Sumeet Sandhu, fourth year BDS student at Peninsula Dental School, gives you some advice about looking after yourself and staying fit whilst studying.

As dental students, we can easily get caught up in our studies that we can forget to look after ourselves. By being in our ‘dental school bubble’, we tend to dismiss the other opportunities available to us from being at University, such as joining a club. 

Well-being does not have to be a chore, and you do not have to be a gym-junkie either. Health, fitness and well-being gets put into this ‘box’ so easily that it becomes an unattractive stigma to some people, because they don’t want to be ‘that person’. Don’t get me wrong, I love wearing all the stereotypical sports club kit, but not to show-off; more-so I am proud to be part of another community, and want to encourage others to consider trying it too. 

We have all heard about the worst pain in dentistry – back pain! Staying active can strengthen our muscles to withstand and counteract the long periods of sitting down, as well as improving our posture. 

Not only this, but the mindset that accompanies exercise when it comes to persistence and endurance will be beneficial in long days on clinic to build adaptability in times of physical and mental stress in our careers. 

Undoubtedly, we will be faced with busy clinics and lecture days in which lunch may be forgotten or dismissed. In times like these, it is important to know what energy-dense nutritious food will be able to keep us going, even if it is a quick snack in-between patients (within your 4 acid attacks a day, of course).

Staying fit in body and mind whilst studying can have many benefits; namely its ability to decrease stress and anxiety- something we are all too familiar with in our demanding course. It enables you to escape the world of dentistry for a few hours a week, speak to people outside of our profession and gain transferrable skills.

Here are my top tips on improving your physical and mental well-being whilst studying dentistry, but also for beyond…

Make it sustainable 
Your health should be a priority, but this does not mean it becomes your only focus. Studying dentistry alone provides a busy schedule, and you want to be able to make a lifestyle choice, not an item on a checklist. My tip for making it sustainable is to plan your exercise into your week on a Sunday evening, for the week ahead. 

Keep it real
Organising your time to exercise is one thing, but actually doing it is another. Motivate yourself by keeping your workouts manageable and bitesize – you do not have to run a marathon in the first week. Set yourself small goals for each workout, even if it is just to clear your head and escape reality, and just go for it. 

Find what works for you
Fitness does not have to be running as fast as you can, or lifting twice your bodyweight. There are so many other aspects to fitness, for example balance or flexibility, which people may not consider (yoga is a great tool to work on these). You can build all-round strength from rock-climbing for example. Maybe try participating in sports, either for the competitive atmosphere or community. At the end of the day, keep exploring until you find something for you. It will happen and that’s when it will become part of your routine organically. 

Mindset is key
Believe in yourself and what your mind and body can achieve, it is amazing how much you can learn about yourself. One thing I do to improve my mindset is a form of reflection (yes, the buzzword), by writing out my ‘gratitudes’ and ‘positive affirmations’ each morning. Yoga or meditation can really help with mindset too – if you don’t know where to start use videos or an app to guide you. These mental exercises alone will improve your mood and well-being daily. 

Food is fuel
Nutrition is such a key part of fitness, not just exercise. This tip is a short one, it is all about balance. Do not restrict yourself from anything (especially in exam season) and eat nutritious foods most of the time. You need food and drink just to function, as well as all the tasks we do in a day – so don’t overthink it. Try new things (go vegan for a week?) and eat what you enjoy.

Enjoy the empowerment 
Looking after your physical and mental well-being requires self-care and resilience. That is an achievement in itself. Be proud of the little wins that come with developing your health and fitness and don’t be afraid to share them with others, you might just be their inspiration for them to start looking after their well-being too!

It may feel like a juggling act at the beginning. When you start considering all of the above, it may sound daunting to even begin. My tip is to acknowledge that it will be hard but listen to your mind and body and rest if needed. If you commit a little bit of time each day you will realise that you will eventually manage to fit it into your schedule without even thinking about it. 

I hope these tips help you consider investing some time into your well-being and exploring what’s out there and what your body can do. Good Luck.

Author bio

Embarking on my final year of my dental degree is an exciting experience, though I am still exploring my aspirations beyond this. I am aiming to apply for DF1 and DCT in the future to find which speciality fits me best. 

When not studying dentistry, I enjoy sports and fitness as well as art, travel and socialising. I am currently creating a blog to share my experiences in all these areas. 

I have been part of my University Netball Club for 3 years as a player, captain and committee member. This passion for sports led to me winning Sportswoman of the Year at the Future of Dentistry Awards 2019. I was also the Sports Secretary for Dentsoc 2017/18.

I also enjoy writing and have published a joint paper in the Journal of Education Of Primary Care.

To help other students with self-directed learning, myself and 3 other colleagues created the educational website

This student advice blog was originally published by FGDP(UK) in June 2020 and has been republished by the College of General Dentistry with the author’s permission.