me, it's to just clear my head and get the endorphins kicking in and kind of be in a present state of mind. I think it's good to have goals. Whether you achieve them or not, you have a benchmark you try to shoot for, absolutely.

You obviously went through medical school and being on-call as a doctor, which is all associated with a lack of sleep. What did that teach you about the importance of sleep?

It wasn't as regulated as it is now, the on-call hours. I think the medical community has done a much better job evolving and making sure sleep is a priority for residents and med students and physicians in general, and I think that's really important. So that's definitely evolved from when I was in school... My wife is really good at her sleep hygiene. She also is a physician as well, so I'm just kind of getting my cue from [her]. Our family as a whole, we really try to get our sleep in. Sleep hygiene is so important.

Do you have a mantra or piece of advice that you turn to when you need to make a decision or are having a rough day?

I try to tell myself not to overthink and not to dwell... Part of the reason why I like to run and walk is it just kind of slows me down. I think working in entertainment, everything comes so fast and furious, so to speak. And so you really have to kinda slow your engines down and just realize what's most important is your health and your family. It's something that I really try to remind myself every day and I want to practice what I preach. It's hard, but I think that as I get older — and I've been 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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