Nurses work long hours and have very demanding jobs, making it hard to manage a healthy exercise and eating plan. We preach healthy eating and exercise habits to our patients, but do we practice what we preach? What’s the best way to stay fit on 12 hour shifts?

Decide what time of the day you want to exercise. Some people have enough energy to workout on the days they work, and others may need to workout on their days off. Decide if you are a morning workout person or an evening workout person. When I trained for half-marathons I found early morning runs were the best for me. I even ran before a 12 hour shift sometimes! Now that I’m a full-time grad student, work, and have clinicals 3-4 days a week, I’m more into the evening workouts. Either way, whatever works for you stick with it!

Find something you enjoy doing and be consistent. Exercise doesn’t have to be hardcore like the CrossFit or Insanity workout routines, but be sure to work up a sweat. Take your dog out on a long walk, participate in a Zumba class, or go outside and play with your kids. Make exercise fun and you won’t even realize you’re doing something healthy! As long as you are active 3-4 days a week you’ll reap the benefits of regular exercise.

Stay well hydrated throughout your day. If you’re anything like me you’ve probably had a few shifts where you don’t have time to drink, let alone pee during your shift. Make a few quick runs to the break room throughout the day to get a drink whenever you can. I’ve found that I do well with drinking a bottle of water before my shift begins, one at lunch, and one in the afternoon. That’s nowhere close to what I drink on my days off, but I don’t end my shift feeling completely dehydrated. Aim to get your weight in kilograms in ounces of water (e.g., A 60kg woman should drink 60 ounces of water daily).

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Pack your lunch and resist the goodies at the nurse’s station. I’ve come to realize the food I bring from home is way healthier (and cheaper!) than the food offered in the cafeteria most days. In addition, if you stash something to snack on in your pocket like peanut butter crackers you’re less likely to grab that cookie Mrs. Smith’s family brought in for the staff that day. Believe me—eating every treat someone brings to the nurse’s station can add serious weight if you’re not careful.

Get plenty of sleep to recharge and de-stress. I know it’s hard to get a full 8 hours of sleep when you work 12+ on the days you work, but aim for at least 7 hours. Studies have linked lack of sleep to weight gain because of the ghrelin/leptin hormone imbalance. Ghrelin is the hormone that tells you when to eat and leptin is the hormone that tells you when to stop eating. When you’re sleep deprived your body produces more ghrelin and you may be more prone to grabbing a sweet treat for a quick energy boost, which eventually leads to weight gain.

Small changes in your lifestyle can make a world of difference when you consistently incorporate them. These are just a few ways to keep fit while working 12 hour shifts. Take care of yourself so you can lead by example.

Nachole Johnson, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC
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