Practice What You Preach: Fitness in PA School

PA student pose for a picture on campus

Hello! My name is Riggs; I am a PA-1 student and I am going to discuss both the importance and practicality of regular exercise during PA school. Our cohort is about half way through the didactic portion of our schooling, and I can say with pride that I have maintained a regular exercise regime throughout the first two blocks. It was not easy and required sacrifice and discipline, but I have found it absolutely critical. My biggest motivator? I have a strong commitment to practice what I preach. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150-300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and two days a week of strength training. This recommendation is one many of us are taught in order to educate our future patients on the proven benefits of exercise. Regular exercise is a preventative measure against a multitude of diseases, especially those that are extremely prevalent in the US: obesity, DM II, heart disease, etc. 

I am passionate about diet and exercise, but I also feel strongly convicted to practice what I preach. I plan to do primary care and attend to advise my patients to attempt a healthy diet and regular exercise routine. I feel this request is more meaningful when it comes from a practitioner who walks the talk. That being said, PA school is without a doubt the most hectic, stressful, and draining season of my life. I absolutely recognize that exercising regularly while in PA school is difficult and may look different than the year before, but regardless I can not emphasize the importance of regular “exercise snacks” as the Physical Therapy students call them. 

In the first year of PA school your body does an exorbitant amount of sitting and your brain an exorbitant amount of work. Making time to exercise allows your muscles to stretch and move after a long day of sitting and gives your brain time to decompress and synthesize information thrown at it all day long. You may not be able to get your crossfit or hot yoga classes in while in PA school, but you can get thirty minutes of exercise most days of the week. I have seen a number of students unable to fit their usual hour and half gym routine in so they just stop exercising altogether. It does not have to be that way! They tell us in PA school to BE FLEXIBLE. You will hear that phrase a million times if you go to Campbell. That and “stay out of the weeds,” which feels near impossible most days. Anyways, be flexible! You no longer have the time to go to the gym for an hour or two. Take a thirty minute run or power walk, do a youtube HIIT/HEAT class, do a youtube yoga video. The options are limitless. 

Additionally, understand that routine is key but there are weeks when your “exercise snacks” will be harder to get and that is ok. Have you ever tried the 30-10 method of studying? It is amazing! When I was working almost full time, taking PA prerequisites, and trying to stay sane I adopted this method. I would set a timer and flip my phone over on the opposite side of the room (I am easily distracted by my phone!) then I would power out 30 minutes of focused studying. After that, I had 10 minutes where I would “workout”. I would do this for a few hours so I ended up getting really quality study time in and usually a pretty good workout in as well. I would go for a ten minute run, do push ups and squats, really whatever popped into my head on the break. This may not have been the workout I would have preferred, I love going to classes for example, but setting realistic expectations for diet and exercise will be keys for success in PA school. The moral of the story is, PA school is crazy busy and hard but often so is life. Good habits start today and require commitment and discipline. 


-Kelsey Riggs, PA-S1