Staying Healthy as a Physician: Fitness Tips for 2024
The average working day of a physician isn’t an easy one. Faced with long shifts and myriad clinical responsibilities, it’s all too easy to neglect your own body’s needs in the service of your profession. But that doesn’t have to be the case!
With a new year (and a nice dose of motivation) now in motion, you can implement these simple fitness habits to stay energized, prevent burnout, and better serve both yourself and your patients.
My experience setting (and keeping!) fitness routines
Picture this: the holiday ham and turkey have long since settled in your midsection. Another year has come and gone. Your list of New Year’s resolutions is complete! And, just like the other 99% of folks out there, you want to prioritize your fitness this year.
Call it what you will: “Lose x pounds, workout x days per week, eat better.” But when can you find the time? Do you truly resolve to stick to your resolutions?
I recently found myself facing the same dilemmas, but I was determined to stick to my goals. So, I went searching for the right opportunities to work on my body and ended up finding the answer in a place I never would’ve expected.
It was an average Tuesday morning at home. And when I say “morning,” I don’t mean leisurely washing down breakfast at 9:30 a.m… This is 5:12 a.m., with the cat meowing at the bedroom door after your four-year-old already woke you up no less than three different times during the night.
With my heart rate cracking 100 and chances of falling back asleep approaching a zero-asymptote, I say, “Forget it—I’m going to the gym.”
Now, I had previously written off prehospital working out because it was simply “too early.” When prompted, “When do you work out?” I would respond, “Well, I can’t go before work…”
The morning before work was a black box that couldn’t be unlocked. Until today.
I somewhat begrudgingly arrive at the YMCA, and the place is loaded with other early birds. Instantly, the experience is normalized. There’s nothing special about my life or career or its demands. Time exists to get the exercise in before work, and the decision to do so (or not) was squarely in my hands.
If all these folks were showing up, why couldn’t I?
I arrived at the hospital after the workout feeling fantastic. With a major box checked before I even got into scrubs, I had greater control of the day and greater control of myself. I felt accomplished before patient number one.
Since then, I’ve worked to make this morning ritual a staple of my workday routine. It may not be easy (and it may not be the best fit for you), but it’s done wonders for my mood and physical readiness.
If you’re hoping to reap the same rewards, then consider the following fitness strategies to supercharge your life with a get-up-and-go attitude.
Tip 1: Get creative
As a physician, there are days when exercise seems like an impossibility. For example, today I’m captive on a 24-hour Sunday call. How will I get a workout in? Can I just call it a rest day? Don’t fret. There’s still room for activity even on the tightest days.
After dabbling into some fitness podcasts, I learned about “rucking,” which is the simple art of loading up a backpack with some weight and just moving around. Usually, the hobby entails a long walk, somewhere special or beautiful. But I’m relegated to the stairwell. I walk from the basement to the helipad with 40 lbs strapped on my back, and 20 minutes later, I’ve beat myself into enough of a pulp to feel good.
The last time I was covering the 24-hour weekend OB call, I took maybe 2,400 steps and left feeling caged. Today was an entirely different experience.
Is there an empty hallway where you can bust out some wind sprints? A chunk of your call room to throw down your yoga mat and laptop? Or just walk the hospital and stairwells, remember moving around at all is far healthier than sitting, killing time and self.
Tip 2: Stop making excuses
We are all busy. We are all short on time. I saw colleagues in my department doing far more than I was, so I had to step up my game. There are ultramarathoners and professional bodybuilders alongside me in the OR. If they can do it, so can I and so can you.
But to wake up at 5 a.m., don’t you have to go to sleep at 9 p.m. or something? Yes. And that’s all right. I miss out on a little quality time with my wife, but I’m a better, happier person in the time we do spend together. And what actually gets done in the 9 o’clock hour? Usually scrolling for something on Netflix, only to feel mildly disappointed and even more drained.
Tip 3: Realize the time is now, and it won’t get any easier
I recently listened to a longevity and wellness podcast, in which the podcaster offered something like this:
If you want to be a strong 80-year-old (i.e., picking up grandkids and keeping up with them on the playground), you need to be a very strong 70-year-old. And to be a very strong 70-year-old, you need to be an incredibly strong 60-year-old. Keep rewinding, and you’ll realize it behooves you to be (or to get) as fit as possible right now.
Time will only serve to rob us of endurance and strength, so we have to fight aggressively hard to hang onto it.
My job as an anesthesiologist brings me in contact with plenty of frail folks who have broken a hip. And everyone knows the data and outcomes after broken hips are not ideal. I often wonder—could this have been avoided with a little more balance? A little more coordination or strength?
Join me in the fight against sarcopenia. Find the time, get it done, and every venue of your life will improve. After all, you are supposed to be the model of healthy living for your patients. You are a doctor, a creator, and a maintainer of health.
Are you going to encourage smoking cessation and then light up in the parking deck? Are you going to counsel on less alcohol and processed meat, and then wash down your nitrates with a bottle of wine? Lead by example. Aim to be the model of fitness that you would love your patients to become.
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