Local doctors offer suggestions from their personal regimens

Part of a doctor’s job is telling patients to exercise regularly. But what do doctors themselves do to keep fit? To find out, we asked physicians throughout San Luis Obispo County about their personal workout routines.

Just as for the patients they counsel, the hardest challenge for most of the doctors we talked to, some of whom have young families and work nearly 60 hours a week, was simply finding the time to exercise. All have learned creative ways to clear space in their day for a workout.

Some doctors have only started exercising regularly, getting in shape after they diagnosed themselves with poor health habits. "I had patients of mine say, ‘You’re getting fat,’ and they were right," said Patrick Vaughn, 53, a family physician in Morro Bay. "One of the reasons I started exercising was that I didn’t like them telling me about my problems."

Here are some ways Vaughn and other local physicians have found and stuck with a successful exercise routine.

Get an early start

Though many shudder at the thought of their alarm going off before dawn, some doctors said their early-morning workouts are actually more convenient and help set the tone for their day. Gayle Cekada, a 41-year old internist in San Luis Obispo, said exercising early in the morning allows her to stay close to her two daughters, ages 4 and 7. She wakes at 5:30 or 6 a.m. and works out for 40 minutes four days a week.

Vaughn said he was fatigued at first but going to bed earlier helped prepare him for his 5 a.m. runs. "It was certainly an adjustment, but once you get up and run and start to see the results of your exercise, it makes it pretty easy," he said. "You no longer see it as a chore."

Stay close to home

For some doctors, working out near home helps open up some needed exercise time. Internist Kevin Colton, 48, who lives a half mile from his office in Templeton, clears an hour-and-a-half for lunch so he can quickly change at home before and after his twice-weekly runs. Karen Roberts, a SLO gynecologist, hikes about 45 minutes each day near her home in the Los Padres National Forest. "I would find it hard to get to a gym every morning," said Roberts, 54. "When you can cut time going back-and-forth to the gym, it can make the difference between working out and not."

Likewise, Cekada invested in home exercise equipment. "When you have little kids, you can’t take off to the gym every morning at 6 a.m.," Cekada said. "Getting home equipment was a godsend."

Make yourself exercise

Whether it’s parking a few extra blocks away from work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, incorporating exercise into everyday activities can be an initial step in getting active. Patricia Schechter, an Atascadero osteopath and mother of nine, sets her makeup next to her treadmill every morning. "I call it my little trick," said Schechter, 60. "Once I’m there, I go, ‘OK, I’ll do five minutes.’ When I’ve finished five minutes, I say, ‘I haven’t even done a half mile yet.’ I just keep probing myself to keep going, and then I end up getting in 20 to 25 minutes."

Involve the family

Finding time for exercise and family are two of the biggest challenges doctors face. That’s why Cekada combines the two whenever possible. On weekends, she often runs a four-mile loop while pushing her girls in a double jogger. Instead of a date night in the middle of the week she and her husband occasionally hire a baby sitter on Saturday mornings and go for a bike ride together. "I’m not much for movies," she said. "I’d much rather be doing something active."

Rene Bravo, a primary pediatrician in San Luis Obispo, runs, cycles and hikes with his five boys, who range in age from 9 to 25, something he hopes will instill in them good fitness practices later in life. "It’s important that children see their parents modeling good health habits," said Bravo, 48. "Oftentimes, parents tell their children what they should be doing, but they need to show them."

Dress for success

An avid runner in his youth, Vaughn’s first attempt to get back in the habit three years ago failed when a lack of preparation caused injury. But after buying new shoes and clothes and talking with patients who had battled similar injuries, Vaughn, 53, gradually became able to run 25 miles per week, dropping 25 pounds in the process. "I was hearing my patients say, ‘I can’t run, I can’t play tennis, or I can’t do this and that,’ and I was right there with them," he said. "But starting with the proper support and training made me successful. Other people can do that, too. It’s not beyond them."