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Those who do not endure it cannot truly comprehend the stress and intense commitment that is medical school. “It’s like trying to drink water from a firehose,” everyone says. “Prepare to do nothing but study all day and night.” As a second year medical student, I heard peers complain about not having time to brush their teeth. Once, I watched a classmate carry a text book down the hall and into the restroom with her just so she didn’t have to lose any precious seconds of studying. Given these scenarios, all medical students must be overweight, unathletic, unhappy people, right? Fortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. While medical school is intense and time consuming, it doesn’t necessarily require you to surrender your health, fitness, and sanity in order to survive it. The following are some tips to stay active and still make your health a priority during medical school:

 

turn your 230 into a 260 on the USMLE in 24 hours

MD Fitness Tip #1: Join a team or make a commitment with a peer.

Fortunately, many schools have sports teams that medical students can join! This could be a medical student soccer league or running club. Perhaps there are sports groups associated with your local undergraduate institution that will let graduate students join. Research local running teams, sports clubs, and gym memberships. You might be surprised what you find! During my first two years of medical school, I was able to participate on a local competitive track team. Having teammates and a set practice schedule each night held me accountable and got me out the door to get a workout in. If you can’t find a sports group to train with, ask a peer to make a commitment to health and fitness with you! Promise to meet each other every night at 7pm for a 30 minute swim. Or agree to go to that nightly fitness class together twice a week. If you’re both early risers, consider meeting for a 3 mile jog before classes begin each day. No matter what your interests are or how stressful your schedule might be, meeting a friend or teammates will motivate you to make your fitness and health a priority.

MD Fitness Tip #2: Multitask!

We’ve probably all see that person nearly sprinting on a treadmill while reading a text book and thought, “how is she doing that?!” I’ll admit that not everyone can handle that level of multitasking. But I am convinced most people can manage some level of physical activity while studying. I interviewed at a medical school that actually had walking treadmills with built in desks so that students could work and walk. Similarly, it wouldn’t be too difficult to gently pedal on a stationary bike while listening to a pathoma lecture. Sure, you may not be on your way to winning the Tour de France, but those few hundred calories you burned count for something!

MD Fitness Tip #3: Consider alternative options for fitness.

I once read a sign (appropriately placed in a stairwell) that claimed taking a flight of stairs burns 10 more calories than riding the elevator. Whether or not that’s true, it does make a good point. You might be surprised how easy it is to squeeze in just a little more physical activity into your normal routine. Do you normally sit and chat with friends on the 10 minute breaks in between lectures? Consider taking a lap around the hospital or walking to the water fountain instead. Is your pathology lab on the 8th floor of the building? Don’t skip the stairs. Stuck inside your apartment for a long night of studying? Every 60 minutes, take a 5 minute fitness break. Switch between doing a few pushups, crunches, squats, and lunges. You’ll feel better about making a little time for your fitness and also may feel more awake and energized for your studying. No matter how big or small your workout, getting in some physical activity is always better than nothing.

 

Still think you don’t have time during medical school to do anything but study? You’d be surprised how much more efficient your studying becomes if you have a planned break on your schedule to look forward to each night. Some of my most productive days of studying in medical school happened when I knew I had practice at night because I was extra motivated to work hard and get my studying done so that I could take a well-deserved break! Realize that in order to appropriately take care of others you must first take care of yourself. Make that commitment to your own health and wellness and you will be well on your way to a long and successful medical career.

 

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Lauryn Falcone, MD, PhD

Lauryn Falcone, MD, PhD

Lauryn Falcone graduated Summa Cum Laude and as co-valedictorian from Rollins College before pursuing an MD/PhD degree at West Virginia University School of Medicine. She is currently a Dermatology resident at UPMC in Pittsburgh, PA. She pursued a PhD in cellular and integrative physiology at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in a respiratory toxicology laboratory. Lauryn completed her first two years of medical school as an honors student, scoring a 254 on the USMLE Step 1 examination and achieving above the 90th percentile on eight NBME shelf exams. Lauryn has a strong passion for tutoring and mentoring students and enjoys helping them navigate the challenges of medical school.
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