One Doctor’s Fitness Journey

DECEMBER 22, 2016

If you’re considering making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, get in shape and exercise more, you’re not alone – millions of Americans are doing the same thing right now. Let’s face it – juggling work, kids, and other responsibilities often leaves little time for yourself and it’s easy for exercise to be one of the first casualties of that hectic schedule.

You might think doctors are immune from this challenge – they’re in the health business after all – but they’re not. Doctors have chaotic schedules, stress, families and all the other things that compete and sometimes interfere with a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Therese Duane, a trauma surgeon, is well-known to her colleagues as someone who takes physical fitness seriously. She competes in Ironman triathlons, among other endeavors. But as Dr. Duane shares below, this wasn’t always the case – it was something she had to learn and work at.

Deciding to Change

“As a ‘naturally fat’ person (my mother called me her ‘little cherub’ well into my teens), I always struggled with my weight,” says Dr. Duane. “I was never able to take for granted what I ate. After medical school and the first half of my surgical residency, I gained a significant amount of weight. I kept thinking I would eventually ‘plateau’ somehow, but that did not happen. I was in terrible shape and was tired all the time. I finally realized I had to decide whether I wanted to be fit or fat – and if I wanted to be fit, I had to literally change my life and behaviors.”

Dr. Duane began her fitness journey in the late 1990s. “The trick for me was portion control, literally – I had to take the control of portion sizes away from myself!” she says, explaining that she ate fixed-calorie frozen meals. “I combined this approach with exercise. It started with 20 minutes three times a week on a treadmill. It was slow but steady progress – I lost more than 50 pounds over the course of about two years.”

The Next Level

As Dr. Duane lost weight, she became motivated to elevate her fitness regimen. “Once I was on a roll, I began racing triathlons. This fed my competitive spirit and gave me something to strive for beyond just being skinny,” she explains. “It also then became part of my ‘workflow’ – a natural part of my existence. Now, two days do not go by in my life without exercise – ever.” Dr. Duane says this has been the case for the last 15 years, even after she gave birth to her four children.

“Today at age 46, I actually have a triathlon coach and train six days a week,” she says. “My training varies between runs, bikes, swims and strength training, and usually it’s some combination of those. The duration and intensity differs, depending on the main race I am working toward. If I am doing shorter sprint races, then training may only be an hour a day. When we trained for Ironman Texas, it was always at least two hours and sometimes six hours on a weekend. I always exercise in the morning and just get up earlier and earlier, depending on my schedule. I cannot think straight without those workouts.”

Energy, Efficiency & Effectiveness

Dr. Duane readily acknowledges that her current exercise and training routine probably is not for everyone. “To be fair, I am pretty OCD about it and my schedule would probably not work for most people, but it is important to see where I started. It was simple and not much – but it got me started. Whereas I was tired all the time before, now I have 30 hours in a day instead of 24! A balanced diet and exercise routine as a natural part of my day keeps me disciplined and makes me more efficient and effective in all aspects of my life.”

Just Get Moving

You don’t have to compete in triathlons to get in shape and lose weight. There’s no magic formula or plan to follow for exercise; your goal should simply be to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

Keep in mind, Dr. Duane started slow and steady – cutting calories and doing basic aerobic exercise. If you get moving, you’ll start burning some calories. When you reach the point when you’re burning more than you’re eating, you’ll start to lose weight. And when you do, you’ll feel better and begin to improve your health. As Dr. Duane says, “When the alarm goes off in the morning, I know I will be a better wife, mother, and doctor by getting out of bed and into the gym.”

That’s a New Year’s resolution worth making – and keeping.