Many nurses work 12-hour shifts, and their schedules change on a weekly basis, making it difficult to commit to a regular exercise schedule. Most people are aware that exercise is good for the body, but getting into a routine takes dedication, especially when other aspects of life get in the way.
Though it’s important to give yourself grace and to ensure that your body gets the rest it needs, it is also crucial for you to take care of your body with regular exercise. Exercise is needed to keep the body in shape, and it promotes increased longevity. Some of the benefits of exercise include:
Stress reduction: We all know that nursing is a stressful job, and exercise can be used as an outlet to help keep your stress in check. Prioritizing exercise means prioritizing self-care, as it can help you to burn off steam and feel more energized.
Disease prevention: Exercise can help decrease your risk of developing a chronic disease, as it helps support a healthy heart. Additionally, exercise has been shown to be neuro-protective and can even improve memory.
Injury prevention: Some aspects of nursing require physical labor, such as having to mobilize a patient. Participating in regular exercise can help make your core strong and reduce your risk of developing a work-related injury.
While these benefits to exercise are hard to argue with, it can still be a challenge to find the time to set a regular workout routine, especially when your work schedule fluctuates. The following tips can help you establish a fitness routine that works around your career:
1. Schedule your workouts
It’s hard to remain accountable when you aren’t on a schedule. You may have the best intentions to exercise several days a week, but when you haven’t planned accordingly, it’s easy to skip it. Make physical activity a priority in your life by putting it on your calendar or in your phone.
2. Use your schedule to your advantage
Whether you work days or nights (or switch), there are benefits to incorporating exercise into your schedule. If you’re a morning person, you may want to get up before your day shift so that you can enjoy the positive endorphins throughout your day. If exercising tends to make you tired, consider saving it for after your shift to help get yourself ready to sleep.
3. Sign up for classes
Many of the boutique, trendy exercise classes require clients to sign up to save a spot in the class. In many cases, if you cancel your spot too late, you will be charged for doing so. This can be a great motivator to get yourself out of bed in the morning when you really don’t feel like it.
4. Go with a friend
Another tactic to avoid skipping the gym is to plan to have someone there waiting for you. It’s easy to hit the snooze button when no one else will know, but you won’t want to bail on your plans with a friend.
5. Set a goal
Find a concrete motivator to help you stick to your exercise routine. It may be best to consider a goal that isn’t weight-specific, as the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story (especially if you are also weight training). Some people like to train for a fun run or mud race, while others may prefer to treat themselves to a mini vacation or a new outfit after meeting certain milestones.
6. Find a type of exercise you enjoy
It’s easy to get yourself ready to exercise if it involves doing a fun activity. Some people like to sign up for a weekly social sports league (though this could be challenging with a nurse’s schedule) or go on bike rides with groups of other bikers. Others love taking barre or Pilates classes. Don’t be afraid to try new activities, especially if you have no idea what you like.
7. Work out at home
Too busy to get to the gym? You could also try working out in your own home. There are plenty of free exercises available online, and some of the application-based programs are pretty cost-effective. There are even exercise classes that do not require any type of special equipment to participate.
8. Squeeze in mini workouts as needed
There will be some days (or nights) when you are too busy or too tired to get in your full workout. Instead of beating yourself up or simply skipping your workout entirely, consider doing a short workout to get your blood flowing. This could be as simple as stretching, running in place, or doing squats in your room.
9. Set yourself up for opportunities to work out
Even on workdays, there can be opportunities to get in some physical activity throughout the day. This may be as simple as parking further from the building or even biking to work (if it is safe to do so in your area). Instead of taking the elevator, consider taking the stairs to the other unit to get in a few extra steps. If you have a legitimate lunch break, take a walk around the block and get some fresh air.
10. Have grace for yourself
Even people with clear goals and intentions sometimes slip out of their workout routines. Try not to be upset with yourself if you miss a workout. Instead, try to focus on looking forward to your next one. If your body is telling you that you need a rest break, be sure to listen to it.
Although a nurse’s schedule can be a challenge to navigate, there are practical ways to incorporate healthy physical activity into your routine, even if that routine has to change frequently. Consistency may mean making a commitment to work out several days per week but changing the exact dates and times based on your schedule. Being a nurse requires a strong body and a strong mind, so it is important to prioritize your own health!