We all know it’s important to stay fit and healthy during medical school, especially as ward duties, call nights, electives and residency applications add more stress into our lives. These responsibilities whittle away at our energy and spare time, making it harder to maintain a regular workout regime in a busy schedule.
Despite our best efforts, the priority to work out can slip as we struggle to find time.
I mean, let’s face it: after 10 to 14 hours on your feet as a clinical clerk in the hospital, with stacks of books to read once we commute home, a ten-kilometer run may not seem to be the most palatable thing to do once you get home.
But we know better than that.
A little bit of disclosure before I continue: I’m not a professional personal trainer or fitness guru. I’ve simply always found that exercise helps me feel physically and mentally sharp, and I’ve found it increasingly difficult to squeeze in time to work out while traveling around the country on elective.
From that standpoint, I have found that a few simple adjustments are quite helpful. Nothing ground-breaking. No “just do it” slogans. These five tips helped me and hopefully can offer some benefit to those in similar situations.
1. Start with something over nothing.
Maybe you only have half an hour or less between commitments and you don’t think that working out is “worth it”. Of course it is! Medical students are typically very goal-oriented individuals which can lead to becoming trapped in the “what are my results” line of thinking. What is the worth of a work out without goals anyway? Well, how about being active simply to be active? Some exercise is going to be better than none, so tie up those laces and work up a sweat!
2. Be efficient.
Of course, with limited time, it’s important to be able to utilize your work out time efficiently. This means having a good routine or program when you do go work out. Cut down on the conversation time between sets at the gym. Figure out what filter to apply to those Instagram running shots later. Prioritize the time to exercise. If you’re having trouble getting started with a routine, there are generally good suggestions in the gym, books, tutorials online and even some helpful apps with pre-programmed short workouts.
3. Be flexible.
I don’t mean just do yoga and stretches (unless that’s your thing, but more on that below). What I mean is figure out exercises that you can do anywhere. This comes in handy as it keeps you from getting stuck when you’re not in a familiar gym/studio/town, whether it’s because you’re traveling for electives, in a rural placement away from gym access, or even stuck in a call room. Ideally, this calls for exercises that need little equipment (so maybe not power-lifting), quick preparation and cool down, near universal availability (sorry, ice-climbing fanatics) and significant benefit over short periods of time. Some options include running, high-intensity interval training, body weight workouts, dance or yoga.
4. Do what you enjoy.
I gave a short list in the above tip to show that there are still options to have in case you “hate running” or “can’t dance.” It’s fine if you hate something, really. That’s okay. You’re being realistic about yourself and what you’d realistically be able to keep doing. It is easier to adopt a workout by catering to an activity that fits your personality, tastes, and schedule. If you’re ambivalent, then find a close friend and see what he or she does — there’s a good chance that you will like it too! Channel that inner clinical scientist and experiment with work out types until you find what you like and can keep doing. Just remember not to skip leg day.
5. Keep track of your progress.
Remember what I said earlier about medical students generally being goal-oriented? Well now is the time to leverage that as a strength to keep yourself committed. Keep notes on how you’re doing, record the dates and lengths of your work out sessions and track them over the week or month. There are tons of great apps, sites and gadgets to help you do this. Recording and measuring your activity levels can inspire you to see how much you have done, monitor any progress, and even identify downward trends which can help you prevent yourself from losing the exercise habit completely.
One last general piece of advice is to keep at it. It’s very difficult at the start, especially before it becomes a habit. But even with short, consistent work outs you’ll be amazed at how seamlessly integrated an exercise routine can become.
The clerkship experience can be the definition of tumultuous. As we’re suddenly tossed into the wards, it’s easy to become caught up in the shuffle as we move through our service rotation. These posts try to take a step back and become “a fly on the wall” observing and reflecting on the overall movement through clerkships.