Whether you are embarking on your Step 1 studying journey or starting your clerkship, it is absolutely essential to maintain your health and well-being throughout medical school. It can be very easy to get caught up in the flow of studying lectures or rounding on patients. Even though it may seem convenient to go for the bag of potato chips when you’re on the run in the hospital or plowing through lectures without taking a break when you’re studying, I have personally found these eight different ways useful in trying to stay healthy and active during my first two years of medical school and now as I start my clerkship rotations. Hopefully you can too!
Especially during the first two years of med school, studying usually confines us to a desk and chair. This affects our posture and can leave us feeling stiff. It’s important to take breaks to stretch, walk around, and even do some yoga. I personally love yoga, because not only is it great for the body, it can also be a relaxing mental break from studying. Whether it’s fifteen minutes in the morning or during a lunch break, yoga can help refresh ourselves mentally and physically!
2. Snack away!
We’ve all been there: it’s exam week and your eating habits and patterns start changing. You find yourself either eating more or less than usual. In order to keep your metabolism going, I find it best to snack throughout the day; this avoids heavy meals and dealing with the drowsy after effects. To take it a step forward, snacking on foods like blueberries, yogurt, and celery sticks allows you to maximize on nutrient dense foods.
3. Go outside!
Staring at a laptop screen for a prolonged period of time not only dries out our eyes but also begins to take a toll on our efficiency. If you find yourself staring at the same slide for more than 15 minutes, take a nice walk outside! In addition to the vitamin D, being outside in the sunshine has a refreshing aspect that can serve as a relaxing break anytime you need it.
4. Eat some nuts!
Different types of nuts are great brain food! A recent study out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that people who had a daily consumption of nuts were more likely to live longer. Nuts of any kind – peanuts, walnuts, almonds – can easily be incorporated into your daily meals. They go great with yogurt, salads, or with the classic trail mix. I personally like to snack on a mix of almonds & walnuts while also throwing in some pretzels and M&Ms during my study sessions. To add in the nutritious value of nuts, they serve as a source of protein and fiber while helping to raise HDL, the ‘good cholesterol’ in our bodies.
5. Substitute coffee for a healthier beverage!
If you’re a coffee lover like most med students, try switching it up from time to time. I’ve found carbonated water to be a good substitute every now and then. There are no calories, compared to regular sodas, and the carbonation adds a little fizz that can help keep you awake and refreshed. If you still need a little caffeine, try different kinds of tea. If you want to add in your daily source of fruits and veggies, try making a homemade smoothie. By making your own smoothie, you control what types of ingredients you put in and also reduce the amount of sugar that most fast food places load up on. The point is to take a break from the regular cups of coffee that we consume, and probably will consume, for the rest of our careers in order to add a refreshing change to our regular study routine.
6. Get at least 6-8 hours of sleep… No, really!
As medical students, sleep is almost just as important and precious to us as studying is. Sleep helps to reinforce what we’ve learned converting short term memory into long term memory. Sleep also provides our bodies a chance to recharge and relax. Studies on the beneficial effects of sleep have found that sleeping helps to enhance our memory by activating our hippocampus, a region in our brains responsible for consolidating short term memories into long term memories. A lack of sleep affects our hippocampal activity thus reducing our memory retention. Getting a good night’s rest is important in helping you maintain wellness in med school and in making all that studying count!
7. Think positive!
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and nervous about med school exams and Step 1, but if you keep your mind focused on the big picture and acknowledge what you’ve done instead of what you haven’t – your mindset will take a turn for the greater good. Being confident and staying positive changes your mood and outlook making the workload of med school more manageable. Try it out!
8. Find your outlet!
At my school, before exams we have something called ‘puppy therapy’ where they bring in small, cute, furry puppies to cheer the med students up. As it turns out, puppy therapy is one of my favorite things during exam weeks! It’s a great way to take a study break and have fun outdoors. It’s important in med school to have something that is ‘your thing’, something that you enjoy doing that is not medical and helps you connect with the outside world. This can be shopping, painting, running – anything that can relax your mind and re-energize your body without taking a huge chunk out of your study day.
Nutrition & Wellness is a column about how nutrition applies to us as medical students and to the different specialties of the medical field. In this column, we’ll also talk about how medical students can maintain a healthy lifestyle despite our busy schedules.