The Institute of Medicine recommends 60 minutes of vigorous exercise everyday to maintain optimal health. The scientific evidence is clear – we would all be healthier if we did real exercise for an hour a day. But – as Dr. Richard Forgos says in his commentary on the subject - “An hour a day? You’ve got to be kidding!” I agree – It’s next to impossible for most physicians, students and residents to find an hour to exercise every day. (Which is really more like 1 ½ or 2 hours if you plan to go somewhere like a gym).
That being said, any amount of exercise you can add to what you are (or aren’t) doing now will improve your health, help you control your weight, and improve your mood. When you can, try to schedule a real workout. When you can’t, focus on easy ways to add small amounts of activity into your normal day:
Take the stairs. For one week, make yourself take the stairs every time you change floors. You’ll see an improvement in your huffing and puffing by the end of the week, and you’ll be convinced that this is real exercise! When I was a resident, one of our legendary attendings climbed a new mountain every summer during his vacation. The only training he ever did was to take the stairs in the hospital. (He looked great after 10 flights of stairs… the interns were suffering.) At a minimum make a 2 or 3 floor rule i.e. take the stairs if you are going up 2 or 3 floors. You should always take the stairs if you are going down!
Commute on your feet. If you live close enough (and it’s safe), walk or bike to work. If you have to drive, park farther away than you usually do so you have to walk a little farther.
Wear a pedometer. Find out how many steps is an “average” day for you and set a new goal. Shoot for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day.
Don’t stroll on rounds. A lot of people who give advice about increasing activity talk about “walk meetings”. We have walk meetings all the time! (We call them rounds.) If you are in charge of rounds, set the standard by walking quickly between areas and taking the stairs.
Drink a lot of water and then use restrooms on a different floor. No one drinks enough water at work, so this helps meet that need. The obvious consequence of drinking enough water can lead to more walking!
Stand when you are talking on the telephone or writing in a chart. This sounds trivial, but it actually adds a lot to overall activity. If you are somewhere you won’t be embarrassed, add some squats or lunges while you are talking.
Have active post-call “team meetings”. Instead of meeting for a “beverage” at a restaurant (or other establishment), go play Frisbee in the park (beverages allowed). (Picture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_disc)