My heart was pounding as I stood with nearly 400 other collegiate runners at the starting line for the beginning of the 2016 Intercollegiate Cross-Country Club National Championships. I knew I had a very unique opportunity to participate as an MS4, and I smiled as I remembered the words that had been uttered to me during a med school interview just four years before: “You’ll never run again,” the interviewer remarked, “you won’t have the time.” I was involved in many activities before med school, including participating as a competitive NCAA cross-country runner; but as a med student, according to the interviewer, I’d better be willing to give this up.
Nearing the end of my med school journey, I can fortunately say that he was mistaken. Med school is no doubt very challenging and time consuming, but overall I found it manageable to uphold an athletic lifestyle while still succeeding in school and mastering the material necessary to become a competent physician. All I had to do was follow these steps:
1. Plan your workouts ahead of time to fit them into your med school schedule...
even small ones, as often as possible. I fit in a workout every day of medical school (with the exception of the handful of days I was required to be on 24 hr call at the hospital). If I anticipated being in the OR until late at night, I’d get up early in the morning to go for a quick run; if I had an early morning obligation, I tried to get a workout in before bed. I found it was helpful to work out right when I got home, before fatigue set in. Planning my workouts for the week was a fun and motivational way to give myself something extra to look forward to each day!
2. Find ways to fit little bits of exercise around studying and into your daily routine.
I always road my bike whenever possible, so that simply by going to and from school/the hospital I’d already be getting a few miles under my belt! Also, try to take the stairs rather than the elevator whenever possible (especially in the hospital). I had several attendings and residents who, during rounds, would often request we all take the stairs instead!
3. Eat healthy.
This one can be tricky, especially during demanding study times or more intense rotations. It can be all too tempting to hit up your go-to fast food spot during a time crunch. Personally, I tried to pack my lunch as often as possible, and planned to bring extra snacks and food from home if I thought a shift might go longer than anticipated. If I had to eat out, I tried to go for healthier options like salad bars. Remember: without a healthy diet, it’s extremely difficult to have the energy or motivation to try to fit in exercise!
4. Find a workout buddy...
or consider joining an intramural or club team if your school has them! I joined the running club at my school and found it to be a great way to meet other athletes to exercise with outside of medical school. Having classmates, friends, or teammates to exercise with is a great way to stay motivated when you otherwise might have convinced yourself you were too busy or too tired to work out!
5. To fit exercise into your med school schedule, you have to be flexible!
There were days where I spent 16 hours at the hospital and couldn’t find the time and days where I was simply too exhausted to exercise. That’s okay! The body needs a physical break too! As physicians in training, we owe it to our patients and to ourselves to make our education a priority. That said, our personal health and wellness are also important, and keeping fit in medical school will make the journey all that more enjoyable!