Dr. Travis Stork is a noted E.R. doctor, and he doubles as a TV star, starting off as a star of “The Bachelor” before moving onto his current gig as host of “The Doctors,” an Emmy Award-winning CBS talk show now in its 12th season. To add to that list, Stork is also an author. He has written five books, including the New York Times best seller Lose Your Belly Diet. Since Stork has a lot on his plate, he relies on an invigorating morning routine to give him the energy to conquer each day.
Here, Dr. Stork takes Thrive through his refreshing morning regimen, and shares his top healthy travel hacks.
Thrive Global: What time do you wake up?
Dr. Travis Stork: I’m an early riser, so I’m usually up around 6 a.m., but if I naturally wake up earlier, I get my day started whether it’s 4 a.m. or 5 a.m.
TG: How do you wake up — with an alarm, or naturally?
TS: I rarely need an alarm because I usually wake up naturally. I set an alarm just in case, and I use a Zen alarm clock so if the alarm does go off, it’s a series of chimes. It’s a much more relaxing way to wake up than a loud, high-pitched alarm!
TG: What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
TS: I start my morning with a cup of coffee and read the news. I usually read perspectives from various news outlets, both liberal and conservative. It’s quite remarkable how different the headlines are on Fox News versus CNN! Since I’m often offering my opinion on “The Doctors” in other areas, it’s important that I understand all perspectives, particularly those I may not agree with.
TG: Take us through your morning step by step.
TS: After finishing my coffee and reading the overnight headlines, I do a workout on a stationary recumbent bike for 20-30 minutes (the recumbent has been a part of my routine since I injured my cervical spine years ago and couldn’t ride an upright bike).
I put my iPad on a stand and specifically read and research health topics during this time. I also use resistance bands during my workout on the recumbent bike. I’m killing three birds with one stone: cardio, resistance work, and learning! I used to hate morning workouts, but I realized that too often the day would get away from me and I would not get any formal exercise. My morning routine guarantees I exercise almost every day. I’ve also moved my workout to the morning because there is some interesting research regarding insulin sensitivity and working out before eating in the morning. I have a hereditary predisposition for diabetes, so I’ve adopted these early morning workouts not just as a matter of practicality, but as a matter of good health.
TG: Is there anything special you do as part of your routine?
TS: I have always had issues with joint stiffness, so part of my morning routine, when I have time to do it, is a 10-minute sauna session in the legs-up-the-wall yoga position after my bike and band workout. I then stretch, followed by a plunge in an ice bath. I have a 100 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank next to a hot tub, and I keep it filled with cold water and dump a 20 lb. bag of ice in it before my “plunge.” While I’m in the cold water, I do a few rounds of the Wim Hof Method breathing technique. I guess you could say this is a form of meditation. The water is so cold that I have to focus on my breath until my body adjusts to the temperature. This part of my daily routine is incredibly invigorating, and puts me in a great place mentally to start the day. After a stint in the hot tub to warm back up, I’m ready for anything the day has in store.
TG: What do you do for breakfast?
TS: I’ve incorporated intermittent fasting into my eating routine. There’s solid data that it is a nice tool in the anti-aging arsenal, and now that my metabolism is slowing as I get closer to 50 (I turn 48 in March), it helps keep my caloric intake in check. I’ve found that 14 hours of fasting overnight is about right for me. So if my last meal was at 7 p.m. the night before, I’ll eat a healthy “breakfast” at around 9 a.m. I’m not overly strict with my eating schedule, since I believe it’s more important to focus on what you eat than when you eat, but when I’m in a good routine, this 14:10 intermittent fasting schedule works quite well, and I never feel like I’m hungry.
TG: How do you set yourself up to thrive for the day? What sets you back that you avoid?
TS: I think healthy routines are the key to thriving during the day and during your life. And it all starts with food. I can’t always control my schedule, but I can almost always control what I eat. I’ll openly admit that because I travel so much, when I get out of my healthy routine, it becomes harder to thrive, and often becomes more about how to survive the day. This is a conundrum I’ve been dealing with for 12 years, since I live in Nashville and commute to Los Angeles to tape The Doctors. But I always travel with healthy snacks, and if anyone ever sees me at the airport, I can be seen walking up and down the terminal before my flights and getting up out of my chair and stretching during the flight. Routines may change on travel days, but if health is still a priority, you can still thrive.
TG: How do you prioritize your to-do list?
TS: Because I’m an E.R. doctor, my focus has never been about organizing my day; it’s been about prioritizing what is important. When you have an E.R. full of sick patients, you have to quickly develop the skill set of determining what’s important and what can wait. I think that has translated to the rest of my life as well. I don’t believe you can do two things exceptionally at once, which is what makes emergency medicine so challenging: Sometimes you have to do what feels like 20 things at once. Having said that, I create mental (and written) checklists in order of priority, and focus on completing each task to the best of my ability before moving on to the next task. Sometimes that is easier said than done, but luckily, I grew up without cell phones and email, so I’m pretty good at focusing and not getting distracted. Whether it’s treating a gunshot victim in the trauma bay, or having a conversation on “The Doctors” about a controversial topic, I have always tried to be present in the moment, complete the task, then move on.
TG: What is your relationship with technology?
TS: I have a love/hate relationship with technology. Overall, I think I’m pretty good at using technology when it’s necessary and beneficial, but I’m also someone who tries not to be glued to my phone or social media because I’ve found I’m pretty unhappy when I become a servant to all of the distractions that too much technology can bring. I still like to turn the key to start my truck, I don’t have many conversations with Alexa, and I don’t bring my phone into the bedroom when I sleep at night.
Technology doesn’t make me happier unless it makes something easier, and one place it has certainly done that is with my work on “The Doctors.” I used to get three-ring binders for every show, with hundreds of pages of backstories and research. Now, I get an email with a PDF that I download and can bring with me on my tablet, which is a lot more portable than a three-ring binder. I’m also able to do voiceovers remotely from Nashville on my phone with almost the same audio quality as a sound booth.
The same can be said for technology in medicine. The evolution of technology has been beneficial in so many ways — enhanced imaging, precision, and treatments. However, doctors now spend more time on computers than face to face with patients, and that’s a problem. Additionally, a lot of new technology creates wealth for investors, but that doesn’t always translate to better patient outcomes.
TG: What do you do to unwind before bed?
TS: I mentioned I start my day with a cold plunge. I usually end it with a little time in the hot tub, followed by time in a zero gravity chair that I sit in before bed. It is so relaxing, and after about 15 minutes in that chair I’m ready to pass out. If I’m not completely relaxed, I’ll lay on an acupressure mat for about 10-15 minutes and that almost always does the trick of getting me ready for sleep.
TG: What keeps you up at night? How do you combat that?
Interestingly, I always fall asleep quickly, but I have been known to wake up in the middle of the night and think about things that worry me. This all started when I became an E.R. doctor — you worry about patients who had illnesses that weren’t straightforward. (When you leave the E.R., you sometimes don’t know if someone will live or die, and it’s hard not to think about patients while hoping you gave them the best care possible.)
The older I get, the more bad things I’ve seen happen — and I’ll openly admit that because of that, I worry a lot more than I used to. I haven’t found any easy answers to combat that worry other than just to do the best job you can in life and hope for the best. Whether I get a good night of rest or not, there’s always the cold plunge to look forward to when I get up!
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