Residency Health

How to Stay Healthy During Residency


Resident physicians are committed to improving the health of their patients, but they often lack this commitment to their own health and well-being. With 80-hour work weeks, inconsistent sleep schedules and studying, this is completely understandable. However, residency is arguably the most important time for physicians to stay fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle. They may say, “I don’t have time for that!” -- but it’s vital that physicians take care of themselves with the amount of stress and fatigue that comes with residency. The psychological and physical benefits of working out and eating right far outweigh the inconvenient aspect of trying to fit it into a busy schedule.

So, how can residents keep up with their physical health? Here are some ways:

Choose your food wisely

If you absolutely cannot fit time for the gym into your schedule, the one thing you can control is what you put into your body. This is extremely important. For starters, avoid drinking your carbs and sugars and stick to water as often as you can. It may be a ‘boring’ drink, but drinking lots of water everyday flushes out toxins, prevents headaches and boosts the immune system -- just to name a few benefits. Add some natural flavoring to it if you have to.

Avoid fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King at all costs; trade that large fry for a large helping of vegetables. There are lots of ways to make vegetables more flavorful and tasty if the thought of eating them makes you cringe. Opt for high-protein meals like chicken or salmon that will give you more energy for those long days and nights caring for patients at the hospital -- you’ll thank yourself later.

You may be thinking, “much easier said than done.” While it’s true that picking up something from a drive-through window is much more convenient than having to buy groceries and prepare a meal for yourself, there are ways to cut down the prep time. Meal planning is an effective one-and-done method that provides a full week’s worth of healthy meals. For tips on how to meal plan, check out this link. Another method is using a slow cooker that you can throw some ingredients into in the morning and come home to a prepared meal at night, or an InstaPot that makes seemingly complex meals ‘instantly.’

Keep up with your physical fitness

Resident physicians may find it more motivating to workout not just for the physical benefits, but for their mental health and well-being. Numerous studies have proven the emotional and psychological benefits that come with consistently working out. It boosts your mood and keeps you more energetic throughout the day -- a huge plus for residents who have to be on their feet during long work hours at the hospital. Additionally, exercise can help with brain health and memory.

Again, this may seem easier said than done. But dedicating yourself to a workout regimen during this busy season of life will help you develop powerful habits you can use in the future. Remember, working out doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do intense weight-lifting. There are plenty of ways to make working out fun and personalized to your own strengths. You can join a yoga or cycling class, or play a sport with friends. If you enjoy the outdoors more than the gym, consider hiking or running outside. Any way you can get yourself moving during the week is going to significantly improve your mental and physical health -- and who knows, you may just find that you enjoy it.

Find time for yourself

Let’s be honest, residency can be draining. Physicians can easily get burned out with the long hours and demanding tasks to complete. It’s important to find time for yourself during this rewarding but challenging time in your career. Do whatever makes you feel relaxed and comforted, whether that means reading a good book, taking a bath, going on a walk or watching your favorite Netflix show. Recognize that you’re only human and you can’t work yourself to the bone. Give yourself a break and rest.

Resident physicians need to give as much focus to their own health as they do to their patients. With the rate of physician burnout higher than it’s ever been, taking care of yourself is no longer an option. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. Are you constantly fatigued, stressed-out, and find it hard to focus? Are you losing your drive to perform your physician duties? If so, you may be showing signs of burnout. Working out and eating healthy will only help you to an extent. Make sure to surround yourself with people who care about you and will support you during your residency.