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Psych Congress  

Mandatory exercise as a preventative treatment for mental illness in medical students

Robert Bitonte, MD,JD,MA,LLM. Donald DeSanto, BS.

Medical students experience higher rates of mental illness than the general population. With competition rising for success in medical school and residency, increasing incidents of distress are leading this population to experience higher rates of thoughts of dropping out of school, and even suicide. Since many stigmas deter medical students from receiving mental health counseling, such as the perceived inability to handle the stresses of medical school, and the potential lack of competitiveness for residencies if reported, prevention of mental illness may be a better course to take in reducing prevalence in this population. Regular exercise has demonstrated a positive effect on not only promoting physical health, but also mental health. Exercise encourages a healthy mood, positive self esteem, and better cognition, while decreasing the chances of depression, anxiety, and burnout. Implementing exercise time into medical school curriculums, just like the basic sciences, albeit for less time in the day, could provide a feasible way to ensure that all students are taking time to partake in this important activity for their well being. Though medical schools are rigid with attempts to make changes in their curriculum, thirty minutes a day, three to five times a week of exercise of the students’ choice not only is more cost effective than counseling, but it also reduces the chances that they will experience burnout, which if left untreated could transcend into a compromised training experience.

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