Practice What You Preach
As we slave over our desks, spending hours learning how to prevent and treat chronic disease, we are doing the exact opposite of what we tell our patients to do. In every single systems course we learn how important it is to be active. Maintaining a sedentary lifestyle is the cornerstone of chronic disease. We learn about all this, sitting at a desk, being sedentary. Unfortunately, there is no way to cut the amount of time that we spend studying. However, we can modify our habits to stay healthy in medical school.
To me, being healthy is a lifestyle that we develop by making healthy choices. The two main ways to accomplish this are with diet and being active. Not only is eating healthy important, but getting up and moving is important too. Scheduling 30 min a day to exercise is definitely doable. However, what we need to focus on is not sitting down for hours at a time without moving. This is the definition of sedentary. Staying in one spot for too long without moving decreases your metabolism. It also decreases lymphatic flow and puts pressure on certain areas of your body for way too long.
Read on for a few tips on changes I have made to stay healthy in medical school. You can also check out my post on the Merck Manual Med Student Stories to read more about this topic! Check it out here.
Get Up and MOVE
Like I said above, scheduling 30 min of exercise (or whatever amount you can) a day is great. It is doable and definitely a good thing to do. However, working out for 30 min in the morning and then sitting for 8 hours, only getting up to get food or use the bathroom, is not the best. Continuously moving will help maintain a healthy metabolism and cut out that ‘sedentary’ lifestyle. But how are we supposed to do this when we need to study 10 or 12 hours a day? Well I have started incorporating little exercises into my study time. For example, I will stretch while watching a lecture or do 10 squats in between lectures. This might not get my heart rate up like running or lifting weights, but it helps to keep me moving throughout the day.
You can also walk on the treadmill with your notes, get a standing desk (or just use the kitchen counter like I do), or do little foot exercises while you are sitting. Basically, do what ever you can to incorporate some sort of movement into those 12 hour study days.
Get Healthy in the Kitchen
Prepping meals ahead of time has really helped me stay on track with a healthy diet. In general I try to eat a variety of foods and avoid adding unnecessary sugar. I don’t drink soft drinks or add sugar to my coffee. (If I am going to eat something sweet, I am going to eat ice cream, not waste my calories on soda!). I also make sure to have healthy snacks on hand at all times. As bad as it may be, snacking really does making studying SO much more enjoyable.
Because I like to snack a lot, and it helps me stay focused while studying, I tend to eat small little meals throughout the day instead of 3 big ones. This is more fun for me because I can add a little bit more variety to my diet.
At the end of the day, I like to finish my studying off with a glass of wine. I try to use this as motivation to eat healthy throughout the day. If I stick to my diet, I can have a glass of wine. If I don’t, then no wine for me! (Talk about a good motivator!)
To read more about staying healthy in medical school, check out my post on the Merck Manual Med Student Stories here!