Exercise for Medical Students and Residents

There is no question that there are many people who have integrated exercise into their daily routine so successfully that they don’t even think about it.  It becomes part of their day, just like brushing their teeth, or putting on their pants in the morning.  But even though it seems like the majority of people around you are in this category, it’s just not true.  There are the real exceptions – like the guy who gets up at 4 every morning (even if he went to sleep at 2) to run.  If you have never been an “athlete” you may feel really intimidated by these people.  .

The benefits of exercise during your training can’t be overestimated.

  • It’s the right thing to do.  Physicians do physical as well as intellectual work.  You are taking care of people’s families.  It doesn’t surprise you that policemen, firemen, astronauts and soldiers have physical fitness as a requirement.  It’s no different for us. .
  • You will have a life after training.  In your 20s and 30s, you may be able to get away with not being active, but those years of inactivity will be paid for later.
  • You will feel better physically.  You will have more energy.
  • You will feel better emotionally.  There is a direct effect of working out (stress reduction), but there is also the psychological benefit of taking care of yourself.

Consistency, not intensity is the key

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to view working out as something that you do as an activity “outside” of your day.  A 45 minute work out, plus the time to get to the gym, plus showering and changing can easily take an hour and a half.  For many residents, that kind of time commitment is a luxury they can’t afford.  So, we have great intentions to get to the gym 3 times a week… and next thing you know, a month has gone by with no trips to the gym at all.  One of the ways to improve consistency is to have a list of a variety of things to choose from.  Although it’s expensive in most cities, a gym membership will help.  See if it can’t be part of your holiday “wish list” for your family.  The other thing that should be on that list, by the way, is a maid once a week to do your laundry and clean your house.  Unless, of course, you want to use housecleaning as one of your calorie burning activities!

It’s a skill, and there are teachers

Most people know about cardiovascular training and have probably run, swam, or biked at some point in their life.  The nice thing about running, swimming and biking is that everyone can do them, often at any time of the day, and it doesn’t take a lot of money, or a gym membership to do.  But there are other options for cardiovascular fitness that you can explore – spinning classes, martial arts training, aerobics classes – when these are offered at gyms, there will always be a teacher to help you learn.

Even though the emphasis is often on cardiovascular training alone, fitness is a composite of cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training.  If you’ve never participated in team sports, and haven’t had a reason to be in a gym, there is a good chance you don’t know the basics about weight training.  You are not alone, and it’s normal to feel a bit intimidated.  You can find a fellow resident to show you, but, often they haven’t learned proper form, either.  It’s better to have a pro show you.  If you join a gym, there are several options.  Many gyms have circuit classes using free weights – which is a great combination of cardiovascular and strength training.  There are also personal trainers.  Although you probably won’t want to spend the money for a trainer on a regular basis, you can hire one for 2 or 3 sessions to teach you about each of the machines, and help you plan a workout routine or two.

Unfortunately, morning is usually the best time to work out

There are a few people who, no matter how tired they are can get to the gym, or go for a run after work.  If your day started at 5 or 6 and is ending after 5 or 6 (or 7 or 8 or…), most people are just too tired and the call of the couch is too strong to go workout.   In general, the most consistent exercisers usually get it done first thing in the morning.  For most medical students morning will usually work.  As you enter your residency, you are going to have to be more flexible.

Different days = different workouts

Call days are tough… and, for exercise, the day after call is the toughest of all.  The key here is consistency.  On the post-call day, don’t plan for long workout at the gym, but do plan for a 20 minute brisk walk when you get home.  If there is a way to have someone cover you for 30 minutes before morning rounds, go for an early morning run outside, or climb the stairs in the hospital for 20 minutes.  Don’t forget to plan in a day or two of rest, every week.  It’s tempting to use the post-call day for your recovery and that may be the best thing some weeks.  However, recovery from call is easier if it includes some working out.

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