10 fitness hacks for nurses to try

Climbing up stairs

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Fitness, wellness, in shape, good condition…the list of terms is endless, but all of them fall under the same umbrella of the definition of health. Give it whatever label you like; I’m sure we nurses all would love to live in a world where we have ample time to increase our level of fitness and improve our overall health. And regardless of who we are, every nurse out there can afford to move more and eat better.

Time management is nothing new to us. Sacrifice is nothing new to us. Discipline is something we practice on a daily basis. These three things are the only tools you need. It’s the discipline that separates us. Remember, discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most. I thought I’d share 10 simple fitness “hacks” that can help you improve your current level of health.

  1. Take the stairs. Move more. It’s really that simple. Take the time and make the effort to avoid the elevator at work as often as possible. Simple. Easy. And quite effective.
  2. Don’t bring any cash or debit to work. Extra cash is just an opportunity to spend it. Of course, make sure you have that “emergency” fund when the time arises, but save your darn money. Ninety-nine percent of any food product you purchase at work is not what you would consider a “healthy” choice.
  3. Take the long way, every time. Move more (see the trend?). No matter where your destination may be, take the “scenic” route. Move more, expend more energy, increase your heart rate, etc.
  4. Park your car further away. Move more (are you getting my point?). Bundle up and dress accordingly, but start moving more.
  5. Get some sleep. This is the one area of our health that we as nurses really stink at achieving. You need sleep. And you need lots of it. Even if it’s done in small chunks (schedule permitting). You need the rest. It’s how your body changes, how it grows, how it strengthens.
  6. Demand healthier gifts. Why is it that every excuse for a celebration brings the carb-loaded, sugar-laden munchies out of the woodwork? Start demanding healthier gifts, darn it! Your health is just as important as your patients’ health.
  7. Steer clear of the crap food. Wherever you find it. Whether in the break room, nurses’ station, gift shop, vending machine, colleagues’ packed lunches or the cafeteria. Avoid the temptation. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
  8. Bring your own food to work. The solution to all your woes. Bring the right kind of food and you won’t be tempted to eat the wrong kind from the vending machines at 3 AM. That said, don’t you dare start bringing an unlimited supply of those “low-calorie healthy” substitute foods. Quantity matters just as much as quality. Remember: You can’t out-exercise a bad diet.
  9. Plan ahead. We all do a great job of planning and anticipating the “unexpected.” Start doing the same thing about your own health, your own food choices and your own exercise habits. If you know you’re a sucker for doughnuts, for example, avoid them. At the very least, decide on a limit. You gotta start somewhere.
  10. Recruit help. There is strength in numbers. Going into battle unarmed and alone is the quickest recipe for failure. Recruit help from family, friends, colleagues. Heck, hit up your unit director, the CNO. The sky’s the limit on this one.

These fitness “hacks” are just that—suggestions on how to break down your day into manageable parts. Pick your battles wisely, and start small. You’d be surprised how quickly tiny victories can pile up and become major accomplishments. Best of luck out there!

Care to add any other fitness hacks for your fellow nurses out there?

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One Response to 10 fitness hacks for nurses to try

  1. bigredmonster

    Obviously, willpower is the watershed factor. Do we have enough personal discipline to stop our hands from reaching from that donut/brownie/cookie? Do we possess enough planning skills to made (in advance) a substitute beverage for that Starbucks concoction we love to sip? Do we have sufficient will to implement a new habit of taking the stairs when the elevator is our old, comfortable habit? Of course we will be tired during a long shift, but how BAD do we want better health?

    I think we can benefit considerably by identifying moments when we could slip in a brief set of reps of some exercise that doesn’t require total concentration. Standing at the mobile computer while doing an intake assessment might be a great opportunity to squeeze in several calf raises, which don’t require any brain bandwidth. Charting while sitting at the nurses’ station could allow for leg extensions under the desk. Walking back from pharmacy with a couple of IV bags might be a chance to do a set of bicep curls or even shoulder extensions, with the IV bag as the weight. Waiting for those meds at pharmacy could be dead time, or it could be the right time for some stretches, back twists, shoulder circles, toe touches, etc. We already know about isometrics, but where/how could we take advantage of their potential benefit? Hey, the elevator! That’ll be my new resolution for each shift.

    Food is tough, I know; we all have favorite food vices that are really comforting. But having healthy alternatives nearby, ready to go when the urge hits, it approximately half the battle. If your facility cafeteria isn’t health-conscious, start pressuring the dietary admin’s to change it. In the meantime, create your own mini-cafeteria in a lunch bag or the breakroom fridge, with appealing but healthy options. I know I’m more apt to reach for fruit when it’s right there, washed and ready to munch. Grapes picked off the stem, apples scrubbed, etc.

    Preparatory steps the night before a shift help me stay on the healthy plan. My morning oatmeal is ready to microwave as I get up, all I do is pour in the water from a measuring cup and add a spoonful of fake butter, then grab my hot bowl as I walk out the door. No temptation to buy the cafeteria’s gluey oatmeal, mine was excellent, accented with blueberries for my antioxidant kick. Big homemade (cheap) batches of bean stew or red beans and rice are easy to take as leftovers, as is spaghetti with a ton of veggies (that never lasts for more than a few days) or veggie-heavy stirfry from my local Mongolian BBQ storefront. I’m working on making the salad-from-home more consistent, although I do deeply appreciate my cafeteria’s inclusion of spring mix and taste salad toppings in the salad bar, and I tell the chef so every time I see him. Having a couple of Lean Cuisine’s in the breakroom freezer is my insurance against the temptation to buy vending machine junk whenever I miss the cafeteria’s hours. And sometimes I will buy a pre-packaged or drive-thru salad to bring in for later, even though they’re about $5. Much better for my body than Doritos! My facility has a farmers’ market onsite every other Friday (on payday) and it’s fairly easy to buy some fresh, local fruits & veggies. If your unit sends someone out on a Starbucks run, then that person could just as easily make a farmers’ market run, as long as you can predict what’s going to be available.

    I totally agree that looking for little opportunities to move more (parking far away from entrance, taking stairs) is a great idea, as long as we’re not compromising safety. No good to turn an ankle coming in from the far corner of the parking lot, then we won’t even be able to walk a little! Nor should we lift unsafely, but we could certainly use the boxes of supplies we handle in the supply room as impromptu weights, for a couple of shoulder presses or squats or lunges. Enlisting an exercise buddy for the shift might be a terrific chance to turn those short bursts of exertion into a game, or even a friendly competition. Example, for every box of supplies you lift onto the shelf, each of you does five squats holding the box. Or while charting at the station, put on a good song with a moderate tempo, (I like Santana best) and do butt locks (in the office chairs) to the song’s beat until it’s is over. If you want to make it a contest, whoever lasts the longest gets to delegate a minor task to the one who stops first.

    Long story short, we will find whatever we are looking for, be it junk food or opportunities to be health-conscious. So I guess the crucial first step is to figure out what mantra we will repeat to ourselves and post in our lockers for reinforcement, to help support the goal of better health. Maybe something like: “I love and respect myself enough to consistently give my body the best, most nutritious fuel, and to keep my moving parts in good working order by using them often in the way they were designed to move.” Then use it as a verbal affirmation to build up resolve for our new healthy habits.