The Active and Healthy Nurse

Nine tips for increasing your physical activity

Physical activity is a cornerstone in maintaining personal wellness. At Cleveland Clinic, we encourage employees to track their physical activity using a personal pedometer. Research shows that individuals benefit by reaching a goal of 10,000 steps per day. Daily physical activity, including walking, can lower blood pressure and LDL (bad cholesterol), decrease the risk of many cancers and improve immune system function. For every hour a person walks, she or he adds an hour to her/his life!

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As nurses, we understand these benefits, but sometimes it seems daunting to incorporate physical activity into our day. If you just finished a 12-hour shift, the last thing you probably want to do is exercise! However, even nurses who works 40-plus hours a week can find time to fit in physical activity, whether it’s before work, after work or on their days off. You must make it a priority to give back to your body.

Nine tips to increase physical activity

I have nine suggestions to help you get moving – no fancy gym membership or expensive workout clothes needed. They just require a determination to live healthier.

  1. Walk. There are several simple ways to incorporate walking into your day. Consider replacing your 30-minute evening TV show with a stroll outside. Take a quick 10-minute walk during your lunch break. Another easy solution is finding ways to make your normal walking routes longer: Park your car farther away from the hospital or office, march in place while on the phone or take the circuitous path to the copier.
  2. Workout at your desk. Stuck on hold? Grab some dumbbells for 20 repetitions of bicep curls and tricep extensions. Maybe add in leg extensions under your desk to work your quadriceps. Practice chair yoga poses such as side bending, neck rolls and shoulder stretches. Even 10 to 15 minutes of this type of muscle engagement can help clear the mind, increase alertness and get you through your work day.
  3. Try yoga. If you’re on your feet for 12 hours, then maybe you already get in your 10,000 daily steps. A post-work yoga session could be exactly what you need to unwind and prepare your mind and body for a good night’s sleep. Take 15 to 20 minutes to go through a few movements, stretches and deep breathing exercises.
  4. De-stress. We all have bad days. Maybe you didn’t eat lunch until 8 hours into your shift, got stuck on hold with an insurance company for more than an hour, or had to share a grim prognosis with a patient’s family. Instead of opening a bottle of wine to de-stress, try letting out the frustration in a healthy manner: Do a 15-minute home exercise routine including squats, sit-ups, pushups, jumping jacks and a few stair climbs. Or, throw on the music, dance and get your heart rate up. If you’re bored of the same routine, you can find hundreds of home workouts on the Internet. Try something new.
  5. Create an affordable home gym. Do you have $15? If so, purchase a stretch band for an anaerobic workout. The bands, which come in many colors and strengths, can be used to tone all of your body’s major muscles. Once again, you can search the Internet for resistant band workouts and find a plethora of ways to target all of your muscles.
  6. Rise, shine and workout. While sleep is important, if you went to bed 20 minutes earlier and woke up 20 minutes earlier, you could get in a quick home workout. If you have trouble waking up, move your alarm clock away from the bed so you’re forced to get up. As an added benefit, morning may be the only time you have a peaceful house and some cherished alone time. So throw on your headphones and do pushups and sit-ups before the little ones wake up and the chaos begins!
  7. Avoid traffic with exercise. If you often spend 20 to 30 minutes stuck in traffic after your shift, stay at work and exercise instead. Maybe your place of employment has an onsite gym – or even a room where you could practice yoga, do your pushup/sit-up routine or use your stretch band for a full-body workout. In addition to the physical benefits, your attitude will improve by not wasting time in traffic. It’s a win-win solution!
  8. Relieve back pain. According to surveys by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 35,000 back and other injuries among nursing employees every year. Strengthening your core muscles and doing gentle exercises has been proven to promote long-term relief from chronic low back pain. Strengthen your core by planking and doing lower back extensions (also known as Superman poses) to maintain a healthy spine.
  9. Kick it up a notch with It’s important to get your heart rate up with aerobic exercise. Once again, this doesn’t have to be an hour-long bike ride or marathon. On your days off, when you have a few more minutes in the day, head outside and challenge yourself to run for “X” minutes and walk for half the time you ran. Gradually increase your running minutes and decrease your walking minutes. Get your sweat on, heart rate racing and 10,000 steps per day!

Mallory Hatmaker, MSN, BSN, CNP, is a regular contributor to Consult QD—Nursing. She is an Adult/Gerontology Certified Nurse Practitioner who has been a staff nurse at Cleveland Clinic since 2009. She currently works in the Employee Wellness and Internal Medicine Departments at Cleveland Clinic, where she spearheads an initiative on Nursing Wellness.