Maintaining a fitness routine while trying to keep up with a busy work schedule and taking care of your family can be near to impossible. For doctors, or those of us with a career in medicine, it can be particularly challenging. But, if being fit is a priority for you, you need to make time for it.
Notice I said “make” time, not “find” time. The reality is, you will never FIND time to exercise in an already full schedule. You have to go out of your way to create space in your day for movement and schedule it in just like any other important activity that you cannot miss. And sometimes that involves being creative and flexible.
With that in mind, I want to share a few suggestions on how to make exercise a priority in your already jammed-packed routine. However, before I share them, there are two very important things that need to be addressed in order to help you create the right mindset. Mindset is everything when it comes to healthy eating and physical fitness and all of the tips in the world will not be helpful if you are not clear on these two very important things.
First, find your WHY power. Ask yourself, “WHY do I want to improve my fitness?” I think this is the most important determinant of your success in incorporating a new fitness routine into your schedule and sticking to it. If you don’t have a powerful enough “why” you will likely fall off track the minute life throws you a curveball. Why do you want to improve your fitness? Get specific. And make your reason SO strong that it triggers positive emotions in you. This excerpt from Darren Hardy’s book “The Compound Effect” sums it up perfectly:
“Find your why power. Your choices are only meaningful when you connect them to your desires and dreams. You’ve got to want something and know WHY you want it, or you’ll give up too easily. To make you want to make changes your “why” has to be fantastically motivating.”
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Second, focus on discipline, not motivation. Patients and peers often ask me how I stay motivated to work out every day. Many assume it is a feat that comes naturally to me. Here’s the thing: I’m often not motivated. Although there are days when I jump out of bed ready to sweat, more often than not I want to stay curled up under the covers. But I get up and do it anyway.
“I’m just not motivated enough” and “I can’t seem to get motivated” are common excuses for why many people do not exercise. If you wait until you’re feeling motivated to start working out, you may NEVER start. You have to just do it, whether you feel like it or not. It’s found in discipline. It’s making your health a priority. Stop thinking about it, and just do it!
Now that we’ve got the foundation set with our why and a healthy dose of disciple, here some tips and tricks to help physicians maintain a fitness routine while navigating the day-to-day chaos that comes with being a busy medical professional.
1. Schedule it in.
Like I mentioned earlier, your exercise routine should be treated just like any other necessary activity in your day. Think of it like an important meeting that you can’t afford to miss- because you can’t. Your health (and sanity) depends on it! Get out your planner or calendar app every Sunday and figure out when and where you are going to work out. Be specific as to what type of exercise you are going to do. And don’t cancel on yourself!
2. Try at-home workouts.
Finding time to exercise is difficult enough without having to spend valuable time driving to and from the gym. Which is why I love at-home workouts. You don’t need much space- trust me on this one. I worked out between the kitchen island and the dining table in my old apartment! There is a plethora of at-home workouts on YouTube and available as apps. You also do not need a bunch of complicated equipment. A couple sets of dumbbells and a yoga mat is more than enough to help you get into shape.
3. Go hard.
I love HIIT style workouts and find that they are the best way to get and stay in shape without spending hours working up a sweat. HIIT stands for “high intensity interval training” and refers to short bursts of intense exercise followed by short recovery periods. HIIT style workouts are typically only 20-30min in duration and have been shown to improve athletic ability and produce a superior “after-burn” effect compared to steady-state exercise.
4. Ditch the “all or nothing” thinking.
When it comes to fitness, something is ALWAYS better than nothing (other than on scheduled rest days- your body needs to recover!). For those times when your schedule is utterly overwhelming and even a 20-30 min workout is too much, do something for 10 min. We ALL have 10 min. Even better, do two to three 10 min bursts throughout the day. You can keep it really simple and do old school jumping jacks, squats, planks, and pushups, or download the “7 min Workout” app. Even a 10min brisk walk will do the trick. As a medical student and resident I made good use of the stairs in the hospital and even used my call room to get in a few push-ups and squats.
5. Workout on your way to work.
If you are lucky enough to work close to your office, try ditching your car or the bus a few times during the week, instead opting for your running shoes or bicycle. Yes, I know, this is a tough one for us women as the last thing we want to do is show up to work looking like a sweaty mess, but you can prepare in advance by keeping a small toiletry bag full of the essentials (dry shampoo, face/body wipes, deodorant) along with a work outfit at your office. Finding a gym close to your office is another option. Go either before or after work and consider it part of your work-week routine.
6. Make fitness FUN.
We all know that you are more likely to make time for things you enjoy. And not all of us enjoy pumping iron or spinning our wheels on the treadmill. This may take some trial and error, but once you find that activity that lights you up, it will be much easier to make time for it. In this day in age there are no shortage of fitness activities and exercise classes. Martial arts, spin classes, pilates, yoga, dancing … the list goes on. If you have kids get them in on the fun! Many dance studios offer options for little ones and more and more gyms are offering children’s fitness classes.
At the end of the day, you have to do what works for you and your schedule. It will take some effort on your part. Maintaining a regular fitness routine in the face of job stress and an overpacked schedule is hard. But so is feeling out of shape and being unhealthy. Choose which one you want to experience as a doctor and set as an example for your patients.
Read more from Erin Shaw, MD, CCFP and fellow physicians at www.followyourgutmdnp.com and find her on Instagram at @fitnfundoc.