Dr. Deborah Kowalchuk talks about the importance of keeping active and the benefits regular exercise brings to her busy life. She also addresses how to safely exercise during the COVID pandemic.
What do you do to stay fit?
I like a mixture of things to keep me motivated and interested. I alternate running with low impact cardio such as cycling to minimize the risk of overuse injury such as stress fractures. I also do strength training to maintain lean muscle mass and lower the risk of osteoporosis. Currently, I subscribe to a fitness app to change up the strength training,
How often do you exercise?
I try to do something active every day ,even if it is just a walk on my lunch break. Most weeks I work out 5 or 6 times and on my rest days, stretch and go on a walk.
Do you work out alone or with others?
I typically work out in the early morning, so most of my workouts are alone unless I do a group fitness class like cycle (or if you count morning runs with my dog). Group fitness definitely helps motivate me and keeps me accountable even if it is just competing through an app.
As a doctor, what do you tell your patients about the value in exercise both physically and mentally?
I deal with a lot of injuries, so I always ask each patient what his or her goal is, whether it is walking a few days a week or getting back to sports. We then develop a plan to slowly progress them back to normal activity or gradually start a new program. The mental benefits of exercise are quite apparent when injury or surgery limits activity or weight bearing on a limb. So encouraging some level of exercise even if it is non-impact or chair and bed level exercises when a patient is unable to bear weight can go a long way to maintain positive thinking, reduce pain, and expedite overall healing.
As a doctor who is on the front lines helping patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, has exercise helped you even more than usual in dealing with stress or other factors?
As an orthopedic surgeon, I have not been on the front lines like my much respected colleagues in the emergency room, internal medicine and the medical ICU physicians. However, exercise has been even more important in keeping me positive and reducing stress that we have all felt in one way or another. Exercise also helps boost the immune system which can help lessen the symptoms of COVID or the flu.
Have you been taking any extra precautions while exercising during the pandemic?
Like most, I only ran outdoors and converted my living room to a home workout center with some light weights and bands. Luckily, there is a tremendous amount of resources for working out at home and I was easily able to switch my program to fit the limited equipment I have at home. Once my gym opened up with added safety measures, I felt safe to return to the gym since it is a large 2 story space that can allow for social distancing. I maintain precautions by wearing a mask when I cannot maintain social distance, cleaning all equipment before and after, and using hand sanitizer throughout.
What advice do you have for women who are just beginning an exercise routine?
Start slow and build confidence. Do not progress too quickly as it can easily result in pain and overuse injuries including tendonitis and stress fractures. Also, do not forget to warm up and stretch!
Why is exercise important to your life and what positive benefits do you personally get from it?
Exercise helps energize my day. Beyond the obvious health benefits, exercise helps brighten my mood and confidence.
As a busy physician, how do you arrange your schedule to make sure you can fit exercise in?
If I do not work out in the morning, then I am not likely to make it in the evening after a full day of surgery, seeing patients in the office, and evening meetings. Mornings are clearly not for everyone though, but you have to make exercise and personal time a priority even if it is a quick 30 minute walk on your lunch break.