Balancing Exercise with Medical School

What makes the biggest difference to your health? According to Dr. Mike Evans, a  family medicine professor at St. Mike’s Hospital, exercising for just 30 minutes a day can have a big impact on your health!

Staying active during medical school is one of the hardest things to do, especially during clerkship. When you’re working 40, 50, 60 hours a week and have lots of material to study for, the last thing you might have energy for is exercise. I myself gained ten pounds - and not the good kind of weight - during my third year of clinical rotations. I am only now starting to return to my normal weight.

What I have found is that you have to make your health a priority, even amidst your busy schedules! I have put together some tricks I have gained over the last two years. According to this video, all you need is half an hour a day. I hope you find these simple tips helpful.

1) Take the Stairs, All the Time

According to this humorous CMAJ article titled “Elevators or Stairs?” taking the stairs at work saves an average of fifteen minutes each day! And that doesn’t even include the calories burned or health benefits gained from it. Time saving and healthy!

2) Exercise at Home

Finding the motivation to head to the gym can be difficult at times. Do whatever you can to overcome exercise barriers. Simple push-ups and sit ups are easy exercises to start. There are so many home exercise programs on the Internet that not having the right equipment or space should never be an excuse.

3) Make Exercising a Priority

If you don’t think staying fit is important, you won’t be able to stay fit. During my first few clinical rotations, I prioritized studying and sleeping over my health. That however only made me more fatigued and tired. I later discovered, a quick fifteen minute run would boost my energy levels and help me focus more clearly.

Similarly, I discovered that setting aside time for exercise made me spend my other time more effectively. Since I had a tighter schedule, I procrastinated less and did what needed to be done sooner.

4) Drink Lots of Water

Carry a water bottle around. Know where the water fountains are. Dehydration makes you sluggish. Your voice can become raspy and your expressions dull. Avoid caffeine and alcohol if it’s not necessary.

5) Pack Your Own Lunch / Dinner / Late-night Call Snacks

Your appetite becomes blunted if you eat the same food from the cafeteria each day. Packing your lunch is such a simple way to control your calories and save money too. When I cook dinner, I usually aim to make more food so I can pack the leftovers for lunch.

If I have the time, I try to prepare several batches of meals on the weekend and freeze them for the week.

Snack on vegetables and fruits throughout the day. Putting some carrots, cucumbers, or celery sticks in a ziplock bag and then pocketing it in your white coat or bag is a good idea. Small meals throughout the day prevents major food binges after work.

6) Exercise with Others

Be accountable to your friends and partners. Make exercising a social outing! Choose sports you like to play, sign up for intramurals, establish common goals. One of the best things I ever did was sign up to do a half-marathon with other people in my class. I had never run such a distance before, but having other people motivate you for race day made training for it fun!

Let me know if you have any easy to implement healthy / exercise tips too!

I don’t profess to having the healthiest lifestyle as a medical student. In fact, my clerkship year was downright bad for my body. Luckily, you learn from your experiences and you try to avoid making the same mistakes. I know residency (which will be in a half a year’s time) will be much more stressful and busy than clerkship was. Hopefully, I will be able to gain a better work-health balance moving forward. 

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  4. A Typical Day in Medical School
  5. What should you do the Summer Before Starting Medical School

One Response to Balancing Exercise with Medical School

  1. a says:

    Hey, this is a great post! My med school makes a really big deal about maintaining your workout routine throughout school and making sure you’re eating healthy. I myself am on medical leave right now, but my friends who are still in school tell me that you simply make time for it. Granted it is much easier during the first two years than the last, because they often stream the lectures. But they do tell me that it’s a great break from studying and, like you said, keeps your energy levels high and helps you focus. Thanks for all the tips!

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