Why You Should Stay Active in Medical School

Mattie is a first year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine. She obtained a degrees in cell, molecular, and developmental biology and nutrition science from Purdue University. Check out her Instagram @Mattie_Whitecoat to see more of her journey!

One of the biggest challenges of medical school for me is time. Between balancing time, finding extra time, and procrastinating your time, I find it can be one of the biggest sources of stress.  For me, I find it most helpful to make a schedule and try my best to stick to it, while allowing some room for flexibility. In my schedule, I include room for some brain power-less, down time each day. Some examples include throwing on some Netflix while I cook/eat dinner, taking a study break with a few friends for an ice cream run, checking social media, or exercising.

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Whether you are pre-med or a current medical student, you never feel like you have time for everything. That’s because you don’t! No matter what, there is always something more you could be doing whether it is catching up or getting ahead. Our to-do lists are constantly treadmilling – as soon as you cross something off you add at least one more thing. That is why I find it so vital to plan ahead. I plan my downtime into my schedule!

I think one of the best study breaks options is fitness! We spend so many hours a day sitting at a desk in lecture, hovered over our notes, working at a lab bench, or napping on the floor of a library that we don’t get our bodies moving enough! We are supposed to be some of the biggest advocates of health and wellness, yet we ourselves get caught up in the workload of life (myself included at times!). There are so many benefits to exercising for both physical and mental health which can help to actually improve time management, focus, and overall happiness. There have been many published studies done to prove the benefits of exercise as well as recommendations published by top health organizations based on the evidence.  Here’s a list of 5 benefits I get out of exercise which I find most applicable to the student life:

1. Mood and Focus Boost

Exercising has been shown to boost mood and I can definitely attest to this! The feeling I after a workout leaves me with happiness, accomplishment, and empowerment. I always finish ready to take on the next task and take on the day! It also helps with self-esteem and self-appearance. I find it easier to focus the rest of the day knowing I improved my health and boosted my mood.

2. Stress Relief

Exercising is a great avenue to relieve stress. Not only is it a great break from studying to allow some time to not think about school, but I find that I perform better when I can release my stress into the exercise I am doing. It reduces the stress level and allows a chance to go back to studying or work with a fresh start and clear mind.

3. Improved Time Management

This may seem contradicting…how can I have more time if I spend more time working out?! To relate back to my previous points, exercise can boost your mood and relieve stress, leaving you more focused and motivated when you get back to your work - I find that I study more efficiently. I personally perform better when I am busy – if I have an entire afternoon open to “just study” I find more time to procrastinate. Breaking up study sessions helps me to really focus knowing I have a break ahead of me. I try to plan exercise before a meal, immediately after a long day of lecture before I start independently studying, or other times when I know I will need a mental break.

4. Achieving Goals Satisfaction

Everyone loves accomplishing a goal! It makes us happy and it makes us want to work harder towards our next one. I see exercise as accomplishing goal after goal. We all have to start somewhere at the beginning but I find making little goals for myself to run farther or faster, lift a little heavier, etc contribute to the feeling of happiness, keep me motivated to workout out, and encourage goal setting in other aspects of my life. 

5. Overall Health Improvement

We all know, but it has to be said…exercise improves our overall health while proactively decreasing the risk of many diseases!

Thank you Mattie for taking the time to write this informative article on staying active during medical school. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!