Updated: Apr 25, 2019
For most of us in medicine, it is very hard to balance all the things we need to do every day. We are expected to get A’s on every test, read three research articles a night, review code cards before call, work on case presentations, do research, and the list goes on! So how do we manage to find time for all of this? We make sacrifices. Sacrifices that primarily affect ourselves, including neglecting our health and wellbeing. We stop going to the gym. We start eating more take out. We stop doing things we love to do. Then we turn around and counsel our patients to do all the things we have now started to neglect. Yet, the research shows that physicians who practice what they preach are more likely to succeed in counseling their patients to make positive changes. They feel more confident in their counseling and are more likely to have that conversation with their patients.
So then what can we do to help change this? How do we as medical providers motivate ourselves to get back on the band wagon? I think the answer is different for everyone. I was not always a fitness guru, and nor do I claim to be one now; but I hope that by sharing a little bit of my story it may inspire you to do the same.
Growing up I was part of a very active family who enjoyed sports. Since elementary school I was always enrolled in some sort of after school activity. I found I really loved to swim and play volleyball; and I played these throughout high school. I never thought of them as exercise because they were just fun. I also never thought about what I ate because I was so active. There were many days where we would all go to Taco Bell after a swim meet or grab Wendy’s before a volleyball game. My mom packed most of my lunches and cooked dinner almost every night, so I never thought about what I would eat or if it was a balanced meal.
Then I left for college. Cue the ever so true freshman fifteen. I ate at the school cafeteria, lived in a dorm with a community kitchen, and was no longer playing sports. I also was trying to rock the whole pre-med thing. I was in about five clubs and trying to maintain a good GPA. Not until my senior year (when I actually had some free time before starting medical school) did I realize I should probably start exercising again. The problem was, I never actually had to go to a gym before. I was scared, nervous, and did not know what I was doing. I tried the gym thing for a few years, but I never enjoyed it, so it was easy to not go. I always had an excuse and I just could not motivate myself to go!
During the end of my first year in medical school, my class held a fundraiser at a cycle studio that had spin classes. I had never done spin before, but was willing to try it for a good cause. We got to pick 30 minute slots where we would ride to raise money. I picked a time slot, joined my classmates for the event, and discovered I absolutely LOVED spinning! I found that it was not boring, and I was able to get a good work out in and have fun doing it. Thus began my love for group exercise classes. No longer would I have to worry about figuring out what to do at the gym; I could just show up, follow the leader, and enjoy the company of others while doing it. This worked out great for the rest of medical school, but then residency broke that groove. I had to move to a different state and leave the gym with the group classes I had learned to love. I began doing 14 hour work days and 28 hour on call shifts. I came home exhausted and did not have the time or energy to make it to a gym. (Who can make it to a 5:30pm class during residency?!) I went about 6 months into residency without a plan to stay in shape and was falling back down my excuses rabbit hole. Then by pure social media magic (…really just the advent of using a lot of hashtags) I discovered an OBGYN resident on Instagram who was working out, making healthy meals, and running her own group classes all while doing the same work hours I was. There was hope for me after all! She and I connected and she was the inspiration I needed to get back on that band wagon and make fitness a lifestyle, not a quick fix. She introduced me to an online community of women who helped to keep each other accountable and motivated to work out. I discovered the ease of working out at home on my own time and my own schedule. I could manage fitting in a 30 minute workout routine at home that was still lead by an instructor who told me what to do. I had someone checking in on me, making me feel more motivated to actually stick to my routine. I met many other women in medicine doing the same thing and we helped to push each other.
It has now been over 3 years since I have been working out at home. I have gone from being the one needing motivation (okay, I still need motivation from time to time), to helping motivate others. It no longer feels like a burden, and I actually enjoy my 30-60min of me time. It helps me unwind after a long day in the hospital. It gives me more energy and I sleep MUCH better. I have also continued to connect with women on social media who want to stay active. Recently, the hashtag #heathcaremoves was started by two other female physicians who wanted to keep each other motivated. It has become a way for us to check in with one another to see if we are sticking to our goals. I am not perfect, but I do what I can to keep myself and others motivated to make positive sustainable changes for our health.
So, to help you find your fitness groove, here are my five top tips to staying committed to fitness in a busy medical lifestyle:
1. Find the routine you enjoy doing, and do it!
If you hate running or going to the gym (like I do) don’t try and be a runner or a gym rat! Do what you find fun and then stick to it! You are more likely to make it a habit if you enjoy it.
2. Pencil it into your schedule, but be flexible.
Studies have shown that if you keep a daily schedule written down, you are more likely to accomplish those tasks. Why should working out get less priority than a meeting, appointment, or date? Pick a time and then stick to it!
3. Find a good pre-workout supplement.
This is the only supplement I use in my routine. It will give you a nice energy boost to help you not feel tired before your workout. I drink mine on the way home from work so when I get home it has kicked in and I am ready to go!
4. Be realistic and listen to your body.
If you are on a busy rotation where you work 12 hour shifts, it may not be realistic to go to the gym for an hour after you get off from work. It may be easier to do a quick 20-30 minute at home work out. If you need that extra hour of sleep over working out, do it. Your body will tell you what it needs.
5. Find accountability!
This is probably the most important tip I can give you. If you have accountability, you are more likely to do your work out. Find someone or something that motivates you! Connect with others on social media (find me @PhysicianallyFit) if you need some help.