Fitness during Residency

person rolling green gym mat

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As you might imagine, keeping fit during residency and medical school can be quite challenging. Many people find it hard to make time for exercise, but add in 80-hour workweeks, call days, and studying, not to mention the fact that our schedules rotate on a monthly basis, and it’s no wonder residents struggle to maintain a fitness schedule! However, we all know that exercise is one of the biggest stress-relievers and burnout prevention strategies for aspiring doctors, so finding time to work out regularly should be a priority. Below are some tips and tricks that have helped me keep my fitness regimen going, even during this crazy journey to MD.

  1. Figure out when your “prime time” for a workout is.  I never knew I was a morning workout person until I got my first job with a consulting firm after college. Between the tiring workday and the hour-long commute time I was drained after work and never wanted to work out once the day was done. Plus, the gym I went to was always so packed after 5pm that all my workouts took twice as long, and I got frustrated with the inefficiency. When I discovered the beauty of working out first thing in the morning, it felt like such a revelation! I had so much energy throughout the day I was able to eliminate caffeine from my diet (ahhh, those were the days) and my workouts were efficient and, best of all, done by 6:30am. It was helpful to have found a time to fit it in that really worked for me, so take some time to figure out when your optimal workout time is. Try different times of the day until you discover when you have the most energy, motivation, and stamina.
  2. Be flexible about your workout routine. But wait, did I just get finished saying to figure out your “prime time” for fitness?! Sure, but your constantly changing schedule won’t always permit you to work out at that time. I loved working out at 5:30am when I needed to be at work by 8:30, but am I willing to get up at 4am so I can exercise and hit the wards by 6? No way! Knowing your best time allows you to know when to target for workouts whenever you are able, but you won’t always be able. Don’t let that throw your game off.
  3. Schedule your workouts. As soon as you get that monthly schedule from your coordinator, schedule your workouts. I pull out my Google calendar and put them all in there. For me, it is very easy to tell myself that leg day is every Monday, then end up abandoning it when I realize on Monday morning that that intern happy hour was scheduled for that night. Laying it all out helps you plan around other scheduled events so you rarely have an excuse to miss. It also helps you to mentally gear up for your workouts and stick to them, almost like a little date with yourself that you want to keep.
  4. Make working out as convenient as possible. When you work 80 hours a week, you want to make everything else in your life as simple as possible; exercise is no exception. Think of ways to make working out as convenient as possible. Can you buy some equipment and do your favorite workout at home? Sign up for a gym or studio within short walking distance from home? Pack a gym bag at night to leave in your car so you can hit the gym straight after work? Anywhere you can “skinny down” the number of steps it takes you to get started exercising, do it! It will make working out seem like less of a chore during those long workweeks.
  5. Find creative ways to motivate yourself. I personally have found it helpful to transfer $5 to a separate account every time I hit the gym. At the end of every 3-4 months, I get to treat myself to a special purchase with the money I’ve saved! Think of little ways to “treat” yourself as a reward for working out, and you’ll find it that much easier to make time for it.
  6. If all else fails, grind it out. I have a friend who, during her ICU rotation, swore to herself that every day after her shift she would go to the gym, no matter what. It didn’t matter if she just got on the treadmill for 10 minutes, or had a kind of mediocre workout; she went anyway. She said she felt so much better than she otherwise would have during that tough rotation, all because of that little extra grit. And I hate to say it, but sometimes, that’s what it takes. So don’t give up, even when it gets really, really hard! Those endorphins are so worth it.



Me at the gym after a hard day’s work!

Those are the ways I’ve found to fit in workouts during my intern year of residency. What works best for you? Comment below!



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