Want to stay in shape during residency? Here’s how.

How many times have you heard resident physicians say that they do not have time to exercise and get in shape? When looking at the numbers, it’s hard to blame them. An 80-hour work week is enough to make anyone realize that time is a precious commodity.

Take away six-to-eight hours for sleep each day, plus a couple of hours for eating, showering and studying, and you are left with approximately 30 hours of free time per week.

From that alone, it is easy to see why exercise and fitness are usually not at the top of a resident physician’s priority list.

However, what if I told you that residency is probably the best time for you to do something about your fitness.

Here’s why.

Residency can be extremely stressful to your body and to your mind.

The drastic increase in work hours along with the responsibility of caring for real-life patients can be very overwhelming. It isn’t uncommon for young physicians to go through periods of depression and begin to develop chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Many hospitals have begun to realize the importance of physician wellness and have started to integrate health and meditation initiatives for their residents.

While these initiatives are a good start, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that improving our fitness could have on our mind and body.

There are very few things that you can do that will benefit both your emotional and physical well-being more than exercise could. Countless research studies have demonstrated the numerous benefits to exercising, so I won’t delve into that topic any further.

Keep in mind, exercising doesn’t necessarily mean lifting weights. There are many activities that you can participate in that could be considered exercise.

Many residents believe that they can delay improving their health for when they have more free time.

There isn’t always going to be more time in the future. You don’t know what the future holds, and, perhaps, you may be just as busy, if not busier later in life.

Dedicating time for yourself during residency takes a lot of focus and discipline. As a resident physician, you have already proven yourself as someone who can achieve high levels of accomplishment. You already possess the tools necessary to improve your fitness.

Successfully committing to a fitness regimen during busy times will help you develop powerful habits — habits that you will keep for the rest of your life.

While in residency, you will be in your late 20s and early 30s, which are the peak years of your life.

Unfortunately, physical fitness tends to decline after your peak years because we tend to ignore our health more and more as the years go by. The less you focus on your fitness, the more it continues to worsen. This also holds true for your diet. If you continue to make poor food choices and ignore exercise, your body won’t be able to metabolize food like it used to. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until you get a diagnosis of obesity, diabetes or hypertension.

So how can a resident get in shape?

First and foremost it is important to make the decision that you are going to improve your fitness. This decision needs to be final and non-negotiable. You will accomplish your goal no matter what.

Once you have the appropriate mindset, identify a physical activity that you enjoy. One of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do for your health is resistance training.

Decide that you will participate in a 30-minute training session three times a week — no matter what.

Start light and start easy. It is important to begin with a gentle routine that you can adapt to over time both mentally and physically. One of the biggest mistakes people make is going too hard too soon, ultimately increasing the chances of quitting.

Progress slowly.

Only add incremental additions to your workout program. Be better than you were the day before, (or even the week before) by the smallest margin you can think of.

Vary the exercises and movement patterns that you do every few months. Ensure that the majority of your training is composed of functional exercises, the ones that use multiple muscle groups simultaneously and translate to real-world activities. These are the exercises that give you the biggest return on your investment.

Adhere to your routine. Make fitness a habit. After a few weeks, you will begin to feel the rejuvenating effects exercise has on your body and on your mind. Don’t delay any longer. Residency is the best time to get in shape.

Alex Robles is an obstetrics-gynecology resident who blogs at the White Coat Trainer.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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