How to Stay Active During PA School Without Sacrificing Study Time

Jan. 26, 2016

By Tina Mindich, PA-S II

There is no need to explain how time-consuming PA school is. Long hours, frequent tests, and a seemingly endless amount of medical material to master at the risk of harming the patients you haven’t met yet is just plain daunting. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are all already taking care of the most important patient we will ever provide for – ourselves.

So many of PA students come from highly active medical careers. The body and mind can easily get shocked from the transition to full-time sedentary academia. That said, this is a vital time to stay healthy. Maintaining at least some physical activity during school (especially didactic year or years) is pivotal to your memory. Furthermore, patients love seeing fit clinicians! When patients see that you practice what you preach then they are more willing to trust your advice on healthy lifestyle.

While PA school may not be the time in your life where you take up fitness modeling as a hobby, it is certainly a time that you can remain active without sacrificing significant study time. Here are a couple tips that I used during my didactic year and continue to use now that I am on rotations:

  1. Water break!

Always keep a water bottle within arm’s reach and within your field of vision. If you can tolerate a straw without burping too much you can sip without stopping your work (look ma, no hands!). Keeping the cue to drink within close range holds a threefold advantage: First, you stay hydrated. Obviously. Second, you are less likely to snack on junk food if you are full with your water; easily accessible, zero calories, and within arm’s reach. Third, the more you drink, the more you pee. Having to take a bathroom break once an hour or so helped give me a focused reason to get up from my work, walk a little, and take a look away from a computer screen.

  1. The walk and talk

This requires a friend. Talk out study topics while going for a leisurely walk. I usually couldn’t handle this until the day or two before an exam when all of my index cards and outlines were complete. Walking for even a few minutes will increase blood flow to the brain, help stretch out your back that is likely near-kyphotic from hunching over a computer, and it really helps pass the time! Now I do this over the phone, since my classmates and I are spread out for rotations.

  1. Gym time review

With the right materials, a cardio machine is the perfect workspace. Index cards, textbooks, outlines, podcasts, and YouTube videos are all easily portable to your local elliptical, stationary bike, or treadmill. I listened to The Physician Assistant Exam Review Podcast ( while running, read my textbooks while on the bike, and watched Kahn Academy ( and Andrew Wolff ( from my phone on the elliptical. Fair warning, it is hard to reach your maximal exercise intensity while effectively studying, but the long bouts of low-intensity activity can still produce a respectable sweat.

Fun aside about using the gym to study – my roommate and I tried do the hardest full body workout possible before our MSK anatomy practical. We thought having sore muscles would help us remember origins, insertions, and actions of muscles. It kind of worked.

  1. Trick out your desk

A fitness friendly desk is easy to make, even on a tiny budget. Sitting on a stability ball helps to maintain posture and keep the core erect. I bought one for $10 when I started school. You can also make your own convertible standing desk. I used shoeboxes and textbooks, depending on what I was trying to work on. Nowadays, I stand at my kitchen counter instead of my desk. It is higher so I don’t have to stack as much. If your desk is the perfect study oasis, then you are doing yourself one more favor: avoiding bed studying. The more awake time spent in bed, the harder it is for your body to understand when it is time to sleep.

Low and behold, PA school can be a time to focus on your own health while preparing to focus on the health of others. I’m living proof – I ran three personal records and lost 10 pounds since I started school. You can do it too!

Tina Mindich

Tina Mindich, PA-S II

SUNY Upstate Medical University

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