How can I stay fit working 12 hr shifts?

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Dear Nurse Beth,

Work-Life Balance I was privileged to get a nurse internship in my dream location. I love my coworkers, and my preceptor is an excellent teacher. I have been working my preceptor's hours and getting a feeling for what it will be like when I graduate in May. Do you have advice on how to have a work-life balance? At my establishment, nurses work (0630-1900) 3 12's and 1 8hr shift a week. Generally, the 8 is turned into a 12 because we are short-staffed. I have always been an avid fitness person, but I do not know how to fit it in with this schedule. I have tried working out before my shift at 4 am and after at 7pm, but I am exhausted and don't see my family. Any advice would be great, I love what I am doing, but I want to maintain my health.

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Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

Dear Avid Fitness,

Thanks for sharing the positivity and it's so nice to hear about a good experience such as yours.

Because nurses work 12 hr shifts, we operate differently than M-Fri 8 hr people. Twelve hrs days easily turn into 14 hr (or longer) days, door-to-door. That means we  food prep and do laundry on our days off.  Appointments and errands all have to be managed on off days- there's no ducking out for a dentist appointment, or to run an errand, as in some jobs. Factor in a recovery day after working a stretch and time can get tight.

The schedule that worked for you as a student is not the schedule that is going to work for you as a clinician. So you have to adjust. But then adjusting is something we all have to do  throughout life. Starting school. Finishing school. Having children, and so on.

Managing your fitness is one example. Be open to re-thinking your mindset, especially if your fitness mindset is traditional, full-on, get-sweaty workouts. At the very least, the frequency and regularity need to be adjusted.

There is a lot you can do to maintain your fitness while you're at work.

  • Track your steps using a FitBit or other device to motivate yourself
  • Stay hydrated at work
  • Take the stairs. You can find plenty of opportunity during your shift to do a quick stair crawl
  • Power walk around the campus on your lunch break. Get a buddy for accountability
  • Do 10 squats before you leave the bathroom
  • Park as far away as you can. For some that might mean parking on the highest level and furthest corner of the parking structure
  • Grab something heavy and do a set of arm curls

I remember starting an exercise class in our nurses lounge at 1400 each day. It started off as just stretching for 15-20 minutes.  It was a small lounge but you'd be amazed what we could do for our bodies in a small space and short time. We often used chairs as props. Think triceps dip. A core group of coworkers really loved it. I was pleasantly surprised when people starting asking me, "Are we exercising today?". It wasn't unusual for nurses from other floors to join 4 North's exercise class.

I hope this helps you. Stay healthy and strong!

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth 

I have always gone before work.  I used to be at the gym by 0400.  Now I work 4 ten hour shifts and start later so I'm there by 0530.  Working out after work doesn't work for me.  I also take a couple of rest days a week which are usually on days I work, but I'm in the gym every day I'm off.

And I have a family.  I just learned I needed to prioritize my health.