How Do Nurses Find Time to Work Out? (5 Tips to be a Healthy Nurse)

Working out takes time. It takes leisure time. Wait—did you say, “leisure time”? What in the world is that? Nurses don’t have leisure time, silly! True enough, but what if I were to say you don’t need leisure time to work out or at least “that much” leisure time?

So, how do nurses find time to work out? Finding time to work out can be as simple as waking up 15-30 minutes earlier or making some lifestyle changes that could be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevators.

Sure, nurses work long hours. Long long looooong hours. Twelve-hours shifts, night shifts, weekend shifts, holiday shifts, never-ending day shifts that turn into night shifts—shifts shifts and more shifts!

So how do nurses find time to work out?! Like everything else in our lives, we just have to make it work.

Here are some tips that will help super-busy, super-stressed, super nurses find time in their day to get in a real, honest-to-goodness, dedicated workout.

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Benefits of Working Out

A TED talk on the benefits of working out.

Working-out comes with a myriad of benefits, the list of which really can’t be exhausted in a million words, let alone just a thousand. Here are just a few:

1. Better focus (source): Remember when you said you’d go crazy if you had to look at any more paperwork or fill out just one more form? Working out will help to reinvigorate your mind so you can focus more clearly, even on that dreaded paperwork.

2. Higher energy levels (source): Nurses need boatloads of energy. We’ve said it before, and yes, we will say it again. Getting in a workout somewhere in your day—even just five minutes here and there—will boost your energy and rejuvenate you so you can face the rest of your long shift.

3. Stronger confidence (source): Nurses need confidence and lots of it. After all, we’re the real decision-makers in the hospital, aren’t we?

Working out gets your blood moving. It revs it up (okay, that’s not the medical term for it), gets it circulating, and sends it to your brain so you’ll make the best decisions you need to all through your workday.

4. Better sleep (source): While the doctors are sleeping in the doctors’ lounge, who’s taking care of the patients? You know the answer, nurses. This is why we nurses need to work out and take good care of ourselves—so we can sleep better after our shifts are finally over.

5. Better overall health (source): After you’ve worked out and developed better focus, higher energy levels, more confidence to make better decisions, and you’ve slept better than you ever did before, what do you suppose happens? That’s right—you’re in better health!

Tips on Finding Time to Work Out

picture of a watch face

Nursing is a workout, isn’t it? Most definitely. However, scheduling in dedicated workouts will help you to be more mindful of your own health as you’re caring for the health of your patients.

Whether you’re on 12-hour shifts, rotating shifts, night shifts, or any other schedule our profession must endure, here are a few ideas on how to get a workout in nearly every day.

1. Wake up just 15-30 minutes sooner to fit a power walk in before going to work. It might sound like a proper impossibility to wake up any earlier than you already do, but try it for just three days in a row.

Set your alarm just 15-30 minutes earlier, get up, do some stretches, take a huge breath, and go for a brisk power walk. You’ll be so much more ready to take on everything your frenzied day has in store.

2. Work out at work. One very good thing about working out at work is that you have virtually no travel time and absolutely no time wasted.

A lot of folks who go to gyms spend time walking around, socializing, sitting at the juice bar—in other words, doing everything but working out. But working out at work means you’re spending as much time as possible in an actual workout.

Many of today’s hospitals, especially the larger ones, have set up gyms on their grounds, and some even offer classes such as spinning, yoga, or Pilates during work hours (source).

If you’re one of the lucky nurses who can slip out for a 15- or 20-minute break somewhere in your day, try to dedicate some time to a gym workout or a class.

Even if you only take five or 10 minutes out of your 20-minute break, at least you’re getting in a workout. And if you do this four or five times a week, you’ll feel noticeably more energetic in just a couple weeks.

3. Run up and down stairs. Sadly, many nurses don’t get any breaks throughout the day. Thankfully, most hospitals and even doctors’ practices have stairs somewhere in the building.

Rather than hitch a ride on the elevator, jog the stairs a couple times a day. Doing this will get your blood circulating throughout your whole body and up into your brain, which will invigorate your body and refresh your mind.

