How does a physician stay active or maintain a healthy exercise regimen during grueling hospital rotations? Making time to take care of yourself can be quite difficult when most of our time is spent helping others. 

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this, and many physicians I know have succeeded in doing so, including myself. Finding time to exercise should be no different for us than it is for people not working in the medical field. It all starts with incorporating simple changes into our daily routine that add up to big, lasting changes.

So what changes are we talking about? How can we be better role models for our patients by being healthier, more active physicians? It’s quite easy, actually. Here are a few simple things that every physician can keep in mind when trying to improve their fitness goals:

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●     Don’t think of exercise as a chore or something that is part of your never-ending “to do” list. Instead, think of it as something that needs to be incorporated into your everyday life — just like taking a shower in the morning, checking your social media, or even using the bathroom.

●     Always take a gym bag packed with clean workout clothes wherever you go. If you drive, leave it in your car, if you take the subway or walk, leave it in a locker or the call-room in the hospital, but don’t leave home without it. Even if you don’t end up working out that day, at least in the back of your mind, you can always tell yourself: “I might be able to work out today because I brought some clothes with me.”

●     Always reassess your reasons for not working out. For example, on days when you just do not feel like going to the gym, ask yourself: “What’s my reason for not going to the gym today?” If you can’t come up with a good enough reason, such as deadlines, an appointment, an upcoming board exam, or a family emergency, then there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t make it to the gym.

●     Change up your workout regimen. If you feel as if you’re getting bored with doing the same 30-minute jog on the treadmill, try a circuit workout the next time you get to the gym. Or even ditch the treadmill altogether and go for a run outside in the park, weather permitting. Unfortunately, routines tend to get boring, and when we start getting bored, we stop following them. So in order to combat this problem, don’t be afraid to change it up every once in a while. Try a spin class, yoga, or a P90x workout session.

●     Don’t ever expect to find time to exercise — make time for it instead. As physicians, we’re never going to find time to do anything but take care of our patients, find a spot in a deserted corridor of the hospital for a quick nap, or scavenge the hospital for free food. The trick to finding time to exercise is to actively make time for it — and don’t feel guilty about it either! Easy ways to do this can include getting up a little earlier in the morning before going to see your patients, finding a time during the day for a quick 20- or 25-minute workout, or finding the strength to fit in a workout after a long day at the hospital.

●     Exercise before you go home — especially if you aim to exercise after work. After a long day of seeing patients, it’s no surprise that the first thing you want to do is to go home, collapse on the couch, and stay there. But we all know that the minute you get on that couch, there’s no miracle on earth that will get you off it. Instead, be sure to squeeze in your workout before you get home — then you can feel a sense of accomplishment once you finally get to lie on that couch.

●     Consistency is key. It’s not about how long you spend at the gym, or how intensely you work out; just be sure to keep the routine going. Don’t skip too many gym days and don’t overexert yourself during your workouts. The most important thing in maintaining a health fitness regimen is to, well, have one. Start by going every other day for 30 minutes, and as you feel yourself becoming physically stronger, increase the frequency and intensity. It’s all about beating your own personal fitness goals — and don’t let the other gym-goers intimidate you.

Finding time to exercise is no different for physicians than it is for anybody else, even though we’d like to think otherwise. The work we do is meaningful, takes a lot of personal sacrifice, and is worth every minute of it. However, if we fail to take care of ourselves, how can we possibly be in the best health to take care of our patients? Never forget that we’re people, too — and we have every bit of responsibility to take our health seriously, just as we recommend our patients do. 

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