As every physician knows, eating well and exercising are two key factors in preventing illness and disease and for maintaining optimal health. But as every locum tenens physician knows, making good food choices and finding time for regular workouts while on the road is no easy task. Here are practical tips for staying fit and healthy while traveling.
Study your schedule in advance. Exercise—a brisk walk, yoga class, or hardcore gym workout—is often the first thing to fall off the list when life gets busy. Before you leave for a locum tenens engagement, look at your schedule and write in your calendar times when you can commit to exercise. Suzanne Schlosberg, author of The Ultimate Workout Log andThe Ultimate Diet Log says exercising four days a week is ideal, but doing something is better than doing nothing. “If it’s a short-term stay, you don’t necessarily have to maintain your usual level of exercise,” she notes. “It doesn’t take much to maintain your fitness. If you usually exercise five or six days a week, you can stay fit with twice-a-week workouts if you keep up the intensity of your workout.” Schlosberg recommends a morning workout if possible because it’s so easy to tell yourself that you’re too tired at the end of the day.
Pack your own gym. Schlosberg recommends two pieces of exercise equipment that are easy to pack and use on the road: a jump rope and a stretch tube. “You can get a good total body workout with a stretch tube,” says Schlosberg, who adds that if jumping rope is in your plan, ease into it, as it is more demanding than you might imagine. There is always the hotel gym if the equipment is to your liking, and do not overlook those early morning cable TV exercise programs. A half-hour of bending and stretching in your hotel room isn’t a bad way to start the day. Consider, too, bringing your own workout DVDs if the hotel has players in the rooms.
Every little bit helps. When you are out of your usual exercise routine, taking a few extra steps can help you stay fit and burn calories. Park your car in the farthest lot and enjoy a quick stroll to the clinic or hospital. Take the stairs rather than the elevator when possible. Schlosberg is a big fan of the pedometer and says a good goal is 10,000 steps a day. If it’s noon and you have only logged 3,000 steps, that might motivate you to walk down to the radiology department to look at those films rather than hear the report over the phone or read it on the computer.
Get a gym pass. Whether you are on a short- or long-term assignment, consider buying a temporary pass to a local workout facility. Ask around for recommendations.
Pack your own food. During long shifts at the hospital or layovers at the airport, having healthy snacks handy can help you avoid the dreaded vending machine “meal.” Schlosberg recommends munching on grapes and baby carrots as a way to steer clear of packaged sweet and salty snacks. Nibbling on your personal stash of healthy food will make you less likely to succumb to the temptation of warm cinnamon buns in the airport or hospital cafeteria.
The most important meal of the day. Your mother was right. Eating a good breakfast is an excellent way to start the day. If your hotel offers a complimentary breakfast, bypass the glazed pastries and go for instant oatmeal with a banana and milk instead. “Get off to a good start and you’ll feel better about yourself all day,” encourages Schlosberg.
Educate yourself in advance. Most chain restaurant Web sites offer the nutritional content of the food. Find out which restaurants are convenient and do your homework. Schlosberg also warns against consuming too many liquid calories. “Some coffee drinks have as many calories as a Big Mac,” she says.
Making good nutrition and proper exercise a priority will result in healthier and more enjoyable locum tenens engagements. Plus, you’ll be setting a positive example for your patients, and that’s good medicine for you and for them.