Balance ~ Hitting the Gym vs. Hitting the Books

Balance. As medical students and future doctors it is something we frequently speak about during interviews and strive to achieve. It is truly the key to success and in this post, I will be looking at how I achieve balance between my study and gym life.  

Finding a balance between time to study and time to go to the gym has been a skill I have learnt since my first year of university and I am still adapting to the growing responsibilities of a medical student. For example, I had a lot more free time in 1st year compared to 3rd year (my current year) due to placement, more clinical skills teaching and lectures. Nonetheless, something I have found to help is perspective. I have to be honest with myself at the times where I feel guilty for leaving the library to go workout and ask myself how much would that 1 hour of studying actually contribute to my knowledge long term. I could have done 1 lecture or a few questions, maybe even practiced an OSCE station but how much of an impact would that have on my final grade at the end of the year? Very little. Revision and studying should be building on the knowledge that is already there (I like to refer to it as the layers of revision) therefore 1 hour less of studying will not lead to me failing my exams. So, the next time you tell yourself you just don’t have time or your time would be better spent studying, analyse how true that statement really is.

Something else that has also helped me find balance between the two is the fact that they complement each other so well. I try to refrain myself from seeing the gym as a “chore”because this will lead me to feeling like I have to go rather than I want to go. Also, the gym can be the perfect break away from studying, especially if you find yourself stuck on a difficult topic that is proving difficult to understand. It allows you to clear your mind and come back to your revision material with a clearer mind and a fresh set of eyes. Several studies have been done on the benefits of exercising whilst studying and some common findings is that they increase your alertness and attention span. Also, eating a healthy diet with plenty of water does provide cognitive benefits which can also help with revision.

In addition to that, organisation and planning my days and weeks ahead of time has to be one of the biggest factors which allows me to remain balanced and on top of my commitments. I start each new week writing a list of goals in terms of what topics I want to study, any lectures/clinical teaching/placement days I need to attend and then all the other things that may occur during the week for example church service or OSCE practice or even an afternoon out with my friends. I start slotting in these goals into each day and fitting in gym sessions around that. For example, if I wanted to study haematological cancers this week but also do 2 practice OSCE sessions and go out to lunch with my friend, I would fit these into the days and make gym sessions fit around them. Occasionally this may mean sleeping very late or waking up early but I try my best to catch up on the missed sleep with naps or weekend lie ins. I would advise getting a planner/diary or even using notes on your phone. Making a spreadsheet is also a good way to do this and is something I used to do in 2nd year.

Finally, I’d say my most important tip is being okay with not being able to do everything. It’s very easy to be hard on ourselves and stress about every single thing but there are going to be days where you cant get everything done and you learning to be okay with this is crucial! Putting pressure on yourself is good to an extent, the right amount of pressure can force you to be productive and push yourself but too much pressure can leave you feeling run down and unhappy, both of which I have experienced. There are days where I get 6/7 hours of studying done and had time to smash my gym workouts but there are other days where I only get in an hour of studying and wasn’t able to spend as much time in the gym as I wanted to and I have learnt to be equally content with both. Medicine does not define you, neither does the gym, it is what you do not who you are. Tomorrow is always another day to do more and be better but appreciate the little victories you had today!