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MD Fitness: It’s Not Brain Surgery

As medical professionals, you are right on the proverbial front lines of a constant battle against sickness, disease, and potentially catastrophic emergencies.  If you are not the best, sharpest version of yourself, how can your patients possibly put their full faith and trust in you?  If you don’t look like you take care of yourself, why should they believe you can take care of them?

It’s no secret that working in medicine is not an ordinary lifestyle.  You have a constantly changing schedule, working ridiculous hours around the hospital or practice, and you’re always putting others’ well-being ahead of your own.  So here are just a few small tips of how to stay on top of your health, and just maybe it’ll help make you a better caregiver as well:

Tips to stay fit as a physician: 


If you listen to only one point from me today, please let it be to get your proper amount of water!  It’s not called the “universal solvent” for nothing.  Your bodies are over 60% water, and the brain, lungs, and heart consist of even more!  Proper joint lubrication, good skincare, healthy metabolism — it’s all affected by your water consumption.  From now on, think “keys, wallet, phone, WATER!” You can’t drink it if you don’t have access, so get a water bottle.  When you feel like you’re running a little hot, grab some water.  If you’re feeling a little sluggish, have a few swigs of water.  Make it a goal to get at least 80 ounces each day.

I find for most clients that carrying around a gallon-jug of water is not a habit they necessarily want to adopt.  To make it practical, get yourself a nice, 32-ounce water bottle, and make it a plan to have three of those per day.  Keep it handy in the operating room, at your desk, in the library, when you go to bed.  Get used to this practice and I guarantee you’ll already feel a bit better!


By this point in your career — whether you’re in your clerkships, residency, fellowship or beyond — I’m sure you’ve had enough tests, papers, and deadlines where you know how to think ahead in order to appropriately allocate your time to get everything done.  Your health and nutrition is no exception!  If you know you’re going to be at the hospital or away from the convenience of your own kitchen for the day, you must plan ahead!

Meal prepping is not just for bodybuilders and cardio junkies.  It’s a concept that has been widely adopted by working parents and busy professionals alike, as a way to ensure that inconvenience doesn’t hinder their nutritional objectives.  Think of a few meals you like (lean protein, complex carb, and greens — we’ll discuss this more later) and make one the night before.  Even if you just cook for two, you already have multiple meals covered for the following day!  Also when you have your schedule for the week, go ahead and determine when you will set aside time for exercise.  Book it on your calendar just like you would any other appointment.  Start with trying to get at least three or four 30-45 minute workout sessions in weekly, and then determine what else your schedule might allow for.

3. Don’t fall victim to CONVENIENCE. 

Sure it’s great to know that there will be pizza every Friday on the 6th floor and donuts every Monday in the break room, but I find that convenience is one of my clients’ greatest adversaries.  Hospitality meals, while wonderful in sentiment, seem to a lot of times not be the most wholesome food choices.  Pizza, deli subs, and sweets are often the no-brainer options because they are relatively inexpensive and generic enough to please most.  This does not have to be your downfall though!

Even if you fail to plan ahead with your meals, you can still stay on track.  Decide that you will only have one (or two) slices of pizza and have a salad with it.  If you’re having subs, find a way to reduce the cheese and condiment portions by half.  Choose mustard over ketchup and mayonnaise to save on the sugars and fat.  You don’t have to go hungry, but be mindful of your choices so you can stay on track.

4. Establish a ROUTINE, and STICK TO IT! 

It has long been proposed that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  To make it a little easier, I advise my clients to “just start stringing a few good’ days together.”   Establish your workout schedule and nutritional goals, and ensure you are getting an adequate amount (7-8 hours) of sleep each night.  Whatever your objective is, see how many days you can do it consecutively without cheating.  Then try to beat that streak the next time.  And the next time, and so on.

No one is a machine. I would never tell anyone to never eat a piece of chocolate again, or that they were effectively banned from eating pizza and ice cream.  You have to enjoy life.  You will falter on your nutrition.  The key is getting right back on that horse and back to business.  Limit the sugar, sodium, and bad fats, and make sure you’re getting your physical activity in.  By the time you make it up to 21 days, you might just find you’re a whole new person who doesn’t even crave any of the same things.

I imagine you already knew at least some of these things, and it’s no cracking of the da Vinci code to you.  There is no magic formula or secret tricks.  It’s all about STRATEGY and EXECUTION.  Realize what you need to do to accomplish your goals, make a plan, and then do it.  I challenge each of you to adopt at least two of these practices for the next month, and see how you feel.  I’ll bet your patients just might notice a little extra bounce in your step or energy in your voice!  Now you’re helping the world, baby!

Michael Dockter is the Managing Director of the Reserve Fitness & Wellness in Louisville, Kentucky. He also leads small group classes and trains individuals at the club.