4. Make a game out of working out. Got kids? Take just 5-10 minutes a few times a week to dance with them. Put on some music they like listening to (and doesn’t drive you crazy), and dance away.

Dancing with your kids not only helps you exercise and get in great shape; it helps your kids do the same. Plus, it creates amazing bonding time they’ll want to do over and over!

Another excellent time to work out with your kids is when you’re all at the park or playground together. Playing in the park—it’s not just for kids anymore!

Related Article: 5 Best Nursing Jobs for Single Moms

5. Find an after-work activity that includes a sport. There are so many activities out there these days that have a decent workout built right in. Some examples include

  • hiking while sightseeing,
  • spending time at the pool with your family where you can get in a good swim,
  • joining a volleyball club,
  • rock climbing with a group of friends for social time and wine (wine afterwards, of course),
  • or even taking a fencing class!

Eat a Healthy Diet

picture of different healthy fruits

As nurses, we need mountains of super-charged energy, and we need to maintain those high energy levels for longer periods of time than the average person.

Night shifts, 12-hours shifts, rotations, copious workloads—these all take a toll on our stamina, our focus, and our vitality.

They also can have a negative impact on our personal lives and most definitely our health. This is why it’s critical for all nurses to eat a balanced diet that includes nutritious foods that provide steady energy, vibrant health, and massive brainpower.

If you’re a nurse who’s not currently observing a healthy diet, don’t stress about it—just start with baby steps. Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Replace one unhealthy food every other day with a healthy one. For instance, if you’re used to grabbing a candy bar in the afternoon for energy, replace it with one of those prepackaged snacks that include some combination of nuts, cheese, and jerky.

These are excellent because they’ll make you forget your hunger while providing the protein that you need to finish out your shift.

Start out replacing one unhealthy food every other day, and pretty soon you’ll be choosing the healthy foods over the junk foods almost every time! For a list of options, check out our article on the best healthy snacks for nurses.

2. Don’t skip breakfast. You’ve heard it a million times, and it’s true—breakfast is super important (source). The best practice is to wake a little early and have a warm meal for breakfast.

However, if you’re a grab-on-the-go kind of nurse, an already-peeled hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit are an excellent combo for the ride to work!

3. Bring along healthy snacks. We’ve already established that nurses need loads of stamina to get through their long shifts. They also need to stay alert all through those shifts, too, even more so than many other professions.

A great idea is to load healthy snacks into your grocery cart that can easily be packed into a lunch bag and eaten throughout the day.

A few great ideas are fruits that are easy to eat on-the-run like apples or pears, 100-calorie snack bags, fruit cups, nuts, and packaged protein snack combos.

4. Replace sugary sodas with healthy beverages. It sure is tempting to grab a caffeine-loaded soda in the middle of your long shift, isn’t it? But you’ve got to know that cola or an overly sweetened ‘energy’ drink is just going to make you crash in an hour so, right?

There are so many better options available these days. Try instead a delicious coconut water, juice with added sparkling water, or even a smoothie you made yourself at home.

5. Don’t skip meals. Nurses are always running from one room, one patient, or even one hospital to the next. This busy schedule all too often means we skip meals, and that just makes us hungrier and more prone to overeat and opt for unhealthy choices.

If you don’t have time to sit down and eat a full meal (and how many of us do?), this is where your take-along healthy snacks come in extra handy!

Final Thoughts

a nurse working out lifting pink dumbbells

Remember—this isn’t about losing a ton of weight, running a marathon, or lifting enough weights to enter a bodybuilding contest. It’s about learning how to take time for yourself in order to live each day with more vibrant health.

There’s a saying that goes,

“Nursing is not a career; it’s a post-apocalyptic survival skill.”

So, if we nurses don’t take care of ourselves, what will happen when there are no nurses around when the zombie apocalypse comes? Hmmm? Please, nurses, find time to work out–the world is depending on you!

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Do you have a favorite exercise or hack you’re using to fit in a workout? Let everybody know in the comment section below.

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