How to Exercise with a Busy Schedule

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This post was done in collaboration with Ethan Jose of EJ Fitness. Check out his YouTube channel! As we get busier and busier, exercise is unfortunately one of the first things that we compromise on. I’m here to show you that it should be the last thing to compromise, and how you can manage to exercise every day, even when you are super busy. This post is not about why you should exercise or the variety of health and cognitive benefits. To learn more about those, check out my post on “How Exercise Makes You Smarter.” I am proof that the content below really works – I recently did a 30 day fitness challenge on Instagram where I exercised daily throughout the month of August while in plastic surgery residency. I’ll show you how to do the same.  

1. Balance Routine vs. Flexibility

First, balance routine versus flexibility. We are creatures of habit and routines are incredibly powerful as they take out the energy required for thought and automate our behaviors. As much as I love routines, I have learned since starting residency that flexibility is also immensely important. On a typical day in residency, I go in around 5AM and get out around 6 or 7PM. However, there are days where we start later and get out earlier, or days where we start earlier and get out later. If I was too focused on maintaining a routine, I would never work out since my work hours are often unpredictable. I wouldn’t be able to work out at the same time every day. I have since learned that being flexible with the limited time I have is of utmost importance. If I start a day late or get out early, then I capitalize on the opportunity and go to the gym at that time. So how should you implement this? Your schedule will also likely change throughout your college or medical school career. When your schedule is more predictable, lean on routines to automate your exercise. When your schedule is unpredictable, as it often is during residency, then lean more heavily on flexibility and remind yourself to seize the moment whenever you have down time.  

2. Kill 2 Birds with 1 Stone

If there are alternatives that incorporate activity, then you should opt for those. Commuting doesn’t have to be constrained to being inside a car, train, or other motorized vehicle. You have to commute anyway, so you might as well get some exercise while doing it. My personal favorite is biking to and from work. I get my much needed cardio, which I hate doing at the gym, and I even save time on my commute since driving during rush hour is prone to delays. You can do the same by riding your bike, or opt for walking, skateboarding, long-boarding, etc. Instead of waiting for the elevator, opt for the stairs. This is another excellent way to get a brief burst of activity without compromising your time. If you do love watching Game of Thrones every week, get your yoga mat and foam roller out and do some stretching, ab work, or yoga rather than just sitting on the couch. Lastly, use your study breaks as times for brief moments of exercise. It doesn’t have to be a 1 hour gym session. You can do planks, pull ups, or yoga in just a few minutes during your Pomodoro break sessions.  

3. Use the Scientific Process Behind Behavior Change

In exercising regularly, half of it is creating the time in your schedule and the other half is properly incentivizing yourself so that you want to do it. I made a post summarizing an excellent book by Dr. Sean Young on how to change your behaviors – this goes over various tools to make a desired behavior, such as exercising regularly, easy to implement and maintain.  

4. Prioritize Exercise Over Unproductive Tasks

We are all busy doing a variety of tasks throughout the day but we have to constantly ask ourselves how important each task is and whether or not it is getting us closer to our goals. We often waste hours scrolling through social media apps, watching TV, or playing video games. Unless these activities align with our aspirations and goals, then they are most likely not making a meaningful contribution to our lives. In order to exercise regularly, we should prioritize our workout sessions over these unproductive tasks. Exercise not only benefits your health and mental wellbeing; it allows you to stay focused on your daily tasks.  Increased focus leads to increased productivity, which ultimately leads to you reaching your goals faster.  

5. Find Something You Enjoy

One of the most reliable ways to ensure you exercise regularly is truly enjoying your exercise. This will vary from person to person – whether you love running, weight training, HIIT training, cycling, pilates or yoga. While there are advantages to each type of physical activity, any type of physical activity is better than no physical activity. It’s important that we are realistic with ourselves. Relying on discipline is often necessary when it comes to exercise, but you can make regular exercise much easier by choosing a form of exercise that makes you happy and fits your lifestyle and personality. If you don’t have a favorite yet, don’t be afraid to experiment with different activities. It also bears noting that you may enjoy a certain activity more by exercising with friends or a group of people – or you may prefer working out by yourself.
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