Keeping Fit: Confessions of a Family Physician

Steven Rothschild, MDBy Steven Rothschild, MD

I have been a family physician for 30 years, and for too many years I must have repeated the same old line to my patients: “You know, you should think about exercising more.” Then I would tell my patients all the great benefits of exercise. I’ll bet you have heard your doctor say the same things to you, too. I once tried to estimate how many times I gave my patients this advice over the years. I stopped counting when I reached 10,000. But now, I am going to tell you a dirty little secret.

I never followed my own advice. I wasn’t getting any exercise. None. Zip.

About six years ago, though, I finally began to pay attention. I didn’t like how I looked. I didn’t like how I felt. I didn’t like being tired all the time. There was only one problem -– I still didn’t really want to exercise.

With a little encouragement from a friend, though, I started running. It would be more accurate to say that I started shuffling to the corner and trying to catch my breath. After a while, I started to feel better about my shuffle to the corner. So I started to shuffle to the next corner. And each time I ran, I felt a little better.

I won’t tell you what happened next -– at least not yet. But six years later, I am still running -– and going a lot farther than the corner. The question I want to consider is “why?” What made me get up off the couch in the first place, and more importantly, why did I stick with it all these years?

One answer may be found in a new book called “Instant Recess” by Dr. Toni Yancey. Dr. Yancey encourages adults to take 10-minute breaks for walking, jumping or even dancing -– activities that can be done just about anywhere and without any special clothing or equipment. The secret lies in that word “recess.” You remember recess -– it was the best part of the school day, the part you daydreamed about all morning, when you got to run outside, barely finding time to zip up your coat, and playing tag with your friends, or kicking a soccer ball, or climbing on the monkey bars. The teacher didn’t tell you that it was time to go outside and exercise. … You got to go outside and PLAY! Playing is fun! Playing makes you laugh! Playing makes you feel good!

And that’s the answer. I got lucky and I found something that was fun for me, that got my blood moving in the morning and helped me relax at the end of a long work day. Your recess might be something different -– Zumba dancing, or bicycling, or playing basketball, or a water aerobics class, or just walking around the block with a friend.

So here’s my new advice to my patients: Don’t think about exercising more. Just find a way that you can channel that inner kid who is still there inside you and find an excuse to play a little every day. If you listen hard enough, I’ll bet you can still hear the recess bell ringing.

Steven Rothschild, MD, a family practitioner at Rush University Medical Center, will talk about diet and exercise during a free event at Rush on Dec. 8.

One thought on “Keeping Fit: Confessions of a Family Physician

  1. What a great way to think of it! The word “exercise” just naturally seems like a chore, making it more tempting to resist. Thinking of it as a fun activity makes it seem so much more appealing.

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